The annual Herzliya Conference hosted by the Interdisciplinary Center at Herzliya, (IDC) has become the platform for national discussion on military, diplomatic, economic, social and world Jewry issues pertaining to Israel’s security.
But organizers of this year’s 17th annual conference added another aspect of Israel’s security: the strategic importance of Christian Zionism.
One of the keynote addresses was given by the president of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ). And, as the Jewish News Press reported, this one session stood out because it was opened with prayer. David Parsons, ICEJ’s vice president and senior spokesman, thanked God “for this time of engagement together between Israel and the Jewish people and Christian friends” and asked that it be “productive and effective.”
Since the Herzliya Conference is known for its focus on security, regional developments and strategic implications, the attention on Christianity may have seemed out of place. But Akiva Tor, head of the Bureau for World Jewish Affairs and World Religions at Israel’s Foreign Ministry, said that Christian Zionism must flourish, for Israel’s sake. Stopping the depopulation of Christians in the region is in the interest of Israel’s national security and is not being addressed sufficiently, he said.
Representing millions of Christians, churches, and denominations worldwide ICEJ was invited to be part of the Herzliya Conference for the second time. With as many as 700 million believers adding 50,000 new adherents daily, evangelical Christianity is the fastest-growing faith movement in the world.
The ICEJ used this opportunity to express their love as Christians to the Israeli decision makers and academics at the conference.
“We have a vision to reach all Israel with the testimony of Christian love to them, that includes the government, the academic world, the world of sports and entertainment — and the Herzliya Conference is right in the heart of Israeli academics and decision makers, government officials, religious leaders,” Parsons told KNI after the June conference. “It’s a prime place to engage with these people and tell them about the work the ICEJ does.”
ICEJ President Juergen Buehler was present along with ICEJ representatives from five continents. In his address, Buehler said a major demographic shift taking place in the world that Israel cannot ignore: The global evangelical community could outnumber Islam in the coming decades. Buehler explained that the majority of evangelicals today are Asians, Africans and Latin Americans and for the most part are firm supporters of Israel.
“As you have come to this year’s Herzliya Conference to think about Israel’s strategic balance, opportunities, and risks, I want to challenge you to think about the strategic opportunities that the evangelical world can offer to the State of Israel today and in the future,” Buehler said. “I believe that together we can discover not only new areas of cooperation for Israel but we can join hands together with countries around the world to work towards Tikkun Olam.”
The ICEJ representatives spoke of the challenges their communities face in relation to Israel and brainstormed ideas for future cooperation with Israel. During a roundtable session, ICEJ Guatemala National Director Luis Fernandez Solares encouraged Israel to foster closer relations with evangelical communities in Latin America. He called for an increase in cooperation across all South American countries where Christians who express solidarity with Israel are opposed by those with close relations with Arab nations such as Iran and the Palestinians. He urged evangelical institutions to pray and to display Israeli flags in their congregations.
ICEJ Germany President Gottfried Bühler coined a new word to define modern anti-Semitism: “anti-Israelism.” He remained positive that Christians across Europe are becoming more aware of the Jewish heritage of their faith and are willing to prove their loyalty. As an example, last month, ICEJ Germany collected over 26,000 signatures of German Christians who protested the European Union’s labeling of Israeli goods produced in the disputed territories. Bühler personally took the petition to the Federal Ministry of Economics in Berlin.
The representative for ICEJ Senegal is Muslim-born Rev. Abdou Maiga. Claiming that Israel has more friends than enemies in Africa, was instrumental in lobbying in Mali to forge ties with Israel during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent visit to the region. Maiga believes strongly that the countries who bless Israel are blessed in return.
National Director of ICEJ Taiwan Joseph Chou estimated that at least 10 percent of the 200 million evangelical Christians in Asia pray for Israel daily and throughout the year. Chou described seminars and conferences with the aim of educating people about Israel. In addition, ICEJ Taiwan is actively involved in supporting aliyah, Jewish immigration to Israel.
In addition to the ICEJ, Jerry Johnson, president and CEO of the National Religious Broadcasters, also addressed attendees. Johnson noted that Christianity stemmed from Judaism and that the Jewish people have been a blessing for Christians. He highlighted Israel as the sole defender in the region of liberty, freedom and the rule of law. All of these values, Johnson noted, are found in the Hebrew scriptures and ultimately became the basis of the Christian religion.