Israel, Palestinians & Mid-East
- Created: October 4, 2012
- Written by Associated Press
[from the San Francisco Chronicle]
Waving blue and white Israeli flags, thousands of evangelical Christians from around the world filled streets of downtown Jerusalem on Thursday in a show of support for the Jewish state.
The annual march during the weeklong Jewish Sukkot holiday brings together Christians from dozens of countries.
Evangelical Christians are known as strong supporters of Israel, providing financial help and political backing, especially in the United States. Even so, their hard-line views toward Palestinians and suspect religious motivations make some moderate Israelis and Jews abroad uncomfortable.
"This is the real United Nations," said Sheila Hakes, 41, from Alabama. "Israelis are our brothers and sisters, so we must protect them from Iran and evil," a reference to Iran's suspicious nuclear program, adding, "Jesus will come here again."
Evangelical support for Israel is rooted in Christian Zionism, which calls for the return of Jewish exiles to the Holy Land to fulfill Biblical prophecies. Over the past several decades, key figures in the evangelical movement have lobbied the U.S. government to give greater support for Israel.
Thursday's event was organized by the International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem, a group that promotes ties between Israel and the world's Christian communities. The group also sponsored a conference this week that drew more than 5,000 people from nearly 90 countries, including 25 parliamentarians from various nations.
Another prominent group, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, said it raises more than $110 million a year for charitable causes in Israel.
The relationship between evangelical Christians and Israel isn't without its wrinkles.
Many Israelis are troubled by what they suspect is the source of the unqualified support - a belief by some evangelical groups in an apocalyptic battle between good and evil in which Jesus returns, and Jews either accept Christianity or perish.
A ultra-Orthodox Jewish former mayor of Jerusalem, Uri Lupolianski, refused to accept funds from evangelical Christians for fear of their proselytizing. His successor, the current mayor, Nir Barkat, has revoked the policy, but some skepticism still persists.
Moderate Israelis are also uneasy with evangelical backing, as the Christians back the hard-line nationalist Israeli camp that opposes giving up control of any of the West Bank, though the majority of Israelis favor creation of a Palestinian state there, and even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a veteran hawk, has grudgingly accepted that.