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The State of Israel is not doing enough to utilize the growing Evangelical support for Israel at a time when a Christian-Jewish alliance is vital in the battle against Islamic extremism, according to Likud MK Gilad Erdan.
"The strengthening and development of our relations with the Evangelical world is a national interest which must be furthered," said Erdan, the deputy head of the Knesset's Christian Allies Caucus, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
"There is no clear-cut policy of the government of Israel that says we need to cooperate on all levels with Christian supporters of Israel," he said, faulting the Foreign Ministry for a continuing failure to appreciate the potential such a partnership offers in the battle for public opinion.
Erdan, 36, a rising figure in the Likud, has been active in the cross-party parliamentary caucus, which works with Christian friends of Israel around the world, since its establishment three and a half years ago.
The lobby's formation was seen as a watershed after decades when Israel shied away from contacts with the Christian world due to concerns over proselytizing.
The increasingly influential parliamentary lobby, which is made up of 12 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 Evangelicals.
Erdan said an alliance between Jews and Christians was absolutely critical in the war against Islamic extremism.
"If there is a chance to overcome the forces of Islamic extremism, it is by making them see that they have no chance of success, through an increasingly flourishing relationship between Christians and Jews," he said.
While the caucus works to promote contacts with all Christian supporters of Israel, Erdan said he believes it won't be possible to expand relations with the nonevangelical Christian world beyond governmental contacts.
"With the Evangelicals, we have common, shared Bible-based beliefs, and there is no need to convince them at the core," he said, pulling out caucus chairman MK Benny Elon's book, God's Covenant with Israel, which Erdan keeps in his Knesset office.
The book addresses the strong connection between the people of Israel and the land of Israel.
Erdan, who will represent the Christian Allies Caucus at the 2007 Jerusalem Prayer Banquet - an Evangelical gathering in Beverly Hills next week organized by the New York-based Eagles' Wings Ministries - said Evangelicals carry major political weight in the US, and that had Israel's relations with them taken off sooner, the US Embassy might have been moved to Jerusalem. Former deputy prime minister Natan Sharansky is also set to attend the event.
Even as he distanced himself from long-term theological debate that lingers in the background of the Jewish-Evangelical relationship ("When the Messiah comes, we will argue about it" he said, quoting late prime minister Menachem Begin), Erdan, who was raised in a religious family, is extremely cognizant of the major shift in opinion within Israel over the last several years on the importance of contacts with the Christian world.
As a student at a yeshiva high school, he learned of the Christian persecution of the Jews throughout the centuries and how the Jewish people were attacked in the name of the Church, he said.
Yet today, when he visits US Evangelical churches on behalf of Israel, he is in awe of their friendship with Israel, and slightly embarrassed and jealous of how well their youth know their Bible, something, he said, Israel should learn from.
"Today, we have somewhat lost our values - we do not know why we are fighting," he said.
One of the Knesset's most active lawmakers - Erdan has introduced bills on subjects as varied as punishing traffic offenders, banning smoking in public places, and reducing bank fees - Erdan, an attorney by profession who is about to become chairman of the Knesset's prestigious Finance Committee, is perhaps best known as one of the Likud rebels who fell out with then-prime minister Ariel Sharon over his unilateral Gaza pullout two years ago.
Erdan has no regrets for his opposition to disengagement, and feels vindicated by the course of events.
"If the choice was between the Likud falling apart and the country falling apart, I would have to choose the Likud," he said.
Erdan also said he had difficulty understanding how US President George W. Bush could advocate a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, considering his religious convictions.
Erdan, who became an MK in January 2003 after previously heading the Likud's youth wing, said he decided to enter politics after a post-army trip to the Far East in which he saw how disconnected Israeli youth had become from their roots, developing a sense of "anti" to anything that smacked of religion.
He faulted the political parties - especially the religious ones - for causing this disconnect among the nation's youth, whom, he said, had an "amazing ignorance" of Judaism's 101's, despite living in the Jewish state.
"If our youth does not know about our history, our culture, and our inheritance, there will be no reason to live here in the decades ahead," he said.