The timing of US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital could not have been better, said Yael Eckstein, the vice president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
With a speech lasting less than 15 minutes, Trump was able to gift something to Israel and the Evangelical people that they have been longing for – and just in time for both Hanukka and Christmas.
“What’s amazing about President Trump’s announcement is that it came out right before the holiday of Hanukka, one of the only holidays that happened in Israel, and represents this ongoing fight for the Jewish people to claim and recognize their homeland,” Eckstein told The Jerusalem Post.
Since 1995, many presidents have promised to make this move, with Trump finally taking the plunge. That decision, however, did not happen in a vacuum, with political pundits saying that much of the credit should go to America’s Evangelical community.
“Politically, in America, what we’re seeing now is Evangelical Christians – to put it bluntly – are stronger supporters of Israel than the [American] Jewish community,” Eckstein claimed.
The Evangelical community’s decision to stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel goes beyond its shared Judeo-Christian values, Eckstein notes. Much of the support stems from a realization that politically and diplomatically the interests of Israel and the United States are intertwined.
While critics claim the security risk of recognizing Jerusalem and eventually moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem far outweigh its benefits, Eckstein revealed that the Evangelical community consulted often with Israel to ensure the move was wanted by both parties equally.
Eckstein recalled a conversation she had with Concerned Women for America head Penny Young Nance at the White House Hanukka party, where Eckstein quoted Nance as saying: “We started doing this and contacted our counterparts in Israel to make sure this is what they wanted. We never wanted to do anything that Israel doesn’t want or could be perceived [as] bad for Israel.”
“We have a situation where Evangelical Christians are the voice of reason for what is correct for America’s greatest ally – Israel,” Eckstein said. “It’s not only from a religious perspective that they stand with Israel, it’s also how they see the national agenda.”
For many Christian donors within the fellowship, however, Eckstein believes much of their support stems from the spiritual desire to help the “modern miracle” that is Israel.
As the largest philanthropic organization in the country, with 1.4 million donors (the majority of which are Christian), Eckstein believes that it was able to forge such a strong connection with that community through mutual respect.
“We actually respect Evangelical Christians and we’re not trying to use them, which is what happens, unfortunately, in many other organizations,” she said.
That said, she does not take that ardent support for granted.
Christian support of Israel is a relatively new phenomenon that people, like her father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the founder of the fellowship, spent over three decades trying to create.
“I would encourage the Jewish world to wake up and realize that what we have now amongst Evangelical Christians in America is not a given,” she said. “It’s a very new phenomenon that people like my father worked very hard to create. What we need to do in return is simply reach out our hand in friendship, and educate them to show genuine respect for them. Together, I believe the next generation will follow in those footsteps.”
According to the Pew Research Center, 60 million adults in the US identify as Evangelicals, making up 25% of the Christian population. Therefore, fading support from such a large community could be a huge blow to the US-Israel alliance.
For that reason, Eckstein stresses that education and combating misinformation from ardent Palestinian activists must be a priority.
But as Jews around the world put away their menorahs, Christians are now gathering around their trees with homes lit up just as brightly as were their Jewish friends.
It is perhaps the best time of year to reflect on the common bond the two religions share, and how together they each can shine light into the darkness.
“I don’t think it’s by chance that Christmas comes right before the New Year,” said Eckstein. “It gives us a chance to reflect. I would encourage Christians to reflect now more than ever: Where do we want to be so we can eradicate darkness?”
This article was written in cooperation with the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.