By now it should be clear that George W. Bush wasn’t the only big winner to emerge from this month’s presidential election.

In terms of flexing political muscle and shaping the outcome of the vote, no group proved more successful than America’s evangelical Christians. They flocked to the polls, boosting the incumbent and helping to set the country’s political agenda for the next four years. 

While some American Jews view this development with mounting concern, my reaction is far more sanguine, even upbeat: Israel should be thanking God for the rise of the Christian Right. They are the best hope for ensuring long-term U.S. diplomatic support for the Jewish state in an increasingly hostile world. 

Sure, American Jews still wield a great deal of political power, thanks to their concentration in key states and their extensive involvement in the political process. But the American Jewish community is in the throes of a protracted demographic decline and their power will inevitably diminish over time. 

By contrast, U.S. evangelicals, many of whom proudly refer to themselves as Christian Zionists, are clearly on the upswing. According to the Pew Research Center, evangelical Protestants accounted for 23 percent of the entire American electorate, or nearly one out of every four voters, in the recent election. 

And, as the Los Angeles Times noted, “Christian evangelicals provided much of the passion and manpower for President Bush’s reelection.”

Indeed, political guru Arthur Finkelstein was even more blunt, telling the Israeli daily Ma’ariv that “Bush’s strategy secures the power of the American Christian Right not only for this term. In fact, it secures its ability to choose the next Republican president.”

Even outside the ballot box evangelical Christians are a force to be reckoned with.

A recent study by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University found that an astonishing 38 percent of all Americans describe themselves as being “born-again” Christians. In the southern United States, the survey revealed, a majority of residents, or 52 percent, fall into this category. 

And because of their attachment to the Bible, more and more evangelical Christians are stepping forward to embrace Israel, demonstrating a level of commitment and support that is both sincere and deeply-rooted.

For years, groups such as the Unity Coalition for Israel have been toiling both to build grassroots political support for the Jewish state and to explain Israel’s case to members of Congress. They have helped win Israel numerous friends in mid-western American states such as Kansas, where the Jewish community is small. 

Others, such as Pastor Robert Stearns of New Jersey, have succeeded in organizing evangelicals to pray on Israel’s behalf. Last month, Stearns launched an annual “Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem, a worldwide effort that involved tens of thousands of churches from Korea to California.

Organizations such as Bridges for Peace, the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem and the International Christian Zionist Center have been at the forefront of encouraging Christian tourism to Israel and raising funds for various social welfare projects, while leaders such as the Rev. Pat Robertson have been outspoken on Israel’s behalf.

Hence, it is about time Israel and American Jewry put aside many of their reservations and doubts and started to engage evangelical Christians more candidly and openly. 

Of course, we must remain on guard against missionary elements seeking to proselytize Jews. But it would be unfair, and even wrong, to suspect all Christian supporters of Israel as being surreptitious soul-snatchers.

Many are sincere and devoted in their love for Israel, their sole motivation being to live in accordance with God’s promise to the patriarch Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you, and those who curse you shall be cursed.”

To turn down their friendship and backing because of misguided stereotypes regarding their motivations would be an act of sheer folly on our part.

As Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder of the International Federation of Christians and Jews and a pioneer in the field, has argued, “It is wrong and shortsighted of Israel and the Jewish community not to reach out to these people, even as they become more and more powerful. The Jewish community needs to get its act together.” 

That message is beginning to get across. MK Yuri Stern recently created a Christian Allies Caucus in the Knesset, which works to promote better relations between Israel and Christian groups. And the Israeli Ministry of Tourism has been working more closely with U.S. Christians to promote visits to the Holy Land.

But far more needs to be done. The bond between U.S. Christians and Israel has all the makings of a historic alliance, one that could both heal the painful wounds of the past while paving the way for tremendous accomplishments in the future.

Properly cultivated, the relationship could help strengthen our position immeasurably and guarantee bedrock U.S. support for Israel for years to come.


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Michael Freund is the Founder and Chairman of Shavei Israel. He writes a syndicated column and feature stories for the Jerusalem Post, Israel’s leading English-language daily, and he previously served as Deputy Director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Prime Minister’s Office under Benjamin Netanyahu. A native of New York, he holds an MBA in Finance from Columbia University and a BA from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.