Ekklesia, 13 May 2004 — The rabbis fear the Christians’ real intent is to convert Jews, their aides have said. Others are concerned about the evangelicals’ support for Israel’s extreme right-wing , opposing any compromise with the Palestinians.
The news comes amidst increasing Christians concern that clergy are being denied visas to enter and stay in Israel, concerns which have been supported by the Vatican .
Besides contributing substantial funds to projects in Israel, some evangelical Christians have campaigned in support of the Israeli government in Washington. Zionists have also expressed their desire to maintain links with US evangelicals.
However, troubling to Israelis is the fact that one influential group of evangelicals believes in a final, apocalyptic battle between good and evil in which Jesus returns and Jews either accept him or perish – a vision that causes obvious discomfort among Jews.
Concern has been bubbling under the surface for some time, and although leading rabbis had stayed in the background, their worries emerged this week in the Israeli media.
The focus of the latest criticism has been the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, a Chicago-based group that has raised tens of millions of dollars from Christian supporters of Israel.
Two former chief rabbis of Israel, Avraham Shapira and Mordechai Eliahu, recently approved a religious ruling urging followers not to accept money from the group.
The ruling, issued by Shapira in March and later signed by Eliahu, accused the fellowship of accepting money from groups involved in “missionary activity.”
“I don’t see any permission to receive funds that aid in the infiltration of the work of strangers under the false impression of aid to the needy,” the letter said.
Christian organizations however say ties with the Israeli government are the worst ever and are accusing the Jewish state of denying visas to some clergy.
A group of 50 Christian leaders sent a letter to U.S. President George W. Bush asking him to help solve a “crisis” that left some institutions without sufficient staff.
“Relations of the churches and these institutions with the Israeli government may be the worst they have ever been,” said the letter, sent to Bush last week and signed by Protestant, Catholic and evangelical leaders.
“Those of us with religious institutions in Israel and the Occupied Territories are no longer able to function normally.”
Some groups said they felt Israel was singling out Christians – particularly Arabs – for increasingly harsh treatment.
Others thought they were targeted for appearing too sympathetic to the Palestinians.
Israeli officials said there was no policy of discrimination against Christians despite church complaints that visas for their staff and clergy were regularly denied or delayed.
The letter noted a West Bank barrier Israel is building in what it says is an effort to stop suicide bombers also impinges on pilgrims: “It separates … Bethlehem from Jerusalem. For Christians worldwide, this structure is cutting off access to holy sites.”
Christians constitute some 50,000 of the roughly 3.6 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
Christians said some church staff were made to wait months for visas, while others were denied. Arabs were particularly vulnerable because of Israeli security concerns.
But many evangelical groups have shown a growing interest in Israeli politics, adopting views considered extreme in Israel.
© 2004 Ekklesia. Posted on Religioscope with permission. An initiative of the Anvil Trust, Ekklesia is a not-for-profit think-tank which works to promote theological ideas in the public square. Website: