'Strengthen ties with S. American Evangelical Christians'

Knesset panel calls on government to strengthen connections with those outside US.

Christian cross 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Christian cross 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense subcommittee on Foreign Policy urged the government Tuesday to garner support from Evangelical Christians around the world, and to strengthen its connection to those outside of the US.
One of the topics that most intrigued subcommittee chairman Robert Ilatov (Israel Beiteinu) and MK Einat Wilf (Independence), who attended the meeting, is that of Evangelicals in Brazil and other South American countries.
Hispanic Evangelical Christians are a growing group in the US, and an increasing percentage of the population of Latin America is leaving Catholicism for Evangelical Christianity, Foreign Ministry representative Shmuel Ben- Shmuel explained.
According to Ben-Shmuel, there is an equal number of Evangelical Christians in the US and in Brazil – each approximately 60 million. However, the infrastructure and influence of the two groups are disparate.
Evangelicals in the US are more organized and politically involved, he said.
The Foreign Ministry is trying in North and South America to appeal to televangelists to speak about Israel and invite Israeli ambassadors to their television and radio shows. In addition, the ministry is in touch with pastors of large churches.
But all this is just “the tip of the iceberg” when it comes to the Evangelical Christian community, Ben-Shmuel said.
Christian Allies Caucus President Josh Reinstein presented a more optimistic picture of Brazil, saying that of 16 prominent Evangelical leaders, 10 are members of parliament. In the US, he said, 70 percent of Evangelicals belong to smaller churches, which the Foreign Ministry does not reach.
Ilatov called for the ministry to increase its activity in Brazil, where there is “potential to change the government’s positions” due to the large Evangelical population.
He criticized the government for not having a more focused policy in connection to pro- Israel Christians.
Wilf said she finds it exciting that there is a “new, young generation in Latin America that sees Israel as part of the foundations of its faith,” adding that this is a chance for the Foreign Ministry to do work for the long-term.
“It’s fascinating that in South America, an area that we’re used to seeing as either apathetic or anti-Israel, has hope for a deep change,” Wilf said.
According to Wilf, such a “transformation” could take 10 to 20 years. Therefore, she said she understands that it is difficult to strengthen pro-Israel sentiment in Brazil, where Evangelicals are “not used to translating their spiritual admiration to political support,” as opposed to the US, where there are organized and politically influential Evangelical groups.