Opinion

With Jay Sekulow in Ascendance, the Jewish Right Breaks the Messianic Taboo

Netanyahu supporters are more comfortable with Jay Sekulow than J Street. Is that a moral failure - or a political necessity?

Jerusalem prayer rally for Israel organized by the International Christian Embassy, founded "as an evangelical response for the need to comfort Zion". 29 September 2015
Olivier Fitoussi

It took an unlikely series of political events to make it happen, but we now live in a world where Jay Sekulow is one of the most prominent and influential legal voices in the United States.

The conservative lawyer was long known as a highly successful champion of the Christian right’s position on religious freedom cases as well as a supporter of Israel. Now that he is President Donald Trump’s lawyer, he has suddenly become not only among his most visible defenders, but his celebrity status has also shone a spotlight on the fact that he is a key player in the fight against BDS.

If being Trump’s legal mouthpiece ensures him the enmity of liberals, his fight against those who seek to boycott the Jewish state ought to guarantee him some degree ofembrace by pro-Israel liberals. Or does it?

As a recent Haaretz piece pointed out (Meet Donald Trump's Lawyer: A Messianic Jew Who Loves Jesus and Hates BDS) Sekulow’s 15 minutes of fame has brought his religious beliefs into the public eye. That means that rather than being just another conservative pro-Israel talking head, those who weren’t already aware of the fact that he is a Messianic Jew now know all about it.

As such, reactions to him are no longer a litmus test about your feelings about Trump or Israel but about the one group that unites every single Jewish religious group from right to left: Jews for Jesus.

A participant in a parade of international Christian Zionist groups wears a shirt with the Star of David and carries a banner depicting Jerusalem. Jerusalem, September 24, 2002
REUTERS

The only thing that will make Jewish liberals and conservatives join in a chorus of exclusion is the embrace of Jesus as a messiah and personal savior by a Jew. Messianics come in different varieties, ranging from those who are avowedly Christian, to those who insist that they are Jewish in every respect, except the part about Jesus.

Yet though heresy is an outdated concept outside of the ultra-Orthodox world, Messianics are still considered beyond the pale and a threat, winning gullible converts with false advertising and misleading theology. Coming to terms with Sekulow means being willing to accept that pro-Israel Messianics and their evangelical allies are politically if not religiously kosher.

That makes Sekulow’s importance something that is bound to make a lot of Jews queasy.

The logical extension of that sentiment is to ask whether support for the pro-Israel cause in America from a Christian right, some of whose members also embrace supercessionism (the belief that Judaism has been supplanted by Christianity and that those who believe in Jesus have replaced the Jews as God’s chosen) or think the Jews will all convert when Jesus returns, is immoral or ultimately sustainable. Moreover, the willingness of the Israeli government and the pro-Israel community to cater to Christian Zionist groups like Christians United for Israel (CUFI), where such views are not uncommon, and to view liberal organizations who are more critical in their support of the Jewish state with some disdain, is similarly called into question.

The hurt felt by the loss of a statistically insignificant number of converts to Jews for Jesus while regrettable, is out of all proportion to the numbers involved. That is especially true when compared to the vast losses the American Jewish community faces from assimilation. If there is any blame to be apportioned,  it belongs to Jewish denominations that have often failed to provide a sense of purpose or religious faith to its members not to people like Sekulow. But that doesn’t stop many Jews from viewing the mere existence of Messianics with the kind of alarm they don’t demonstrate about other problems.

American Evangelist and CUFI head John Hagee addresses a rally in Jerusalem having just declared Israel must remain in control of all of Jerusalem. April 6, 2008
AP

But even if Messianic Jews' pro-Israel motivation, or those of their evangelical allies is a belief that this will trigger a series of events that will result in Jesus’ return (and not all evangelicals believe this), this does not pose any real threat.

That’s because, whether they are religious or not, Jews presumably do not think Jesus is ever coming back, so there's no need for that hypothetical scenario to influence their political decisions. A community that is secure in its faith should not be threatened by the faith of others. That is a stance that liberals have always championed in their quest for better community relations with groups that were in no way as friendly as the evangelicals.

None of this should preclude efforts to bring more liberals into the pro-Israel coalition, but the problem there is not the failure of the right. It's rather the drift to the anti-Israel left on the part of liberals. It’s true that many Netanyahu supporters are more comfortable with people like Sekulow or CUFI head Rev. John Hagee than with J Street or mainstream liberals. But if the pro-Israel coalition has drifted to the right, the reason has everything to do with the fact that Christian conservatives have repeatedly demonstrate that they are more reliable friends of Israel than many liberals whose backing for Zionism has become conditional at best.

In such an environment, the alliance with Sekulow and the evangelicals is not only a political necessity but entirely sensible. Messianics may continue to make most Jews uncomfortable. But in a world where anti-Semitism and BDS are on the rise, Israel can’t pick its friends. Rejecting the fervent support of the Christian right on theological grounds is neither logical nor moral.

Jonathan S. Tobin is opinion editor of JNS.org and a Contributing Writer for National Review. Twitter: @jonathans_tobin