This Tuesday through Thursday, Aug. 21-23, CNN will present a series by chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour examining the effects of evangelical Christianity as a powerful political force around the world.
A recent poll found that 59 percent of American evangelicals believe Israel is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimates 85 million evangelicals believe God tells them to support Israel -- more than six times the world's Jewish population.
One of the most successful Jewish fundraisers, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, raised $39 million last year from Christian Zionists to fund human services and humanitarian work in Israel and the settlements.
Rabbi Eckstein received Orthodox Rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University in New York. He holds masters degrees from Yeshiva University and Columbia University, where he also completed studies for his doctorate. He currently serves on the executive committee of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and on the boards of directors of the Jewish Agency for Israel and Keren Hayesod. He is presently the founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
In recent years, The Fellowship has provided more than $100 million to programs helping Jews emigrate from the Former Soviet Union, Argentina and Ethiopia and resettle in Israel, fighting poverty in Israel and helping impoverished elderly Jews and orphans in the Former Soviet Union.
Rabbi Eckstein assumed the chairmanship of Stand for Israel, a Fellowship program launched in 2002 to mobilize U.S. Christian backing for Israel. Stand for Israel drew nearly 1,000 Christian leaders and grassroots activists to the first Washington, DC briefing in April 2003, where they met major opinion leaders and learned grassroots strategies for advocating for Israel.
Working through Keren Hayesod, a quasi-governmental agency, he is Israels liaison to evangelical Christian communities throughout the world.
Christian Zionists often converge on Washington by the thousands to lobby members of Congress in support of Israel. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Connecticut, was among the speakers at last month's convention of Christians United for Israel. "There are a lot more Christian Zionists in America than Jewish Zionists," the former Democratic vice presidential candidate told the group. "The support of Christian Zionists today is critical to Israel's security and strength and to America's security and strength."
CNN interviewed Sondra Oster Baras, an Orthodox Jew from New York who moved with her family to the West Bank settlement Karnei Shomron. Baras had a strong Zionist upbringing. Her parents, who narrowly escaped the Holocaust, sent her to Zionist summer camps that championed the Jewish homeland. "My parents felt very safe in America ... but there was always a part of them that said there needs to be an Israel in the event that we have another Hitler. Put it all together and I couldn't help but be a Zionist. Just by building my house ... I was strengthening the Jewish presence here in Samaria," she said, referring to a biblical name for the northern part of the West Bank.
In 2002, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up inside a pizza parlor in her neighborhood, killing three children. She said she fought back by encouraging support from evangelical Christians in America. "If we give any part of that land to the Arabs, we are looking at terrorism," she told a church audience. Baras stumps for money from evangelical Christians to support Jewish settlements in the occupied territories -- land she calls biblical Israel.
A recent stop finds her in Melbourne, Florida, visiting Pastor Gary Christofaro at his First Assembly Church of God. Christofaro and his flock take their Jewish roots so seriously that on Friday nights they observe the Jewish Sabbath with Hebrew prayers. This is not just religious ritual. They support Israel -- which to them includes Jewish settlements on the occupied West Bank. Church members tour settlements with Baras and have donated more than a $100,000 to support them.
"If it wasn't for what the Jews brought to Christianity, there would be no Christianity," Christofaro said. "There is a promise to those who bless Israel to be blessed. Those who curse it will be cursed."
Baras told the congregation: "We need to stand together so that our governments will believe that the land of Israel, the entire land of Israel, belongs to the Jewish people." Christofaro's Florida congregation responded with money -- all while singing a prayer for peace in perfect Hebrew. Their money builds parks, child care centers and music therapy programs -- projects that make Jewish life in the settlements more comfortable. And more permanent. "If you don't live somewhere, if you don't take possession of it, it is not yours," Baras said.
The verse in Genesis 12:3 quoted by the Christians reads: "And I will bless those who bless you, and those who curse you I will curse, and all the families of the earth will be blessed through you." This was G-d's blessing to Abraham and his descendents, the Jewish people. It means that all people in the world should bless and befriend the Jews if they want to earn G-d's favor. But it has nothing to do with the Zionists, who do not represent the Jews. Supporting the true Israel, that is the Jewish people, is indeed a good thing. The state created in 1948 that bears the name "Israel" is not really Israel at all. It is a country founded by non-believing Jews who did not understand the historic destiny and belief system of the Jewish people.
The previous two verses in Genesis describe G-d's command to Abraham to go to the Land of Canaan. However, that does not mean that Jews must possess Canaan at all times of history. The Torah fortells in Lev. 26 and Deut. 28 long periods of exile in which Jews will be out of their land, and will have to wait for G-d to give it back to them. Even Abraham himself was not permitted to take possession of the land; he was merely promised that his descendents would get it after the Egyptian exile. When he wanted a burial plot for Sarah, he had to purchase it for a high price (Gen. 23). The Talmudic rabbis relate that Abraham muzzled his livestock so that they would not eat from the fields of the Canaanites. He was very careful not to take what was not his, for the time for fulfilling G-d's promise had not yet come. This is the lesson we must learn from these verses today.
King Solomon in his Song of Songs (2:7) warns with a severe oath, "I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem, by the deer and hinds of the field, not to arouse or awaken the love before it is desired." Talmudic tradition teaches that the daughters of the Jerusalem are a metaphor for the gentile nations of the world. The Jewish people in the metaphor is G-d's beloved wife, and G-d warns the gentiles of the world not to arouse the redemption of the Jews before its time.
Even in a practical context, Torah-true Jews find it hard to believe that these Christians have the Jews' best interest at heart. They are sending them off to the battlefield called the West Bank, where every successful Zionist settlement is an obstacle to peace, a victory in the war of these extremists to dominate the land and subdue its inhabitants. The true goal of these Christians is not to be "those who bless Jews" but to prepare the ground for the final battle at the end of the world, when they believe their messiah will return and all who did not believe in him (i.e. Jews and Muslims) will perish and burn in hell.
Historically, those gentiles who welcomed Jews into their country and allowed them freedom to practice the Torah and full rights were considered friends of the Jews. Anti-Semites were those who expelled Jews from their country and wanted them elsewhere. Now, these millions of Christians have, by means of the pragmatic Zionist money-takers, managed to sell themselves as friends of the Jews when in reality they are putting all their resources into settling Jews far away, in the most dangerous part of the world.