Christian Allies Caucus vows that 'the best is yet to come'

By ETGAR LEFKOVITS
January 8, 2007 22:19
3 minute read.

 
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The Knesset's Christian Allies Caucus is marking its third anniversary on Tuesday, as ties between Israel and the predominantly supportive Evangelical Christian community around the world continue to strengthen. The increasingly-influential parliamentary lobby, which is currently made up of 12 Knesset members from seven parties across the political spectrum, has come to epitomize Israel's newfound interest in garnering the support of the Christian world in the 21st century, at a time when radical Islam is on the rise. "A State of Israel which does not understand that its strongest friend in the world at a time of growing threats from Islamic extremism is the Christian world, and particularly the Evangelical Christian community, is a state which is not politically astute," said interim Caucus leader MK Benny Elon (National Union-National Religious Party), the hawkish rabbi who spearheaded the campaign to court Evangelical Christian support during his tenure as tourism minister. Established in January 2004 amid an unprecedented wave of Palestinian suicide bombings, the parliamentary lobby immediately took off, as 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 didn't come to Israel. After decades of shying away from Christian supporters, the newly formed lobby burst onto the scene with a flurry of activity, which continued apace in the last year, even as the Caucus's highly-respected founder, MK Yuri Shtern (Yisrael Beiteinu), had to temporarily step down from his position due to his debilitating battle with cancer. In the past year alone, the endlessly-active lobby spurred the launching of a sister caucus in the United States House of Representatives known as the Congressional Israel Allies Caucus, while half a dozen similar pro-Israel caucuses in governments around the world are now being planned, including one that is scheduled to be launched in Canada next month. Ultimately, the group hopes to create an international network of parliamentary sister caucuses that coordinate activities in support of Israel in close communication with each other. "The singular achievement of the Christian Allies Caucus is that in its three years, it has become a well-known institution operating within the Knesset, and many Christians of all walks of life have become aware of it and are relating to it," said Rev. Malcolm Hedding, the executive director of the staunchly pro-Israel International Christian Embassy, a Jerusalem-based Evangelical organization. The lobby, which met with top Christian leaders in the United States, Europe, Singapore and South Africa over the past year, is involved in programs to increase Christian tourism to Israel, strengthen Israel's dialogue with the African American community and improve the status of women globally on the basis of Judeo-Christian values, events that aim to broaden its ties with Christians of all denominations, beyond its natural alliance with the supportive Evangelical world. At the same time, the Caucus's work - and goal in courting the support of predominantly conservative Christians - has been given the cold shoulder by the predominantly liberal American Jewish leadership, whose outlooks on social matters such as abortion, the separation of church and state and school prayer are 180 degrees to the left of the Christian Right in America. Indeed, despite its almost overnight success, most mainstream American Jewish organizations have shied away from the parliamentary lobby or ignored it altogether. The conflicting views on the two sides of the Atlantic over Israel's warm relations with the Evangelical Christian world came into full play last month, when, in a unprecedented move, the New York office of the World Jewish Congress publicly disassociated itself with an annual event to honor Christian supporters of Israel that its Israel office had already cosponsored. At the same time, the Caucus's main limitation to date has been that it has primarily dealt with the supportive Evangelical Christian Community and has failed to make major inroads with the Catholic Church or other mainstream Protestant communities, some of whom have pressed ahead with Divestment Campaigns from Israel to protest Israeli policies vis a vie the Palestinians. Still, Caucus director Josh Reinstein, who has termed the lobby "the personification of the new relationship between Jews and Christians in the 21st century," is overtly optimistic about the future. "The Caucus has toiled to accomplish a great deal in the last three years, but the best is yet to come," he concluded.

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