Former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin was the first president to openly welcome Christian Zionist support of Israel. Commemorating the 100th year of his birth, the Menachem Begin Heritage Center together with the International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem (ICEJ) have put together an evening which focuses on this unique relationship that Begin began, and has continued until today.
Begin’s relationship with Christian Zionists was one of deep respect and longevity. Timothy King, one of the founding directors of ICEJ, ran the first Feast of Tabernacles event in Jerusalem in 1980. Begin attended and addressed the feast in 1981, which was his first public embrace of Christian Zionism. During the address he expressed thanks to Christian Zionists around the world for their support of Israel.
The Begin Center approached David Parsons, Media Director of the ICEJ, a number of times over the years in an effort to partner together and create programming. The event, which took place on Wednesday, is the culmination of those efforts.
Parsons said that Begin started a movement among Israeli Prime Ministers and Jerusalem Mayors, many of whom now come to make important addresses to the Christian world at the ICEJ.
“The relationship goes all the way back. Many of the early Zionist leaders were helped and befriended by Christian Zionists,” Parsons explained to Breaking Israel News. “Leaders such as Herzl, Montefiore, and Rothschild had close friends who were Christian Zionists, and those friends helped often worked behind the scenes to help them get what they needed when they needed it.”
“But Begin stands out. He was the first Zionist Leader and the first Israeli Prime Minister who openly embraced Christian support and took it beyond the step of having just a close friendship with specific Christian leaders. Other Prime Ministers such as Golda Meir and Ben Gurion had those as well. But Begin openly acknowledged the help and support of Christian Zionists in a way that no Israeli leader had done before, and that resonated,” said Parsons.
The ICEJ, which has been around for 34 years, has an “established record of support for Israel and we pride ourselves on having good relationships with other Jewish organizations.”
Parsons recalled two specific incidents in which an embattled Israeli prime minister reached out for Christian support and showed the world that Christian Zionists are behind Israel.
In 1996, Netanyahu opened the tunnel leading from the Western wall to the Via Dolorosa amid violent Palestinian riots. With the whole world pressuring Netanyahu to close the tunnel, he refused and informed the world at the ICEJ’s peace gathering that he would not give in to international pressure. Netanyahu’s statement from the ICEJ headquarters was an important moment in showing the world that he had the support of the Christian Zionist community.
The second incident occurred in the summer of 2000 when then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, at that time the leader of the opposition in the Israeli Knesset, went up to tour the Temple Mount. His visit was one of the main catalysts for Palestinians starting the second intifada.
“Sharon did not speak publicly about the incident for almost two months, and when he did, he spoke at our peace gathering in October. It was the first time he addressed the media on the issue, and it too was in an effort to show his support for the Christian Zionist world, and to show the world that he had our support,” said Parsons.
Daniel Gordis, the keynote speaker at Wednesday’s event, explained to Breaking Israel News that it was Menachem Begin’s worldview that enabled him to embrace Christian Zionism as no other leader had before him.
“Begin’s worldview and universalism was the reason that he could be so committed to the Jewish people on the one hand and be open to Christians on the other. His universal perspective came from the Bible, a biblical worldview if you will, and that is something he shared with the Christian community.”
When asked what a “biblical worldview meant” Gordis responded by saying: “ Begin saw the world through biblical lenses. The Bible is deeply committed to telling the story of the Jewish people, and at the same time the Bible is also deeply committed to telling the story of other peoples as well. Whether it is Deuteronomy 2 or the story of the Tower of Babel, or the prophets messages to the people of the world and the end of day when all the nations will live together, the Bible is filled with a commitment to the betterment of both the Jewish people and the rest of the nations as well. And through these lenses he was able to connect to others who also looked at the world seriously through the Bible. Begin and Christian Zionists spoke a similar kind of language.”
Parsons, who has developed a strong friendship with Gordis, initiated their relationship by reaching out to Gordis a few years back at the Shalem College (at that time Institute) where Gordis is the Senior Vice President and the Koret Distinguished Fellow.
“He just called me up one day and we really hit it off. We worked together on various projects, and the ICEJ does a beautiful work for the Jewish people,” said Gordis.
On Wednesday, in addition to Gordis’ keynote address, were addresses by other prominent figures such as the President of the Begin Center Herzl Makov, as well as ICEJ Executive Director Dr. Juergen Buehler who will be talking about Christian Jewish Relations. Other highlights included a greeting via video from Rev. Rebecca Brimmer that discussed her father’s unique relationship with Begin.
Parsons said that “the event was in essence a celebration of the continued support that Christian Zionists have shown to Israel, and the appreciation of Israel and its leaders such as Menachem Begin to Christian Zionists the world over for their continued support and efforts to help Israel.”
Gordis brought the message of the evening home; “The leaders of Israel’s independence generation embodied a biblical sort of statesmanship, in which their stewardship of the new state was crucial to the rebirth of the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland. This was true of no one so much as Begin, who saw the world through utterly biblical lenses.”
“The Bible, he believed, was actually the Jews’ deed to the land. The Tanakh fed his adoration of Jewish fighters. And it gave context to Begin’s sense of time and purpose—in a way that has been true of none of Israel’s leaders either before or since. Devoted to the Jews, he believed with all his heart that those of other faiths were no less created in God’s image. A man of great faith, Begin understood the difference between a biblical worldview and a narrow ideology.”