Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the ceremony for the new US embassy in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Amid much fanfare, history was made Monday when the United States Embassy officially opened its doors in Jerusalem.
The embassy move from Tel Aviv, where it has been since 1948, and White House recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital stand as a huge diplomatic achievement for the State of Israel. It’s also reasonable to think that Jewish leadership in the United States helped advocate for this day.
But this historic turning point in Israeli history could also not have taken place without the critical involvement of another group – evangelical Christians in America.
It’s no secret that evangelical Christians largely supported President Donald Trump in the 2016 elections. They helped elect him and remain among his key supporters. The president maintains a close advisory committee of evangelical Christian leaders, and Vice President Mike Pence is a fervent evangelical.
Further, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, while not an evangelical, is a devoted Christian who is also fighting fearlessly in the UN to defend Israel. Other senior US officials also maintain very little daylight between the US and Israel on key positions.
In essence, steadfast support of Israel by the evangelical Christian community ensures, more than anything, the promotion and the safeguarding of Israeli interests and Israel’s emergence as a world power.
While some may believe this support is guaranteed, it is not – and has never been.
For the past four decades, the organization I founded, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, played a critical role in building bridges of trust and cooperation between Christians and Jews in America and between Christians and the State of Israel. By the end of the 1970s, very few Jews were aware of this community, and those who were generally were suspicious of it and failed to take it seriously. Moreover, Israel and the Jewish people were not at the top of Christian priorities back then. We can recall president Jimmy Carter, who was an evangelical Christian but whose positions as president were hardly pro-Israel.
The widespread Christian support of Israel we see today is a direct result of decades of advocacy, education and teaching the evangelical community of the Jewish roots of their Christian faith and the need to deepen their bonds with Israel and the Jewish people.
AT THE START of my journey I had no idea how much this community would eventually grow in numbers and influence. While we focused on teaching the Christian leadership to support Israel, we also sought to encourage Christians to tour the Land of Israel and strengthen their bonds with her. Today, Christian tourism accounts for about half of all tourism to the Jewish state.
Starting in the 1990s, with the fall of the Soviet regime and the first wave of Russian immigration to Israel, millions of Christians answered my call to help bring Soviet Jews on aliya to their ancestral homeland. Many also began contributing to the Fellowship to help us care for Israel’s weaker citizens – lower-income, elderly, minorities and others – and to provide security for the country.
Israeli leaders – including ministers, member of Knesset and local mayors – and all engaged in social issues in Israel understand the impact evangelical Christians have made over the years. Indeed, today, the Fellowship is the single largest philanthropic charitable organization in all of Israel.
Each year, more than 1.5 million Israelis and vulnerable Jews around the world – poor elderly, those threatened by antisemitism – receive help from the Fellowship. We provide for basic needs such as food and medicine for families, children on welfare and senior citizens. We have funded MRI and PT scan machines, as well as trauma-care rooms in hospitals in Israeli communities in peripheral areas that serve lower-income residents. We have renovated 5,000 bomb shelters in such communities and support hundreds of other projects for the well-being of Israelis regardless of gender, religion or race.
These projects, costing hundreds of millions of dollars each year, would not have existed without the donations of millions of Christians worldwide, most of whom are ordinary Christians of modest means who deeply believe in supporting the Jewish state and her people.
Such support – which the American and Israeli public at large may not fully recognize – has become a critical strategic asset for Israel, politically and socially.
But we cannot rest on our laurels. There is so much more we can do. Outside the US, evangelical Christians are one of the fastest-growing religious communities in the world, with some 100 million believers in China alone, and hundreds of millions more in Latin America, the Far East and elsewhere.
In fact, those nations following the United States in moving their embassies to Jerusalem share a common thread – strong evangelical Christian communities. The president of Guatemala, Jimmy Morales, is a fervent evangelical Christian and his voters support Israel for that same reason. In Honduras too, which has also announced the transfer of its embassy, the evangelical community is some 40% of the population.
Evangelical Christian support for Israel did not happen out of nowhere – it required leadership and bridge-building work, so for it to survive and thrive in the future, it is imperative that we invest in it and strengthen it so that it will be our Jewish lifeline in the years ahead.The writer is president and founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.