The International Christian Embassy, Jerusalem : A Case Study in Political Christian Zionism
‘Biblical Christian Zionism includes the following basic tenets: Belief that the restoration of the modern State of Israel is no political accident, but rather a visible fulfilment of God’s word and promise.’ (ICEJ 1988).
This chapter will use the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem (ICEJ) as a representative case study of the wider Christian Zionist movement, tracing, in particular, its political agenda.
1. The Historical Roots of the ICEJ
Of all the Christian Zionist organisations, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) is probably the most influential and controversial. The founding of the International Christian Embassy in 1980 by Jan Willem van der Hoeven, in West Jerusalem near the home of the Israeli Prime Minister, represented the coming of age of Christian Zionism as a high profile, politically astute, international movement.
it had originally been the home of the family of Dr Edward Said, the distinguished
Palestinian-American academic, before being confiscated in 1948 when it was first
given to the Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber. It then became the Chilean embassy
before becoming the home of the ICEJ. This is itself a paradigm of the impact
Christian Zionists such as the ICEJ have had upon the indigenous Palestinian people
and Christian community, in particular.
The timing was actually precipitated by the co-ordinated withdrawal of the last thirteen embassies still based in Jerusalem. From 1947, the majority of embassies had located in Tel Aviv in response to the partition plan agreed by the United Nations. The Dutch embassy and twelve Latin American embassies finally vacated Jerusalem in 1980 following the passing of the Jerusalem Bill by the Knesset in which Israel unilaterally declared Jerusalem to be their exclusive and undivided, eternal capital.
Jan Willem van der Hoeven describes how the ICEJ was ‘birthed’ on 30th September 1980, ‘...in a direct response to the world’s cowardice and especially the cowardice of those nations which, unable to stand up to Arab blackmail, moved their embassies to Tel Aviv.’ (van der Hoeven 1993: 151-152).
In 1985 the ICEJ organised the first International Christian Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in the same hall used by Theodor Herzl to launch the Zionist movement in 1897. Claiming to have staff in over 80 countries, the ICEJ draws its support almost exclusively from charismatic, evangelical and fundamentalist Christians particularly in the USA, Canada and South Africa.
From its foundation the ‘charter’ of the ICEJ has been to ‘comfort’ Israel. This has been defined in terms of encouraging and facilitating the ‘restoration’ of the Jews to Eretz Israel although the exact geographical extent of ‘greater’ Israel is usually left ambiguous. In 1993, the ICEJ declared itself to have nine objectives, many of which were overtly political.
To show concern for the Jewish people and the reborn State of Israel, by being a focus of comfort.
To be a centre where Christians can gain a biblical understanding of Israel, and learn to be rightly related to the nation.
To present to Christians a true understanding of what is taking place in the Land today so that world events may be interpreted in the light of God’s Word.
To remind and encourage Christians to pray for Jerusalem and the Land of Israel.
To stimulate Christian leaders, churches and organisations to become effective influences in their countries on behalf of the Jewish people.
To encourage Jewish people to return to their homeland.
To be a channel of fulfilment of God’s promise that one day Israel and her Arab neighbours will live in peace under the blessing of God, in the middle of the earth.
To begin or assist projects in Israel, including economic ventures, for the well being of all who live here.
To take part through these activities in preparing the way of the Lord and to anticipate His reign from Jerusalem. (ICEJ 1993: 5)
The main priorities of the ICEJ since its inception have been to ‘bring comfort’ to Israel through the encouragement of Soviet and Eastern European Jews to emigrate to Israel; a social assistance programme for integrating Jewish immigrants into Israeli life; the sponsoring of an annual Christian Zionist Feast of Tabernacles Celebration in Jerusalem; and Diplomatic Banquets and Receptions through which church leaders and government officials around the world are lobbied on behalf of the State of Israel. The ICEJ has also developed a sophisticated and professional news service which produces weekly radio and TV programmes, a Middle East Intelligence Digest, together with daily pro-Israeli press releases. These are aimed, according to Jan Willem van der Hoeven, at countering “increasingly warped and twisted” coverage which apparently has a “marked bias against Israel.” (Corley 1997: 7).
