Monday, December 5, 2005

A group of Jewish leaders meets in New York this week to develop a response to the religious right, which they say is eroding civil liberties and planning to “christianize America.”

Led by Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the private meeting is set for today, said an assistant to Mr. Yoffie.

Both men were unavailable for comment Friday, and neither organization would divulge details of the meeting, including who else is attending and where it is being held.

But the meeting is the culmination of a month of attacks by Mr. Foxman and Mr. Yoffie on conservative Christian groups, starting with Mr. Foxman’s speech Nov. 3 at an ADL function in New York.

“We face a better-financed, more sophisticated, coordinated, unified, energized and organized coalition of groups in opposition to our policy positions on church-state separation than ever before,” he said. “Their goal is to implement their Christian worldview. To Christianize America. To save us.”

The chief villains, he said, were the Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family; the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Alliance Defense Fund; the Tupelo, Miss.-based American Family Association; and the Family Research Council, based in Washington.

“This issue is serious enough for us to develop a strategy, and, clearly, our first task is to win the support of the American public,” Mr. Foxman said. “We also need to come together with other Jewish organizations … and to find allies beyond our community.”

On Nov. 19, Mr. Yoffie compared the religious right to Nazis.

“We understand those who believe that the Bible opposes gay marriage, even though we read that text in a very different way,” the rabbi said. “We cannot forget that when Hitler came to power in 1933, one of the first things that he did was ban gay organizations.”

Criticism has been strong among conservative-leaning Jews.

“Foxman loves to whine about the religious right and how they’re destroying religious liberty in America,” said Don Feder, president of Jews Against Anti-Christian Defamation.

“Is wanting to keep God in the Pledge of Allegiance Christianizing America? Is opposition to gay marriage Christianizing America? Is efforts to keep public displays of the Ten Commandments Christianizing America? If so, Moses was a Christianizer.”

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder of the Chicago-based International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), pointed out that evangelicals are Israel’s best U.S. friends. His group raised $44.9 million in 2004, mostly from evangelicals, for pro-Israel causes.

In 2002, the IFCJ commissioned a poll of 1,200 Americans that found that “conservative church-going Christians” had the highest rates of support for Israel (62 percent) among non-Jewish religious groups.

In 2002, Mr. Foxman penned “Evangelical Support for Israel Is a Good Thing” for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

But 2004 Republican electoral successes and President Bush’s faith-based initiatives have made some Jewish organizations nervous about evangelicals’ ultimate aims.

“It’s absolutely an issue,” said Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia.

“They aren’t using outright violence themselves,” he said of the religious right. “But they are one step down from people who are ready to use the coercive powers of the state to impose their own religious outlook.”

Conservative Christians and Jewish groups have united over Israel, foreign policy and the threat of Islamic terrorism, said Kristi Hamrick, spokeswoman for American Values.

“It’s common knowledge that no other non-Jewish community in the country supports Israel as loyally and generously as do evangelicals,” said Paul Hetrick, vice president of media relations for Focus on the Family.

About Mr. Foxman, Mr. Hetrick said: “He’s the same individual that said Mel Gibson’s movie ‘The Passion of the Christ’ would be a step toward creating a new Holocaust, and he was dead wrong about that.”

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