Christian Zionists Heralded in Israel
By Craig Nelson
Cox News Service
HERZLIYA, Israel -- As they say in the preaching business, Pat Robertson had them in the palm of his hand.
No matter that his audience wasn't predominantly Christian, let alone American. They drank up every word. And when the founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network culminated his give-no-ground speech to the elite of Israel's political and military establishment with the ringing declaration, "Be strong! Be strong!" many of his listeners jumped to their feet to give him a boisterous round of applause.
The rapturous response to Robertson here last week is just one example of how a large and growing group of conservative American Christians has entered Israel's political scene with startling vigor, even as the Holy Land's indigenous Christian communities wither due to war and a dying economy.
Calling themselves Christian Zionists, they are increasingly viewed as a political lifeline by influential Israelis who are eager for allies to fight what they see as a rising global tide of hate aimed at Jews and Israel and to blunt suggestions that Israel is the main culprit in the Israeli-Palestinian morass.
The strategic alliance with "groups that are friends and special allies" - including 70 million U.S. evangelicals and 600 worldwide, according to estimates by the movement's leaders - could not deepen soon enough, according to Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
"This is a war, a war of images that reverberate throughout the world," Eckstein said last week in this seaside town. "The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the cusp of becoming, God forbid, a worldwide conflict between Jews and Muslims."
High-profile events in recent months underscore the blossoming ties. In October, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon addressed 3,000 visiting evangelical Christians from 80 countries, including about 450 Americans.
"We love you!" Sharon told the gathering. In a march through the streets of Jerusalem, they returned the affection, waving signs such as "Oklahoma Loves Israel" and shouting "Hallelujah to the God of Israel!"
The same month, several thousand evangelical Christians flocked to Washington to participate in a "Christian Solidarity for Israel" rally sponsored by the Christian Coalition.
Just days later, about 16,000 U.S. churches, many of them in the South, participated in a one-day "Stand for Israel" prayer campaign co-chaired by Ralph Reed, who formerly headed the Christian Coalition and is now the Atlanta-based head of the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign in the South.
The swelling support of evangelical Christians has paid political dividends for Israel --- so much so that creation of a special parliamentary committee to steer Israel's relationship with them is under consideration.
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