The ICEJ has gained significant status within right-wing Jewish political circles for its sponsorship of an annual Feast of Tabernacles celebration at which the Prime Minister of Israel is invited to address Christian Zionists from around the world. Every Prime Minister since 1980 has addressed the celebration. ICEJ claim that this event, attended by up to five thousand pilgrims from over 100 nations, is the largest single annual tourist event in Israel. They believe that the reintroduction of what they term “Davidic worship” through the Feast of Tabernacles is a “prophetic foreshadowing” of the celebration to be held during the Millennium after the Messiah returns.
A significant part of the ministry of the ICEJ also involves fund-raising from Western evangelical donors, working closely with Israeli Embassies and Consulates as well as the Jewish Agency in channelling support and funds to Israel.
2. The Theology of the ICEJ
ICEJ is a self appointed and self regulated ‘Christian embassy’. Throughout their literature they insist pretentiously that they, ‘...represent Christians from all over the world who love Israel and the people of Israel... and ...represent Israel and what the Bible says about its destiny to the Christian world.’ (ICEJ 1993: 22-23), a channel for international Christian concern for Israel.
2.1 Dispensational Literalist Hermeneutic
At the Third International Christian Zionist Congress held in Jerusalem during February, 1996, under the auspices of the ICEJ, some 1,500 delegates from over 40 countries unanimously affirmed a proclamation of Christian Zionism which included the following tenets,
‘God the Father, Almighty, chose the ancient nation and people of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to reveal His plan of redemption for the world. They remain elect of God, and without the Jewish nation His redemptive purposes for the world will not be completed … Christian believers are instructed by Scripture to acknowledge the Hebraic roots of their faith and to actively assist and participate in the plan of God for the ingathering of the Jewish People and the restoration of the nation of Israel in our day … The Lord in His zealous love for Israel and the Jewish People blesses and curses peoples and judges nations based upon their treatment of the Chosen People of Israel… According to God's distribution of nations, the Land of Israel has been given to the Jewish People by God as an everlasting possession by an eternal covenant. The Jewish People have the absolute right to possess and dwell in the Land, including Judea, Samaria, Gaza and the Golan.’ (ICEJ 1996).
This declaration indicates the dispensational presuppositions of the ICEJ leadership who believe that the restoration of the Jews to Israel and the contemporary State of Israel is the fulfilment of biblical prophecy. For example, Johann Luckoff, the director of ICEJ wrote, ‘The return to Zion from exile a second time (Isa. 11:11) is a living testimony to God’s faithfulness and his enduring covenant with the Jewish people.’ (Luckoff 1985). The ICEJ has consistently repudiated those who refuse to acknowledge the central place of Israel within God’s continuing purposes,
‘While Gentile believers have been grafted into that household of faith which is of Abraham (the commonwealth of Israel), replacement theology within the Christian faith, which does not recognize the ongoing biblical purposes for Israel and the Jewish People, is doctrinal error.’ (ICEJ 1996)
The ICEJ explicitly distinguishes the Church from Israel, speaking of “the former and latter rains”, and, “His beloved people, both Jew and Gentile” (ICEJ, 1993: 15). Whereas the New Testament emphasises that Jesus Christ has made the two one, so that in Christ there is now neither Jew nor Gentile, the ICEJ insist on maintaining a distinction and superior status for those of Jewish ethnic descent, who remain, even apparently, apart from faith in Jesus Christ, the chosen people, “His Jewish sons and daughters.” (ICEJ 1993: 9). The ICEJ’s preoccupation with a futurist dispensational emphasis on Judaism is also evident from their reinterpretation of Christian mission.
2.2 Christian Mission and Restorationism
The ICEJ has disavowed evangelism among Jews, in part for pragmatic reasons, since this ensures the continued favour of the Israeli establishment, itself keen to have a compliant Christian Zionist presence to diffuse criticism of her policy toward Palestinians. A further reason arises from their dispensational theology. Evangelism is essentially unnecessary as the ICEJ believe that the Jewish nation, once restored to the Land of Israel, will collectively acknowledge their Messiah when he returns. Following Scofield, the ICEJ believe the petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is therefore essentially for the future not the present. When asked by a reporter from the Jerusalem Post whether the ICEJ was actually a ‘covert’ missionary organisation working in Israel, van der Hoeven replied,
‘Not so. The Zionist Christians are different. Our objectives are not as you describe. We don’t believe in conversion, we don’t want to make the Jews into Christians... The Jewish religion must modify itself in the course of time - but on one point only, the identity of the Messiah... they must make the modification as a collective entity. Suborning individuals to secede would serve no purpose.’ (Ross 1990: 17)
It is acknowledged that at times in history Christians have initiated and participated in anti-Semitic activities. This is in part why the ICEJ has disavowed traditional methods of evangelism among Jews. Messianic believers in Israel, who share many of the Zionist presuppositions of the ICEJ, nevertheless distance themselves from the ICEJ’s apparently contradictory non-evangelistic form of evangelicalism.
