‘Christian Birthright’ takes college students to Knesset

Youth come to Israel to study democracy and treatment of minorities.

Christian Birthright participants and MKs 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Christian Birthright participants and MKs 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Latrice Nettles wants to be the first female African-American president of the United States – or at least an American ambassador to a Middle Eastern country. So it’s probably a good thing for Israel that Nettles, a student at the Springfield campus of the University of Illinois, came to the Jewish state to learn about Israeli democracy and how the country treats its minorities.
Nettles came on the Israel Experience College Scholarship Program, a rigorous, threeweek study tour of Israel, which takes top Christian students from universities in the US, and other countries, and educates them about Israel.
Billed as the “Christian Birthright,” it encourages the students to gain a strong identification with the Jewish roots of their faith; comprehend the history of Christian anti-Semitism and the Holocaust; learn about Zionism; and more fully grasp the Middle East conflict.
To that end, the students visit Christian holy sites, Sderot, Yad Vashem, the Foreign Ministry and the Knesset. They spent Shabbat with Efrat Chief Rabbi Shlomo Riskin in his community, and they will be visiting Palestinian-controlled Bethlehem and Jericho.
“The goal of the program is to educate the next generation of Christian leaders and provide them with a firsthand perspective of the issues facing Israel and the Middle East,” said Michael Onifer of Eagles’ Wings Ministries near Buffalo, New York, who organized the program. I hope each one of these young people become lifetime friends of Israel and the Jewish people [and have] an immediate influence on their campuses.”
Now in its eighth year, several of the program’s alumni have become advisers to top American and European officials.
Onifer said it was important for the group to go to Nazareth and Bethlehem to see how Arab-Christians are treated with equal rights by Israel and how they are discriminated against by the Palestinian Authority.
On the group’s visit to the parliament on Tuesday, the Knesset’s Christian Allies Caucus arranged meetings with Deputy Minister Gila Gamliel (Likud), and MKs Shlomo Molla (Kadima) and Robert Ilatov (Israel Beiteinu). Caucus Director Josh Reinstein briefed them about how the Israeli government works.
“The program has been bringing to Israel the best and brightest Christian students from campuses across America, and the results are staggering,” Reinstein said. “The Knesset Christian Allies Caucus is proud to partner with this program, as it produces some of Israel’s top Christian ambassadors in the war for public opinion.”
Participant Alexandra Rutkowski said she barely knew a thing about Israel and the Middle East conflict before the trip. A theological studies major at Valley Forge Christian College in Pennsylvania, Rutkowski said she can’t wait to go back and share what she learned on the trip.
“Coming here has opened my eyes and my heart,” Rutkowski said. “The biggest problem is that too many people are unaware of the true story behind the conflict here.
The media twists it. My heart breaks for the people here.”
Nettles, who is getting a masters in international affairs and Middle East studies, said that when she saw the Knesset and Foreign Ministry were on the trip’s agenda, she decided she had to come.
“Being in the presence of people working in the Israeli government has been a highlight,” she said.