Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein.
(photo credit: EDDIE ISRAEL)
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Support for Israel will increasingly come from the world’s growing Evangelical community, believes Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
The success of the IFCJ, which raises $140 million in Christian donations for Jewish and Israeli causes annually, has led some in the Israeli media to dub the American rabbi the “shadow welfare minister” for his social welfare work here, and has made Eckstein one of the most well- known Jewish figures among American Christians.
When he started working on interfaith issues some 30-odd years ago, he had no idea that Evangelical Christians would become such a powerful force in the battle over Israel, he recalls.
“Little did I have in mind or did I even think of the possibility that one day Israel would be essentially seen as a pariah almost by many Western nations, let alone Arab nations,” nor did he have in mind the current glob - al rise in anti-Semitism, he says.
“And little did I even think that the Evangelical community would become a force to be reckoned with in America and in other countries around the world. There has been a real upsurge in Evangelicalism,” Eckstein adds.
The original goal in working with the Evangelical community was “simply to have the dialogue,” Eckstein says, although he did see some potential at the time for “raising support for Israel in various forums in a broader way beyond the Jewish community.” Evangelical Christianity has exploded in popularity around the globe, making gains in places such as Latin America, which has always been strongly Catholic.
“It’s growing and it’s becoming normative and more acceptable and the same phenomenon is going on in the Far East – Indonesia, Singapore, China,” Eckstein explains, asserting that “where you have a rise in Evangelicalism, you have the potential for steering them to become supporters of Israel and the Jewish people.”
As such, he says, “we have barely touched the tip of the iceberg in rallying Christian support for Israel and in building friendships and rela - tionships.”
Israel and the Jewish people, however, “have not realized the potential of having a strategic alliance with Evangelical Pentecostal Christians around the world, and that should be the goal that [we] should grasp and make a reality.”
“It’s not an alliance, it’s a fellowship. It’s something beyond political exigencies and alliances. It’s more spiritual and it’s less realpolitik,” he explains, adding that he works to get this message out on the Christian side through radio broadcasts reaching a total worldwide audience of around 15 million to 16 million people.
According to Eckstein, while Amer - ica remains Israel’s key strategic ally regardless of the recent barbs and insults being traded between politi - cal leaders, its support does not come out of a vacuum.
“America is also a strategic ally because the people of America for the most part have a favorable view of Israel and the Jewish people... So Congress can be strong because they represent the people and the people can be strong because they represent [these] values. Israel’s security, which is tied to its strategic alliance to America, is also de facto tied to the people in America, many of whom are Evangelical and pro-Israel,” he says.
“Then when we extend [relationship-building activities] to other parts of the world where there may not be that many Jews, in Colombia or Costa Rica, if you can get the Christian community in Costa Rica, which numbers in the millions, to support Israel and to fight anti-Semitism and to come to Israel on tours and to donate to Israel, then you’ve taken an important step where Jews...are not there to apply that kind of pressure and influence as they are in America,” he concludes.
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