...the Embassy’s repeated hedging on this issue gives credence to the growing conviction by some that the Embassy believes political and economic support in the name of Christ are all that is needed, and that evangelism is, at best, peripheral. Such an opinion is further strengthened by the oft-repeated reports (never publically denied by the Embassy) that participants in Embassy-related events in Israel are discouraged by Embassy staff from commending their faith to Jewish friends. (Maoz 1990: 3)
John Ross, deputy director of Christian Witness to Israel and a minister of the Free Church of Scotland insists this failure to engage in evangelism is “a form of religious anti-Semitism which is as basically evil as the philosophy of the Nazis.” (Ross, 1990: 24). he term “International Outreach,” though traditionally understood by Christians to describe world-wide evangelisation through the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, has been invested with new meaning by the ICEJ. Based on Old Testament prophecies in Jeremiah and Isaiah which were originally spoken to Jews in exile in Babylon, the ICEJ interpret the promise of salvation as finding its fulfilment in the ‘return’ of Jews to Zion.
The biblical mandate concerning the proclamation and the restoration of Israel is clear… In the same sense that the first apostles were commissioned by the Lord to be his witnesses from Jerusalem to the uttermost parts of the earth, we also feel compelled to proclaim the word of Israel’s restoration, and the Christian’s response to it, to every country and in every place where there are believers. (ICEJ 1993: 22).
The comparison of the ‘restoration’ ministry of the ICEJ with that of the apostolic commission to preach the gospel to the whole world is simply without precedent. Wagner points out that in Acts 1:6-8, Jesus rejected the ‘futurist pro-Zionist state scenario’. Instead Jesus ‘challenges true disciples with the task of taking the gospel into the entire world, including Jerusalem and the most difficult places. That mission has not changed, despite the revision of Christianity by the ICEJ.’ (Wagner 1995:112).
The ICEJ has also reinterpreted God’s purpose for the Jewish people. They claim biblical justification for the belief that, “...the destiny of nations, of Christians, and of the Church” lie not in how individuals respond to the claims of Jesus Christ, but in terms of, “...their role in the restoration of Israel.” (ICEJ 1998). The ICEJ has therefore consistently and repeatedly compromised the biblical mandate to proclaim the gospel to all people, including the Jews, yet continues to insist on designating itself as an evangelical organisation.
2.3 Eschatology: Signs of the Times
The ICEJ holds to a traditional premillennial dispensational eschatology believing the ingathering of the Jews to Palestine to be the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies. So, for example, the immigration of Soviet Jews to Palestine is seen as evidence that these are the Last Days and a necessary precursor to the ‘spiritual restoration’ of the Jews. Before the return of the Messiah, however, van der Hoeven warns that there will be a final Battle of Armageddon, when the nations will come against Israel. ‘Repeatedly the Bible states that the betrayal of Israel will be a major reason for the wrath of God being heaped upon the nations in the latter days. (Wagner 1995: 102). Wagner offers this astute assessment of the theology of the ICEJ.
If the church is deemphasized and a modern secular/ethnic government assumes total authority, the Christian message is clearly undermined. The gospel of Jesus becomes secondary. The task of doing justice and proclaiming salvation in Jesus Christ is lost. The future survival of all nations, their prosperity and destiny, are made conditional on the degree to which they support the political state of Israel. (Wagner 1995: 104).
The theology of the ICEJ is therefore consistent with traditional dispensationalism which has elevated a restored Israel to a superior role and position over the Church in the future purposes of God and in which the latter is downgraded and, as Darby taught, merely a ‘parenthesis’ to the former.
3. The Politics of the ICEJ
In their promotional literature ICEJ ask the question, “Is Standing With Israel a Political Act?” Using an unusual quotation from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians concerning the nature of the bodily resurrection, the ICEJ claim that political support for the State of Israel will lead to her spiritual renewal and, by implication, the return of Jesus Christ.
