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US Christian Evangelicals Lend Support to Israel


On May 8, Israel will mark its 60th anniversary as an independent state. As it was in the beginning, Israel is a small nation. Some of its neighbors refuse to recognize its existence and the country is still officially at war with Syria and Lebanon. Israel has counted on support from Jews in the United States and around the world. But some of its most fervent supporters are evangelical Christians, who number about 50 million people in the United States. VOA's Greg Flakus has more, from Texas, about the so-called "Christian Zionists."

Reverend John Hagee is the pastor of San Antonio's Cornerstone Church. He is one of Israel's strongest U.S. supporters amd the founder of Christians United for Israel, a group that lobbies for pro-Israel policies.

"If we can get 50 million evangelicals in America to join hands with five million of the Jewish people in the United States of America, it will be a marriage made in heaven," he says.

Reverend Hagee says his friendship for Israel is part of his effort to fight anti-Semitism.

"Anti-Semitism is sin and, in Christian theology, sin damns the soul. It is absolutely ludicrous for Christians to worship the dead Jews of the past, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, while ignoring the Goldbergs who live across the street. The Goldbergs are the family of Jesus Christ," Hagee says.

But Hagee has also said his support of Israel derives from passages in the Bible. Those passages prophesize that the end of days depends on the Jews ruling the whole biblical land of Israel.

Today, he says that is not his sole motive in backing Israel, "We do not support Israel for any end-times scenario. We support Israel for Bible reasons that have been there for 2,000 years."

Israeli leaders have welcomed Hagee and the support of evangelicals.

"As we say, a friend in need is a friend indeed," says Asher Yarden, Israel's General Consul in Texas.

In July 2006, with Israel battering Hezbollah positions in Lebanon, Reverend Hagee rallied more than 3,000 Evangelicals in Washington and got them to lobby Congress in support of Israel's controversial war.

Israel found encouragement in that support.

"When the war in the north of Israel took place in 2006, from our good friends the evangelical Christians, there were special expressions of support," Yarden says.

But Palestinians, including Christian Palestinians, say Hagee and his followers are ignoring them.

Tony Kutayli is with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. He says Palestinians are living under Israeli occupation or in exile and are being overlooked.

"The plight of the Palestinians is not completely understood in this country, particularly by the evangelical movement," Kutayli says. "No matter what they believe, religiously, there are people who are suffering in reality and that is a very big divide that needs to be crossed."

Jews and Israelis are not unanimous in embracing Evangelicals.

Jews who support territorial compromise with the Palestinians oppose the relationship because many evangelicals want Israel to continue the occupation of Palestinian areas. Some Jews are put off by the judgment day beliefs of evangelicals.

Mark Freedman, Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of San Antonio, says he stands by Hagee.

"From a personal perspective, I think that I am a lot more worried about an Armageddon that might come from Iran than I am from any Armageddon that is premised in theology," he says.

So despite theological differences, the unusual relationship between Evangelicals and the Jewish state, on its 60th anniversary, is likely to continue, at least in the near future.

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