'I've been taught to pray for peace in Jerusalem'

Rep. Trent Franks, a sponsor of the bill to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, sits down for a candid interview about his passion for the city and why evangelicals aren’t trying to convert the Jews.

interview (photo credit: courtesy)
(photo credit: courtesy)
Representative Trent Franks (Republican), from Arizona’s 2nd congressional district, is a calm and stable presence. He’s got the strong handshake of a politician and speaks with a deliberate, measured cadence typical of his home in the American southwest, where folks talk straight and to the point. But when the Evangelical Christian and chairman of the Congressional Israel Allies Caucus starts talking about Jerusalem, he gets upset.
“It’s always astonished me, they talk about how Jews are occupying their historic homeland,” Franks says, taking a break from the Chairman’s Conference of the International Israel Allies Caucus Foundation.
“Some of us in the [American] Congress are deeply disturbed by the fact that the American president, Mr. Obama, has criticized Israel more for placing homes in their capital city than he has reserved for [Iranian President] Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for building nuclear weapons with which to threaten the entire free world,” he says incredulously, calling it “an irony and an injustice.”
Franks is one of the co-sponsors of Bill H1006, also known as the “Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act of 2011.” This is a bill that would require the US to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by January 1, 2013, and would require the US to recognize Jerusalem as “the undivided capital of the State of Israel.” When Jerusalem is consumed with so many problems – crushing poverty, tensions and violence between Arabs and Jews or between haredim and secular residents, disastrous public transportation, a failing education system – who has time to pursue ideological bills anymore? Apparently, 53 members of Congress sponsoring H1006, including 42 Republicans and 11 Democrats.
Franks is a member of several House subcommittees, including the subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, and a sponsor of four bills aimed at stopping the Iranian nuclear threat.
“[When Iran has a nuclear weapon] this will be the first time that jihad[ists] will have their thumb on the nuclear bomb,” he says. “My children will step into the shadow of nuclear terrorism,” says the father of four-year-old twins. Franks is just as passionate about Jerusalem as he is about stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program. He says if Romney wins the presidency in November, the bill “has an excellent chance of becoming law.”
The National Journal ranked Franks the most conservative member of the House of Representatives in its 2010 annual list of most conservative and liberal lawmakers.
One of Franks’s signature issues is his vocal opposition to abortion, including attempts to make most kinds of abortion illegal in Arizona.
Franks knows that the relationship between Christians and Jerusalem is complicated. Former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski refused to openly accept money from Christian organizations, including the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, because he was wary of Christian influence and proselytizing. Mayor Nir Barkat has reversed that position, but suspicion regarding Christian support is still deep-rooted among religious Jewish communities and the ultra-Orthodox.
Also complicating the relationship between Jerusalem and its Christian supporters is a spate of anti-Christian attacks carried out against three churches and monasteries this year. The day before the Chairman’s Conference, vandals spray-painted “Jesus is a bastard” and “price tag” on the door of the Franciscan monastery next to the Dormition Abbey.
But Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein, who attended part of the Chairman’s Conference, dismisses the anti-Christian vandalism as the work of “a few crazies,” an opinion Franks agrees with. “There are always idiots in every society,” he says, good-naturedly. The most important thing, he believes, is that Israelis understand that Christian support doesn’t stem from a desire to convert the Jews.
“The strongest support Israel has on Capitol Hill is the members of Congress who are Evangelical Christians,” Franks explains. “I’ve been taught to pray for the peace of Jerusalem since I was a little boy. My support for Israel transcends any political preferences.
It is a deeply held personal and spiritual conviction that Israel is a people chosen by God for a special purpose on this earth and all they ask for... is to be secure.
“So many members of the House and Senate are deeply committed to Israel,” Franks says. “Israel feels like they’re abandoned when they’re really not.”