‘The fact of Israel’s political existence evokes prejudice and hostility in world forums such as those in New York and Geneva. Christians must therefore take a stand against this and counter lies with truth. This is not primarily political but a part of the warfare to help protect the Lord’s people … To stand with Israel politically and practically, therefore, has ultimate spiritual implications, even if Israel has to go through agonizing birthpangs to arrive at God’s destiny for her.’ (ICEJ: Prepare)
The ICEJ claim therefore that their support for the State of Israel is not primarily political but spiritual. They do, however, justify political involvement because of the criticisms made of Israel and the need to engage in this ‘warfare’. The ICEJ’s ministry is, in fact, highly politicised in several significant ways.
3.1 Unconditional Support for the State of Israel
The ICEJ has, from its inception, carefully courted the favour of the Israeli right-wing Likud political establishment because of their common commitment to the realisation of Eretz Israel. ICEJ have also lobbied foreign governments on behalf of Israel through their Diplomatic Banquets and makes wide use of testimonials by Jewish leaders such as Teddy Kollek, Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir.
In 1997, fighting to keep his coalition together and stalling the already delayed Oslo Peace Accord, Benyamin Netanyahu took the opportunity to seek support from Christian Zionists attending the ICEJ’s annual Feast of Tabernacles celebration.
‘Now I don’t have to tell you that the media isn’t always scrupulously fair when it comes to Israel. You can counter those distortions. You can tell the story, our story in the world. All we need to triumph in this struggle, is for the truth to be told. You can do for us what no one else can do. I am counting on you. I am relying on you. I am relying on your friendship, on the constancy of your support, and I deeply appreciate it, in the name of my family, my wife, my children, but especially in the name of the Children of Israel, all of the People of Israel. We respect and appreciate, and thank you for your continual love for the State of Israel. Thank you very much.’ (ICEJ 1997a).
With such impressive endorsements from the Israeli political Right, ICEJ has increasingly become the semi-official voice of a broad coalition of Christian Zionist organisations, frequently cultivated, exploited and quoted by the Israeli Government whenever a sympathetic Christian view point is needed to enhance their own policies, and rebut Western political or indigenous Christian criticism. In an amplification of the resolutions passed at the ICEJ Third International Christian Zionist Congress, held in February 1996, the following declarations reveal their explicit religio-political agenda.
Further, we are persuaded by the clear unction of our God to express the
sense of this Congress on the following concerns before us this day,
Because of the sovereign purposes of God for the City, Jerusalem must remain undivided, under Israeli sovereignty, open to all peoples, the capitol of Israel only, and all nations should so concur and place their embassies here.
As a faith bound to love and forgiveness we are appreciative of the attempts by the Government of Israel to work tirelessly for peace. However, the truths of God are sovereign and it is written that the Land which He promised to His People is not to be partitioned... It would be further error for the nations to recognize a Palestinian state in any part of Eretz Israel.
The Golan is part of biblical Israel and is a vital strategic asset necessary for the security and defense of the entire country...
The Islamic claim to Jerusalem, including its exclusive claim to the Temple Mount, is in direct contradiction to the clear biblical and historical significance of the city and its holiest site…
Regarding Aliyah, we remain concerned for the fate of imperilled Jewish People in diverse places, and seek to encourage and assist in the continuing process of Return of the Exiles to Eretz Israel. To this end we commit to work with Israel and to encourage the Diaspora to fulfil the vision and goal of gathering to Israel the greater majority of all Jewish People from throughout the world. (ICEJ 1996).
The ICEJ consistently endorses and defends right wing members of Likud and the smaller religious parties who are resolute in their commitment to confiscate, annexe and build further settlements in the Occupied Territories including Gaza and the Golan Heights.
3.2 The Territorial Extent of Eretz Israel
Central to the ICEJ’s political and theological position is the conviction that Eretz Israel belongs exclusively to the Jewish people by divine mandate. The fourth resolution of the ‘Declaration of the First International Christian Zionist Leadership Conference’ held under the auspices of the ICEJ in August 1985, was entitled, ‘All Nations Should Recognize Judea and Samaria as Belonging to Israel.’ The position of the ICEJ on the Occupied Territories is indistinguishable from that of the Likud Party. ‘The Congress declares that Judea and Samaria (inaccurately termed ‘the West Bank’) are, and by biblical right as well as international law and practice ought to be, a part of Israel.’ (ICEJ 1985).
