Among Christians who stand with Israel, none comes so close to being monolithic in their support than evangelicals. A 2017 poll by Lifeway Research revealed that 67 percent of evangelical Christians have a positive perception of the Jewish state.
That is a lot of people. According to France’s Sébastien Fath, there are about 630 million evangelicals in the world. In 2014, Pew indicated there were as many as 81 million just in the United States.
On the face of it, that translates into a huge support base for the modern Israeli state. By the numbers, there are 422 million evangelicals around the world, including 54 million in the US.
Figures like these have persuaded many Israelis to regard evangelical support as more significant than that of any single nation. While in Brazil in December 2018, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted, “We have no better friends in the world than the evangelical community, and the evangelical community has no better friend in the world than Israel.”
There is, of course, more to the story. The Lifeway Research poll indicated that a whopping 97 percent of evangelicals who support Israel have never visited it. Two-thirds do not have a Jewish friend.
Perhaps for these reasons alone, the primary focus of organizations that represent evangelical support for Israel do not focus on the global Boycott, Divestment, Sanction campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state and to cripple its economy. Instead, they concentrate on educating their constituents about the nation of Israel.
“The BDS movement relies on lies and bigotry to advance its agenda, we combat those by teaching the truth and preaching tolerance,” says Shari Dollinger, co-executive director of Christians United for Israel (CUFI). “CUFI combats BDS through education and advocacy on campus, in churches and through social media. While we do not focus on specific conferences or events on BDS, it is an issue that is discussed at our major gatherings. Combating BDS is a core element of our policy agenda.”
It is an approach that has borne significant fruit for CUFI. Its efforts in social media, special events across the United States, involvement on 330 university campuses, and television programming have garnered over six million members. And, says Dollinger, it “reaches tens of millions” every month.
Another global voice for evangelicals who support Israel is the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ). Founded by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein in 1983, 96% of its donors are Christians. Unlike most groups that represent Christians, however, its leaders are Orthodox Jews.
With a focus on raising financial support for social needs in Israel and sponsoring immigration of Jews to Israel, IFCJ’s approach to educating its constituents is centered more on ‘how’ rather than ‘why.’
“In just over 35 years we have raised more than $1.6 billion to provide support for the Jewish people and the State of Israel,” says Yael Eckstein, the new president of IFCJ, who took over for her father in the aftermath of her father’s unexpected death from cardiac arrest on February 6.
Eckstein, 34, adds that almost all of the funds were raised from Christians. The real objective, she explains, “is not fund-raising or even providing humanitarian aid.” Instead, “our mission is bridge building, strengthening trust, communication and respect between Christians and Jews around the world. The Fellowship’s more than one million donors are expressing their love for Israel and the Jewish people by providing humanitarian aid and comfort to those in need.”
As for BDS, both Dollinger and Eckstein acknowledge the threat.
“BDS is an antisemitic movement aimed at doing through boycotts what the terrorists have failed to do with bullets, namely, destroy the state of Israel,” says Dollinger. “It is a movement that seeks to normalize antisemitism. By wrapping themselves in the lexicon of human rights, the BDS movement seeks to make it acceptable not just to criticize this or that Israeli policy, but to question the Jewish right to self-determination. In fact, the movement is composed of antisemites who hide in plain sight.”
According to Eckstein, “every human being is made in the image of God – and God loves justice. But BDS is a perversion of justice, insulting the God-given dignity of the people of Israel. Its real driving force is antisemitism. In fact, BDS is the worst kind of injustice because it is masquerading as justice.”
On its website, BDS states its objective is “ending [Israel’s] occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall.”
The word “all” is the giveaway.
Even though it adds the sentence, “International law recognises (sic) the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Syrian Golan Heights as occupied by Israel,” BDS refrains from saying it endorses that limited claim. Its objective is “ending Israel’s ‘occupation and colonization’ of all Arab lands.”
In fact, then, its goal is nothing less than destruction of the Jewish state.
The question for evangelicals who stand with Israel, and especially for organizations that represent them, is this: Are the arguments made by BDS and its proponents winning converts among those evangelicals? The answer is…
According to the Lifeway Research poll, 76 percent of evangelicals who are 55 to 64 years old have a “positive” view of Israel.
But millennials, those 18-34 years old? The percentage of those with a “positive” view drops more than a third to 58 percent.
The vast majority of millennial evangelicals agree “that Christians should do more to love and care for Palestinian people.” A clear majority also believe “that Palestinian people have a historic right to the land of Israel.” Indeed, two-thirds believe “the modern re-birth of the State of Israel has been an injustice to the Arab people,” and that “modern Israel has been unfair to the Palestinian people.”
At the same time, about two-thirds deny the proposition “that the Christian church has fulfilled or replaced the nation of Israel.” On the other hand, 72 percent agree “that God’s promise to Abraham and his descendants was for all time.”
What emerges, then, are two concerns regarding the upcoming generation of evangelicals: they care about social justice for Palestinians, and they need some degree of shoring up about the plain meaning of promises God made to the Jewish people spelled out in the Bible.
John Haller is a trial attorney in Columbus, Ohio. He is also a well-known analyst of social-political trends in evangelicalism.
“Increasingly, today’s evangelicals are moving away from emphasizing biblical knowledge,” says Haller. “This does not bode well for evangelical support for Israel among the upcoming generation of evangelicals, both in the US and around the world. Evangelicals have stood with Israel because they know their Bibles. They know that the Torah proclaimed God’s blessing of the land to Israel as an irrevocable covenant. What is needed more than anything to stop the drift of millennial support away from Israel is clear Bible teaching on the subject.”
The greatest concern among millennial evangelicals is social justice, especially as it applies to Palestinians. On the other hand, awareness of social justice for Israelis is all but absent.
That’s why CUFI has two initiatives focused on evangelical millennials: CUFI On Campus, an educational endeavor, and the Israel Collective that brings influential leaders of millennials to Israel to encounter social justice issues first hand.
For its part, IFCJ makes a point of its support for all Israelis.
“We are a humanitarian organization that supports all Israelis,” Eckstein notes. “The criteria we use to decide who receives aid is need, not ethnicity or religion.” By doing so, “we make it much more difficult for the BDS movement to spread its lies to Christians around the world.”
It doesn’t hurt that Eckstein herself is a millennial.
“We are not building this organization on my personality,” she emphasizes, “but instead on our mission.”
On the other hand, “it definitely helps that I am a millennial woman leading this Jewish organization made up almost entirely of Christian supporters. When I talk to millennials, I’m speaking directly to my peers, in a common language and with a common cultural understanding.”
In short, the focus of today’s stand against BDS by Christians who support Israel is a fight to educate and communicate in the cultural language of evangelical millennials. It is a battle that has only just begun.
Brian Schrauger is editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Journal and its primarily publication, ChaimReport.com
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