JERUSALEM—Let us pray that after Israel’s political leaders form a new government – and hopefully avoid new elections – that the prime minister will create a new position: an “Ambassador to the Christian Community.”
While the history of Jewish-Christian relations has undergone some painful eras, Israel has drawn the growing sympathy and affection of Christians around the world since its dramatic, even prophetic, rebirth in 1948.
Indeed, Evangelical Christians have become one of Israel’s most important strategic allies in terms of faithful prayer, tourism, charitable aid, financial investments, political support, partnerships in fighting anti-Semitism and unwavering solidarity in good times and bad.
Yet, as a troubling new survey shows us, Israelis must not take such support for granted.
TIME TO DO MORE
As former Ambassador Ron Dermer recently noted, Israel needs to do much more to reach out to, educate, invest in, and welcome Christian support, especially that of Evangelical Christians.
Dermer did not say Israel should do less to reach out to the Jewish diaspora, though he was roundly criticized for this.
His point was simply that while Israel keeps building bridges to Jews all over the world, it should 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.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Dermer are among them.
Remarkably, however, Israel does not have a single senior-level emissary assigned to handle the Christian portfolio.
Several years ago, at the Christian Media Summit in Jerusalem organized by the Government Press Office, Netanyahu promised to appoint such an emissary. Sadly, it has not happened.
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 bestselling 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.
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.
NO TIME TO WASTE
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 demographic would help.
A troubling new survey, first published in an exclusive story by the Times of Israel, “points to a growing divide in the U.S. 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 U.S., 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% said with Israel, 24.3% said with the Palestinians and 42.2% 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.”
NEW AMBASSADOR SHOULD BE APPOINTED BY PRIME MINISTER
Rather than report to the foreign minister, this new ambassador to the Christian world 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 be able to get things done in a timely and effective manner.
The position should be backed up by a support staff and a budget for travel and communications 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 advisor 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 nonpartisan 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 U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities,” adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on Dec. 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.
CAN THE NEXT GOVERNMENT FIND UNITY ON THIS ISSUE?
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.
So is establishing a nonpartisan Israeli Commission on Religious Freedom and Minority Affairs.
Can the next government – whoever leads it – build consensus around this issue of doing more to reach out to Christians here in Israel and around the world, to strengthen this strategic alliance and make sure that young Christians develop a deep and abiding love for Israel, like their parents and grandparents have?
Let’s hope so.
Rising anti-Semitism around the world, extreme media bias against Israel, and other emerging threats remind us yet again that we need the strong and unwavering support of the Christian community like never before.
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.