No other country in the world recognises Israel’s claim to the Occupied Territories. On the basis of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, the international community through the United Nations has repeatedly condemned Israel’s continued occupation of territory gained by war, for example in resolutions 242 and 338. The ICEJ nevertheless uses biblical terms to invest this illegal occupation with an air of legitimacy, and thereby justify God’s apparent favour toward one ethnic group at the expense of all others. Jan Willem van der Hoeven offers a theological interpretation of recent historical events. Speaking of the war in 1967 he speculates:
God wanted to give His people that part of the land which they did not receive in 1948, and by hardening the hearts of the different Arab leaders … He impelled Israel to react. The result of what became known as the Six Day War was that Judea and Samaria - heartland of biblical Israel - and the ancient city of Jerusalem - King David’s capital - were returned to their original owner... Thus, the Lord, by hardening the hearts of the Arab leaders, caused His people Israel to inherit the rest of the land, especially their ancient city, in a war of self defense! …. God has His own sovereign way to fulfil His Word and promise. (van der Hoeven 1993: 151).
The Third International Christian Zionist Congress held in February 1996 reaffirmed that Israel had an absolute right to possess all the land of what they term Judea, Samaria, Gaza and Golan. (ICEJ 1996). This leads ICEJ to support the settlements.
3.3 The Jewish Settlements in the Occupied Territories
The ICEJ’s support for the occupation and settlement of the West Bank is in part politically motivated as well as theological. They remain implacably opposed to the peace process. Essentially the ICEJ uses the same arguments as those of secular Zionists.
Jan Willem van der Hoeven
Today, most of the relatively uninformed journalists and politicians in the West are of the misguided opinion that as long as Israel withdraws from the “occupied territories,” namely Gaza, Judea and Samaria (the “West Bank”) and the Golan Heights, there will be a chance for peace in the Middle East. The reason they think this is there false perception of the conflict as basically over land - rather than the reality that what is being sought is the elimination of Israel from the map of the Middle East. (van der Hoeven 1993: 133)
Today too we are told that it is we who provoke terrorism. We provoke it by building apartments in Jerusalem, we provoke it by providing for the natural growth of our communities... The real provocation … is not a housing project, it is not the settlements. The real provocation is pure and simple. It is our existence here. That is what is causing the provocation. It is not a provocation. This is our country, this is the Land of Israel; it is the country that belongs to the people of Israel, and we have an inalienable right to this land. (Netanyahu 1997)
In their support for the confiscation, occupation and settlement of the West Bank, the ICEJ has, according to critics, turned God into “...a cosmic real estate agent who will allow one people to suffer and be removed from their cities and farms...” reducing, “...eternal truths to material terms. This truncated gospel of reductionism is inconsistent with the message of Jesus...” (Wagner 1995: 111).
3.4 Jerusalem the Eternal Undivided Capital of Israel
The ICEJ, like other Christian Zionists, regard Jerusalem as the undivided eternal capital of Israel, and central to God’s future purposes for the Jews on earth. At the opening ceremony of the ICEJ on 30th September 1980, the following forms part of the address given in the presence of the mayor of Jerusalem.
Dear Mr Teddy Kollek,
We are here from many different nations of the earth, representing, as we believe, millions of Christians who would have loved to be here with us...
These last weeks must not have been easy for you, as you have seen all the embassies, one after the other, leave Jerusalem where you have worked so hard to create a place where all people could be respected and live in freedom under the same roof of this eternal City … Today, we open in this, your City, the International Christian Embassy and, because we believe in God, the God of Israel, and in the promises of His Book, the Bible, we will remain in Jerusalem to pray for its peace and work for its good, knowing that in the end, all shall be well. May this International Christian Embassy then, be a sign of hope; hope for your people, and hope for your City so that it may become what it was always destined to be under Israel - a new dawn for all mankind. (van der Hoeven 1993:159-160).
Jan Willem van der Hoeven, whose book Babylon or Jerusalem, carries a foreword by Teddy Kollek, sees the prediction of Jesus made in Luke 21:24 to have now been fulfilled in the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem.
