Members of Christians United for Israel march to show solidarity with Israel, in Jerusalem, in 2008. .
(photo credit: ELIANA APONTE/REUTERS)
Most in Israel and the Jewish world know that our strongest and most consistent supporters are American Evangelical Christians.
However, another truism that was borne out by a recent poll demonstrates that we dare not take this support for granted and there are strong generational differences in support for Israel among this community that could signal if we don’t act, a significant diminishing of support in the next generation.
According to a recent study conducted by Christian group LifeWay Research, over three-quarters of Evangelicals aged 65 and older have a “positive” view of Israel. That number steadily drops among younger age groups before bottoming out at 58% among Evangelicals between the ages of 18 and 34.
Most worryingly, for many younger Evangelicals, Israel is not a burning issue and some simply don’t care. Over 40% of those polled between the ages of 18 to 34 answered that they have no strong views about Israel.
This means potentially, at best they will be apathetic towards Israel and at worst they could be ripe for messaging hostile to Israel, especially because this is a demographic that anti-Israel groups are actively targeting.
This is why we need to actively invest in the next generation of Christian leaders to provide them with the tools to better understand the intersection between their faith, its foundations in the Holy Land and support for the modern State of Israel.
As surveys and studies conducted by Birthright demonstrate, a visit to Israel to witness its beauty, creativity, archeological history, religious vibrancy and technological prowess ensure an enduring attachment and understanding of the challenges the Jewish state faces.
With this in mind, Passages was created in partnership with the Museum of the Bible, which just opened an unprecedented museum in Washington to document the narrative, history and impact of the Bible, and the Philos Project, a New York-based non-profit organization promoting “positive Christian engagement in the Middle East.”
The Passages trip to Israel offers Christian college students with leadership potential a fresh and innovative approach to experience the Holy Land. Our participants encounter the roots of their Biblical faith first-hand and come face to face with the modern-day miracle that is Israel. Upon their return, participants have opportunities to build upon their trip experiences by engaging in further leadership training, with an end goal of being an informed voice for both their Christian faith and for Israel.
This year, Passages has already bought 2,000 students to Israel and will bring even more next year, and is already beginning to make a difference.
Some of our participants have told us that they have been swayed in the past by some of the BDS messages heard on their college campus.
One African-American student, who was on one of our trips when the infamous Black Lives Matter platform, which accuses Israel of genocide, was released, told us that had she not been on this trip she would have almost certainly bought into this pernicious narrative.
Others tell us openly that they had previously fallen into the expanding demographic of Evangelicals who simply don’t care about Israel until they witnessed it first hand.
While many Christian tours focus purely or largely on the religious and biblical landscape, Passages focuses on the present as well as the past, bringing in a wide range of speakers, from government officials and IDF officers to local Christians, Arabs and Jews.
We do not shy away from issues that they will confront on their college campuses, church congregations and everyday life. In fact, we embrace them as part of the mosaic that is modern Israel and its extraordinary challenges.
Passages’ participants are introduced to Israeli culture, government and economy, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and geopolitical and security issues surrounding Israel.
The Book of Mishlei (Proverbs) says: “He who belittles his friend lacks wit.”
While we may not be belittling our Evangelical friends, many are taking their support for granted – this survey has been a wake-up call.
Nevertheless, Passages is taking on this challenge at the opportune time to try and reverse these disturbing trends. We are investing to ensure that our closest friends remain ably so.
What may have worked with older generations will not work with younger. We live in a world where many of our youth need to see something with their own eyes and experience it.
One participant told us about a particularly unexpected moment that stands out above so many others. He related an emotional meeting with an Israeli mother who told the Passages group that she cries sometimes because she thinks no one in the world cares for her people.
Someone from the group whispered, “We do.”
That is precisely the experience, connection and relationship we are trying to build and when we heard that story, we knew that this summarized what we have to do to ensure strong relations between the Evangelical Christian community, Israel and the Jewish People.The writer is a Founding Board Member of Passages and a former adviser to Israel’s prime minister.