The Finnish government hasn’t been known for its sympathies towards Israel or Jerusalem within the international community, but on a bright Thursday noon in September the country’s parliament opened its doors to a delegation of foreign politicians and leaders who had arrived in Helsinki to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
The main auditorium of the parliament was the venue for the opening reception of the first Jerusalem Prayer Breakfast (JPB) in the Nordic countries. In his welcoming remarks Peter Östman, the hosting MP and the chairman of the Parliamentary Israel Friendship Group, noted that Helsinki is the most correct place to hold such an event since Finland is located in the same time zone as Jerusalem.
Mr. Östman, who is one of the most outspoken friends of Israel in the Finnish parliament, spoke to the audience about the public criticism he faced when he, on December 7, 2017 – just one day after president Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – asked the then Prime Minister Juha Sipilä if Finland would join the United States and move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. According to the prime minister’s reply, the government’s stance hasn’t changed, and the move can only take place as part of a two-state solution.
The other speakers at the parliament were H.E. Dov Segev-Steinberg, Ambassador of Israel to Finland and Estonia, Robert Ilatov, a former Knesset member and Chairman of the Jerusalem Prayer Breakfast movement and Ilkka Kanerva, former Finnish foreign minister and president emeritus of Parliamentary Assembly of OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe), who strongly condemned the rising antisemitism in Europe as a shameful phenomenon.
In his remarks, Ambassador Segev-Steinberg expressed Israel’s concern over the latest anti-Semitic developments in Helsinki and the attack on the Embassy on July 21st.
The reception was followed by an intensive program at the Scandic Park Hotel, and the Friday morning prayer breakfast gathered some 200 friends of Israel to pray for the peace of Jerusalem and show their support and love for the Jewish nation.
The international keynote speaker was Michele Bachmann, former member of the United States Congress who ran for the 2012 Republican Party nomination for president of the United States. Mrs. Bachmann, who is a staunch friend of Israel and co-chair of the Jerusalem Prayer Breakfast, emphasized the power of prayer in her speech and led her audience in prayer.
In addition to Ambassador Segev-Steinberg and Robert Ilatov, other foreign speakers included Albert Veksler, director of the JPB movement, and rabbi and former Knesset member Yehudah Glick, who both stressed the importance of close cooperation between Jews and Christians to defend and promote Jerusalem as the eternal and undivided capital of Israel. Orit Zuaretz, former member of Knesset and current head representative for the Jewish Agency in St. Petersburg and Northwest Russia, gave an update on Aliyah from Russia in the afternoon seminar.
From the Finnish side, the morning’s keynote speech was given by Mr. Tomas Sandell, the founding director of the European Coalition for Israel, a lobbying organization with focus on the EU and the United Nations, who encouraged the Finnish government to move its embassy to Jerusalem. Among other speakers were members of parliament Mr. Östman, Antero Laukkanen, Sari Tanus and Mika Niikko who serves as Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. In his speech Mr. Niikko, also a strong advocate of Israel, called for closer relationship between Finnish and Israeli lawmakers to increase the knowledge on Israel among the Finnish politicians.
The Jerusalem Prayer Breakfast, first held in Jerusalem in June 2017 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the unification of Jerusalem, has grown from a local annual event to a global movement. After events in London, Seoul, Orlando, Texas, Uganda, Ghana and The Hague, it was Helsinki’s turn to host this extraordinary event on September 19-20 with some 200 mainly evangelical and also Jewish guests, including foreign delegates from 14 countries. The host of the Helsinki event was Fredrik Ekholm, Honorary Consul of Israel in Finland.
According to JPB website, the purpose of the movement is to answer God’s command and the Knesset’s call to the nations to pray for the peace of Jerusalem and the prosperity of Israel with a vision of a global mobilization of the Church, gathering the nations to align themselves in prayer with God’s purposes for Israel and Jerusalem.
The next Jerusalem Prayer Breakfast will take place in Jerusalem on June 2-4, 2020.