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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The newly appointed chairman of the Knesset's Christian Allies Caucus, Israel Beiteinu MK David Rotem, said Thursday that he hopes to broaden Israel's connection with Christian supporters of Israel around the world.
The 60-year-old father of five, who has served as an active member of the cross-parliamentary caucus since he first entered the Knesset two years ago, replaces former MK Benny Elon, who is taking a break from politics.
"Relations on the basis of religious love can attain political support which we so need," said Rotem who lives in the West Bank settlement of Efrat and who, like his predecessor, is religious.
The increasingly-influential parliamentary lobby has come to epitomize Israel's newfound interest in garnering the support of the Christian world, especially from the largely pro-Israel evangelical Christian community, at a time when radical Islam is on the rise.
Established in January 2004 by the late Yuri Shtern amid the wave of Palestinian suicide bombings, the parliamentary lobby immediately took off.
Pro-Israel Christian pilgrims, particularly evangelicals, stood out in the then-empty streets of Jerusalem, their moral support conspicuous among the city's hard-hit residents at a time when even many American Jews shied away from coming to Israel due to the repeated terror attacks.
The parliamentary lobby has formed "sister caucuses" with 14 parliaments around the world, and plans to double the number by next year.
Rotem said that he would like to work to fulfill the vision of the lobby's founder, a party colleague, by expanding the work of the caucus beyond the evangelical Christian community.
"This is indeed part of Yuri's vision that I will strive to fulfill," he said, citing the recent expansion of ties with world parliaments as emblematic of this goal.
Over the last five years, the caucus's work has been given the cold-shoulder by the mainstream American Jewish leadership, whose outlooks on social issues, such as abortion, the separation of church and state and school prayer, are 180 degrees apart from the Christian Right in America, with only their support for Israel unifying them.
Rotem brushed aside ongoing concerns among some Jews - especially in the haredi community - that forging connections with Christians encourages proselytizing, noting that the caucus's guidelines bar any connection with missionary groups.
"Our is a relationship of mutual respect," he said.
Rotem, who has served as deputy Speaker of the Knesset, was appointed to the position by Elon, who will remain connected to the Christian world as International Chairman of the US-based Israel Allies Caucus Foundation.
"Like the late Dr. Yuri Shtern and Rabbi Benny Elon, MK David Rotem possesses the vision and understanding needed to chair the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus," caucus director Josh Reinstein said.
"His unique ability to lead and inspire coupled with his unflinching determination is exactly what the caucus needs if we are to continue to forge this new relationship between Jews and Christians in the 21st century."