Israel’s premier has made diplomatic outreach a cornerstone of his foreign policy, especially vis-à-vis Christians, who are pushing back against anti-Israel sentiment
At first glance, Scott Mwanza, director of the Zambian Parliamentary Israel Allies Caucus, a bishop, might seem like an unusual ally of Israel. However, he is one of many Christians attending the Jerusalem Chairman’s Conference, hosted by the Israel Allies Foundation, at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in Israel’s capital.
Christian representatives from six continents, most in legislative positions, met December 8-10 at the conference in Jerusalem to discuss how they would move forward to advance their favorable agenda toward Israel.
As the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement has gained ground across the world, many Christians have been pushing back against the anti-Israel sentiment.
The group announced on the last day of the conference that it had passed a resolution that states, among other things, that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and that the Jewish state includes the West Bank. It also criticizes the BDS movement.
The resolution states: We “call upon elected officials around the world to actively oppose the BDS movement as well as policies that serve BDS ends, including the discriminatory labeling of Israeli products, and all efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel.
“Never again will we be silent as Jewish goods are labeled by the European Union,” Israel Allies Foundation President Josh Reinstein said.
The resolution condemned the European Court of Justice’s November decision that countries under its jurisdiction must label items exported from the Israeli-controlled portion of the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights as originating in a settlement in occupied territory and not as a product of Israel.
Member of Knesset Gideon Sa’ar told the group: “Targeting Israeli businesses that work with Palestinians does not support Palestinians.” He continued, “They may lose their jobs if the business is badly affected. Who will be there ready to help them instead? Hamas?”
BDS and anti-Israel sentiment have particularly colored the relationship between Israel and Europe.
In London, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has been accused of being anti-Semitic and of not doing enough to combat anti-Semitism in his party. The issue has been of growing concern to the Jewish community – so much so that, in the lead-up to this month’s parliamentary elections, British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said Corbyn was not fit to hold office and asked voters to consider the moral implications of their choice.
Sa’ar addressed the controversy, telling the crowd: “I can truly hope that he won’t win this election. … We know that after some of the anti-Israeli rhetoric these days is hiding a new kind of anti-Semitism, I think it describes the Labour Party’s positions these days.”
He did, however, qualify his remarks by saying that it was up to the British people to make their own decisions.
Leo van Doesburg, the Israel Allies Foundation European representative, announced at the conference a December 11 meeting between his organization and the European Union to discuss the status of trade between the EU and Israel.
“[Europe] lacks in protecting the security of Israel. The European Union is one-sided in their approach, very much focused against [Israel],” Van Doesburg told The Media Line.
MP Joël Voordewind, from the Christian Union Party in the Netherlands, made the first formal European response against the EU court’s ruling by proposing a measure against it.
This isn’t the first time Voordewind has battled anti-Israel sentiment. He ushered through the Dutch parliament a bill that stopped the monthly provision of approximately $1.66 million to the Palestinian Authority, which the authority could use at its own discretion. It was feared that such arrangements were being used to pay the families of terrorists.
“We see ‘pay for slay’ arrangements in which the Palestinian Authority pays in relation to the number of murders [a terrorist] committed, so we want to balance more the relationship and the position in favor Israel in the UN.”
According to the Israeli think tank Kohelet, between 2012 and 2017, 82.67% of UN General Assembly resolutions condemning countries for actions they had taken against a people were critical of Israel.
Voordewind’s colleague, Kees Van der Staaij, pushed legislation in the Dutch parliament asking the government to “actively oppose UN organizations that devote disproportional attention to Israel.”
“We desire Israel to be settled and to have peace and we fight together with [the Jewish state] against BDS and antisemitism,” Mwanza told The Media Line. “That is the position that I would like all African countries to take.
“We are advocates and ambassadors for Israel wherever we are,” Mwanza added, “We would like to recognize Jerusalem as the indivisible, eternal capital and try to convince the present government to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, of course.”
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will need advocates like Mwanza to help fulfill a major foreign policy initiative to get other states to transfer their embassies to Jerusalem, a tacit acknowledgment that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. This action is seen as controversial as the Palestinians also claim Jerusalem as the capital of the state they wish to create. US President Donald Trump made waves last year by moving the US mission to Jerusalem but few countries have followed suit.
Netanyahu has reached out especially to the Christian demographic, for example forging close ties to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has strong evangelical backing.
The Christian representatives present at the conference held a diverse range of views about Israel and its relationship to the Palestinians.
Voordewind was supportive of a separate Palestinian state.
“Our position is that we should support Israel where we can and try to support the Palestinian faith and their right to their own country, so we believe in a two-state solution but with secure and recognized borders for Israel,” he told The Media Line.
Peeter Võsu, co-chairman of the Christian faction of Estonia’s Isamaa Party, disagreed.
“I think that many people don’t realize that they belong here, they are not occupiers here. Israel is very small for even one state,” he told The Media Line. “Arabs have already 21 states, they don’t need another one in the middle of Israel, especially Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], the most historic parts of [the Jewish state].
While various Israeli political parties were represented at the conference – for example, Blue and White co-chairman Yair Lapid attended – some delegates expressed a particular affinity for Netanyahu’s Likud party.
“Our meeting here is also connected to Likud in some ways. Of course, it’s not a party meeting but many Likud members are part of the Israel Allies Foundation [which connects Christians and Jews to advance Israel policy],” Võsu said. “I think Netanyahu has been behind many of these things [Christian Israel conferences], both directly and indirectly.”
Netanyahu has been cultivating Israel’s relationship with Christians, and the number of Christian conferences in Israel has increased as their support has grown.
Voordewind believes that this is a reaction against the increasing anti-Israel sentiment in Europe.
“I think the West was pretty apathetic in supporting Israel in the last 10 years, and now we see Israel coming under more attacks and being discriminated against in the UN,” he said. “I think the support is now growing and consciousness of the need to support Israel is growing.”
Despite the affinity Christians might have for Netanyahu, many of them say that their support for Israel is unwavering, no matter who is the next Israeli prime minister. Israel politics is in a turbulent state as a government has yet to be formed after two elections and the serving prime minister is under indictment on charges of bribery.
Bishop Mwanda said, “Our position does not depend on who is or who is not in office. … Whether there’s a change of president or policies by different governments, the policy in the Bible still stays the same.”
Võsu agreed, adding: “The foundations of our faiths are the same so the connection between us is not interest-based but value-based, which lasts longer.”