Stead­fast sup­port of Is­rael by the evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian com­mu­nity

Jerusalem Post - - OBSERVATIONS - • By YECHIEL ECKSTEIN The writer is pres­i­dent and founder of the In­ter­na­tional Fel­low­ship of Christians and Jews.

Amid much fan­fare, his­tory was made Mon­day when the United States Em­bassy of­fi­cially opened its doors in Jerusalem. The em­bassy move from Tel Aviv, where it has been since 1948, and White House recog­ni­tion of Jerusalem as Is­rael’s cap­i­tal stand as a huge diplo­matic achieve­ment for the State of Is­rael. It’s also rea­son­able to think that Jewish lead­er­ship in the United States helped ad­vo­cate for this day.

But this historic turn­ing point in Is­raeli his­tory could also not have taken place with­out the crit­i­cal in­volve­ment of an­other group – evan­gel­i­cal Christians in Amer­ica.

It’s no se­cret that evan­gel­i­cal Christians largely sup­ported Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in the 2016 elec­tions. They helped elect him and re­main among his key sup­port­ers. The pres­i­dent main­tains a close ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee of evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian lead­ers, and Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence is a fer­vent evan­gel­i­cal.

Fur­ther, US Am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions Nikki Ha­ley, while not an evan­gel­i­cal, is a de­voted Chris­tian who is also fight­ing fear­lessly in the UN to de­fend Is­rael. Other se­nior US of­fi­cials also main­tain very lit­tle day­light be­tween the US and Is­rael on key po­si­tions.

In essence, stead­fast sup­port of Is­rael by the evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian com­mu­nity en­sures, more than any­thing, the pro­mo­tion and the safe­guard­ing of Is­raeli in­ter­ests and Is­rael’s emer­gence as a world power.

While some may be­lieve this sup­port is guar­an­teed, it is not – and has never been.

For the past four decades, the or­ga­ni­za­tion I founded, the In­ter­na­tional Fel­low­ship of Christians and Jews, played a crit­i­cal role in build­ing bridges of trust and co­op­er­a­tion be­tween Christians and Jews in Amer­ica and be­tween Christians and the State of Is­rael. By the end of the 1970s, very few Jews were aware of this com­mu­nity, and those who were gen­er­ally were sus­pi­cious of it and failed to take it se­ri­ously. More­over, Is­rael and the Jewish peo­ple were not at the top of Chris­tian pri­or­i­ties back then. We can re­call pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter, who was an evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian but whose po­si­tions as pres­i­dent were hardly pro-Is­rael.

The wide­spread Chris­tian sup­port of Is­rael we see to­day is a di­rect re­sult of decades of ad­vo­cacy, ed­u­ca­tion and teach­ing the evan­gel­i­cal com­mu­nity of the Jewish roots of their Chris­tian faith and the need to deepen their bonds with Is­rael and the Jewish peo­ple.

AT THE START of my jour­ney I had no idea how much this com­mu­nity would even­tu­ally grow in num­bers and in­flu­ence. While we fo­cused on teach­ing the Chris­tian lead­er­ship to sup­port Is­rael, we also sought to en­cour­age Christians to tour the Land of Is­rael and strengthen their bonds with her. To­day, Chris­tian tourism ac­counts for about half of all tourism to the Jewish state.

Start­ing in the 1990s, with the fall of the Soviet regime and the first wave of Rus­sian im­mi­gra­tion to Is­rael, mil­lions of Christians an­swered my call to help bring Soviet Jews on aliya to their an­ces­tral home­land. Many also be­gan con­tribut­ing to the Fel­low­ship to help us care for Is­rael’s weaker cit­i­zens – lower-in­come, elderly, mi­nori­ties and oth­ers – and to pro­vide se­cu­rity for the coun­try.

Is­raeli lead­ers – in­clud­ing min­is­ters, mem­ber of Knes­set and lo­cal may­ors – and all en­gaged in so­cial issues in Is­rael un­der­stand the im­pact evan­gel­i­cal Christians have made over the years. In­deed, to­day, the Fel­low­ship is the sin­gle largest phil­an­thropic char­i­ta­ble or­ga­ni­za­tion in all of Is­rael.

Each year, more than 1.5 mil­lion Is­raelis and vul­ner­a­ble Jews around the world – poor elderly, those threat­ened by an­ti­semitism – re­ceive help from the Fel­low­ship. We pro­vide for ba­sic needs such as food and medicine for fam­i­lies, chil­dren on wel­fare and se­nior cit­i­zens. We have funded MRI and PT scan ma­chines, as well as trauma-care rooms in hos­pi­tals in Is­raeli com­mu­ni­ties in pe­riph­eral ar­eas that serve lower-in­come res­i­dents. We have ren­o­vated 5,000 bomb shel­ters in such com­mu­ni­ties and sup­port hun­dreds of other projects for the well-be­ing of Is­raelis re­gard­less of gen­der, re­li­gion or race.

These projects, cost­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars each year, would not have ex­isted with­out the donations of mil­lions of Christians world­wide, most of whom are or­di­nary Christians of mod­est means who deeply be­lieve in sup­port­ing the Jewish state and her peo­ple.

Such sup­port – which the Amer­i­can and Is­raeli pub­lic at large may not fully rec­og­nize – has be­come a crit­i­cal strategic as­set for Is­rael, po­lit­i­cally and so­cially.

But we can­not rest on our lau­rels. There is so much more we can do. Out­side the US, evan­gel­i­cal Christians are one of the fastest-grow­ing reli­gious com­mu­ni­ties in the world, with some 100 mil­lion be­liev­ers in China alone, and hun­dreds of mil­lions more in Latin Amer­ica, the Far East and else­where.

In fact, those na­tions fol­low­ing the United States in mov­ing their em­bassies to Jerusalem share a com­mon thread – strong evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian com­mu­ni­ties. The pres­i­dent of Gu­atemala, Jimmy Mo­rales, is a fer­vent evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian and his vot­ers sup­port Is­rael for that same rea­son. In Hon­duras too, which has also an­nounced the trans­fer of its em­bassy, the evan­gel­i­cal com­mu­nity is some 40% of the pop­u­la­tion.

Evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian sup­port for Is­rael did not hap­pen out of nowhere – it re­quired lead­er­ship and bridge-build­ing work, so for it to sur­vive and thrive in the fu­ture, it is im­per­a­tive that we in­vest in it and strengthen it so that it will be our Jewish life­line in the years ahead.


PRIME MIN­IS­TER Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu walks past US Am­bas­sador to Is­rael David Fried­man dur­ing the ded­i­ca­tion cer­e­mony of the new US em­bassy in Jerusalem Mon­day.

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