The financial, political, social and religious connections between the nation of Israel and Evangelical groups abroad.
The growing relationship between Israel and Evangelicals is largely due to domestic problems inside Israel and the greater Jewish community. The Jewish liberal monetary support has been declining, partly in protest to the encroaching rhetoric of Jewish fundamentalism into mainstream Israeli politics, such as the transfer of power to a Likud based party, the redefinition of the Jewish identity by a stricter set of rules,1 and the religious fervour of Westbank community settlements.
The Evangelical alliance also gives the Israeli Government political insurance if there is potential fallout of goodwill within many of its western democratic government allies.
The initial passion for the restoration of Israel can be found in the Evangelical movement over 100 years ago and was so pervasive that Dr. Stephen Sizer, an Anglican Minister and one of the foremost authorities on Christian Zionism, believes that this was a key force in allowing the reformation of the physical entity of Israel in 1948.2
This zeal has heavily influenced political decision making. For example, in the 1980s the then President Ronald Reagan along with the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Senator Jesse Helms, were openly known to hold evangelical end-time aspirations in dealings with Israel. George Bush Jr. is also noted to hold this faith position, more so than his father.3
Josh Pollack noted in the Jewish World Review that a significant chunk of donations to the United Jewish Appeal are from Christians4. Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, director of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, a Chicago-based organization, consisting mainly of Evangelical Christians donors, have contributed over $5 million dollars to the United Jewish appeal in 1997 and in 2006 the yearly donations skyrocketed to $39 million dollars.5 The Jerusalem Post wrote that he claimed his organization to be the largest single donor to the United Jewish Appeal.6 Rabbi Yechiel’s statement may be hyperbole but it demonstrates how important Christian financial contributions are becoming in Israeli fund-raising activities.
There are other examples as well which demonstrate how widespread financial support from Christian communities have become:
The Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, reported that television evangelists raised over $20 million dollars to help Jewish immigration to Israel in 1997.7
Ann Lolordo of the Baltimore Sun found that financial help for Jewish settlements could be found in the Christian Zionist community, and ironically not found from western Jewish ones. She detailed a number of Christian Churches and organizations funding endeavors such as the $5,000 dollars raised by Judy Campbell and the New Life Church in Colorado, or Ted Beckett, a Colorado developer, who started the Adopt-a-settlement program and contributed over $50,000 dollars over a two-year period. The Fellowship Church of Castleberry, Florida, donated over $100,000 dollars for a dormitory and conference center at a West-Bank settlement called Kiryat-Arba.8
Vicki Hearst, daughter of the late wealthy businessman, Randolph Hearst, has given an undisclosed significant amount of money for facilities on the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ariel.9
Pastor John Hagee’s Cornerstone Christian Church in Texas donated over $1.5 million dollars to the United Jewish Communities for “Israel-related causes”.10 And in 2006 it is alleged he raised over $7 million for Jewish groups.11 He also founded on February 7, 2006, Christians United For Israel an Evangelical equivalent of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) to lobby the American congress to support Israel.12 In that same year, Hagee was the recipient of the Humanitarian of the Year Award by B’nai B’rith.13
The amount of money from many of these groups may seem insignificant, but there are Churches and organizations all over the world doing the same thing, cumulatively adding to Israel’s economy.
There are so many pro-Israel Christian groups that if one does a Google search, it will bring up over 250 organizations. It is difficult to assess the yearly economic contributions to Israel, but four of the larger well known ones, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem, Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, and Chosen People Ministries, collectively receive donations over $33 million US every year.14
This Christian zeal enters directly into modern-day Israeli politics. I was at the International Christian Embassy Feast of Tabernacles celebration held in Jerusalem in 1986, where the then Prime Minister Yitzhaq Shamir was given a standing ovation by a thousand or more Christians as a sign of prophetic allegiance. The annual rite that occurred in 2007 consisted of an estimated 7,000 Christian pilgrims from 90 nations.15
Benyamin Netanyahu, a former Israeli UN representative and current Prime Minister, has frequently spoken in Churches.16 He is a cherished idol in the Evangelical community, as reflected by this blogger on Netanyahu when he announced participation in a previous Likud leadership race, “I believe that Benjamin Netanyahu is the chosen man of God to help lead Israel through this very difficult time.”17
The Knesset has formed the Christian Allies Caucus because of the decades of warm political, economic and social relationships between the Evangelical Christian Community and Israel.18
The European Coalition for Israel: the brainchild of a number of major Christian Zionist groups was founded to promote the welfare of Israel before the European Parliament.19
The Israeli political ethos has warmed to these Christian communities since the times of Menachem Begin, who oversaw the transition of a liberal based Israeli government to that of a Likud based one — a party influenced by orthodox Judaism — the Christian equivalent of a fundamentalist group.
The Biblical imagery and geographical rhetoric that the Likud party espouses is easily understood by the Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians makes the attraction between the Likud and these Christians a natural one.
The Israeli Government feels comfortable with this arrangement because money donated comes with what appears few strings attached. An Op-Ed by Abraham H. Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League detailed this in Time Magazine, “The support comes voluntarily, and we welcome it, as long as it comes without a quid pro quo.”20
The Christian organizations that offer material support believe the country and its politicians are mandated by God, and their assistance is to accelerate modern Israel’s self-determined course to Armaggedon. They feel direct intervention on how and where the money should be used would be counter-productive to the unfolding of the events leading to the end of the world.
Much of the closeness between Evangelicals and the Israeli Government can be traced to the late American Evangelist, Jerry Falwell, and his close relationship with Israeli leader Menachem Begin. It has been asserted the relationship was so close, that Falwell was loaned a Lear jet by the Israeli government. A deeper look reveals this to be false, according to the Israeli-American writer, Zev Chafets.21
Falwell once stated that the Israeli government can be confident that he could mobilize over 70 million Christians in support of Israel.22
Little is said or written about what the average Israeli perceives the Christian Zionist in a one-to-one conversation. Zev Chafets appreciates such enthusiasm to support the Israeli cause. He turns a blind eye to their religious fervour and is simply in favour of anybody who defends Israel from being taken off the map.23
Chafets explores the modern Israeli relationship with Christian Zionism in his book, A Matchmade in Heaven. He described this association through an experience touring with a Christian Zionist couple in Israel. While they were in a store, he was talking with an Israeli clerk about his touring friends. In English, they are appreciated, but in a short Hebrew dialogue between Chafets and the clerk, they find them weird.24 When he worked in the Israeli government, he found “…that Christian Zionists were politically useful, even if their hypersincerity was a bit off-putting.”25
This relationship is a gamble that the religious observant Jew or modern liberal Israeli has made with much trepidation. Ira Rifkin wrote in Jewish Week that he is concerned about the long-term consequences of using the Christian Zionists for the Israeli national agenda. A variety of issues could rise that deeply split the Christian from the Jewish communities and cause a new wave of anti-semitism.26 Gershom Gorenberg echoed this same sentiment in an on-line New Republic article, stating that Reverend Jerry Falwell believed the anti-Christ was alive today and was male and Jewish. This type of religious vernacular indicated to Mr. Gorenberg that Christian fanaticism could quickly turn against the Jews.27
John Hagee and his organization, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), has especially brought the relationship of Christian Zionism with mainstream American Judaism to a head. Hagee’s invitation to have a forum at a convention held by the powerful lobby group American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and CUFI’s ‘Nights to Honor Israel’, at local Churches has especially increased discussion.28 Rabbi Moline, an ultra-conservative Rabbi who fiercely crusades against intermarriage and the religious right, is a known sponsor of Hagee’s fundraisers even though he doesn’t like his theology or politics, “…we live in a time when friends of Israel are few and far between. We have to recognize that we are receiving support from the Evangelical community that we are not receiving from our traditional friends.”29
The problem has been addressed by the Chief Rabbinate in Israel. They called on Jews to shun the annual International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem’s 2007 Feast of Tabernacles celebration held in Jerusalem. The Rabbinate cannot comprehend the modern Evangelical end-fervor and could only logically conclude that this was a plot to convert Jews to Christianity.30
What would happen if the Evangelical community discovered that they have been used by the Israeli Government and Jewish allies for their own political means? This scenario would likely never happen as the Pentecostal/Evangelical mindset on end-times is so deeply set, that it could not reach this state of consciousness.
Could the Evangelical support switch into a deep form of anti-semitism? Contrary to the fears of many Rabbis and Jewish religious pundits, this is not going to happen. If anything, the new problem is that of philo-semitism, and the expectations that come with it.
What could be the potential turning point? A worst-case scenario is the election of a majority Labor government, who in turn would legislate and destroy illegal settlements, outlaw expansionism, and begin to introduce more liberal laws into Israel such as universal abortion on demand, recognition of same-sex marriages, and a significantly re-drawn two-state solution with Palestinians. The Christian Zionist organizations then would react two-fold: first, Christian Zionist money and political leverage would substantially shift from the Israeli Government to the territories and radical religious Jewish groups. Secondly, the Christian Zionist movement would become politically silent on military offences or defences for or against Israel, believing it to be a punishment on a government that has lost its God given mandate and in need of spiritual correction.■
For more information:
- This is an older article. Emma Green’s coverage found in the Atlantic called White Evangelicals Used to Dominate Christian Zionism, But Not Anymore is more recent. (October 2017)
- For a specific look at the relationship between Pentecostals and Israel, see my article Pentecostals and Israel
- The Catholic Herald also has taken note about this expansionism in Jerusalem: Pentecostals are quietly thriving in Jerusalem.
- David Brog, executive director for Christians United for Israel, believes support is waning. See The End of Evangelical Support for Israel?
- Ofri Illany, offers an analysis of philo-semitism in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz. Israelis Abroad Facing a Wave of Philo-Semitic Incidents
This article was originally published on the ScribD website in 2007. It is republished here with some changes.
- http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week122/cover.html “Israeli Alliance with American Evangelicals” January 30th, 1998 Episode no. 122. An interview with Benjamin Natanyahu by Paul Miller, Religion and Ethics
- Stephen Sizer. Christian Zionism: Fueling the Arab-Israeli Conflict. CD pre-release version. Chapter 5: pg. 305. No Date Given but is the rough manuscript to the final print version, “Christian Zionism: Road Map to Armaggedon?”
- American Jews and Israel: A 54-Year Retrospective University of Judaism, http://www.uj.edu/content/ContentUnit.asp?CID=1200&u=3025&t=0
- http://www.jewishworldreview.com/0298/evewar.html “The dance of symbols” by Josh Pollack, Jan. 21. 1998
- Evangelical Christians Supply Major Source of UJA Donations. The Jerusalem Post Thursday, November 13, 1997 By Aryeh Dean Cohen.
- U.S. Christians paid for summer airlift of Ethiopian Jews. By Catherine Cohen , Ha’aretz. Friday, December 31, 1999. No link to this file
- Israeli settlers find staunch friends in Christians, By Ann LoLordo, Baltimore Sun. July 27, 1997.
- IBID. Israeli Settlers. LoLordo.
- http://www.ujc.org/page.html?ArticleID=36411 United Jewish Communities “News: As Evangelical Christians Cheer, Preacher Gives Money to Back Israel” by Barbara Richmond.
- http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/newscontent.php3?artid=14013 Growing Acceptance seen of fiery Pastor by James D. Besser, Thursday, Aug. 23rd, 2007
- http://www.jewsonfirst.org/07b/yoffie.html Leader of Reform Judaism discourages cooperation with Christians United for Israel. May 29th, 2007.
- This was based on studying financial reports given on the internet for the year 2000.
- http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article4951.htm “The Interregnum: Christian Zionism In The Clinton Years” by Donald Wagner.
- http://www.onenewsnow.com/2007/07/bibi_netanyahu_the_great_commu.php A posting by Steve Wenge, July 11th, 2007
- http://cac.org.il/. http://www.israelnn.com/news.php3?id=69672 Christian Allies in Day of Prayer for Jerusalem. See also http://www.knesset.gov.il/lobby/eng/LobbyPage_eng.asp?lobby=41
- http://www.europeancoalitionforisrael.org/ “A Christian initiative Promoting European-Israeli Cooperation.”
- http://www.jewsonfirst.org/howjewsseefp.html How Jews See it: Foreign Policy and Christian Zionists: Time Magazine, January 16th, 2007
- Zev Chafets. A Match Made in Heaven. New York: Harper Collins Publishers. 2007. pg. 66
- Donald Wagner. Evangelicals and Israel: Theological roots of a political alliance. Christian Century. Nov. 4. 1998 http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1058/is_1998_Nov_4/ai_53227143/pg_4
- http://www.jewsonfirst.org/howjewsseefp.html On Fresh Air: Chafets shrugs off Christian Right Agenda, Israeli attack on Iran. Terry Gross interviews Chafets on Fresh Air, January 18th, 2007.
- IBID Chafets. Pg. 41.
- IBID Chafets. Pg. 10.
- http://www.thejewishweek.com/top/editletcontent.php3?artid=2389 The Jewish Week: Beware of Christian Zionists by Ira Rifkin. Nov. 22, 2002.
- Tribulations: Jerusalem’s Y2K problem by Gershom Gorenberg. The New Republic: a journal of politics and the arts. JUNE 14, 1999 ISSUE
- http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/newscontent.php3?artid=14013 Growing Acceptance seen of fiery Pastor by James D. Besser, Thursday, Aug. 23rd, 2007
- http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/World/2007/09/23/4520803-ap.html, Evangelicals disturbed by Israel rabbis’ call for Jews to shun holiday event. By Amy Teibel, The Associated Press, September 23rd, 2007.