Pastor John Hagee 88 298.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As the American Jewish community debates the pros and cons of a growing relationship between Jews and Christian supporters of Israel, the courtship is quietly growing more intimate.
On college campuses across the United States, Christian students are asking to join efforts to "make the case for Israel" alongside their Jewish counterparts, and this week their requests will begin to materialize.
A group of Christian Zionist students at a California university, will be trained this week in how to defend Israel in the face of campus attacks.
The training at California State University, Bakersfield is the first step toward establishing a college chapter of Christians United for Israel, a year-old organization based in San Antonio, Texas started by Evangelical Pastor John Hagee to rally Christians around support for Israel. The chapter will be the first of its kind. The hope is to establish similar "CUFI on Campus" chapters on college campuses across the United States.
Over the last few years, Hagee, author of several books about biblical prophecy and an opponent of territorial concessions to the Palestinians on biblical grounds, has a the face of the Christian Zionist movement, building close ties with several key Jewish organizations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Still trying to build itself nationally, Christians United for Israel leaders did not intend to work with colleges so soon. But an influx of calls from students at several campuses wanting to establish chapters to combat anti-Israel sentiment convinced them to speed up the process.
"The last thing we want to do is turn away students," said CUFI executive director David Brog. "We want to build the next generation."
Christians United for Israel will be partnering with organizations such as the David Project, a Boston-based pro-Israel group that works extensively with students at colleges and beyond, to help with their campus outreach.
This week Andrew Summey, Christian Outreach Manager for the David Project, is coming prepared to tackle even the most radical rhetoric used against Israel. The curriculum was developed by the David Project, producers of Columbia Unbecoming, a controversial movie about Jewish students on the Columbia University campus.
He will teach the group how to respond to accusations about Israel as "colonizer" or Israel as an "apartheid state" that have become commonplace at US colleges.
Defending Israel comes naturally to Summey, who remembers his mom "taking time from out of breakfast to pray for Israel" in 1982, during the First Lebanon War.
"I grew up a Christian Zionist, thinking Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state and that Jews have the right to decide how to run it," said Summey.
Judging by March's AIPAC conference in Washington, where Hagee was met with enthusiastic applause, many Jews are supportive of a growing alliance with Christian Zionists. Hagee drew standing ovations as he told the 6,000 delegates, "It is 1938, Iran is Germany and Ahmadiejad is the new Hitler."
But at the same time, a growing number of critical voices are coming to the forefront. An article in New York's The Jewish Week prior to the AIPAC conference included several Jewish voices skeptical of growing ties between pro-Israel forces and the Christian Zionist movement.
But many Israeli leaders continue to view Evangelicals as important partners. "The State of Israel finds the Christian community an important base of support, and we cooperate with them on many projects," said David Saranga, Israel's consul for media and public affairs in New York.
The consulate has an ongoing partnership with Evangelical organizations such as Eagles' Wings to send Christian students to Israel. "Friends can be friends and have different opinions. When it comes to support for Israel, we have a lot of things in common," said Saranga.
The course, "Understanding the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict" will be offered twice over the coming week to students on the Bakersfield campus.
Though unwilling to reveal specifics about the course, part of the hour-long program includes a video clip of Palestinian children being taught to fight Israel. But Summey said the David Project does not mean to suggest that the video is reflective of all Palestinians. "The class does not take a political stance on the conflict," said Summey.
The David Project curriculum, which teaches history and politics, will be new territory for many Christian Zionist students who are used to justifying Israel's existence via the bible.
"We will teach them how to respond so that they can say more than just God gave Israel the land," said Charles Jacobs, director of the David Project. "We will teach them how to understand the conflict, not as a border war, but as a regional conflict between Arabs and Jews, as the centerpiece of a global war."