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Evangelical Christians, our new allies

By Isi Leibler. From: Jerusalem Post Aug. 15, 2003.

Scarcely a day goes by without a fresh media story in appreciation of our new friends, the Evangelical Christians. Only a few years ago many of us would have been appalled at the prospect of developing warm ties with those we then considered at best eccentrics and more likely anti-Semites obsessed with a fanatical urge to convert us. Indeed, until very recently Binyamin Netanyahu and other politicians who maintained relations with them were subject to ridicule and abuse.

Now it has suddenly dawned on us that there are probably 60 million Evangelical Christians in the United States and that they represent our staunchest supporters and friends. In fact, in recent years concern and devotion for Israel have become one of their highest priorities.

Evangelicals also represent the backbone of the conservative wing of the Republican Party and the central core of support for President George W. Bush. If a significant number of them become sufficiently disillusioned to abstain from voting, it could cost Bush the election.

It is thus no coincidence that the Congressional House Majority leader, Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican described in the New York Times as a leader of the Christian Zionist Movement, who recently visited Israel, is a committed Evangelical Christian.

Evangelicals' passionate support for a Jewish state also extends beyond the political domain. In what can only be described as surrealistic, one of their offshoots, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, in addition to donating substantial sums for welfare causes in Israel recently contributed the entire $2 million required by Nefesh B'Nefesh to provide loans and grants for 1,000 American Jews who made aliya this year.

Over the past year I have become increasingly moved by the consistent flow of encouraging letters I receive from Christians who display such warm support for our position that I have occasionally wished some of our leaders could convey similar passion when they relate to our rights.

This was exemplified by the absolutely marvelous speech Tom DeLay gave at the Knesset during his recent visit.

A few weeks ago I met Gary Bauer, a former US presidential candidate and one of the principal Evangelical leaders. It is symptomatic of the new political alliances that Bauer's visit to Israel was organized by Michael Landau, a prominent New York Aguda-inclined businessman who is also a leading fundraiser for DeLay.

IT WAS clear from our discussions that we will always have differences, major differences. But these people's faith in Israel is uncomplicated, based on religious belief derived from the Bible. And we share a Judeo-Christian heritage that rejects the post-modernism which today prevails throughout so much of the world. It enables us to differentiate between good and evil.

I found it refreshing to discuss the Middle East in a context where terms like justice and injustice and tyranny and freedom are not just political buzz words but meaningful ethical concepts.

Bauer expressed what many Israelis think. He admires and respects President Bush, but cautioned that Israelis would be making a terrible mistake if they took the administration's support for Israel for granted. He was pessimistic about the road map and observed that there were already signs of a drift back to the pre-September 11 State Department approach, which amounted to moral equivalency.

He understood our desperate desire to avoid shouldering the blame should the president's efforts to bring peace to the region founder. But he warned that the window of opportunity was closing and that we faced a potential disaster if we assumed an Oslo-like demeanor and equivocated in our demand that the terror groups be dismantled prior to any further concessions.

The American people could well become exasperated with both sides which would enable the State Department to revert to former policies based on the false belief that the Middle East conflict represents "a cycle of violence" that can be resolved by territorial compromise irrespective of who is right or wrong.

Bauer also made it clear that Christians and other friends of Israel would not remain on the sidelines if unfair pressure were exerted by the administration against Israel. But clearly we cannot expect our Christian friends and supporters in Congress to confront the administration if we ourselves are not willing to be more assertive in relation to policies affecting our vital interests.

Yet despite all the enthusiastic support we receive from Evangelicals, it is important that we do not delude ourselves. In such a wide and diverse group there are bound to be malcontents and deep-seated internal differences. Clearly, under the best of circumstances, we could still encounter problems, possibly unpleasant differences, even outright hostility.

It is therefore very important that the support we receive from our Christian friends in relation to Israel is in no way related to other conditions. Most Evangelicals, especially their leaders, understand and endorse this approach.

But as of now, whilst the chemistry between Jews and Christians has improved, it still remains somewhat unstable. Some Orthodox Jews and many liberal Jews continue to feel uncomfortable about the Christian Zionists' support. They realize that their support for Israel is based upon the belief that the Jews must be sovereign in their land as a precursor to the Second Coming. These and other theological issues should never be explored.

On the other hand, most traditional Jews are pleasantly surprised and encouraged when they learn that there are millions of gentiles who share their conviction that Eretz Yisrael was given to the Jewish people by God and will always remain their land.

It would thus be absurd to reject as allies those whose vision of a messianic future we do not share. Indeed we should make every effort to strengthen the relationship as long as we take care not to become involved in broader areas that would inevitably lead to misunderstandings and conflict.

The writer is senior vice president of the World Jewish Congress.