Christians emerge as key patrons for Jews moving to Israel

An Israeli flag is seen on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner jets. (Reuters)
Updated 08 March 2018
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Christians emerge as key patrons for Jews moving to Israel

TEL AVIV, Israel: Israel’s founding fathers, who etched a commitment to encouraging Jewish immigration into the declaration of independence, might be surprised to find that, seven decades later, the state is relying on Christians to fulfill that promise.
What was once a strictly Jewish-funded mission is increasingly being bankrolled by evangelical Christians. Israel’s Christian allies now fund about a third of all immigrants moving to the country, according to a tally by The Associated Press.
The figures reflect the ever tightening relationship between Israel and its evangelical Christian allies, whom Israel has come to count on for everything from political support to tourism dollars.
“After 2000 years of oppression and persecution, today you have Christians who are helping Jews,” said Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, a group that raises money from evangelical Christians for Jewish causes. “This is an amazing thing.”
Israel has long depended on diaspora Jewish communities, especially in the United States, for donations and to lobby their local governments on its behalf. But evangelical communities have become increasingly important.
Israeli charities raise millions of dollars from Christians around the world, and evangelical Christians make up 13 percent of all tourists to Israel. A parliamentary caucus works with evangelical legislators around the world to foster support for Israel.
Israelis can also thank white evangelicals for helping to put President Donald Trump, an ardent supporter of Israel’s nationalist government, in the White House.
“Israel has no better friends, I mean that, no better friends in the world than the Christian communities around the world,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a Christian media summit in Jerusalem last year.
European and American Jewish philanthropists championed immigration to Israel, known as “Aliyah,” or ascending, even before the creation of the state in 1948, by working to settle Jews in what was then Ottoman and British Palestine. In the decades after independence, the government partnered with Jewish groups to organize dramatic airlifts of Jews from troubled countries.
Christian support for the Aliyah largely began with the collapse of the Soviet Union and has grown in recent years as American Jews have redirected charitable donations to niche causes. That has forced nonprofits to expand their pool of benefactors.
“We don’t see any reason why not to rely on help, including donations, from all our friends around the world, be they Jewish, Christian or others,” said Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for the Jewish Agency, a nonprofit that spearheads Jewish immigration to Israel.
The Israeli Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption, however, said it has no ties to Christian groups.
Of the more than 28,000 Jews who immigrated to Israel in 2017, at least 8,500 arrived thanks to Christian donations, according to official figures and numbers provided by the Fellowship and Jerusalem’s International Christian Embassy, another prominent group that raises money from evangelicals. The Jewish Agency receives additional undisclosed funds from other Christian donors, meaning that share could be even higher.
Not everyone is pleased. Some in Israel are suspicious that the evangelical embrace stems from a belief that the modern Jewish state is a precursor to the apocalypse — when Jesus will return and Jews will either accept Christianity or die.
Liberal Jews, who make up the majority of the American Jewish community, bristle at the evangelicals’ ties to the political right and their support for Israel’s settlement enterprise in the West Bank, a major sticking point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group in Washington, said the Jewish community should be “wary of taking help from those who are playing with our lives to further their own religious and ideological purposes.”
Evangelical Christianity is one of the fastest growing religious movements, making up more than a third of the world’s estimated 2 billion Christians. Evangelicals say their affinity for Israel stems from Christianity’s Jewish roots. Some view Israel’s establishment as fulfilling biblical prophecy, ushering in an anticipated Messianic age. Jews also believe in a future Messianic age, but do not believe Jesus is the Messiah.
“It’s a connection. It’s a DNA that goes back to Sunday school, to their very being. It’s a love affair, it’s a romance with a nation that is connected to heaven and earth,” said Mike Evans, an evangelical Christian who sits on Trump’s evangelical faith advisory board.
In recent years, suspicions have diminished in Israel, thanks in part to the steady flow of donations as well as evangelical representatives playing down talk of the end of days. They say it is not a central tenet for most of the world’s evangelicals or what makes them love Israel.
Johnnie Moore, the faith board’s spokesman, said the skepticism over evangelical support was “ignorant” and “offensive.”
The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews says it gave $188 million to the Jewish Agency over the course of a two decade-long partnership, with Eckstein even sitting on the agency’s executive board. But after disagreements over how to publicize the Fellowship’s support, the two had a falling out and the Fellowship struck out on its own in 2014.
Its own Aliyah project has since ferried thousands of Jews to Israel from 27 countries, providing them with financial assistance beyond that extended by the state, as well as vocational training and assistance with local bureaucracy. The Fellowship said it has spent nearly $20 million on Aliyah since 2014. Eckstein said the organization believed Jewish-funded groups were not doing enough, particularly following the conflict in Crimea.
Some 200 Jews from Ukraine arrived at Israel’s Ben Gurion International airport recently wearing Fellowship t-shirts. They were greeted by a gaggle of boisterous Israeli student volunteers, waving flags and chanting Hebrew folk songs.
One of the new arrivals, Serghey Lanovyy, said it made no difference to him that his Aliyah was funded by Christians.
“Religion is religion. You can believe whatever you want but if people need help, they need help,” he said.


Israeli planes hit 25 targets in response to Gaza rocket fire

Updated 20 June 2018
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Israeli planes hit 25 targets in response to Gaza rocket fire

JERUSALEM: Israeli jets struck 25 Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip in the early hours of Wednesday after militants launched rockets and mortar shells at Israeli territory, the military said.
Two Hamas security men were lightly hurt in one air strike in the southern Gaza Strip, residents said. No casualties were reported in Israel after one of the most intense recent barrages of militant rocket launches and Israeli air strikes.
Air raid sirens and Israeli phone warning applications sounded throughout the pre-dawn hours.
The military counted 30 rockets and mortar shells fired at Israeli territory and said its Iron Dome anti-missile shield intercepted seven rockets.
Since its last war with Gaza’s dominant Hamas in 2014, Israel has stepped up efforts to prevent cross-border attacks, improving rocket interceptors and investing in technologies for detecting and destroying guerrilla tunnels.
In recent weeks, Palestinians have sent kites dangling coal embers or burning rags across the Gaza border to set fire to arid farmland and forests, others have carried small explosive devices in a new tactic that has caused extensive damage.
At least 127 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops during mass demonstrations along the Gaza border since March 30 and the men sending the kites over the fence believe they have found an effective new weapon.
Israel’s deadly tactics in confronting the weekly Friday protests have drawn international condemnation.
Palestinians say the protests are an outpouring of rage by people demanding the right to return to homes their families fled or were driven from following the founding of Israel 70 years ago.
Israel says the demonstrations are organized by the Islamist group Hamas that controls the Gaza Strip and denies Israel’s right to exist. Israel says Hamas has intentionally provoked the violence, a charge Hamas denies.
Around two million people live in Gaza, most of them the stateless descendants of refugees from what is now Israel. The territory has been controlled by Hamas for more than a decade, during which it has fought three wars against Israel.
Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade of the strip, citing security reasons, which has caused an economic crisis and collapse in living standards there over the past decade.