In 1997 the ICEJ gave support to a full page advert placed in the New York Times on 18 April 1997 entitled, “Christians Call for a United Jerusalem” signed by 10 evangelical and fundamentalist leaders including Pat Robertson, chairman of Christian Broadcasting Network and president of the Christian Coalition; Oral Roberts, founder and chancellor of Oral Roberts University; Jerry Falwell pastor of Liberty Road Baptist Church, Lynchburg and founder of Moral Majority; Ed McAteer, President of the Religious Roundtable; and David Allen Lewis, President of Christians United for Israel.
We, the undersigned Christian spiritual leaders, communicating weekly to more than 100 million Christian Americans, are proud to join together in supporting the continued sovereignty of the State of Israel over the holy city of Jerusalem. We support Israel’s efforts to reach reconciliation with its Arab neighbors, but we believe that Jerusalem or any portion of it shall not be negotiable in the peace process. Jerusalem must remain undivided as the eternal capital of the Jewish people. (ICEJ 1997b).
Readers were invited to:
Join us in our holy mission to ensure that Jerusalem will remain the undivided, eternal capital of Israel. The battle for Jerusalem has begun, and it is time for believers in Christ to support our Jewish brethren and the State of Israel. The time for unity with the Jewish people is now. (ICEJ 1997b).
In 1999 the ICEJ launched another world-wide petition to demonstrate ‘Christian’ support for Israel’s sovereign rule over Jerusalem to be presented to the Israeli government in March 2000 during the next Christian Zionist Congress, when “...tremendous pressure will be exerted to re-divide the city.” The petition invited supporters to add their signature to the following resolution:
We the undersigned, support Israel’s exclusive claim to sovereignty over united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. We commend Israel for its exemplary record in guaranteeing access to the biblical sites in Jerusalem and throughout Israel, and support the continuation of Israel in this role. (ICEJ 1999).
Tom Getman, then director of World Vision in Palestine, responded with an open letter to the ICEJ calling them ‘either hopelessly naive or liars.’
Two things you may want to consider in your blatant partisan support:
1. For 5000 years any time this city has been under the exclusive control of one power it has been the cause of untold bloodshed; and 2. Israel’s so called “exemplary record in guaranteeing access to biblical sites” has been significantly sullied in recent years, and even over this past Easter weekend, when in and around the Old City, streets were blocked off to all traffic except Jewish Pessah worshippers. For those of us who could not get to Good Friday and Easter services, and for your Palestinian brothers and sisters in Christ who could not even get out of Bethlehem, you are setting yourselves up to be perceived as either hopelessly naive or liars. Jerusalem is the spiritual home for 2 billion people... Only 15 million are Jewish. The better part of wisdom would be for “God’s chosen” to share it or they will absolutely guarantee being proven the world’s rejected once again. (Getman 1999)
ICEJ, along with other Christian Zionist agencies such as Bridges for Peace, continue to oppose the peace process.
3.5 The Rebuilding of the Jewish Temple
The ICEJ have been careful to avoid controversy, at least publically, concerning the religious Zionist conviction that the Jewish temple must be rebuilt. In an open letter to Benjamin Netanyahu, then Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, the ICEJ affirmed its commitment that like Moslems, Jews be able to worship again on the Temple Mount, implicitly within a rebuilt Jewish Temple.
‘The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem fervently hopes and prays that the day will soon come that the Temple Mount-or as the Bible calls it, the Mountain of the Lord-will no longer be a reason for religious divisiveness, but a place where all mankind will unite in worship to God according to His declared purposes. The Bible foresees the day when all nations will flow to the Mountain of the Lord irrespective of race or colour, and says that: ‘His house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (van der Heoven, 1993: 169).
van der Hoeven insists that a new Temple will one day be built on the Temple Mount. He quotes from the speech made by Teddy Kollek, then mayor of Jerusalem, at the 1985 Feast of Tabernacles celebration, held at the Binyanei Ha’Uma auditorium. Behind him was a futuristic painting of Jerusalem showing a rebuilt Jewish Temple.
Thank you for being here, for coming here faithfully, every year. Your faith gives us strength... I am glad I am speaking here against the background of this beautiful painting of Jerusalem. It is not yet the Jerusalem of today. If you look properly, you will see that the Temple, the Holy of Holies, has been restored!.. Our return is the first sign that the city will be existing again as it is in this painting! (van der Heoven, 1993: 163).
