Evangelical Christians from around the world wave their national flags along with Israeli flags as they march in a parade in Jerusalem to mark the Feast of Tabernacles .
(photo credit: JNS.ORG)
There is a phrase I have been hearing more often lately, one that agitates me to no end. It makes me feel like so many of my people are being foolish and blind about the fate of our nation, which has been friendless for thousands of years and has only recently acquired a deep and respectful friendship with a group of people we used to consider “the other.”
Let me set the scene for you.
I receive a phone call from the executive of a large non-profit organization or company in Israel saying they need to meet with me about an urgent issue. I clear my schedule and arrive at the meeting. With a big smile, the executive opens our meeting with a line that goes something like this: “For years, I’ve been reluctant to receive money from Christian Zionists, but now we’re in a very difficult situation, so we have decided to accept money from The Fellowship.”
Astonished and angered, I try to keep my feelings to myself. But now, it’s time to speak out. It’s time for me to raise my voice, before it is too late.
For more than 30 years, my father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, has dedicated his life to building bridges between the Jewish and Christian communities. “The Jewish people have never been large in number,” he recently told me.
“To have hundreds of millions of Christian friends support us financially, politically and with prayer puts Israel in a stronger position than we ever could have dreamed of.”
And, indeed, in the past 30 years that friendship has only grown. Today, the Christian community is one of the most outspoken voices of support for Israel and the Jewish people.
It’s become clear to me and so many others that Christian supporters of Israel have no intention of converting Jews or changing us.
They support Israel because of the verse in the Torah, Genesis 12:3: “I will bless those who bless you, and those who curse you I will curse.”
These Christians want to bless God’s people and, in doing so, take part in God’s blessings.
It’s that simple.
But despite the clear, miraculous benefit to the Jewish people, instead of rejoicing and appreciating this friendship, for the past 30 years a significant segment of the Jewish community has been arguing over whether it was right to accept this friendship. As we debated, the Palestinians got together and created their own hasbara (PR) plan to target the Christian community. I’m sorry – and deeply concerned – to say: It’s working.
Just a few years ago, a biennial conference called “Christ at the Checkpoint” was created.
It attracts “pro-Palestinian” – meaning, in this case, anti-Israel – Christians who gather with the goal of promoting an anti-Israel narrative in churches. They sponsor influential journalists, Christian leaders and Christian politicians to travel to and tour Bethlehem and other Palestinian areas where they hear the message over and over that Israel is the enemy. For days on end, these leaders are bombarded with the false message that Israel is not acting humanely, but persecuting and abusing the Palestinian people.
While 10 years ago it was a forgone conclusion that evangelical Christians would support Israel, these days, sadly, that is no longer the case. There are anti-Israel professors even at some of the most influential evangelical seminaries in the US. We are losing valuable and irreplaceable friends by the minute, and it’s time the Jewish people wake up and do something to stop this disturbing trend.
The actions we need to take are not dramatic or difficult. We simply need to do what we should have been doing for the past 30 years – we need to appreciate and accept the friendship of our Christian supporters instead of pushing them away. Because, if we don’t take the time and effort to foster this historic friendship with communication, dialogue and appreciation, our enemies will. And many naïve Christians will fall into their trap.
The past few decades have been one of the first times in history that the Jewish people have had friends, and Christians are now doing more for Israel than any other group in the areas of philanthropy, tourism and political support. Dare we neglect this friendship and let it go to waste? I’m personally turning over a new leaf and no longer keeping my mouth shut. Next time someone in Israel says to me that “they are ready to accept money from Christians,” I’ll ask them if they’re prepared to rephrase that sentence and say, “I will be honored to partner with the Christian community to help the people of Israel.”
If they need help, The Fellowship is here. But if those words are too difficult for our nation to proudly declare after 30 years of unwavering support and friendship from Christians, we have a lot of soul-searching to do.Yael Eckstein is senior vice president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
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