by: Rebecca J. Brimmer, International President
Christians around the world have been alarmed at news of recent anti-Christian actions in Israel. A number of incidents are at the heart of the concerns. In September last year, Jordanian King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein stood in the United Nations General Assembly and said that Christianity is under attack in Jerusalem. In March, Knesset (Parliament) Member (MK) Moshe Gafni of United Torah Judaism (an ultra-Orthodox party) presented a bill that would make proselytization in Israel illegal and punishable by jail time. The bill never advanced beyond the first reading (three readings are required before it becomes law). In May, a group of extremist religious Jews led by Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Arieh King assaulted a group of Christians participating in the Isaiah 62 Fast as they were having a prayer meeting during the Christian holiday of Pentecost near the Western Wall. In June, Christians attending a concert in the heart of Jerusalem were subjected to religious Jews rioting against the event. In August, the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem (ICEJ) was quoted in the news as saying they were denied the visas necessary for the continuation of their pro-Israel work. It is of note that the Ministry of Interior that grants these visas is under the leadership of Shas, an ultra-Orthodox religious party. Then, in October, Christians reported ultra-Orthodox Jews spitting at them, and another conference was marred by demonstrations.
A review of all of these incidents highlights an important truth: the actions against Christians are coming from a portion of society, not the entire Israeli society.
For 1,700 years, Christianity and Judaism have been at odds. Many historic actions against the Jewish people have had tacit or implicit support from the organized Church, both Catholic and Protestant. Shockingly, many Jewish people think the Nazis were Christians and view the murder of six million Jews as a Christian action. Indeed, the Nazis were often members of the Church and were not excommunicated. They wore crosses, celebrated Christian holidays and called themselves Christians. This historic pain lingers in the Jewish soul. Organizations like Bridges for Peace, Christian Friends of Israel, Christians for Israel, the ICEJ and others are working to heal these ancient wounds. We did not personally cause the wounds, but we can be part of the healing.
In 2004, the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus was formed with support from Bridges for Peace and other Christian organizations. Its purpose is to help Israel understand who her Christian friends are and to forge honest relationships. In many ways, the caucus has been more successful than Israel expected. MKs from across the political spectrum are members and have forged true friendships with many Christian leaders. Government leaders often meet with Christian groups visiting Israel. Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu often addresses Christian gatherings, like the Annual Christian Media Summit and the Israel Allies Foundation’s Chairmen’s Conference that gathers Christian politicians from around the world to Israel. There is a genuine effort to reach out to the Christian world in friendship.
In response to the event during Pentecost, the Israeli government spoke out against the actions of the Jewish protestors, and did so again in response to the riot at the Christian concert. The proposed anti-Proselytization law was squashed. The visa issue is being addressed as well. It is clear that there is no official Israeli anti-Christian program.
It is important to realize that not all Orthodox Jews are alike. Some are anti-Christian, while others are reaching out to Christians in friendship. Some are fearful, some are angry, some are wary and some are hopeful for a better relationship. After the Pentecost event, two Orthodox Jews did a series of videos to discuss the issues. David Nekrutman, executive director and co-founder of the Isaiah Projects, has devoted his life to building relationships with Christians, while Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz is a senior reporter for Israel365 News. These two discussed their impressions and feelings in front of a global virtual audience. This would not have happened 30 years ago. While they weren’t in total agreement with each other, their conversation reflected their honest appreciation for Christian friends, their fears and also the things they find distasteful. Both condemned the actions of their co-religionists against the Christian prayer meeting, with Nekrutman calling it a “de-sanctification of God’s name in the world.” He described their actions as intimidation and shared his opinion that the incident reinforced the idea some Christians hold that Jews hate them. He also defended Christians and our mandate to be a witness, saying, “I want a Christian to be a Jesus-centered Christian.”
In my conversations with other Orthodox Jews, there is a general feeling of awe about the fact that Christians and Jews are building relationships. More than one has expressed to me that this is a step toward the final redemption.
Today, Christians—especially Evangelicals—are some of the best friends Israel and the Jewish people have. More and more Jewish people are coming to realize this as Christians treat them with respect, help with their practical needs, pay for Jewish people to come home from war-torn Ukraine and other former Soviet nations, feed them and speak out on Israel’s behalf in the world. As Israel was attacked by Hamas, Christians worldwide rose up and pray for, stand with and support Israel. While it is disturbing to see negative incidents, it is important to look at the individual actions in the context of the history of Jewish–Christian relations. From where I sit, we are progressing. The relationship between the Christian and Jewish world is better now than at any other time in our checkered history.
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