Israel May Reward Christian Zionists for Faithfulness

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Some senior Israeli officials want to reward Christian Zionists for their faithfulness to the State, but others are fighting the move, according to a report in an Israeli daily on Thursday.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is leading an unprecedented campaign for the State of Israel to officially recognize the Christian Evangelical community and to simplify the process necessary to obtain entry and work visas, according to the Hebrew daily Ma'ariv.

Over the past few years it has become increasingly difficult for some Christian clergy and volunteers of Christian organizations to obtain visas necessary to stay and serve in the country.

Lieberman and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon received a recommendation from several in-house advisors to lead a campaign to advance the recognition of what the paper called the "Zionist Church" because of its "extensive activities for the State of Israel."

The plan has run up against some opposition from the powerful Interior Ministry, which grants visas to non-Israelis.

Interior Minister and chairman of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party Eli Yishai opposes this move because of concern for Christian missionary activity in the country.

On Monday, Ayalon and Yishai met to discuss the initiative. According to Ayalon, the two agreed that a special committee would be established to assess ways to alleviate difficulties for Israel-loving Christians.

"In a hard time like this, when efforts to [attack] Israel are on the upswing it's important to recruit all the friends we have around the world, including the Christian Zionists, who number about 70 million [worldwide]," Ayalon was quoted as saying.

Yishai's office said it has no intention of recognizing the Evangelical community because it does not want to create a precedent for other denominations to ask for recognition, according to the article.

Nevertheless, the Interior Ministry decided to establish a mechanism to check allegations of unjust or unlawful bureaucratic delays and refusals of visas to Christians.

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