In an article in last week’s Jewish Week, editor/publisher Gary Rosenblatt qualifies his co-sponsorship of an evening at a Westchester Jewish film festival in which a documentary entitled Waiting For Armageddon was screened. Although he praises the film’s production values and calls it “riveting and provocative,” he worries that the film is misleading, leaving “the viewer with the impression that all Evangelicals are as zealous as these folks, who hope the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem will be destroyed as soon as possible and who seem to relish the prospect of the monumental bloodbath that will herald the Second Coming.” It’s no secret that liberal Jews, many led by the Reform movement, have regarded Evangelical Christians as more worrisome than Radical Jihadists and have distanced themselves from their sustained support by questioning their motivation. Despite the fact that Evangelicals continued their missions to Israel throughout both Intifadas while many Jewish organizations canceled their programs, the Christian Right is viewed as too great a threat to the separation of church and state for liberal Jews to tolerate. The same Jews who call for dialogue with Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah want no truck with Evangelists under any circumstances.
Joining The Jewish Week in its sponsorship of this particular evening was The American Jewish Committee, which, after the fact, felt similarly worried about the wisdom of showing this film at Jewish film festivals without placing it in context. Although I don’t doubt the bona fides of both the newspaper and the AJC, their disclaimers are either dangerously ignorant of current trends or hopelessly naive about their consequences. Several months ago, I called attention to the film festival hosted by the JCC on the upper west side; it was titled The Other Israel and dealt with the lives and problems of Palestinians living as citizens of Israel. Although there’s nothing wrong with Jews examining the flaws of their own people, the Israeli government or its institutions, there are serious questions to be asked when, during a time of rising global anti-semitism, Iranian threats to annihilate Israel, a second UN Durban Conference and the growing inroads of Islamic influence in many aspects of American life, Jewish institutional priorities lean towards self-criticism rather than patriotism or protectionism.
Rosenblatt explains that the documentary about the Evangelicals was subsidized by the Foundation For Jewish Culture, whose aim, according to its president, is to “support films that will get out in the world, and will get people talking about the Jewish experience in its complexity.” Apparently, it’s preferable if complexity is viewed in a pejorative sense as two of the foundation’s other subsidized films are Trembling Before God, a film about the problems of a gay Orthodox Jew, and Waltz With Bashir, a film about an Israeli soldier’s trauma after the Sabra/Shatila massacres in Lebanon. As a lay-person film buff, I have been to enough Jewish and Israeli film festivals to say that no films challenging the current corruption and/or malevolence of Arab regimes spring to memory. Dozens pointing the finger at Israeli abuse - whether civil, religious or military - come to mind. If someone asked me as an individual to sponsor an evening at a Jewish film festival, I would want to see the film that was programmed before I signed on. When you lend your name and reputation to an event (as well as your money), you are a supporter of that event and you are acting as a trustee would or should.
In the same vein, much hand-wringing has been devoted to the villainy of Bernie Madoff but very little ink has been spilled about the treachery of Yeshiva University trustees who despite company policy, handed over university money to one of their fellow trustees to self-deal. What is the responsibility of a trustee or a sponsor if not to follow the rules and be knowledgeable about what they are endorsing? Although I appreciate Gary Rosenblatt’s sincere attempt to voice his reservations about how this film will be construed, I’m less sympathetic to his Monday morning quarterbacking. He and the AJC are experienced and sophisticated enough to know how easily film can become propaganda. They shirked their responsibilities as leaders of the Jewish community by not investigating the provenance and treatment of a very controversial subject. If we let them off the hook, we, as Jews who care deeply about Israel’s security and the safety of Jewish communities throughout the world, will have to share in their guilt. At a time when academia, the media and vast swaths of the far left are committed to positions ranging from Israel’s ostracism to its demise, we should be grateful for the ongoing support of Christian Evangelicals. As I once heard Rabbi David Wozniak observe at the 92nd Street Y, he felt far more comfortable in the pews of their churches than in the secular halls of the United Nations.
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