Israel’s next government should appoint an ambassador to the Christian world

It’s time to change that.

Christian demonstrators carry a banner during a march in Jerusalem (photo credit: ELIANA APONTE/REUTERS)
Christian demonstrators carry a banner during a march in Jerusalem
Soon, we pray, Israel’s political system will sort itself out and a new government will be formed. When that happens, the prime minister should create a new position: an ambassador to the Christian community.
While the history of Jewish-Christian relations has had painful eras, Israel has drawn the growing sympathy and affection of Christians around the world since its dramatic, even prophetic, rebirth in 1948.
Some Israeli leaders have proactively sought to defuse tensions and build warmer ties with Christians holding a wide variety of theological positions. Remarkably, however, Israel does not have a single senior-level emissary assigned to handle the Christian portfolio.
It’s time to change that.
In a world of some 7.3 billion people, fully 31% are self-described followers of Jesus of Nazareth. That represents a global Christian population north of 2.2 billion people, including more than 600 million Evangelical Christians.
That makes Jesus – known in Hebrew as Yeshua – the world’s most famous and beloved Israeli, and the New Testament the best-selling Israeli book in the history of mankind.
The vast majority of Christians have a deep love for the Land of Israel and its rich biblical history. Many routinely “pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” as commanded by the psalmist. And far more Christians than Jews visit Israel. In 2018, fully 61% of tourists to Israel were Christians. For many more, it is a lifelong dream to visit the Holy Land and walk where Jesus and the prophets and apostles walked.
To be sure, not all Christians understand or support the modern State of Israel. But many do, and more could. A full-time ambassador to this enormous and strategic world would help.
Rather than report to the foreign minister, this ambassador should be appointed by the prime minister, serve on the PM’s senior staff and have the PM’s full confidence and support. He or she must come to be regarded at home and abroad as having the PM’s ear and able to get things done in a timely and effective manner. The position should be backed up by a support staff and travel and communications budget commensurate with the task.
A seasoned, experienced diplomat could do the job, or a communications professional, perhaps a former journalist or broadcaster. However, such an emissary should not be a foreigner but an Israeli citizen. Ideally, the person should be a devout follower of Jesus in order to understand the needs and concerns of the Christian community and able to work well with all streams of the Christian faith.
THE RESPONSIBILITIES of such an ambassador should include:
• Serving as the government’s primary liaison to all Christian communities outside the State of Israel, educating them about the history of Israel, promoting healthy Jewish-Christian cooperation, and refuting lies told against Israel and the Jewish people in the media, academia and political sphere.
• Serving as the government’s primary liaison to all Christian communities inside the State of Israel. Fully 2% of Israeli citizens – upwards of 180,000 people – are followers of Jesus. Most are Arabs, but some 30,000 have Jewish roots. In addition, there are many foreign Christians studying and working in Israel. This ambassador should be responsible for serving these communities, answering their questions and helping resolve their problems and concerns.
• Serving as the prime minister’s senior adviser on Christian affairs, including arranging meetings with visiting Christian leaders, maintaining correspondence with Christian leaders around the world and helping educate the PM and the cabinet on issues of importance to the Christian world.
• Promoting Christian tourism and pilgrimages to Israel and ensuring that Christians from Muslim-majority countries can receive visas and are treated professionally and with utmost courtesy when traveling in and out of Israeli airports.
• Serving as an effective media spokesperson on TV, radio, in print media and social media, proactively promoting positive Israeli-Christian relations.
At the same time, the next prime minister should establish a non-partisan Israeli Commission on Religious Freedom and Minority Affairs. The ambassador to the Christian community should serve as a member of the commission.
SUCH A commission should:
• Work to protect and build upon Israel’s remarkable status, not only as the world’s only Jewish state but also as the safest place in the Middle East for Christians, Muslims and all religious and ethnic minorities to practice their religious beliefs and cultural heritage.
• Develop and advance Israeli policies to fulfill the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 18, 1992. The declaration stated, in part: “States shall protect the existence and the national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity of minorities within their respective territories and shall encourage conditions for the promotion of that identity. States shall adopt appropriate legislative and other measures to achieve those ends.”
• Make recommendations – working closely with all relevant Israeli government agencies – to resolve problems faced by religious and ethnic minorities living in the State of Israel, be they full citizens, permanent residents, tourists or visitors.
• Provide an annual report to the prime minister and cabinet on the state of religious freedom and minority affairs in the State of Israel, including recommendations on ways to make improvements in the coming year.
Over the past seven decades, Israel has become an increasingly welcome place for Christians from all over the world who want to come and discover the land of the Bible. That said, there is much more the government can and should do.
Appointing a high-level ambassador to the world’s 2.2 billion Christians is one important step, as is establishing a non-partisan Israeli Commission on Religious Freedom and Minority Affairs.
As the coalition talks intensify, let’s hope such initiatives become a point of priority and unity for all political factions.
The writer is a dual US-Israeli citizen who lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons. He is also a New York Times best-selling author. His latest novel, The Persian Gamble, was released in March.