Is­rael, Evan­gel­i­cal-Style

Forward Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Ilan Ben-Zion ● Ilan Ben Zion is a free­lance writer based in Is­rael. He is a for­mer news ed­i­tor of The Times of Is­rael.

Michele Bach­mann, a for­mer Repub­li­can con­gress­woman who drew crit­i­cism in for call­ing for the mass con­ver­sion of Jews, had some­thing to say to the Jew­ish peo­ple. An Is­raeli or­ga­ni­za­tion seek­ing to strengthen the bond be­tween evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians and the State of Is­rael or­ches­trated the an­nounce­ment at the Knes­set on the eve of Is­rael’s € th an­niver­sary.

“Per­son­ally, I know that in ig­no­rance, that my­self, I have stated things that I should not have said, and I apol­o­gize, pro­foundly apol­o­gize, re­pent and ask for­give­ness from Almighty God,” Bach­mann said this past May. She stopped short, how­ever, of say­ing she no longer be­lieved Jews needed to con­vert.

Bach­mann’s apol­ogy was fa­cil­i­tated by Is­raelˆ‰ , a com­pany whose fo­cus is nur­tur­ing the “nat­u­ral al­liance” be­tween Jews and pro-Is­rael Chris­tians in the United States. Her au­di­ence in the Knes­set was over­whelm­ingly Chris­tian, mem­bers of a group vis­it­ing Is­rael on a trip or­ga­nized by Is­raelˆ‰ .

The founder and di­rec­tor of Is­raelˆ‰ , Rabbi Naph­tali Weisz, says his or­ga­ni­za­tion seeks to cul­ti­vate a pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ship be­tween Jews and Chris­tians while re­in­forc­ing Chris­tian sup­port for Is­rael in the United States. Weisz founded Is­raelˆ‰ in after im­mi­grat­ing to Is­rael from Colum­bus, Ohio. Un­like the much larger ad­vo­cacy groups, Chris­tians United for Is­rael and the In­ter­na­tional Fel­low­ship of Chris­tians and Jews, Is­raelˆ‰ , Weisz says, has a bib­li­cal fo­cus: Its ob­jec­tive is “ed­u­cat­ing Chris­tians about Is­rael” by “high­light­ing the bib­li­cal sig­nif­i­cance of Is­rael.” It does that pri­mar­ily through dig­i­tal me­dia out­reach. Its main av­enues are a news site, a Face­book page and a daily email news­let­ter that has more than ˆ , sub­scribers.

“Jews aren’t, gen­er­ally speak­ing, reach­ing out to Chris­tians and teach­ing Chris­tians about the Bi­ble, and that’s the void we’re look­ing to fill,” Weisz said.

Chris­tian Zion­ist sup­port for Is­rael stems from a be­lief that God’s covenant with the Jew­ish peo­ple re­quires that Chris­tians back “their bib­li­cal and his­tor­i­cal right to sovereignty in their an­cient home­land,” ac­cord­ing to CUFI, the

largest pro-Is­rael group in the United States. This has trans­lated into wide­spread grass­roots sup­port for Is­rael in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, and to fund­ing for Jew­ish causes in Is­rael, in­clud­ing Jew­ish im­mi­gra­tion. A re­cent re­port by The As­so­ci­ated Press found that the coun­try’s Chris­tian al­lies fund a third of Is­raeli im­mi­gra­tion.

Some of this sup­port stems from a be­lief among some evan­gel­i­cals in the parou­sia — the in­gath­er­ing of the Jews in their home­land that will bring about the end of days, when the Jew­ish peo­ple will be forced to ac­cept Chris­tian­ity or die. A Pew Re­search Cen­ter poll from  ­ found that €‚% of Amer­i­can Protes­tants be­lieve Je­sus Christ will re­turn be­fore  € . A sur­vey pub­lished ear­lier this year by LifeWay Re­search, a Chris­tian polling group, found that †‡% of Amer­i­can evan­gel­i­cals be­lieve that “shar­ing the Gospel with Jew­ish peo­ple is im­por­tant,” and that ‚‡% agree that “Je­sus will re­turn when the Jew­ish peo­ple ac­cept Je­sus.”

“We have a bad his­tory with Chris­tians; they’ve per­se­cuted us through­out our his­tory. While there are many who still hold on to the be­lief that the church re­placed Is­rael, the New Tes­ta­ment re­placed the Old Tes­ta­ment, there is a move­ment of Chris­tians who are re­ject­ing that,” Weisz said, though he con­ceded that many Chris­tians still be­lieve that Jews will burn in hell for not ac­cept­ing Je­sus.

In­deed, the in­creas­ingly close con­nec­tion be­tween Chris­tian Zion­ists and Is­rael has some lib­eral Amer­i­can Jews and Is­raelis con­cerned.

Lo­gan Bayro•, a spokesman for the lib­eral Amer­i­can ad­vo­cacy group J Street, said the crux of the is­sue was what ex­actly are the pri­or­i­ties of evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians.

“Do they sup­port Is­rael’s fu­ture as a se­cure, demo­cratic home­land for the Jew­ish peo­ple?” Bayro• asked. “Or are they com­mit­ted to a vi­sion that is rooted in a re­li­gious, mes­sianic agenda?”

