Benny Elon 248.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Knesset's Christian Allies Caucus is marking five years of operation this month by redoubling its efforts to direct Christian faith-based support for Israel to legislatures around the world.
The increasingly-influential parliamentary lobby, which currently numbers 13 MKs from seven parties across the political spectrum, epitomizes Israel's interest in garnering the support of the largely pro-Israel Protestant evangelical community.
"We are talking about millions of non-Jewish friends around the world who are the most strategic ally of the State of Israel," caucus chairman MK Benny Elon (National Union), the rabbi who spearheaded Israel's efforts to court evangelical support during his tenure as tourism minister, said on Thursday.
"They now have an official address for this friendship over and beyond visiting the State of Israel, while we have a great source of political support," Elon said.
Established in January 2004 amid a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings, the caucus immediately took off, as Christian pilgrims, particularly Evangelicals, stood in the then empty streets of Jerusalem, their moral support conspicuous at a time when many, including American Jews, shied away from visiting Israel due to the terrorist attacks.
The lobby has established 14 "sister caucuses" - in the US, Canada, Uruguay, Brazil, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Malawi, Britain, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, Korea, Philippines, as well as with the EU. The cross-party parliamentary lobbies are made up of Christians and Jews legislators who support Israel based on shared Bible-based values, with the backing of local Christian groups.
"There is no way we could have built such strong parliamentary caucuses without having Christian supporters of Israel behind us," Christian Allies Caucus director Josh Reinstein said on Thursday.
He added that the caucus hoped to increase the number of "sister-caucuses" to 30 within the next year, with a focus on Europe and Africa, where concern over radical Islam is on the rise.
The caucus's main limitation has been that it has primarily dealt with the supportive Evangelical community, and has failed to make major inroads with the Catholic Church or "mainstream" Protestant communities, which was the ultimate goal of its founder, the late MK Yuri Shtern (Israel Beiteinu).
Moreover, the caucus's work in courting predominantly conservative Christians 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.
But with 70 million evangelical Christians in the US - who make up as much as 40 percent of Republican Party voters - their support, based on shared values, is viewed by Israel as vital.
"The very fact that there exists a parliamentary lobby whose purpose is to bring pro-Israel Christians closer to Israel is a positive thing," Shmuel Ben-Shmuel, director of Diaspora and Inter-Religious Relations at the Foreign Ministry, said on Thursday.
He added that the Foreign Ministry was not directly involved in the caucus's inter-parliamentary work, but welcomed any move that promoted Israel.
"No one could have predicted in such a short time that we would have evolved into such a major international movement," Reinstein said. "We have only seen the tip of the iceberg."
Relations with the evangelical Christian world are expected to get a further boost if Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu becomes prime minister after next month's election.
Netanyahu has called Christian Zionists "Israel's best friends," and pledged to broaden cooperation with them.
"Everything is in place for the new government and I believe that under Netanyahu's leadership these ties will only further flourish," said Elon, who is taking a break from politics as he he not running for reelection, but will remain international chairman of the Washington-based Israel Allies Caucus Foundation. "The potential is huge," he said.
"Ironically, as radical Islam grows so will our influence and ability to meet the challenge facing those who hold Judea-Christian values dear," Reinstein said.