Former President George W. Bush was the featured keynote speaker at this year's Messianic Jewish Bible Institute (MJBI) Banquet in Dallas. That organization, headed by "Rabbi"/Pastor Jonathan Bernis, clearly proclaims their vision and mission to convert Jews to Christianity.
Journalist and author Sarah Posner broke the story in an article in Mother Jones on November 7th. The report went viral and has been making the rounds in the mainstream and Jewish press. It has elicited a statement of "extreme disappointment" from the Anti-Defamation League as well.
In contrast, conservative publications such as Commentary, FrontPage and Mosaic are loath to initiate investigations and feature stories which cast the slightest degree of suspicion on Israel's Christian allies. It's important to consider and understand that a Christian can claim to be pro-Israel and a lover of the land of Israel and the Jewish people, and still be an adversary of Judaism. And therein lies a very big problem.
While the Bush appearance at the 2013 MJBI Banquet made a lot of waves, what is not widely known is that in recent years some of Israel's "best friends" have been the stars at these very same annual MJBI banquets. JewishIsrael ran a report when Mike Huckabee was the MJBI featured speaker in 2010. In 2011 it was Lt. Col Oliver North, followed by Glenn Beck at Dallas Cowboy's stadium in 2012.*
[*Note: At this time it may be worthwhile to review the concerns outlined in the reports JewishIsrael issued on Beck in 2011]
Although not on the MJBI circuit, one could certainly throw in one-time presidential hopefuls Rick Santorum and Texas Governor Rick Perry into the messianic pot. Both men are considered great friends of Israel and yet have also done their bit to promote the conversion of Jews. In 2010 Santorum received $6000 when he spoke at the annual conference of the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America. In 2011 Texas Governor Rick Perry held a mass prayer rally in a Texas stadium in Houston in which a number of featured speakers openly and shamelessly prayed for the conversion of the Jews.
In August 2010, MJBI's Jonathan Bernis released a world map of the various ministries, congregations, and outreaches supported by his "Jewish Voice Ministries". JewishIsrael released a report at the time noting that this is the far-reaching missionary influence of just one evangelical organization.
Even before then, the long reach of Jonathan Bernis found its way into the Knesset, when in 2009 MK Shlomo Molla was under investigation for allegedly pocketing missionary funds from Bernis which were designated for Israel’s Ethiopian Jewish community. At the time, JewishIsrael provided documentation to Knesset members regarding Bernis, and some of that information was later aired in a report on Israel national television.
It is important that we in the Jewish world understand that evangelicals and their "messianic" counterparts are not just praying for Israel from the pews, while reservedly hoping for "a second coming of their messiah". The evangelical movement is made up of myriads of dynamic and determined pastors and adherents of varying sects who are taking a pro-active part in trying to actualize a Christian restoration - of Christians - in Israel.
The situation on the ground today calls for an honest, responsible, and critical assessment, rather than denials and red herrings. Yet when the news of MJBI's 2013 speaker, former President Bush, went public, Commentary's Jonathan Tobin and author Dennis Prager shifted into damage control mode, minimizing Bush’s participation and dismissing the dangers of the messianic movement to Jews in Israel and elsewhere, and instead pointing their pens at liberal, secular America.
So the field is left wide open for Sarah Posner via the liberal press to expose the seeming hypocrisy of politically conservative Jewish leaders. The same was true one year ago, when Posner wrote an in-depth feature piece for The Atlantic about the Christian messianic incursion into Israel. JewishIsrael was cited in that article.
Former President Bush may have done us Jews a favor. Bush’s efforts on behalf of MJBI, an organization with an aggressive conversionary agenda, has the potential to awaken the Jewish community to the debilitating approach of Jewish leaders towards Israel-evangelical relations which continues to blindly follow the credo of "the evangelicals are our best friends, don't ask questions."