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Saving Jews ... From Christians?

This column was written by David Klinghoffer.
The Anti-Defamation League, devoted to fighting anti-Jewish bigotry, is America's most influential Jewish group. So what are we to make of the weird air of unreality in the ADL's public statements about Christians? Consider the recent address by national director Abraham Foxman to the group's annual meeting in which he called for a community-wide response to a growing threat.

Foxman spoke on November 3 in New York during a week when disturbing news stories were unfolding around the world. The riots across France by immigrant Muslim youths were building to a climax. These were the same youths who have been terrorizing French Jews for the past five years — assaulting individuals, firebombing synagogues, and desecrating Jewish cemeteries.

The same week, Iran's president was refusing to back down from his call to fellow Muslims to "wipe Israel off the map." Meanwhile in Egypt, TV viewers had just spent Ramadan enjoying a new drama series based on "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," the notorious anti-Semitic hoax.

If there is one religion that poses a danger to Jewish interests, clearly it's radical Islam. How strange, then, that in his speech Abraham Foxman held up the terrifying specter of, um, American Christianity.

"Today," said Foxman, "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. Their goal is to implement their Christian worldview. To save us!"

Foxman warned that mainstream evangelical groups have "built infrastructures throughout the country... intend[ing] to 'Christianize' all aspects of American life, from the halls of government to the libraries, to the movies, to recording studios, to the playing fields and locker rooms of professional, collegiate and amateur sports, from the military to SpongeBob SquarePants."

"'Christianize' all aspects of American life," he says? This must mean that evangelical leaders want to Christianize us either by legal coercion, or by inspiration and moral example.

If Foxman means by legal coercion, his accusation is ludicrous. To take a controversial illustration that's in the news, Intelligent Design has drawn support from Christians (as well as others) and condemnation from the ADL. One may disapprove of letting teachers acquaint public-school students with a scientific critique of Darwinism. But I.D. in the biology classroom is an entirely different thing from "Christianizing" American life — a phrase that conjures the Spanish Inquisition.

If Foxman means that evangelicals would "Christianize" by inspiration and example, he's right. But so what? By definition, to be an evangelical means to wish to influence the culture in what Christians regard as a spiritually healthful direction. Good for them.

Broadly speaking, that direction is one that we Jews likewise have traditionally regarded as healthy and positive. Many classical Jewish sources — the Talmud, Midrash, Maimonides, and other authorities — speak of the need to bring humanity closer to the values of the One God. There is nothing exclusively "Christian" about favoring traditional marriage, lamenting the abortion culture, or defending a helpless woman like Terri Schiavo. Christians are only doing what we Jews ought to do.

So why vilify them? Historical anti-Semitic persecution cannot fully explain modern Jewish worries about Christian intentions. Surely Jews are rational enough to appreciate that we don't live in medieval Europe, but rather in a time of unprecedented Christian philo-Semitism, especially among conservative Christians. For the needlessly heightened state of Jewish concern about evangelicals, the ADL itself is at least partly to blame. The group has done much to exacerbate Jewish concerns. But what is it that drives the ADL to stoke our fears?

Money, perhaps? Let's be realistic. Naturally, a crusading nonprofit organization needs a bad guy to give a sense of urgency to its fundraising campaigns. And make no mistake: This particular organization's fundraising needs are substantial. The Anti-Defamation League has more than $52 million in yearly expenses, including Foxman's impressive $412,000 in salary and other compensation (according to publicly available 2003 tax information). That's a lot of expenses. The pressure to find the money to feed such a budget must be intense.

For whatever reason, hyperventilating about Christians makes Jews open their wallets. The anti-defamation professionals of the Jewish community are no dummies. Nor, I believe, are they paranoid. Or cynical. True, if these well-meaning folks are directing so much attention to the wildly exaggerated menace of Christian evangelicals, I don't see an alternative explanation to a financial one. However, this doesn't mean the ADL leadership is corrupt.

Rather, don't dismiss the Marxist insight that money can shape consciousness. Very possibly, a dynamic inherent in the nonprofit business molds the attitudes of those who work in this curious industry. Not cynics at all, they sincerely come to believe those things they must say to raise money.

Money, I would add, that could be far more usefully spent on other communal needs. Let's say, on religious education, which for Jews is the best assurance of a flourishing communal life. Consider how many Jewish kids could receive a Jewish education with that $52 million, how many Jewish souls could be saved from the oblivion of assimilation. In more ways than one, the ADL's success is our loss.

David Klinghoffer is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a columnist for the Jewish Forward. His most recent book is "Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History." His website is www.davidklinghoffer.com.
By David Klinghoffer
Reprinted with permission from National Review Online