It is regrettable that on Yom Kippur eve, our chief rabbis have again uttered offensive remarks, this time besmirching one of Israel’s most dedicated allies and ardent supporters.
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau and his Sephardi counterpart, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, have issued an extraordinary condemnation against the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem (ICEJ), accusing it of missionary activities and calling on Jews to boycott its 36th annual global Sukkot gathering in Jerusalem. The pro-Israel ICEJ was established in 1980 and is an extension of the evangelical branch of Christianity.
Over the past half century, we have witnessed an exponential intensification in the evangelical movement’s attachment for the Jewish people and Israel. This has coincided with the dramatic erosion of support for Israel from the Left and liberal sources.
Needless to say, evangelicals are far from being a monolithic group and include a small minority whose primary interest in Jews is to proselytize them. Jews cannot countenance any relationship with such groups. There are also some fringe elements whose philo-Semitism is motivated by premillennial dispensationalism – a belief that the End of Days and the second coming of the messiah can only take place when Jews have returned to the land of Israel.
However, the majority of evangelicals are God-fearing Christians who share an unconditional love for the Jews as God’s chosen people, pray for our welfare and passionately support Israel. They regard Judaism as the foundation of Christianity and reject the Protestant replacement theology that the New Testament supersedes the historical role of the Jews as God’s chosen people. They base their belief on biblical passages such as Genesis 12:3: “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”
Most believe that God always intended Israel as a Jewish homeland and regard support of Israel as a way of honoring God. These feelings nurtured the early 19th century Christian Zionists and subsequently motivated people like Lord Balfour and Orde Wingate – who helped create the Haganah – and many others. These sentiments rather than proselytism were the major factors whereby evangelicals developed into passionate Christian Zionists.
The Christian Embassy has approximately 50 dedicated representatives in Israel who liaise with branches in over 80 countries. It has an impressive record of major charitable contributions to Jewish, principally Israeli causes. Most of the funds for these projects originate from $50 to $100 donations from churchgoing Christians who consider the support for the Jewish people as a righteous cause.
The ICEJ sponsored the aliyah of over 120,000 Jews to Israel and contributes to the integration of immigrants and numerous social welfare projects in Israel, including a home for needy Holocaust survivors in Haifa, support for former Gush Katif residents and funding of bomb shelters for settlements in the Gaza border region.
In the public arena, it canvasses support for Israel among parliaments throughout the world and even created a Christian counterpart to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in support of Israel and against anti-Semitism. Passionate evangelical support contributed substantially toward the surge of popularity for Israel in the United States and the good standing Israel currently enjoys in Congress. In some respects, evangelical political influence has been as important as that of the pro-Israeli lobby.
The Christian Embassy works closely with the Foreign Ministry, the Tourism Ministry, the Jewish Agency and Yad Vashem. Last year’s Sukkot celebrations, which took place just after the Gaza war, attracted the largest number of participants for many years (over 5000). This year’s expression of solidarity with Israel will again celebrate the “recognition of the hand of God in Israel’s modern-day restoration and the need to work with what God is doing and bless it.”
In stark contrast to the traditional anti-Semitic church doctrine and the current anti-Israel hostility manifested by most Protestant churches, the Christian Embassy and its supporters are genuine lovers of Zion. Evangelical support has never been conditional on a quid pro quo.
Yet the Chief Rabbinate shamefully proclaimed that the ICEJ’s objective is to convert “all the inhabitants of the world to Christianity” and in particular “to change the religion of Jews from the religion of Israel and to bring them under the wings of Christianity.” They urged Jews not to have any contact with them whatsoever, declaring that Jewish participation is prohibited by the Torah.
There are small groups of Orthodox Jews who remain convinced that all Christians are anti-Semites and their friendly gestures are only a ruse to proselytize us. Extremist fringe elements like the xenophobic Lehava organization exhibit vile bigotry and poisonous hatred, and a handful are pathological and guilty of despicable acts of vandalism against churches.
But the majority of anti-evangelical agitators are naïve and misguided zealots like Yad L’achim, who accuse the Christian Embassy of missionary activity. They obviously succeeded in convincing the chief rabbis to issue this condemnation without adequately checking the facts.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom