On the closing day of the sixth Christian Media Summit in Jerusalem, organized by the Israel Government Press Office, some 150 Christian journalists – representing dozens of countries – had a lengthy and detailed tour of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, receiving greetings and current event updates from several legislators.
Particularly noteworthy in his absence this year was presumed incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had been scheduled to speak at the opening session earlier in the week. Due to last minute negotiations toward the formation of his new government, he was unable to participate.
However, the several who did participate, breaking away from important legislative debates, did so with grace and respect for the group of Christian journalists. Israelis present at the opening session understood early on that Netanyahu would not be attending – as was evidenced by the clear lack of security at the venue he was not attending – although the announcement of his cancellation was only made toward the end of the event.
New Knesset Member Ohad Tal, representing the Religious Zionism party, held a 2,000-year-old coin minted during the Jewish Revolt against the Romans while he spoke. Representing both a Jewish-religious and a Nationalist perspective, Tal spoke about ancient Hebrew imprinted on the coin and how it signified the fight to protect Jerusalem.
Among the most anticipated speakers was presumptive incoming minister of National Security, Knesset Member Itamar Ben Gvir, from the Jewish Power party. He spoke extemporaneously about his vision for Israel and why his new role, which includes combating terrorism, is so significant in restoring security to Israeli citizens and streets so that nobody should be afraid.
Regarding this, Ben Gvir noted that the enemies who seek to harm and destroy Israel are the same enemies who wish to harm Christians. He noted that the war on terrorism is a priority for Jews and Christians.
“The joint enemy are jihadists who want to turn the whole world to a caliphate, who say that if you’re not Muslim you have no right to live here, those who destroyed the Twin Towers,” he said.
“Historical experience is that when we surrender [to them] we get more terror, like the 2005 disengagement from Gaza which [didn’t bring peace and only] brought rockets fired [upon major Israeli cities],” he said. “I came to fight terror,” he added.
Ben Gvir noted that the fight is for people who believe in Democracy and human rights, and that each nation has the right to live in its land.
“Those who want to hurt us also want to hurt you,” he said. “I’m fighting for us, but I’m also fighting for you. They may want to start with us, the Jewish nation, but you are next afterward, and all those who don’t agree with them. We should not surrender to them or fold before them.”
He also addressed an elephant in the room, saying that in his youth he believed that all Arabs should be expelled from Israel, and that he once celebrated Dr. Baruch Goldstein’s mass murder of Palestinian Arabs in Hebron‘s Cave of the Patriarchs decades earlier.
While he used to believe these things, he was only 17 at the time, he explained. Now he’s 46-years-old husband with six children.
He challenged the Christian journalists, many of whom came to faith as adults, that there are things that they certainly believed or adhered to in their youth which they no longer adhere to as mature adults, and that that’s normal.
“I don’t think that all Arabs are terrorists. There are many Arabs who want to live in peace. I’m fighting for them, as well. Security needs to return to all citizens of Israel,” he said.
He noted that he’s received calls from Arab mayors and leaders who want to fight a growing trend of Arab crime in Arab communities, and said he will “work with anyone as long as they reject terror.”
Regarding peace, Ben Gvir said, “I believe that there can be peace with the Arabs, but a peace of cooperation not surrender,” criticizing previous efforts that did not bring peace and even increased terror.
David Parsons of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem Ben Gvir about his perspective on protecting Christians and Christian sites in Israel.
“You have a history of defending Jews who burned a church in the Galilee, who assaulted Arabs [and incited extremism at a Christian congregation]. What can you say to assure us that you’re going to work for minority rights?” Parsons said.
Ben Gvir responded candidly, “You spoke about cases I represented as a lawyer. I represented all kinds of cases and believed that the defendants were innocent. I do not believe in burning churches or hurting people. I want to assure you that there will be minority rights. We need to be a light unto the nations. I want us to be that. Israel is the only Democracy in the Middle East. We are fighting for Democracy and the others are fighting against it,” he said.
While all the Knesset members received polite applause from the assembly of Christian journalists, Ben Gvir received a particularly warm applause because of his resolute words in defense of Israel and his clear rejection of his past beliefs.
During the session, a bill was under debate in another part of the Knesset. That bill would change the title and responsibilities of the ministry Ben Gvir hopes to head.
This proposed law, and a series of others, are cornerstones the presumptive new government needs to enact in order to make the controversial changes that will place Ben Gvir as head of a government ministry bearing extra powers. Also under debate is a bill to allow a former convicted Knesset member and government minister [Aryeh Deri] to serve again as minister, curbing a current law that prevents it.
Noting Ben Gvir’s rise in prominence and influence, he was asked if he’d commit to continue addressing the Christian Media Summit in the future, “when you’re more important,” implying that Ben Gvir’s star is just beginning to rise.
The Christian journalists who attended the summit certainly got a taste of why, despite being controversial, Ben Gvir is growing in popularity.
Jonathan Feldstein was born and educated in the U.S. and immigrated to Israel in 2004. He is married and the father of six. Throughout his life and career, he has become a respected bridge between Jews and Christians and serves as president of the Genesis 123 Foundation. He writes regularly on major Christian websites about Israel and shares experiences of living as an Orthodox Jew in Israel. He is host of the popular Inspiration from Zion podcast. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.