The Robert Slater interview: Rising star

At just 36, Josh Reinstein has built up a global network of Christian support for Israel and has a promising political career ahead of him.

By no means a household name in Israel, just yet, Josh Reinstein is one of the country’s up-and-coming political stars. He has yet to be elected to the Knesset, although he has turned down offers from two political parties; and he appears to be a one-issue guy, focusing on how to widen Christian support for Israel (not the most popular cause locally); but he seems quite content with what he is doing today.
His star, nevertheless, is unquestionably on the rise.
Reinstein gained sudden fame in 2012, when The Jerusalem Post chose him as one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world – quite an accomplishment for a 36-year-old who, from childhood, had no idea how to translate his obvious impulse toward leadership and love of politics into a career. “The accolades that I get I take with a grain of salt,” he tells The Jerusalem Report. “It’s just proof to me that the work we are doing trying to strengthen Christian support for Israel is working.”
A closer look at Reinstein reveals that he is not a one-issue guy. In January 2004, he organized Israel’s first political caucus – the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus; he then created the Israel Allies Foundation, which coordinates the caucus’s international efforts; and he also produces and appears on a weekly 30-minute TV show that he founded called Israel Now News, which airs on the largest international Christian TV network, Daystar.
We met in mid-September in the Allies Foundation office in East Jerusalem. Born in Toronto in 1977, and raised mostly in Dallas, Texas, Reinstein has black hair, youthful looks and speaks articulately in neat sound bites. He and his wife, Rebekah, have three children – Avraham, 6, Ari, 4, and Israel, 3.
Reinstein’s father, Philip, is a retired attorney and contractor; his mother, Susie, was a nurse. Orthodox Jews, his parents insisted that their son get a strong Jewish education, which he did, at the Solomon Schechter Academy in Dallas. During his high school years, Reinstein became a political junkie.
“Watching the [US] presidential elections for me was like 10 Super Bowls,” he quips.
In 1997, Reinstein spent the second of his three years at the University of Western Ontario, in Canada, on the one-year program for overseas students at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University; while there, the Student Council chose him to represent the overseas students, his first leadership role.
Reinstein had no concrete career plans while growing up in the US, though he did aspire to join the Israeli army. “I grew up as the grandson of Holocaust survivors, and the fact that I had a chance to defend a Jewish state in my own homeland was something that always appealed to me and was always part of my plan,” he says.
It is no surprise that Ariel Sharon was his hero.
After immigrating to Israel in 1999, he enrolled in a Jerusalem ulpan, but admits that he learned more Russian from the Russian immigrants at the language school than Hebrew. He was inducted into the Israel Defense Forces in August 2000, a month before the start of the second intifada, and served as a tank gunner in the elite 188 Unit, living his dream of being part of a Merkava III team.
Following his discharge in October 2001, Reinstein had his sights set on a career in public diplomacy, but had no idea what he might do specifically. He realized his biggest shortcoming in starting such a career was his ignorance of how the Israeli political system and Jewish organizations worked. But he had a plan to overcome that shortcoming.
Hoping to learn as much as he could about the way Israel functions, he decided to go on a “listening tour,” meeting with all sorts of Israelis. For a 22-year-old newcomer, it was an act of chutzpah, but he had good luck. He set up 10 meetings a day for three months with numerous Israelis, including 20 Knesset Members; and he startled his hosts by saying he just wanted to learn how Israel operated, that he was not looking for work (though some offered him jobs). By the time he held his last meeting, he had a superb network of people he could call upon.Eager to get involved in politics as well as public relations, Reinstein worked briefly for a public relations firm, and then founded JSR International Marketing, a marketing and PR firm that represents Israeli hi-tech firms abroad.
He then began dabbling in Israeli politics.
During 2002 and 2003, he became the English-language spokesman for the rightwing Yisrael Beiteinu party, where he met the late party member and MK, Yuri Stern.
“That really changed the course of my life,” Reinstein recalls, noting that Stern became a crucial mentor for him.
Reinstein also worked as the Englishlanguage spokesman during the Jerusalem mayoralty campaign of Uri Lupolianski, who served as Jerusalem mayor from 2003 to 2008.
Through a quirk of fate, Reinstein developed an interest in helping Christians show their support for Israel, creating an infrastructure in Israel that, for the first time, organized that support so as to boost its impact.
The largest religion in the world today, Christianity had, as of 2010, 2.18 billion members, almost a third of the global population.
Christianity’s 600-million Bible-believing Evangelical wing exhibits the strongest support for Israel.
In Reinstein’s view, the biggest challenge for Israel with regard to Christian support is a Christian viewpoint known as “replacement theology,” according to which Christians believe that the covenant between God and Abraham is over and now the covenant is between God and the church.
Christians who believe in the “replacement theology” have a hard time understanding the existence of the State of Israel and sometimes even become anti-Israeli.
That is where Reinstein comes in. He sensed that what Christians were missing, however strong their support for Israel, was an Israeli infrastructure, and he decided to fill that gap.
