JERUSALEM, ISRAEL – At sundown tonight, Jews all over the world will begin celebrating the Jewish New Year, known as “Rosh Hashanah.”
Given the deep political, social, and religious divisions here, and the high tensions over judicial reform, inflation, and other issues, 42% of Israelis say they feel pessimistic about what the new year holds.
Only 23% expect life to be “better” than over the past year.
As such, Netanyahu’s numbers have been sliding in the polls over the last six months or so.
That said, a new year brings new opportunities.
Netanyahu today issued a video on X, the social media platform previously known as Twitter, pledging to Israelis that he will focus all of his energies and helping reunify the country in the year ahead, and on forging a historic peace and normalization agreement with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Good – we need both.
I also encourage him to dust off a promise that he made several years ago to appoint a full-time “Ambassador to the Christian Community.”
HERE’S WHY ISRAEL NEEDS AN AMBASSADOR TO THE CHRISTIAN WORLD
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.
Evangelical Christians have become one of Israel’s most important strategic allies in terms of constant and faithful prayer, tourism, charitable aid, financial investments, political support, partnerships in fighting anti-Semitism, and unwavering solidarity in good times and bad.
Yet Israelis must not take such support for granted.
In addition, there is much outreach that Israel needs to do toward Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians to fight anti-Semitism and build warmer times between these denominations and the Jewish state.
As Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer said in 2021: Israel needs to do much more to reach out to, educate, invest in, and welcome Christian support, especially that of Evangelical Christians.
Though he was roundly criticized for these remarks, Dermer did not say Israel should do less to reach out to the Jewish diaspora.
His point was simply that while Israel keeps building bridges to Jews all over the world, it should also do more to strengthen its alliance with Christians.
To their credit, some Israeli leaders have proactively sought to defuse tensions and build warmer ties with Christians holding a wide variety of theological positions.
While Netanyahu has led the league on this for three decades, Israeli opposition leaders like Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid have stepped up their Christian outreach efforts, to their credit.
Remarkably, however, Israel does not have a single senior-level emissary assigned to handle the global Christian portfolio.
In 2018, at the Christian Media Summit in Jerusalem organized by the Government Press Office, Netanyahu promised to appoint such an emissary.
It was a great idea and drew tremendous applause from the 150 or so Christian journalists and media executives who attended from all over the world.
Unfortunately, during all these years, the country has been embroiled in five contentious election cycles – plus the COVID crisis – so the pledge has never been fulfilled.
Now is the time.
As we head into the new year, Netanyahu should find and appoint a highly qualified individual who can serve as Israel’s point person to Christians here in the Land and all over the world, as well as to advise the prime minister and his government on how best to strengthen Israel’s relations with the Christian world, boost tourism, and deal with crises when they erupt.
REQUIREMENTS FOR THE POSITION
The more I have thought and prayed about it, the more I’m convinced that this ambassador should:
Be an Israeli citizen, living here in the Land and thus able to work closely with the prime minister and the Knesset
Be fluent in Hebrew and English – Spanish or French would also be a plus – and thus able to communicate effectively with fellow Israelis, as well as with Christians across the globe
Have government experience, ideally having served as an ambassador in the past
Have Netanyahu’s ear, and his trust
No Israeli leader has ever been as friendly to Christians as Netanyahu.
But life is messy.
Just this year, Netanyahu and his team had to extinguish two fires that flared up within the Christian world.
Yet, there is still the very pressing problem of spiking acts of violence and harassment against Christians, particularly here in Jerusalem.
We’ve reported extensively about this trend this year on ALL ISRAEL NEWS and we’ve asked the prime minister to become more actively and publicly involved in stopping these attacks and protecting the rights and safety of Christians in Israel.
After all, no one wants these attacks to continue, much less become a source of international criticism against Israel, or a reason for foreign Christians to start canceling their tours of the Holy Land.
That’s why I believe the time has come for the prime minister to appoint such a senior-level ambassador.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE CHRISTIAN WORLD TO ISRAEL
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 “pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” as commanded by the Psalmist.
And far more Christians than Jews visit Israel.
Indeed, fully 61% of tourists who visit Israel are 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.
A troubling survey, first published in the Times of Israel, “points to a growing divide in the US between young evangelical Christians and their elders, particularly in their views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, indicating Israel could see a significant drop in support in coming years.”
“While the religious group has long been a bulwark of support for Israel in the US, the Barna Group-administered poll commissioned by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke indicates a sharp drop in support for the Jewish state and raises concerns that Israel could lose a key ally going forward,” the Times reported Monday.
“In a poll of over 700 evangelical Christians between the ages of 18 and 29 that was conducted between March and April, respondents were asked where they place their support in the ‘Israeli-Palestinian dispute.’ Just 33.6 percent said with Israel, 24.3% said with the Palestinians and 42.2 percent said with neither side.”
“This marked a significant shift from 2018, when a survey of young evangelicals conducted by the same UNCP professors, Motti Inbari and Kirill Bumin, found that 75% of respondents sided with Israel over the Palestinians, while 22% preferred not to take a side in the dispute. Just 2.8% expressed some degree of support for the Palestinians then.”
THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF SUCH AN AMBASSADOR
The responsibilities of such an ambassador must include the following.
He or she should:
Serve 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.
Serve 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.
Serve as the prime minister’s senior advisor on Christian affairs, including arranging meetings with visiting Christian leaders, maintaining correspondence with Christian leaders around the world and helping to educate the prime minister and his cabinet on issues of importance to the Christian world.
Help the prime minister resolve problems and crises as they erupt.
Promote Christian tourism and pilgrimages to Israel and ensure 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.
Serve as an effective media spokesperson on TV, radio, print media and social media, proactively promoting positive Israeli-Christian relations.
Along with millions of Christians around the world, I join Netanyahu in praying for and working toward unity and peace in the coming year.
Let’s also pray that the prime minister makes appointing an ambassador to the global Christian community a top priority.
Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.