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Christians rally for Israel

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) speaks at "Stand for Israel" day in Washington April 2. (Ian Wagreich Photography -- Courtesy of The Fellowship/Stand for Israel)

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) speaks at "Stand for Israel" day in Washington April 2. (Ian Wagreich Photography — Courtesy of The Fellowship/Stand for Israel)

WASHINGTON, April 6 (JTA) — Walking into the Mayflower Hotel here, you would have thought you were at a meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — if it weren’t for the shouts of “Hallelujah” and “amen” that accompanied the thunderous applause for pro-Israel sentiments. And if it weren’t for some of the hard-line comments coming from the speakers. Janet Parshall, a Christian radio host, told 600 Christian supporters of Israel on April 2 that if she were president she would classify the Palestinians as enemies of the United States, remove all territory and weapons from Palestinian control, cancel the peace agreements that created the Palestinian Authority and dismantle refugee camps. “If I were made the president for one day, my road map would look a little bit different,” she said, to a huge ovation, referring to the plan for peace created by the United States, Russian, United Nations and European Union. The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews’ first “Stand for Israel” day brought pro-Israel Christian activists to Washington just a day after AIPAC had finished its lobbying on Capitol Hill. It also brought big-name speakers from the Jewish community — including Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Daniel Ayalon, and Reps. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) “We share the same belief in God and we share the same destiny,” Ayalon told the audience. Jewish leaders once feared that evangelical support for Israel was based on the idea that the Jews’ return to the Holy Land would expedite the second coming of Jesus, or that by supporting Israel they would have better access for proselytizing among Jews. But in the past two years many Jewish leaders have reached out to Christians, believing their commitment to helping Israel is genuine. In the climate of violence in the region and anti-Semitism around the world, many Jewish leaders have concluded that Israel must accept friends wherever the Jewish state can find them. Yet some Jewish leaders are looking down the road, warning that hard-line Christian support for Israel during a time of conflict will prove to be an impediment if an Israeli-Palestinian peace process is renewed in the months or years ahead. Because of their belief that God gave Israel to the Jewish people, and that Christians who help the Jews will be rewarded by God, many in the evangelical Christian community loathe the idea of Israel giving up land for peace. “I think Israel is terribly wrong to give up the Golan,” Parshall told JTA on April 2, referring to the plateau in the north of Israel that the Jewish state won from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War and placed on the bargaining table before peace negotiations collapsed in 2000. “I don’t think it’s a matter of just giving land away.” Comments like these concern Jewish leaders who support plans for President Bush’s “road map” toward renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and an eventual Palestinian state. “If you look at the specific positions of these groups on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they are across the board in line with the Israel hard right,” said Lewis Roth, assistant executive director of Americans for Peace Now. “They have very little empathy for the Israeli people in the broader sense who support a two-state solution, a return to negotiations and the evacuation of some settlements from occupied territory.” Roth argues that the evangelicals’ biblical motivation for supporting Israel make them less willing to support concessions in the name of peace. “People who are locked in to an ‘end of times’ theology have a vested interest in perpetuation of the conflict,” he said. The concern is heightened by the fact that Christian influence, in the Jewish community and nationally, is growing. Gary Bauer, the former Republican presidential candidate and current president of American Values, was a keynote speaker at AIPAC’s policy conference last week. He received several standing ovations, blasting international participation in any Israeli-Palestinian peace effort and speaking out against the U.S. State Department. “Whoever sits in the confines of Washington, and suggests to the people of Israel that they have to give up more” land in exchange “for peace, that is an obscenity,” he said. In addition, Parshall received a boisterous response for some of the most hard-line comments made last April in a Washington rally for Israel. The Israeli Embassy in Washington hosted a National Prayer Breakfast last year for Christian leaders, and prominent Jewish leaders like Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, have spoken positively of Christian support for the Jewish state. Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition, serves as co-chairman of the fellowship’s Stand for Israel events. He was influential in turning the Christian community into a major player in national politics, and he now is speaking out on Israel’s behalf. Reed dismisses the concern that Christian support for Israel could hurt peacemaking. “My position has always been that what is in Israel’s national security interest is best determined by Israel,” Reed said. “It’s not our job as people thousands of miles away to come to conclusions they are better equipped to make.” George Mamo, executive vice president of the fellowship, said Christians’ support for Israel is based solely on their love of Israel and the Jewish people, and that Christians take a “realpolitik” view toward ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Christian leaders point out that the evangelical community did not speak out against the Oslo peace process, although Roth claims Christian leaders were “working hard to be an impediment.” For her part, Parshall says she would oppose any deal that includes the dismantling of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In her speech to the Christian audience, she spoke glowingly about visiting the kitchen of an Israeli woman in a “settlement,” a term she said she hates because it doesn’t accurately describe the reality. “The Christian community will be among the groups that say, ‘Enough with this history of giving away land,’ ” she said. But she concedes that her view is not the only one among Christian backers of Israel. “It’s not a universal view, just like it’s not a universal view in the Jewish community,” she said. Jewish leaders say that just as Jews and Christians disagree on some domestic issues, they may disagree on what Israel should accept in the name of peace. “We can disagree with them on that,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “What brings us together is a common commitment to Israel.”

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