Fate intervened for Reinstein when he met a young Christian woman who had been doing charitable work in Israel, overstayed her visa and was summarily given 48 hours to leave the country. Reinstein asked Stern to find out why visiting, pro-Israel Christians were treated so harshly.
Holding a special place in his heart for those Christians who clandestinely aided him when he was a Soviet refusenik, Stern proved quite receptive when Reinstein asked the Knesset Member to allow him to set up a structure that would enable the Knesset to work with overseas Christians in an organized way. Rather than deal exclusively with Israel-based Christians, Reinstein chose to work with Christian leaders abroad in order to mobilize even greater political support for Israel among the Christian community. He chose this focus on overseas Christians because he was quite aware that for the previous 25 years, pro-Israel Christians had no Israeli counterpart organization with which to work at the Israeli government level.
Aware of the caucus system in the US Congress (in which supporters or members of a specific political party or movement meet to promote their favorite issues), Reinstein formed the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus, with the goal of creating direct lines of communication with worldwide Christian leaders to mobilize support for Israel. The CAC was Israel’s first caucus.
At first, Knesset Members, unclear what a caucus was, called it the cocus – Hebrew for coconut. Knesset Members sometimes referred to the nascent grouping in English as “the coconut.”
On January 18, 2004, the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus began with 17 Knesset Members representing six political parties from the left and right, as well as religious and secular streams of Israeli life. Suspicious that the caucus was not, as its founders claimed, all that bipartisan, other Israeli politicians were reluctant to join forces with the new initiative. “The right wing thought it was too right-wing,” says Reinstein. “The left wing didn’t like it because they thought Christians were right-wing. The religious thought it would be missionary. And the seculars didn’t like it because they asked, ‘Why mix religion with politics?’” To allay such concerns, Reinstein made sure that the caucus adopted stances only on issues for which an Israeli consensus existed. For instance, says Reinstein, the caucus wants Jerusalem to be the undivided capital of Israel and it favors an end to Iran’s nuclear program, but it is careful not to take part in what he calls “divisive internal political issues.”
FROM THE start, the response from Christians overseas to the new caucus has been overwhelmingly positive, as they sent thousands of emails, grateful for the existence of an Israeli forum with which they could communicate.
The caucus held monthly meetings in the Knesset with Christian leaders from within Israel and abroad. “We started building this new relationship between Jews and Christians in the 21st century,” notes Reinstein.
Reinstein, who travels abroad one week of each month to bolster Christian-Israel relations, boasts of the successes of his faithbased initiative. “The caucus is,” he says, “the most potent weapon in our diplomatic arsenal today. We have more success with faith-based diplomacy than any other diplomacy we do in the world.”
Attending meetings in the United States, Europe and Asia, Reinstein says that at some, 10,000 to 15,000 people are in the audience.
In 2006, during the Second Lebanon War, the Israeli-Christian initiative achieved what Reinstein calls its first big break – when the US Congress launched a “sister” Congressional Israel Allies Caucus that today has 100 House members.
Twenty-two other parliamentary caucuses have been formed since then, in such countries as Canada, Brazil, Argentina and Nicaragua. To coordinate the work of these international caucuses, Reinstein established the foundation. Three Jewish donors supply funds to operate the foundation.
In 2011, sensing that Christians overseas lacked a day-to-day knowledge of Israel, Reinstein founded his TV show for Daystar; the show is aired in 191 countries and, Reinstein claims, has an audience of 35 million viewers.
There are Israeli cynics of the Reinstein faith-based initiative who insist that Christian support for Israel is a deception, that Christian support for Israel is based on a belief that the return of the Jews to the Land of Israel is a precondition to the second coming of Christ. Reinstein is not concerned with such cynicism. “Look,” he says, “Jews believe all sorts of things are going to happen when the Messiah comes, and not many of those things are positive for Christians. The key right now is that we’re all working on the same side for the same goals. Christians are Israel’s only allies who stand with us through thick and thin. “ Still, it was hard for Reinstein to explain why Christians had stood with Israel during the second intifada (2000 to 2005), when most of the rest of the world had not.
It was not because Israel possessed oil. Instead, he believes that Christian support for Israel had to do with the linkage Christians feel with Israel over common Israeli-Christian values and their common love of the Bible.
In late September, Reinstein hosted a two-day conference in Jerusalem that brought the chairmen of Israel Allied Caucuses in governments worldwide to Jerusalem to discuss the European Union’s boycott of the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the threat from Iran. And Reinstein will be the keynote speaker at an evening in London, on November 7, hosted by the United Kingdom Zionist Federation and Bridges for Peace, with 1,800 expected to attend. He will also be running a conference in Washington, D.C., in mid-November with the Congressional Israel Allies Caucus for 500 pastors across the US.
Reinstein seems quite aware that his star is rising and he is quite happy to reveal what he hopes will be his political future. Asked if he plans to run for the Knesset one day, he replies unhesitatingly. “Eventually I think that’s the direction I will be taking."