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Israel's Christian Friends

By Michael Freund
4/5/2009, 12:00 AM
With Diaspora Jewry in demographic decline, Bible-believing Christians may represent the best hope for ensuring that long-term American and Western support for Israel remains strong.
Indeed, the list of Christian personalities and organizations working on behalf of Israel in fields ranging from social welfare to public affairs is almost dizzying. This plethora of activities underlines the extent to which evangelical Christians in the US, Europe and elsewhere can be counted on to back the Jewish state across a variety of spheres.
As I argue in the column below, it is therefore essential that Israel take additional steps to further strengthen this burgeoning alliance. Rather than focusing solely on the solicitation of Christians' dollars, the country should seek to cement their devotion by more actively reaching out and courting their support, prayers and cooperation.

Israel's Christian Friends

By Michael Freund

Tucked away in the southeastern corner of Virginia, the city of Virginia Beach is about the last place one would expect to find a bastion of passionate pro-Israel sentiment.

With its seemingly endless miles of sand, waves and sun, the sprawling resort town, known as the proud host of the annual East Coast Surfing Championships, seems more well-suited to fun and games than to waging a war of ideas on behalf of the Jewish state. Yet it is precisely in this most unexpected of locales that one of Israel's staunchest allies and defenders can be found: Rev. Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network, or CBN.

On a visit to the network's studios last week, I was moved by the level of heartfelt support for the Jewish state among the staff members. Nearly every one had been to Israel numerous times, and they described in great detail, and with genuine passion, their profound love for the country and its people.

Take, for example, CBN president and chief operating officer Michael Little, who has been to Israel 47 times and is already making plans for his next visit. And then there is network CEO Gordon Robertson, who described with great feeling his views on the Jewish roots of Christianity, and how the Bible mandates that one must stand with Israel, come what may.

Prior to interviewing me about events in the Middle East for CBN's daily news program, anchorwoman Wendy Griffith did something I never saw a journalist do before. She folded her hands together, bowed her head in prayer and humbly offered a solemn plea: "Bless Your people Israel and keep them safe," she said.

Peering from behind a video camera, one of the cameramen in the studio then quoted verses from Isaiah about the return of the Jewish people to Zion. "I pray about this on a daily basis," he said in earnest.

Where else can one find such a deeply-rooted love and concern for God's chosen people? Of course, the fact that many US Christians support Israel is nothing new. Much has been written in recent years about the closer ties that have been forged between the two - a fact that has generated no small amount of controversy among certain more liberal sectors of US Jewry.

But after my visit to CBN, and based on previous encounters I have had with other pro-Israel evangelical Christians, I am more convinced than ever that the Jewish state needs to undertake a coordinated effort to nurture and broaden this special relationship.

The fact of the matter is that Bible-believing Christians, even more so than US Jews, may represent the best hope for ensuring that long-term American support for Israel remains strong. Like it or not, American Jewry is steadily on the decline, as the realities of mounting intermarriage and assimilation continue to devour untold numbers of young Jews, leaving the community's future viability very much in doubt.

And as the US Jewish community grows smaller in size, its clout and influence will invariably diminish as well. That leaves the tens of millions of evangelical Christians in the US as the best possible vanguard to man the barricades on behalf of defending Israel in Washington.

ACCORDING TO THE Pew Center's 2008 Religious Landscape Survey, 26.3 percent of American adults identify themselves as evangelical Christians, making them the largest religious grouping in the US. And a study conducted by Pew three years ago found overwhelming support for Israel among evangelicals, concluding that "seven-in-ten white evangelicals (69%) believe God gave Israel to the Jewish people, and a solid majority (59%) believes Israel is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy." Naturally, these believers "are much more likely than others to sympathize with Israel in its dispute with the Palestinians," said the report.

Indeed, the list of Christian personalities and organizations working on behalf of Israel in fields ranging from social welfare to public affairs is almost dizzying.

The Kansas-based Unity Coalition for Israel, for example, has built an enormous network, utilizing hundreds of organizations, to educate the American public about Israel.

Pastor John Hagee has turned Christians United for Israel into the largest Christian grassroots movement in the US, with state directors in all 50 states, and an annual Washington summit that brings out thousands of people from across the country to speak out on behalf of the Jewish state.

Veteran Christian broadcasters, such as Hal Lindsey, Janet Parshall and Earl Cox, reach tens of millions of viewers and listeners, explaining Israel's case and defending her from the onslaught of the mainstream press.

And then there is the Rev. Robert Stearns, whose New York-based Eagles Wings has for the past seven years organized an annual "Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem" each October. This year, organizers expect more than 200,000 churches in 175 countries to take part in praying for Israel and its welfare.

Locally, organizations such as the International Christian Embassy, Bridges for Peace and Christians for Israel provide aid to new immigrants, promote aliya and bring thousands of Christian pilgrims each year.

This plethora of activities underlines the extent to which evangelical Christians in the US, Europe and elsewhere can be counted on to back the Jewish state across a variety of spheres.

It is therefore essential that the country take additional steps to further strengthen this burgeoning alliance. This could include the appointment of a roving ambassador to the Christian world, tasked with responsibility for reinforcing Israel-Christian relations, and the convening of an annual summit of pro-Israel Christian leaders in Jerusalem under the auspices of the prime minister.

Rather than focusing solely on the solicitation of Christians' dollars, the country should seek to cement their devotion by more actively reaching out and courting their support, prayers and cooperation.

With so many challenges facing the Jewish state, it is time we recognize a clear and cogent fact: There are large numbers of Christians around the world ready and willing to stand with us.

And, I might add, thank G-d for that.

--- from the March 25 Jerusalem Post