Jews and Israel: Netanyahu Coalition and Evangelical Christians Are on Collision Course

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Jews and Israel: Netanyahu Coalition and Evangelical Christians Are on Collision Course

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Israel's principal Washington, DC lobby, makes no bones about it. While its clout in the media flows directly from Jewish network executives, publishers, journalists, and advertisers, its hold on Congress is further strengthened by "60 million Evangelical Christians" who, as lobby advertisements put it, "believe the creation of Israel is the fulfillment of God's prophecy."

There's a complication in that, which neither Israel's Jewish supporters nor the two remaining most prominent televangelist leaders of this supposed pro-Israel horde, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, mention. (The other three nationally prominent proIsrael televangelists, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker -- Tammy Faye's ex-husband -- all suffered an apparent cooling of ardor for Israel while serving jail time for unrelated sins.) The way these Charismatic Christians look at it, the "ingathering of the Jews" in Jerusalem is a necessary prelude, like the battle of Armageddon, for which they pray, to the second coming of Christ. They believe that they and others "who accept Christ as their personal Saviour" will be "raptured" into heaven, and the Jews, and probably the Christians who haven't set their watches to Christian Coalition time, will be left on earth to face "tribulations." It's not clear to this writer what these "tribulations" associated with Armaggedon are. Presumably they also await all of the four-fifths of the human race who are Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Theosophists and such, and to whom the British Rev. John Nelson Darby probably never gave a thought when in the 19th century he twisted fragments of Biblical prophesy into this gloomy scenario.

So U.S. support for Israel is based on America's 5 million Jews, who think Israel is a nice place to visit but wouldn't want to live there, and an earthly host of born agains who follow Pat Robertson and recently were enjoined by him to convert those Jews. (When Jewish leaders taxed him with "anti-Semitism" for trying to mess with their children's minds, he indignantly responded that it was impossible to call him anti-Semitic because he is so pro-Israel. It's not logical but nevertheless a neat defense.)

None of this seems to bother U.S. Jewish leaders who support Israel, few of whom spend a lot of time listening to televangelists. It does, however, upset the religious Jews in Israel. They are only about 20 percent of the population, but since they vote for their own parties, they have a lot of votes in Israel's parliament. Neither Likud nor Labor can form a coalition without some of the religious Knesset members.

In March, 21 of those members passed (to 7 opposed), the first draft of a law banning Christian missionary work in Israel. That doesn't sound like much in the 120member Knesset and the legislation will have to pass two more votes before it becomes law. But a poll of Knesset members showed that 78 of the 120 would vote for the bill, which makes it a criminal offense punishable with up to 15 years' imprisonment and subsequent deportation for foreigners "to teach or propagate Christian doctrine" in the Holy land.

Catholic or Protestant clergy, teachers or aid workers will be allowed into Israel only while traveling "in a wholly private capacity, as tourists or transients, with no public religious functions or observances included in their itinerary."

Israelis have long resented Christian clergy, both the liberal kind who support Palestinian human rights, and the evangelical kind who encourage Jews to convert to their religion. It was one of the latter, however, the Rev. Morris Cerullo of Worldwide Evangelism Inc. of San Diego, CA, who inspired the crackdown. He was reputed to have mailed one million copies, at a cost of $3 million to $4 million, of a missionary tract entitled The Peace to Israelis in late 1996. …