Despite an uproar in the Jewish community, former president George W. Bush is still slated to deliver the keynote address to a fundraiser for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute in Irving, Texas, tonight. The MJBI trains people to persuade Jews to recognize Jesus as their messiah. Followers of the group believe that if enough Jews are converted, Christ will return to Earth.
After Mother Jones broke the news about Bush’s appearance last week, “a small shitstorm…kicked up over the President’s decision,” writes Rob Eshman, editor of the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.
“I have yet to meet a Jewish person who hasn’t heard about this,” Tevi Troy, Bush’s White House liaison to the Jewish community from 2003 to 2004, told CNN Wednesday. Troy had high praise for Bush’s support of Israel and the Jewish community, but, he added, “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed.” A spokesman for the Republican Jewish Coalition did not respond to a request for comment.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, the Jewish Community Relations Council, and the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas issued a statement Tuesday expressing their disappointment regarding Bush’s scheduled appearance: “Support of this group is a direct affront to the mutual respect that all mainstream religious groups afford each other to practice the principles of their respective beliefs.”
Bush’s decision to raise money for MJBI “is really painful to so many in the Jewish community,” Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said on MSNBC, because MJBI’s “primary purpose is to convert all Jews to a different religion. How do you have a respectful relationship if the measure of success of one group is the ending of the other group by having them convert away from their own religion?”
Saperstein, who has worked with Bush on religious-freedom issues, described Bush’s decision as “mystifying.” That’s a sentiment shared by conservatives, including Commentary magazine’s Jonathan Tobin, who writes that Bush, who has largely avoided political controversies since leaving the White House, has “stepped into one with both feet.”