It took months of hundreds of thousands of citizens demonstrating in the streets several times a week in order to finally convince Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to temporarily freeze the legislative blitz that led the Likud and its current coalition partners to pass legal reforms.
By sharp contrast, it took barely four days of friendly concerns expressed by the international evangelical Christian community in order to convince Netanyahu to kill and bury a bill tabled by ultra-religious MK Moshe Gafni to criminalize all forms of talking about one’s religious beliefs with fellow Israelis of a different faith.
How is that possible? Why was it easier for Netanyahu’s evangelical friends to get through to him than entire military units of Israeli patriots who passionately risk their lives in the voluntary service of our nation?
The answer to this enigma is actually quite simple. Netanyahu is aware, probably more than any other Israeli politician, of an indisputable fact: the vast majority of Zionists around the world are not Jewish.
Most Zionists around the world are Evangelical Christians
The 600 million evangelical Christians around the world – men and women who passionately believe in the Bible and see modern Israel as a miraculous fulfillment of Hebrew prophecy – have become an indispensable asset to Israel’s international relations.
None of the diplomatic achievements of which Netanyahu is most proud of, including the signing of the Abraham Accords, the moving of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, as well as the implementation of crippling sanctions that impeded Iran’s nuclear aspirations during the previous US Administration, would have been possible without the active support of devout evangelical Christians, such as vice president Mike Pence, secretary of state Mike Pompeo and UN ambassador Nikki Haley advising then-president Donald Trump to implement such policies.
EVANGELICALS IN the Trump administration were not advancing these pro-Israel initiatives to help Netanyahu per se. Rather, they were promoting these policies because they genuinely believed they were the right thing to do to strengthen Israel and the Jewish people, bolster US-Israeli relations and advance Arab-Israeli peace. And they were right.
Trump was already pro-Israel coming into office but because of strong Evangelical influence around him he had the political and moral support he needed to do more for Israel than any American president in history.
Compare this to the Biden Administration. Largely devoid of any pro-Israel evangelical influence around him, Biden – who openly says he loves Israel and is a Zionist – is doing very little to help Israel these days.
Who do Christians in Israel vote for?
That said, Israeli politics seem to have a strange disconnect when it comes to Christians. They love and court Christian Zionists who live outside of the country, recognizing that they are critically essential to Israel’s diplomatic influence, not to mention our thriving tourism industry and philanthropic giving to Israel and the Jewish people. Yet how many Israeli politicians love and court Israeli Christians?
On the contrary, Christian minorities within Israel have yet to find their voice in Israeli mainstream politics. The fact is that today there are at least 80,000 Israeli citizens who define themselves both as followers of Jesus and as Zionists. What’s more, these Israeli Christians tend to vote for secular right-wing and Center-Right parties.
This community includes a large portion of immigrants from the former USSR, those with a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother who identify as Christians. It also includes a small portion of the Arab Christian community (including the Arameans who volunteer for military service), as well as some 30,000 citizens who identify as Messianic Jews.
To the best of my knowledge, no political party with any chance of surpassing the threshold in Knesset elections has ever intentionally and consistently courted Israeli Christian minorities in their campaigns.
Why not? In hotly contested elections, every vote counts and the votes of Israeli Christians could prove critical to parties who show them respect and appeal to their concerns.
Consider the voting trends of Yad Hashmona, a small village nestled in the Judean Hills, just outside of Jerusalem, entirely made up of Christian minorities. In previous elections, the National Unity Party of Benny Gantz received approximately 26.67% of vote in Yad HaShmona, followed by Yesh Atid (20%), Yisrael Beytenu (19.17%) and then Likud (15%).
WHY DID so many Christian minorities within Israel vote for Benny Gantz rather than Netanyahu in the previous elections? For the same reason that hundreds of thousands of Israelis are currently demonstrating in the streets: Israeli Christians living as minorities in the land deeply value the democratic nature of the Jewish state that protects their human rights, civil rights and religious freedoms.
Like so many other Israelis, they are deeply concerned that the ultra-Orthodox parties, the Religious Zionist Party and the Otzma Yehudit party pose threats to their rights. What’s more, they view maintaining Israel’s robust and vibrant democracy – and the delicate balance of religion and state within our democratic system – as more essential to their immediate security and well-being than even looming international threats.
In this context, I found interesting a recent poll published by The Jerusalem Post showing that if a new right-wing liberal party (otherwise defined as “libertarian” or “neo-liberal”) were formed by Yoaz Hendel, the former communications minister, it would receive six mandates should elections be held today.
Hendel, who is perhaps most well-known for succeeding to upgrade Israel’s digital infrastructure by deploying optic fiber cables throughout the entire country, has also been a strong voice in the Zionist camp on behalf of equal rights and civil responsibilities. He has consistently expressed his opinion that all citizens, including the ultra-religious, should bear the burden of national service.
Might Hendel be the first Israeli politician not only to reach out to Christian Zionists outside of the country but to those right here in Israel? Should he choose to run and wish to increase his party’s electoral power from six to eight mandates in the next elections, he should consider reaching out directly, respectfully and consistently to the community of Christian minorities in Israel. Someone should.
Israeli Christians may be a relatively small percentage of Israeli citizens yet they share common values and have a close strategic alliance with the vast majority of Zionists in the world. And in Israel’s current political reality, every single mandate makes an enormous difference.
The writer is a senior partner at Yehuda Raveh & Co. Law Offices, where he manages their city center branch in Jerusalem and represents the vast majority of evangelical organizations active in Israel.