Israel isn't spoiled for friends in the non-Jewish world, not even among the Christian mainstream. Organized Christianity might be expected to demonstrate solidarity with a Jewish state that stands on the frontline against extreme Islamist expansionism and aggression. This doesn't always happen.
As part of a well-orchestrated campaign to boycott Israel and employ a variety of punitive discriminatory sanctions against it, certain Protestant churches, including some of the most established and prosperous, are increasingly promoting "divestment from Israel." Foremost among denominations dabbling on-and-off in divestment agendas are some of America's Presbyterians and Methodists. For a while their leaderships - often alienated from the actual membership - led the entire divestment-from-Israel onslaught in the US.
The United Church of Christ hasn't lagged far behind. In Britain, the Church of England has sometimes been far from helpful.
The zeal some of these churches expend on anti-Israel drives fits snugly into the framework of spiraling anti-Semitism/anti-Zionism worldwide, the sort which conforms to Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky's 3-Ds test - delegitimization of Israel, demonization and the application of double-standards.
So finding warm, genuine and long-lasting Christian friendship in this near-noxious atmosphere is a rare source of comfort. For 30 years, the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem (ICEJ) has lavished affection upon the Jewish state. Indeed, comfort is its raison d'etre. It was founded in 1980 as an evangelical response to the anti-Israel hostility already rampant. Its inspiration: Isaiah 40:1-2 - "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalemâ€¦"
THIRTY YEARS ago Israel's legitimacy in Jerusalem was under intense diplomatic assault, as 13 embassies left the capital to protest the Knesset's adoption of the Jerusalem Law. In a countermove, over 1,000 pilgrims from 40 countries decided to establish a Christian embassy in Jerusalem to affirm the 3,000-year-old immutable Jewish bond to the Jewish capital.
On Succot that year, Jerusalemites were for the first time treated to week-long celebrations of the Feast of Tabernacles by Christians convening from all over the world. This annual convergence was held year in, year out since then, even when suicide bombings on buses, in markets, at malls and in restaurants made Jerusalem a tourist-free zone for just about everybody else.
This year, the potential deterrent was financial, but even the worldwide recession could make no dent in the outpouring of support. Thousands of Christian pilgrims, from an estimated 100 lands, have thronged Jerusalem to ease any sense of isolation.
While certain Jewish groups loudly denounce their ostensible hidden agenda, experience clearly indicates that they are here altruistically. The ICEJ does not engage in proselytizing and discourages pilgrims from disseminating literature and from other activities which could be construed as attempts to win over converts. As distinct from hostile efforts in the past and the present to force or lure Jews away from Judaism, these thousands of Christians congregate here to realize the Prophet Zechariah's vision (14:16) of all nations gathering in Jerusalem during Succot.
The $12-15 million injected annually into the Israeli economy via this largest of all tourist events is a happy by-product. Most important is the visitors' profound identification with an often beleaguered and defamed Jewish state and its capital.
In an op-ed article in The Jerusalem Post last week, the ICEJ's executive director, Malcolm Hedding, wrote: "Jerusalem was the Royal House of Israel long before London or Paris had regal palaces, and before Berlin or New York even existed. Yet it is these capitals in their arrogance that seek, almost daily, to disinvest the Jewish people from their ancient, biblical claim and connection to Jerusalem."
Hedding, whose ICEJ partners The Jerusalem Post in producing our monthly Christian Edition, also recalled that, "The Psalmist of Israel, King David, looked over the walls and ramparts of Jerusalem and wrote, 'Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, they shall prosper who love her.' His great prayer was for peace and joy to rain down upon the city as the Jewish worshipers gathered to celebrate their prescribed festivals and as the nations also came to this 'house of prayer for all peoples.' This is our prayer as well," Hedding declared.
We wholeheartedly endorse it. And we commend the ICEJ for 30 years of unswerving friendship.