Former President George W. Bush is scheduled to give a keynote address at a Messianic Jewish organization fundraiser next week, a move that has the potential to move that has the potential to alienate large swaths of the Jewish community from the former president.
On Nov. 14, Bush will be the keynote speaker at the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute’s annual fundraiser, Mother Jones reports. The Messianic Jewish Bible Institute’s core goals include “defending” Israel and converting Jews to Christianity, which many in the Jewish community find extremely distasteful.
While Messianic Judaism embraces Jewish cultural identity, the movement notably diverges from mainstream Judaism in several ways, most notably in its acceptance of Jesus as the son of God and the Jewish messiah. Naturally, this fundamental difference makes Messianic groups extremely controversial within the Jewish community. Messianic organizations such as Jews for Jesus also place strong emphasis on converting Jews to Christianity, which is widely seen as disrespectful to the Jewish religion.
"It's disappointing that he would give his stamp of approval to a group whose program is an express effort to convert Jews and not to accept the validity of the Jewish covenant,” Rabbi David Saperstein, head of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, told Mother Jones of Bush’s upcoming speaking gig.
Despite some backlash, Bush is still set to deliver a keynote address at the event, due to be held at the Irving Convention Center in Irving, Texas. Tickets for the event run as high as $100,000, which also includes a photo opportunity with the former president. Bush is set to speak on his experiences in the White House as well as his life after leaving the Oval Office.
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"President Bush will also share his passion for setting people free, which is fitting for this year’s theme, 'Rekindle,'" read promotional materials for Bush’s appearance.
Bush is not the first Republican politician to make an appearance at a Messianic event. In 2010, news broke that one-time presidential hopeful Sen. Rick Santorum was paid to speak at the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America’s annual conference in 2010. Because of the organization’s efforts to convert Jews to Christianity, many in the Jewish community took issue with Santorum’s appearance. Abe Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, at the time called Santorum’s appearance “distressing” and “offensive.”
“Political figures are free to raise money from whomever they want, so long as they disclose it, but considering the role Rick Santorum sees for religion in public life, it is very distressing that he would appear on the platform of a group that teaches that Jews should convert to Christianity,” Foxman told Politico. “His decision to appear before a group of Messianic Jews was insensitive and offensive.”
Just last year, conservative pundit Glenn Beck also delivered an address at the annual Messianic Jewish Bible Institute fundraiser, which was held in Arlington, Texas’ Cowboys Stadium. During that event, Beck was honored with a “Defender of Israel” award, despite the fact that Beck has routinely been called anti-Semitic for using imagery of the Holocaust to attack liberal figures like George Soros. The Anti-Defamation League has, at various times, called Beck’s statements on the Holocaust and Judaism “completely inappropriate,” “bigoted” and “highly offensive and outrageous.”