JERUSALEM — For a quarter of a century, Benjamin Netanyahu has made it his mission to build personal friendships and strategic alliances with Evangelical Christians in the United States and around the world.
Some other Israeli politicians have done so, as well – but not as many as you might expect.
Indeed, it has always been curious to me that for as much as Evangelicals love and support Israel, so few Israeli cabinet ministers and Knesset members have made it a priority to reach out to, speak to, and build close ties to Evangelical leaders, much less find ways to work together on various projects.
One Israeli leader who has begun trying to do this is Yair Lapid.
Not long ago, at his request, I arranged for the telegenic founder of the centrist Yesh Atid ("There's A Future") political party to meet a group of Evangelical leaders during a visit he made to Washington D.C.
A former TV host, an author, Lapid's English is excellent – much better than many Israeli parliament members – making it easier for him to converse with those from North America.
Unfortunately, Lapid's plans to meet with more Evangelical leaders on their visits to Jerusalem had to be scuttled when the COVID-19 crisis shut down all incoming Christian tours to Israel.
Now that he is the leader of the opposition, Lapid will find his desire to build warm ties to American Evangelical leaders complicated a bit because so many of these leaders have such a deep respect for – and even personal friendships with – Netanyahu.
After all, Lapid believes it is time for Netanyahu to step down.
Still, he believes that such outreach is important, even if he has a lot of catch up work to do, especially since he believes he will one day be Israel's prime minister.
When I asked Lapid if he would be willing to be one of the first Israeli leaders interviewed by ALL ISRAEL NEWS, he did not hesitate – and one of the things he wanted to discuss is why the relationship between Israeli Jews and Evangelical Christians is so important.
Here are excerpts from our conversation:
ROSENBERG: You and I first met several years ago when you were interested in beginning to build more relationships with the Evangelical Christian leadership community. Talk for a moment about why. Why are you interested in building those relationships with Evangelicals? It's almost been a monopoly for the prime minister for 25 years. But I'm encouraged to see you and others are saying, "Listen, Evangelicals are important to the State of Israel – not to one particular party – we need to reach out." But I'd like to get your sense of why is that relationship important.
LAPID: Well, first and foremost, these are my brothers and my sisters in terms that we share the same values. We share a way of looking at the world. The Ten Commandments. This obligation to be better people. And there is something that is really important to me [about these things] as an Israeli citizen and a patriot. It is true that God moves in mysterious ways. But He was not very mysterious about one thing – His obligation to give this land to the Jewish people. People are trying to hide from this fact, but our Evangelical friends are not.
My father is a Holocaust survivor. He came here [to Israel]. He didn't go to New York. He didn't stay in Yugoslavia, where he was born. He didn't go to Budapest, where his family was from. He came here because – and he was a complete secular [Jew], and he was even the head of a completely secular party here – but he came here because this is the land that God has given us.
And if there is one group in the world that sees this exactly as we do – and therefore they are my brothers and sisters – is the Evangelicals.
So, this is the reason – and we cherish so much in this country the friendship, the support, the ability to be loud and clear about this support that we get from our friends around the world and in the United States. I don't have enough words to describe it. And it's such a great opportunity through you to just say, "We're thankful."
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.