Bayro• ar­gued that evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian groups like CUFI are “pro­mul­gat­ing a dis­course about Is­rael that is ul­ti­mately hos­tile to diplo­macy and a two-state so­lu­tion.” Their en­cour­age­ment of West Bank set­tle­ment ex­pan­sion and poli­cies re­gard­ing Jerusalem’s Tem­ple Mount that could in­flame ten­sions with the Mus­lim world are ul­ti­mately not in the in­ter­est of Is­rael’s long-term se­cu­rity, he said.

Is­raelžŸ€’s en­tire op­er­a­tion “is con­nected to the Bi­ble,” Weisz said. Its news site, Break­ing Is­rael News, fea­tures ar­ti­cles pref­aced by bib­li­cal verses high­light­ing the sig­nif­i­cance of cur­rent events.

The news site also in­cludes sec­tions on “End of Days” and “Bi­ble Prophecy,” which have ed­u­cated read­ers on mat­ters such as how “a blue blood su­per­moon eclipse with the Jew­ish hol­i­day of Tu B’Sh­vat” sig­ni­fies doom for Mus­lims in Is­rael’s neigh­bor­ing coun­tries.

“News from a bib­li­cal per­spec­tive in the Jew­ish com­mu­nity sounds ridicu­lous,” Weisz ad­mit­ted. “But for Chris­tians, it’s part of their out­look on life.”

While Weisz in­sists the com­pany and its news or­gan hold no po­lit­i­cal po­si­tion what­so­ever, the news site’s cov­er­age refers to Area C of the West Bank, which is gov­erned by the Is­raeli mil­i­tary, ac­cord­ing to the ­££€ Oslo II Ac­cords, as “Is­raeli land.” Is­raelžŸ€ doesn’t hide its sup­port for Is­raeli set­tle­ments in the West Bank ei­ther. Weisz also wouldn’t com­ment on whether the or­ga­ni­za­tion sup­ports a two-state so­lu­tion.

Weisz said much of the Is­rael-reg­is­tered cor­po­ra­tion’s fund­ing is de­rived from the sale of goods on its web­site, in­clud­ing jew­elry, maps of bib­li­cal Is­rael and other as­sorted knick­knacks. Is­raelžŸ€ also gen­er­ates rev­enue from dona­tions, as well as from ads on its news site and in its daily news­let­ter.

Is­raelžŸ€’s Knes­set-hosted Bi­ble lec­tures, held this year on May ­ž, placed spe­cial em­pha­sis on the his­tor­i­cal im­port of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ci­sion to move the Amer­i­can em­bassy to Jerusalem. Speeches were punc­tu­ated by amens, hosan­nas and hal­lelu­jahs from the Chris­tian crowd.

The Bi­ble study ses­sion was headed by Ye­hu­dah Glick, a Likud party mem­ber of the Knes­set who ad­vo­cates in­creased Jew­ish ac­cess to the Tem­ple Mount. He was joined by Jim Gar­low, an evan­gel­i­cal pas­tor and ar­dent sup­porter of Pres­i­dent Trump who cam­paigned against same-sex mar­riage in his home state of Cal­i­for­nia. The event was the third of its kind or­ga­nized by Gar­low’s wife, Rose­mary SchindlerGar­low, whose Schindler So­ci­ety has pushed for Bi­ble study at the U.S. Congress.

Glick and other speak­ers lec­tured on pas­sages from the Bi­ble that dis­cussed the Jew­ish tem­ple, the cen­tral­ity of Jerusalem to the Jew­ish peo­ple and God’s role for “all na­tions.” Glick linked pas­sages from Psalms to the ­£Ÿ‡ Mid­dle East war, in which Is­rael cap­tured east Jerusalem. He hinted at di­vine in­ter­ven­tion in the con­flict.

“I just want to point out that the peo­ple that are here come to Jerusalem, bless Is­rael not be­cause they will be blessed, but be­cause they re­ally, truly love us,” Glick said.

Yet most of Amer­i­can and Is­raeli Jewry doesn’t share the con­ser­va­tive so­cial val­ues of the evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians who sup­port Is­rael, said Eli Leder­hendler, a pro­fes­sor of Amer­i­can Jew­ish his­tory at He­brew Univer­sity. But, he said, “Is­rael is un­for­tu­nately in a po­si­tion of not want­ing to turn away any friend, for un­der­stand­able rea­sons.”

At the same time, the Chris­tian right in the United States has aligned it­self with like-minded peo­ple in Is­raeli so­ci­ety who be­lieve that for the coun­try to thrive, it must, he said, “re­store some sem­blance of the an­cient past.” Many of those peo­ple, in­clud­ing Glick, hap­pen to be in power at the mo­ment.

“It is trou­bling that right-wing gov­ern­ments in Is­rael have en­cour­aged the kind of friends that we weren’t used to in the past,” Leder­hendler said. He noted that, in the end, it has an im­pact on the cul­tural bat­tle for Is­rael’s iden­tity as a demo­cratic and Jew­ish state, and added, “There’s a lot of treach­er­ous ground that lies ahead.”

Weisz in­sists that the only way to ap­proach this “golden age of JewishChris­tian re­la­tions” is to en­gage with evan­gel­i­cals. “By work­ing closely with them, we can help move Chris­tian­ity to a health­ier place in re­la­tion to the Jew­ish com­mu­nity,” he said.

‘We have a bad his­tory with Chris­tians.’


WHO BY WA­TER: Chris­tian pil­grims wave flags and dance be­fore be­ing bap­tized in the Jor­dan River.

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