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Netanyahu finds supporters at conference of evangelicals

WASHINGTON, April 8 (JTA) — If Benjamin Netanyahu was eager to be among friends this week in Washington, he found them at the Voices United for Israel conference. About 3,000 people — most of them evangelical Christians — greeted the Israeli prime minister’s remarks Monday with roars of approval, standing ovations and shouts of “amen” and “hallelujah.” The conference, billed as “a summit of pro-Israel Jewish and Christian organizations,” was convened by Voices United, a 6-year-old organization based in Kansas City, Kan., devoted to engendering support wherever it can be found for “a safe and secure Israel.” And these days, that support is found among evangelical Christians. “We have no greater friends and allies than the people sitting in this room,” Netanyahu told the summit, just hours before his meeting with President Clinton at the White House. Most of Netanyahu’s audience believe that the word of God, as written in the Bible, has been proven true by Israel’s very existence as a state. It is also an article of evangelical faith that there is no grace from God without allegiance to Jesus. Many at the summit, including members of the host committee, focus their missionary efforts on Jews. The involvement of such groups, and the question of whether Jews should lend them legitimacy by sharing a stage, has been controversial for Voices United. Orthodox Rabbi Tzvi Weinreb of Baltimore pulled out of the host committee after learning about some of the other members. They included Elwood McQuaid, whose Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry logo is a crown-encircled cross imposed over a Star of David. Two years ago, the National Jewish Coalition, which represents Jewish Republicans, withdrew from its sponsorship of the annual conference. This year a handful of Jews, including Zionist Organization of America President Morton Klein, were on the committee. The committee included evangelical leaders Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, Jerry Falwell and John Hagee, and conservative political figures and commentators Cal Thomas, Alan Keyes and Jack Kemp. “I am sick of hearing” about concern over groups that missionize Jews, Voices United founder Esther Levens said in an interview. “The fact that the prime minister came and spoke is validation enough for what we are trying to accomplish, which is to have a very broad grass-roots support for the State of Israel.” It was the first time that an Israeli premier spoke at the group’s annual conference. “You can make it clear to the American people that the road to peace is through the negotiating table, not the blood of children and women,” Netanyahu said, referring to recent Palestinian terrorist attacks. Jeanne McKean greeted many of Netanyahu’s comments with murmurs of “hallelujah” and “Yes, Lord Jesus.” The senior citizen, who had come to the summit from Baltimore, described herself as a Pentecostal Christian “anointed with ruach hakodesh,” using Hebrew to say “the holy spirit,” in order “to be a prayer warrior for Israel.” Shortly after “receiving the Lord” two decades ago, she said, God directed her to look at the calendar hanging on her kitchen wall. It was May 14, the 30th anniversary of Israel’s founding and then, McKean said, the Lord told her that for the rest of her life “you will serve my people and comfort them.” McKean spent all of 1995 in the former Soviet Union “to minister to the Jews in Russia.” “I got to meet so many Jewish people who had never heard the word of God. I was so happy to tell them about the Lord!” she said. “The Lord found me a lot of elderly Jewish people I could minister to,” and many “received the Lord” each week, professing their new- found belief in Jesus. Elizabeth Janicki came to the conference from Estes Park, Colo., a town north of Denver, where she, though gentile, owns a Judaica store. Janicki sells Jewish prayer books, Torahs, prayer shawls and mezuzahs, and in the front window she has hung a banner declaring her love for Israel, she said. Every Saturday night a “Messianic” pastor from Denver comes to the store to run a Torah study class in which about 50 people participate, Janicki said. Several are Jews. “We want the Jews to come in and see that there’s nothing to fear from us,” she said. “We have a lot of Jewish people come into our store and they’re very glad of what we’re doing but they’re apprehensive and think that we have an ulterior motive,” said Janicki, who has visited Israel four times. Her son will be studying next year at the King of Kings Messianic College in Jerusalem. Few Jews attended the Voices United summit, and a number of them described themselves as “Messianic” Jews who, like Christians, believe that Jesus was the Messiah. Melissa McKenzie, from Melrose, Fla., was wearing a large Star of David necklace and what looked like a tiny Jewish star on her lapel. A closer look, though, revealed that it had a small cross imposed over it. McKenzie represents Zion’s Hope, a missionary organization that runs dinners for as many as 250 Jewish people at a time. “We have a lot of poor Jewish people in South Florida,” McKenzie said. “Christians buy them tickets to go to the dinner, where we explain Isaiah 53 and other” Bible passages that, she believes, prove Jesus is the Jews’ promised Messiah. Of the few “non-Messianic” Jews at the summit, many represented Americans For a Safe Israel and Women in Green, two groups opposed to the current Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Although some proselytizing occurred during the summit, in violation of guidelines distributed to delegates, these Jews were philosophical about it. “When you have people supportive of some of your beliefs, including Israel’s right to build in the entire Jewish homeland, and not making any concessions to Clinton or the Arabs, you have to go with them,” said Ira Nosenchuk of Brooklyn, N.Y. “Sometimes I feel like there are more supporters for Israel among evangelicals than among Jews,” he said. “We need all the friends we can get.”

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