Jerusalem old city 88.
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The Knesset's Christian Allies Caucus is marking its fourth anniversary next week, at a time of burgeoning ties between Israel and the predominantly supportive evangelical Christian community around the world.
But as the relationship flourishes, the lobby also faces growing challenges from opponents of Israel's ties with the evangelical world, both in Israel and abroad.
The increasingly influential parliamentary lobby, currently made up of 13 Knesset members from seven political parties across the political spectrum, has come to epitomize Israel's newfound interest in garnering the support of the Christian world, especially the largely pro-Israel evangelical community, at a time when radical Islam is on the rise.
"Evangelical Christians are the most strategic ally the state of Israel has and we have to be stupid not to understand this," said caucus chairman MK Benny Elon (NU-NRP), who spearheaded Israel's campaign to court evangelical Christian support during his tenure as tourism minister.
"This is not just friendship as a means to an end but true friendship," Elon said, negating ongoing concerns in certain streams of Judaism over ulterior motives evangelicals may have in their relations with Israel.
Established in January 2004 amid a 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 was conspicuous at a time when many American Jews stopped coming to Israel due to the wave of terror attacks.
After decades of shying away from Christian supporters, the newly formed Israeli lobby burst onto the scene with a flurry of activity, which continued apace in the last year even as the caucus's founder, MK Yuri Shtern (Israel Beiteinu), passed away.
Over the last year, the parliamentary lobby has formed, or was in the process of forming, sister pro-Israel caucuses with 10 countries around the world: The US, Canada, Uruguay, Brazil, Korea, Philippines, Malawi, South Africa, England and Norway.
A mega caucus-event with the chairmen of all 10 sister parliamentary lobbies is scheduled to be held in Washington DC in May.
"The success of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus over the last four years can be felt both internationally and here in Israel," said caucus director Josh Reinstein.
"The [positive] relationship between Jews and Christians in the 21st century is now [a fact] and the advancement of Judeo-Christian values in the face of the rise of radical Islam is now a global movement."
At the same time, the caucus's main limitation to date has been that it primarily deals with the supportive evangelical Christian community, and has failed to make major inroads with the Catholic Church or mainstream Protestant communities. However, a major event with Mormon Church leaders is planned for this coming year.
Last year, evangelical organizations based in Israel faced criticism from the top Roman Catholic leader in the Holy Land for their unflinching support for Israel.
Moreover, these groups have also been given the cold shoulder by the Chief Rabbinate, which recently banned Jewish participation in a major Christian-sponsored tourism event due to concern over proselytizing.
The Knesset's Christian Allies Caucus members - who range from Meretz to the National Union-National Religious Party and include MKs from Labor, Likud, Kadima, Israel Beiteinu, and the Pensioners Party - are scheduled to meet with the Chief Rabbinate next month in order to discuss the issue.
The controversy over the event highlighted the divergent world and theological views that still exist among Jews of all streams over cooperation with Christian evangelicals.
Indeed, the caucus's work in courting the support of predominantly politically conservative Christians has been shunned by mainstream American Jewish leadership, whose views on social issues differ greatly from those of the Christian Right.
"Israel should be working with every friend it has in the Christian world, which very often are evangelical," said Bobby Brown, former Israel director of the New York-based World Jewish Congress.
"We often see a rush in dialogue with non-evangelical and more liberal churches who are not our friends or who have not proven to be our friends in times of crisis," he said.
With 70 million evangelical Christians in the US - who make up as much as forty percent of Republican voters - their support, based on shared values, is critical, Israeli caucus officials said.
"Despite our success, we have no intention of slowing down," Reinstein concluded, pledging "even more far-reaching and bolder initiatives" in the year to come.
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