By Michael Freund
For a country short on allies, Israel sure needs to learn how to start treating its friends a little better. Just over a week from now, during the Sukkot holiday, thousands of Bible-believing Christians from over 100 countries will converge on the streets of Jerusalem.
They come here not as conquerors, nor as soul-snatchers, but as devoted, God-fearing individuals who wish to stand in solidarity with Israel and the Jewish people. Just as they have been doing for nearly 30 years, they will parade through the capital, wave their national flags and express their love for Israel as they heap blessings on the Jewish people and their miraculous return to Zion.
Anywhere else in the world such a display of unbounded affection and unconditional support would be greeted with open arms and touted as a welcome demonstration of philo-Semitism in an age of increasing peril for Jews.
Anywhere, it seems, except here.
According to media reports, a committee appointed by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate has recommended barring participation by Jews in the parade, fearing that the event will be used to entice Israelis to betray their faith. The recommendation is said to be in the process of being formally approved, and is set to be published shortly by the Rabbinate.
This is a highly regrettable development. It represents a gratuitous slap in the face to the organizers of the parade, the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, and to the thousands of pro-Israel Christians who are coming here to take part.
They are taking time off of work, leaving behind families, friends and loved ones, and coming here at their own expense to champion Israel and show the world their commitment to its well-being and security.
And how do we react? By tarring them all with the label of “missionaries” and showing little appreciation of the sincerity of their friendship and support.
Prohibiting participation in the parade simply makes no sense. The Jerusalem Municipality even issued a statement saying there are no grounds to fear that the event will be used as a platform for missionary activity.
“Participation in the parade,” the municipality said, “is planned in advance and approved by the city, whose inspectors wouldn’t allow a missionary group or any other political group to attend.”
But the damage has been done, as many Christians must surely be scratching their heads and wondering why anyone could possibly object to their marching through Jerusalem in support of Israel.
Now, don’t get me wrong. The threat posed by missionary activity in Israel is real, and steps must be taken to curtail it. But to label all pro-Israel Christians as “missionaries” is neither fair nor accurate.
Sure, some would like to convert Jews, and they make little or no attempt to hide their agenda. But the vast majority simply wants to bless Israel because that is what they believe the Divine Will wants them to do.
In other words, a little nuance can go a long way. Instead of lumping all Christian supporters of Israel together and classifying them as “missionaries in disguise,” we should make sure to distinguish between those who truly and unreservedly love us and the small minority who surreptitiously seek to bring about our spiritual demise.
Similarly, too many Israeli officials and Jewish organizations have come to view the burgeoning relationship with evangelicals as little more than just another opportunity to solicit funds, rather than to seek genuine and lasting friendship.
By focusing on dollars instead of devotion, the Jewish state runs the risk of portraying itself as just another pitiful charity case in need of assistance, rather than as the vital partner and ally of the West that it is.
And so, thanks to a combination of shortsighted thinking and occasional avarice, Israel might just be causing irreparable damage to one of its most important wellsprings of support.
The timing could not possibly be worse. After all, we are currently facing an array of powder-keg issues, such as the nuclear threat from Iran, the Hamas takeover in Gaza, and Hezbollahs arms buildup in Lebanon.
Pro-Israel Christians, many of whom proudly refer to themselves as “Christian Zionists,” number in the tens of millions and wield increasing power and influence across the United States. They love Israel passionately and pray for her well-being, and they play a progressively more important role in the formulation of American policy.
Now, more than ever, Israel should be cultivating Christian support, both in the U.S. and elsewhere. Done properly, it can blossom into a lasting friendship of historical, political and diplomatic significance.
But by raining on their parade and not treating our Christian friends with the respect and admiration they deserve, we do them, and ultimately ourselves, a terrible disservice.