3 Jun 2019

Advocating in Efrat

I remain convinced that most people are unaware of just how deep the hatred for Israel goes among American Christian elites. Specifically evangelicals.

(As an aside, check out a recent editorial in Christianity Today, from Mark Galli, regarding his scolding of “Christian Nationalism,” while ignoring the existential threat of Islam. Progressive evangelicals, or whatever one calls them, are unusually undiscerning.)

In the Israeli community of Efrat, south of Jerusalem, my friend Ardie Geldman hosts these hostile groups, who believe Israel is the problem in the Middle East. As they come back from Hebron to Jerusalem, they often stop by Efrat, in order to see an “illegal settlement.”

The superb writer, Barbara Sofer, has written about Ardie and his work, in the Jerusalem Post. The American-born Geldman is particularly discerning when it comes to reaching students and ministry leaders that demonize Israel:

“We cerebral Jews, with some exceptions, attempt mainly to immediately win over people’s minds with facts, figures, history lectures and the like, but that doesn’t compete with emotional and spiritual experiences.”

There is also this:

“The Palestinian Authority has reportedly invested in helping families (mostly Christian) to expand their homes into bed-and-breakfast facilities to host student groups. The hosts often invite the visitors to family gatherings and celebrations. They fill them in on the Palestinian narrative – how, for instance, the Israelis are to blame for the exodus of Christians from Bethlehem.

“’It’s not a matter of their minds being made up,’ says Geldman. ‘Their hearts are made up.’”

This is a real key. In all my years of advocating for Israel, I slowly began to realize it did little good to use statistics and facts. That doesn’t penetrate hearts. Although it’s not really part of what Ardie does, I would also add that the sanitization of Bible prophecy teaching in American churches has aggressively aggravated the problem. If people do not understand who the Jews are, from Scripture, they won’t be moved by reports of bus bombings and other terror attacks.

A key feature of student visits to Efrat is spending Shabbat with an Israeli family. I enjoyed a meal with Ardie’s wonderful family a few years ago, and it remains one of my most precious memories.

Ardie keeps student evaluations of their time in Efrat. One particular entry struck me:

“Before I came to Efrat I was trying to listen to Israeli points of view with an open mind – but I wasn’t really succeeding. Now I feel as though my mind and also my heart have been opened. I still believe the Palestinians about their hurts and injustices – I’m still ‘on their side.’ But I’m on your side, too – I feel as though my heart is big enough to love you both.”

This is a student from America initially influenced by the likes of Gary Burge and Shane Claiborne, whose bitterness toward Israel is off the charts. But you can see that it is possible to influence people, especially young people, to feel differently about Israel and Jews.

There are two tracks here, of course: political and religious. If you want to change someone’s perspective about Israeli and Zionist politics, you have to address religious concerns.

It’s a topic for another time, but the use of Bible prophecy must also come into play.

It’s long time past time to re-think how we advocate for Israel.

Begin by picking up your Bible.