Tomas Sandell

Israel’s best friends?

As soon as the UNESCO resolution had been ratified by the executive board of the UN agency for culture, science and education on Tuesday, the blame game started in Jerusalem. How could this happen? Why did the Foreign Ministry not react in time? Why did they not mobilize the group which the Prime Minister has referred to as “Israel’s best friends”, the Evangelicals?

I cannot speak on behalf of the Israeli government but let me address this issue from the perspective of an Evangelical pro-Israel activist based in Europe. The problem is not with the Israeli government. Rather, the problem is with the Christian pro-Israel community.

For many Christian friends of Israel, “ friendship” simply means a zeal to learn a new Jewish folk dance, travel to the Holy land and plant a tree or wave a flag, not political activism. A now retired Israeli ambassador summed it up well when he once explained to me;
– There is no group which is more passionate about Israel than the Christians but where are you when we really need you?

The ambassador had discovered what many Christian and Jewish pro-Israel leaders had known for years. Many Christians may be spiritually passionate about Israel but few are of any political help. Many mention with pride how many times they have visited Israel but have never bothered to make contact with their member of parliament in their own country or written a letter to the editor of their local newspaper. And those who have tried may not have been very successful. Instead of learning about the often very complex issues facing Israel many have simply quoted the Bible. I may be a Bible believing Christian myself but as for the elected officials that I speak to, they could not care less.

The Christian community is an enormous reservoir of potential advocates and activists for Israel but they are, by and large, still badly educated on the issues, poorly motivated and rarely activated. However, the church is like a sleeping giant. Once it gets its act together and wakes up from its slumber it can change the world in the most amazing ways. One only has to think back to Pope John Paul II and the Berlin wall. Without one single bullet fired the wall came down, many claim, through the power of prayer and perseverance, led by people like Pope John Paul II in Rome or Bishop Lazlo Tökes in Timisoara.

But what about the Jewish community? Jewish outreach to the Christian community has mostly focused on asking for monetary help and many in the Evangelical community give generously for social projects in Israel. There is nothing wrong with this. But still, when the future of the Jewish state is at stake through UN resolutions or EU directives, no social project or Israeli dance in the world can make up for this catastrophe.

I am not suggesting for one minute that the funding should come from the Israeli government. Far from it. But if the Christian community would spend one percent of their own giving for Israel on relevant pro-Israel advocacy, Israel would have a partner and friend in the Christian community. The sad truth is that the Christian pro-Palestinian campaigners are well funded by EU money and national governments. Christian pro-Israel activists, on the other hand, need to raise their own support from a Christian public which would rather spend time at the holy sites in Israel and soak in the sun in Jerusalem than engage on the diplomatic battlefields in Paris, Brussels and New York.

This is nothing new. Christians have often focused their attention on side issues while the world around them has changed dramatically. It is said about the Russian Orthodox Church, that their bishops were involved in the fiercest dispute about the colour of their clerical vestments, while the Russian revolution was raging outside their churches. Once they had reached an agreement it was too late. The communists had taken over and the church was banned. There was no longer any need for clerical vestments in any colour.

But we cannot give up. Throughout history many Christians have risked their lives to save Jews and worked alongside their Jewish friends in helping to establish a Jewish state. Today nobody risks their life but rather their reputation and in some cases their livelihood by standing up for Israel in hostile environments, on university campuses, market squares and national parliaments. These people need our support and resources. Otherwise, we may soon have the same experience as the Russian Orthodox church. Once we have got our act together and wake up, Europe may have changed and become a different continent. Let us rather wake up now, whilst there is still time, and return to our roots and truly become Israel’s best friends.

About the Author
Tomas Sandell is a Finnish journalist who has been accredited by the European Union. He is today the Founding Director of European Coalition for Israel.