The ICEJ has been implicated in funding the Jerusalem Temple Foundation, founded by Stanley Goldfoot, which is committed to the destruction of the Dome of the Rock (Rapoport 1984). As a member of the Stern Gang, Goldfoot was responsible for planting the bomb at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on 22nd July 1946 which killed 100 British soldiers and officials. In 1948 he was also convicted and jailed by an Israeli court for the murder of UN envoy Count Bernadotte. Goldfoot has subsequently been influential in raising large sums of money, allegedly up to $100 million a year, for the JTF through American Christian TV and Radio stations and evangelical churches (Halsell 1986: 106).
3.6 Antipathy toward Arabs and Palestinians
Although the ICEJ claims to have sponsored humanitarian projects among Arab Palestinians, they are consistently critical of Islam and Arabs generally and have been a divisive influence between Jewish Israelis and Palestinian Christians. Comparisons between Hitler and Arabs are also made frequently within ICEJ material. It is ironically the indigenous churches of the Middle East who receive the strongest criticisms from the ICEJ. van der Hoeven’s cynicism toward the established Church is clear.
Their concern nearly always falls on the side of Israel’s enemies, hardly ever on Israel’s side. Through their frequently misguided and unilateral statements, they present an evil and negative influence. Maybe we should not be too surprised about this present allegiance of the traditional Church to sometimes violent or murderous people or organizations. Isn’t this as it has often been during the long history of the Church? (van der Hoeven, 1993: 49-50).
In 1997, he was even more outspoken claiming, ‘Palestinians are under Israeli occupation because they asked for it... It was not because Israel was so aggressive, but because they wanted to throw the Israelis into the sea. The Jews are kind enough to let them live here without killing them.’ (Corley 1997: 7). The result of the ICEJ’s uncritical endorsement of Zionism essentially demonises the Palestinians and, ‘negates Palestinian claims to their land, livelihood, beliefs and very presence in the land.’ (Wagner 1995: 106).
3.7 The Emigration of Soviet Jews to Israel
The ICEJ has been proactive in encouraging, coercing and facilitating the immigration of Soviet Jews to Israel/Palestine. This is based on the theological conviction that it is God’s intention to “bring back His people’ to Palestine. Claiming that an estimated 3 million Jews still live in the “land of the north” ICEJ believe, ‘God has promised an exodus that would exceed in greatness the Exodus from Egypt.’ (ICEJ 1993: 11)
Since 1991, the ICEJ has paid for the transportation of 40,000 immigrants, 15,000 of whom were taken to Israel on 51 ICEJ sponsored flights. ICEJ Russian team members are especially active in the more remote regions of the FSU. The ICEJ describe their ministry in terms of ‘fishing’ for Jews, based on Jeremiah 16:16. They locate Jews, persuade them to emigrate, help them obtain documents to prove their Jewish origins, distribute humanitarian packages and pay for exit permits, passports, debt repayment, transport and accommodation while their applications are processed by the Jewish Agency in the larger Russian cities. Once in Israel, the ICEJ assist émigrés with their resettlement costs, providing food, clothing, blankets, kitchen and school supplies as well as medical equipment, if needed.
In 1992, the ICEJ conceded that the number of Soviet immigrants was declining and therefore a new, more intimidating strategy was devised, to persuade Jews to leave Russia for Israel. Jeremiah had promised repentant Jews of his own day they would eventually return to Israel from their Babylonian captivity. Under the banner ‘The “Fishers” Task,’ the ICEJ applied Jeremiah 16:16 to their own work.
"But now I will send for many fishermen," declares the LORD, "and they will catch them. After that I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them down on every mountain and hill and from the crevices of the rocks.”
Believing that “Many Jews in the former USSR are sitting on the fence concerning Israel,” the ICEJ initiated the production of ‘educational’ material and videos distributed among Jewish communities in the Soviet Union to persuade Jews to leave before it was too late. Using a concert tour and a double-decker bus equipped with a theatre and audio-visual exhibition about Israel, an ICEJ team also toured the Soviet Union between 1990-1992. Reinterpreting Jeremiah 16, the ICEJ claimed,
‘The task of the fisher is to encourage them with a ‘good report’ of the land like Joshua and Caleb, before God sends the hunters. The biblical fact is that in Israel, they have a “future and a hope.”’ (ICEJ 1993: 10).
