By Mitchell Kaye | Guest Columnist
The following column originally ran in the Atlanta Jewish Times on Oct. 14, 2005. The writer, a former state legislator, asked that it be rerun after seeing the reprint of Steve Berman’s opposing view on Christian Zionists in our April 24 issue. We do not plan to reprint additional columns.
Many Jews and leading Jewish organizations do not understand the underlying reason why many evangelical Christians have unconditional support for Jews and Israel. As with any lack of knowledge, suspicion and stereotyping result.
Having just returned from a two-day Stand for Israel conference in our nation’s capital, sponsored by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, I feel confident in having learned the definitive answer.
It is not related to end-of-time scenarios or proselytizing. It’s not related to Israel’s shared democratic values with the United States or effort in the battle against radical Islamic terror. And it’s not related to a history of persecution or the Holocaust.
For Bible-believing Christians, it can be summed up from Parshat Lech Lecha, when G-d said to Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you and him who curses you I will curse” (Genesis 12:3). Period. End of story.
As tzedakah is a mitzvah for Jews, support for Jews and Israel is an obligation for many Christians who take the Bible literally. And they don’t want anything in return. They (and we) believe that G-d always keeps His promises. They know that He will bless those who bless us, and their reward will come from above.
For over 20 years, the IFCJ has worked to promote cooperation and understanding between the religions and to translate this love into political and financial support for Israel and Jews who are in need. Founded by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, former Anti-Defamation League staffer and son of the former chief rabbi of Canada, the IFCJ has received $250 million from 400,000 evangelical donors in the past eight years alone. Such money is for humanitarian purposes, like providing food and clothing to Jews in the former Soviet Union and in Israel. It helps with aliyah, including providing funding for halachic conversions (for example, the B’nei Menashe of India). It mobilizes Christian support in the United States for Israel. In Israel, the IFCJ became the second-largest charitable foundation, supporting more than 250 causes in more than 90 communities.
Post-disengagement, the IFCJ quickly funded 50 trauma unit hospital beds in Sderot in response to the barrage of Kassam rockets and a $1 million bus security system in Be’er Sheva as a result of last month’s central bus station bombing.
Attendance at the conference was approximately 70 percent gentile and 30 percent Jewish. There was a bipartisan cast of U.S. senators and congressmen and clergy and leaders of major Jewish and gentile organizations who spoke. Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Danny Ayalon, made stirring remarks, as did Friend of Israel award recipients Sen. Joseph Lieberman and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Dr. Richard Land, the president of the Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, shared recent Pew Research polling data showing white evangelicals exhibiting higher relative support for Israel vis-à-vis the Palestinians than any other Christian group by a ratio of almost 8-to-1. Religious belief was the No. 1 reason for this support, with secular Christians favoring Israel by only a 3-to-2 ratio. With evangelicals representing the largest voting bloc of any group in the last election, coupled with their continued strong growth, even just for politics it was obvious that it would be beneficial for Jews to dialogue and work with such a powerful group.
Howard Kohr, the executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, agreed on the need to start talking and working with evangelicals, who many didn’t realize were our natural allies. He shared AIPAC’s successful program of reaching and training pro-Israel advocates on campus that now targets Christian Bible colleges, including Bob Jones University.
The Rev. Glenn Plummer, the chairman of National Religious Broadcasters, told of his new mission to rebuild the strong relationship between black America and Israel through the churches that had been hijacked in recent years by Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and their ilk. He pointed out that most Jews don’t know that we helped found the NAACP and the National Urban League. Many don’t remember that we marched, were jailed and died along with blacks during the civil rights struggle, a religious-based struggle. Who today knows that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was accused of being a Zionist?
The Stand for Israel project was founded by Eckstein and Ralph Reed to leverage Christian support for Israel, including fighting anti-Semitism and anti-Israel divestment. Years ago Eckstein was shunned by the Jewish community, but today Lieberman proclaims Eckstein has been vindicated. Eckstein was recently appointed by the state of Israel as goodwill ambassador.
Throughout the educational, eye-opening and stirring conference, the Christian community was challenged to continue to mobilize its members to advocate for Israel — through their churches, media and elected officials — to continue buying Israeli products and visiting the Holy Land, in addition to strong financial support.
The challenge to the Jewish community was quite different: start talking with evangelicals, build a dialogue and bridges, seek common ground, and work together. Although every evangelical may not be as supportive, as Lieberman highlighted: “There are a lot more Christian Zionists than Jewish Zionists.”
In Jewish and evangelical relationships, Eckstein and the ICFJ are guided by principles: “Cooperate whenever possible, oppose when necessary, and teach and sensitize at all times.”
For our Jewish brethren and Israel, we would do well to heed such advice and work to build bridges with our numerous and powerful evangelical friends.
Decade of Growing Support
Evangelical support for Israel for the right reasons has grown since I wrote this article almost 10 years ago. John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, Earl Cox’s Israel Always and other such groups play a big and growing role in political and material support for the state of Israel. They send money for bomb shelters and soup kitchens, assist with aliyah, visit bereaved families and victims of terror, and take large groups to visit for emotional and economic support, in addition to lobbying members of Congress in every district in the country.
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews was a pioneer; many have followed. The ten Boom family from the Netherlands, who lost many family members saving Jews during the Holocaust, opened up the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem. Israeli leaders across the spectrum welcome their genuine support, as do many American Jews.
The tragedy is that many in our community paint all Christians with the same brush, failing to recognize that the diversity in their community is larger than ours. Religious ignorance and intolerance may be the reason they ignore the 50 million to 60 million Christians out of 250 million in the United States who truly and actively support Israel for the right reasons.
It has been over a decade since Abe Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, issued a call for the Jewish community to embrace evangelical support for Israel, writing, “Fortunately evangelical support is overwhelming, consistent and unconditional.”
As more and more of our brothers and sisters assimilate and intermarry, their bond to Israel can only decline. Throw in J Street and the BDS movement, and many of our co-religionists have become outright hostile to Israel.
In every generation as enemies have risen against us, righteous Gentiles, often at great personal risk, have worked to save Jewish lives. While many of our brethren still cling to old stereotypes and canards, we must protect and strengthen our own community while gratefully acknowledging those who work to advance our cause.
— Mitchell Kaye