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We need evangelical Christian support

By Yehiel Eckstein

07/03/2005

In a recent op-ed column ("A pernicious, dangerous alliance," Haaretz, February 23), MK Avshalom Vilan expressed concern about the alliance that is being "forged" between evangelical Christians in the United States and the extreme right in Israel. A sober and correct consideration of the situation would lead to the conclusion that today, more than ever, the State of Israel and its leaders should welcome the embrace offered by the evangelical community, which should not be taken lightly. This support is particularly important given recent expressions of anti-Semitism and the anti-Israeli attitude of Europe and the UN.

We must understand that "born-again" Christians now constitute one-third of the population of the U.S. and that this group includes some of the most important decision-makers, including the president of the U.S. and many figures in the current political administration. I do not, heaven forbid, belittle the influence of American Jews, who do a great deal for the sake of the State of Israel, but the influ-ence of the evangelicals on the decision-making process in Washington, and particularly on the now-dominant Republican Party, is several times greater than the influence of U.S. Jewry.

Why does Israel receive such overwhelming support from the evangelicals?

Mainly because most of them recognize the Jewish origins of Christianity and consider the Bible a sacred book and primary source of authority, in which they find a call for support for Israel and the Jewish people (Genesis 12).

Aside from that, the evangelicals consider this support atonement for the thousands of years in which Christianity persecuted the Jewish people.

Another reason has to do with political motives, which differ from those noted by MK Vilan: Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, and the shared friendship has a common goal - of promoting democratic values so opposed to those of despotic Arab regimes.

In contrast to the evangelical movement, the Presbyterian Church, which is considered one of the liberal Protestant movements, declared a consumer boycott and a move toward divestment from Israel a few months ago. The Presbyterians were not even embarrassed to say their objective was to produce economic isolation, as was done to South Africa during apartheid.

The Episcopalian Church is considering doing something similar. To my regret, these churches have succeeded in creating a media echo that reverberates through the U.S. and Europe.

A poll conducted by The Christian Science Monitor, a newspaper that resonates loudly among liberal believing Christians, found that more than 60 percent of its readers support boycotting Israel.

This boycott does not issue from sublime humanitarian motives. These churches did not call for a boycott of the darkest and most savage regimes known to humanity. Needless to say, the evangelical churches enlisted on behalf of Israel and joined American Jewry in raising their united voice in protest at the unjustified boycott.

The economic, political, public relations and tourism support of the evangelical Christians is invaluable, and is critical to the continued existence of the State of Israel. Evangelical Christians are highly important allies - particularly at this time, when Israel finds itself at a political and social crossroads.

While it is true that many of the evangelical Christians belong to the right wing of the political map, their love for the State of Israel is unconditional.

The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which I head, enlists support from these evangelicals - and contributes more than $100 million annually for the sake of the State of Israel and the Jewish people. These funds are not designated to construction of settlements, but to genuine assistance to all sectors of the population, in areas such as immigrant absorption, security and poverty.

The Torah writes about "a people that shall dwell alone and shall not be reckoned among the nations," but when there is such a large and significant movement of believers who offer their love without limits and without conditions, it is only right that we cooperate with them and thank them for their help, rather than attack them. At a time when the rest of the world is arrayed against us, evangelical Christians are true friends who stand alongside us.

Rabbi Eckstein is the president and founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
 
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