ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY Justin Welby prays at the Western Wall..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Progressive American Jews are up in arms about the latest crisis regarding egalitarian prayer access to the Western Wall. Jewish groups are considering boycotts, canceling trips and in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, the Jewish Federation threatened to “reconsider” funding to Israel as a result.
“We are extremely disappointed and upset with the government’s decision,” the Federation expressed to Israel’s Consul-General Dani Dayan. “This could be the straw that will break the camel’s back and cause us to reconsider our financial support and whether we should continue to send missions to Israel.”
The Jewish Agency canceled its gala dinner with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and threatened the government as a result of Israel’s cabinet decision. “Outraged at Netanyahu Over Western Wall, Jewish Agency to Rethink Ties With Israeli Government” warned the front-page headline of Haaretz on Tuesday. Union for Reform Judaism president Rabbi Rick Jacobs declared that his constituents would not be “second class citizens” at the Western Wall.
Many are alarmed at the perceived deepening divide between American Jews and the Jewish state and worried about future support from progressive movements in the US. There is one group, however, whose support for Israel is unaffected by the current conflict: the pro-Israel Christian Zionist community.
Speaking to several Christian Zionist leaders here in Israel, I was surprised by the responses I heard. For the most part, my ordinarily very emotional and excitable Christian friends were restrained and reserved. Even when pressed to voice an opinion about the uproar, they respectfully declined to discuss internal Jewish issues.
As one Christian leader told me, “This is a family matter for you guys to sort out.”
I was surprised, because in my work as director of Israel365, an organization serving as the bridge between Evangelical Christian Zionists and Israel, I frequently hear hysterical criticism leveled at Christians in Israel. Namely, that those who are here are covert missionaries looking to take over or have an undue influence on the Jewish state. However in all my conversations this week, I heard only the opposite. Our true Christian friends have no interest in exploiting any potential gap between Israel and the Jewish community to serve some nefarious agenda. On the contrary.
“Christians I know are not interested in filling any gap between Israeli and American Jews,” said Chris Mitchell, Jerusalem bureau chief of the Christian Broadcasting Network, in an interview. “Instead, as Isaiah 40 says, they seek to comfort and stand alongside the entire Jewish People in good times and bad, and pray Psalm 133, that “how good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity.”
If only more Jews were as sincerely concerned about Jewish unity, we wouldn’t be fighting over who can pray at the Western Wall in the first place.
Some Jews who work with Christian Zionists agreed that it is not appropriate for Christians to weigh in on the crisis.
“I don’t believe American Christians should get involved in any way in what is clearly an intra-Jewish debate,” Sondra Oster Baras of Christian Friends of Israeli Communities said in an email.
Nevertheless, even without taking sides on internal Jewish issues, the pro-Israel Christian community can play a constructive role in the crisis and help resolve the debate.
“For years, American Jews have told me and others, in response to our encouragement to them to make aliya, that American Jewish support is vital for Israel,” continued Baras. “And for the past two decades, since becoming so involved in Christian support for Israel, I have responded: we need our Jews in Israel. Our American Christian friends can help us strengthen American support for Israel. There are at least 50 million Christian supporters and only about five million Jews.”
Christian Zionists can hold down the fort in the US to ensure that America stands strong with her main Mideast ally. American Jews who are genuinely concerned about the future of the Jewish state don’t have to threaten to pull funding in order to influence policy here. If they disagree with any government policy, they can always move to Israel where they will be first class citizens with a vote and a voice.
In that way, Christian Zionists really can help us solve the Western Wall crisis.The author is the director of Israel365, a newsletter that connects 150,000 people to Israel every day, and serves as publisher of Breaking Israel News. Weisz is also editor of The Israel Bible, highlighting the significance of the Land and the People of Israel.