By Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, YNetnews.com
The US Embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the White House’s official recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is an impressive diplomatic achievement of the Netanyahu government, and influential Jewish groups likely contributed to the move too.
But there is another group whose contribution to this move should be recognized and cherished. In fact, it likely wouldn’t have happened without that group—America’s evangelical Christian community.
This community, and its influence on the embassy move, have been subject to implicit criticism from Yael Patir, J Street’s Israel director. So a few things should be made clear.
The evangelical Christians are the ones who supported Donald Trump and led to his election victory. The president has an advisory committee of the American evangelical leadership. Vice President Mike Pence is a devout evangelical Christian, and so is US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who has been fighting fearlessly for Israel, and other senior administration officials.
The evangelical Christians’ firm support for Israel guarantees, more than anything else, the advancement and protection of Israel’s interests in the world power, and therefore in the United Nations and in many other places in the world as well.
Today, this support is perceived as obvious, but it definitely should be taken for granted. In the past four decades, I have had the privilege of being one of the main activists working to build bridges of trust and cooperation between the Christian public and leadership, the Jewish people and the State of Israel. In the late 1970s, only few Jews were familiar with this community, and most of them were suspicious of it or disregarded it. On the Christian side, Israel and the Jewish people weren’t considered a top priority either. President Jimmy Carter, for example, was an evangelical Christian whose views weren’t pro-Israel.
The Christian support for Israel today is the result of decades of PR efforts and education to connect the evangelical community to Christianity’s Jewish roots. In the beginning, I had no idea how much this community would grow in numbers and influence. We worked to enlist the Christian leadership to politically support and pro-Israel lobbying, and we later worked to encourage Christian tourism to Israel, which today makes up almost half of incoming tourism to the country.
Starting from the 1990s, upon the fall of the Soviet regime and the beginning of the wave of immigration from Russia to Israel, millions of Christians answered the call of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which was published in leading evangelical media outlets and began enlisting in droves, offering financial donations to help the immigration to Israel, contributing to the welfare of the state’s weakened citizens and strengthening the civil defense system at times of emergency.
About a million and a half Israelis and Jews in the Diaspora receive critical aid from the Fellowship every year in the areas of welfare, medicine and more. These projects, which cost billions of shekels, couldn’t have existed with the help of millions of Christian donors around the world. These are usually simple people who give from the little they have, believing they should support Israel and the Jewish people.
I’m mentioning all this to demonstrate those Christians’ huge contribution to Israel, which isn’t duly appreciated. The evangelical public is a strategic asset to Israel on the diplomatic and social level.
We must remember that the support Israel enjoys today is just the tip of the iceberg, and we must keep reaching out and enlisting more and more communities. Beyond the US, the evangelical Christians are among the fastest-growing religious communities in the world, with some 100,000 believers in china and hundreds of millions in Latin America, Korea and other places.
The common denominator between the countries that are following in America’s footsteps, and are expected to move their embassies to Jerusalem too, is their affiliation with evangelical Christianity. Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales is a devout evangelical Christian and his voters support Israel for the same reason. In Honduras, which also declared its intention to move its embassy, the evangelical community makes up about 40 percent of the population.
But just like the evangelical support didn’t come out of nowhere, its continuation isn’t guaranteed either. If we want this alliance to be maintained and grow stronger in the future, we must treat it with respect and invest in it. It’s time to learn, understand and recognize a contribution that benefits Israel, understand its importance and motives and work to boost it in every way. We should simply recognize the good and say thank you.
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein is the founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.