The implication is clear, as in pre-war Germany the Jews should leave before ‘God sends the hunters’ and it is too late. Jan Willem van der Hoeven is convinced that even Jews living in the United States will emigrate to Palestine and that God may use anti-Semitism to achieve it. ‘Even if it takes anti-Semitism in America, God may use it to get his millions back to Israel. So we must have enough room there. So if we have six million American Jews coming we cannot give up the West Bank, can we?’ (Wikstrom, 1994: 76). In 1996, at the Third International Christian Zionist Congress, the following affirmation was endorsed.
‘Regarding Aliyah, we remain concerned for the fate of imperiled Jewish People in diverse places, and seek to encourage and assist in the continuing process of Return of the Exiles to Eretz Israel. To this end we commit to work with Israel and to encourage the Diaspora to fulfill the vision and goal of gathering to Israel the greater majority of all Jewish People from throughout the world.’ (ICEJ 1996).
Controversially, the ICEJ has been active in encouraging Soviet Jews to move into new settlements in East Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories, largely oblivious of the fact that they were being used to displace the indigenous Palestinians, in violation of international law. They have also raised funds for the settlements. For example, at the Feast of Tabernacles celebration in 1991, ICEJ representatives from 12 countries presented the Israeli prime minister, Yitshak Shamir with cheques to help finance the settlements. (Wagner 1995: 109).
The political activities of the ICEJ which range from defending Israel politically, lobbying Western governments on the status of Jerusalem, aiding the settlements and funding the emigration of Russian Jews, are both significant and comprehensive.
4. A Critical Summary of the Distinctive Christian Zionism of ICEJ
The ICEJ’s distinctive form of Christian Zionism is best summarised in their own words in the following way. ‘To stimulate Christian leaders, churches and organisations to become effective influences in their countries on behalf of the Jewish people.’ (ICEJ 1995: 5). Despite its endorsement by the Israeli government, the ICEJ is a self-appointed and self-regulated organisation unaccountable to the wider Christian community and working against the interests of the indigenous Christian community of the Middle East.
Theologically, the ICEJ has, without precedent, reinterpreted the Christian mandate from proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ ‘to the Jew first’ into a highly politicised gospel serving the expansionist agenda of the contemporary state of Israel. The ICEJ’s justification of Israel’s racist and apartheid policies on biblical grounds is contributing to the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their historic homelands.
Many regard this as nothing less than apostasy and, “an anachronistic return to the Judaizing tendency the early church rejected at the first ecumenical council, recorded in Acts 15.” (Wagner 1995: 104).
Politically, the ICEJ has repeatedly identified itself uncritically and unconditionally with the Israeli political Right, defending from international criticism, Israel’s military occupation and settlement programme within Syria’s Golan Heights and the Palestinian Occupied Territories. The ICEJ has from its inception remained implacably opposed to the aspirations of the Palestinians for political autonomy in the pre-1967 borders of the West Bank, a shared Jerusalem, or the right of return for refugees. Wagner offers seven reasons why the ICEJ should be rejected as a ‘Christian’ organisation. The following is a summary of his arguments.
1. The ICEJ allows the gospel and lordship of Jesus Christ to become subservient to the modern political ideology of Zionism.
2. The International Christian Embassy is guilty of the sin of idolatry by worshipping state power in Israel and benefiting from its praises.
3. The ICEJ obscures the call to reconciliation in the Christian gospel, especially as it applies to Palestinians and Israelis.
4. The ICEJ reduces the gospel to material and partisan political dimensions while it ignores the ultimate principles of the Christian message and its immediate kingdom implications.
5. The ICEJ has become a heretical cult by reducing the Christian church to a mere “parenthesis” and by rejecting the local Christian community.
6. The ICEJ represents anti-mission activity in the Middle East, in relation to both Islam and Judaism.
7. The ICEJ does not take Jesus Christ as its alpha and omega but focuses on Zionism in theory and practice. (Wagner 1995: 109-113)
The ICEJ is a sectarian, pseudo-Christian organisation of dispensational origins which has unconditionally endorsed contemporary political Israel as the exclusive fulfilment of God’s promises and purposes made under the Old Covenant. In doing so they have ignored or disregarded the means by which these promises and purposes find their ultimate fulfilment in Jesus Christ and in his Church.
10 May 2004
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