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"You Don't Make Mistakes in Israel.."
by Judy Lash Balint
The Forward
October 10, 2004

The Christian lovers of Israel have descended on Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles--known to most Israelis as Sukkot.

Filling hotels and pumping millions of dollars into the local economy, the 4000 guests from 70 nations are a highly visible addition to the weeklong festival scene, and prime participants in the annual Jerusalem March.

During Sukkot, one of the three pilgrimage festivals when Jews are enjoined to "go up to Jerusalem," the Sports Division of Jerusalem's Municipality organizes the Sukkot March that brings together a colorful conglomeration of Israeli society to fulfill the ancient command. The municipality revived the tradition 28 years ago, and today, along with the Christian pilgrims, the prominent marchers making the 4-mile hike are workers in corporate teams decked out in company logo T-shirts and hats.

The March may be the centerpiece of the experience for the Christian Zionists who take part in a packed itinerary of spectacles, parades and prayer gatherings that make up the 25th celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles organized by the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem. (ICEJ)

But Pat Robertson's appearance before 4,000 of the faithful at the International Congress Center turned out to be a lightening rod for the annual Christian solidarity pageant.

The American evangelist turned the auditorium into a church, as he exhorted the throng to get down on their knees in prayer, urging them to, "Pray for Jesus to come back again, so the rule of Jesus Christ may descend."

The imagery projected on the huge screen above the stage at this point during the gathering was a little jarring. A man draped in a tallis (prayer shawl) kneeling in front of a white-draped throne. A camera from Israel TV's Channel 1 captured a banner floating over the stage with the word Mashiach (Messiah) in Hebrew over a picture of a robed man on a white horse.

During his 40-minute speech, Robertson, making his 35th visit to Israel, touched on the theology that makes some Jews squirm. Jews need to begin to cry out for their Messiah, he said. "I've met wonderful Jews in Siberia, Brazil, the United States, here in Jerusalem, who are all saying ‘Yes, Jesus you are our Messiah," Robertson asserted as he outlined four things that need to happen "before Jesus comes back."

Hundreds of Israeli messianic Jews took part in the ICEJ Feast this year. Official statistics noted that more than 1000 participants in this year's event are Israelis—some Christians, but many Hebrew speakers with Jewish names on their nametags.

The other three conditions don't bother most Jews: The land must be in the hands of Israelis; Jerusalem must be in Jewish hands as the capital of Israel and Gentiles need to come back into the Land. One right of center Israeli politician requesting anonymity shrugged off the whole thing, opining that Jesus isn't coming back anyway, so why should Jews be concerned.

The morning after his speech, Robertson held a news conference and I asked the Christian media mogul if he shares his thoughts about those messianic Jews in his meetings with Israeli Knesset members. "No, I don't tell that to Israeli politicians," he replied.

Still, Robertson does tell the Israeli politicos a few other things they like to hear. The head of the hugely influential 700 Club Christian TV show is adamantly opposed to the Right of Return of Palestinian refugees. While he avers that "it's unwise for a US visitor to get involved in Israeli politics," he told the Jerusalem news conference that he believes the Oslo Accords were "a bad mistake" and that a Palestinian state would be a launching ground for attacks against Israel.

Because of their religious belief about the significance of Jerusalem at the end of days, Robertson and his followers are as sensitive about the fate of Jerusalem as are most Jews. "Bush has no problem with evangelical support, but if he starts up with Jerusalem, he'll lose it," Robertson warned. "They'll start a third party."

Robertson's words about Messianic Jews evidently raised the sensitivity hackles of ICEJ organizers enough that they chose not to distribute tapes of Robertson's speech to the press. By contrast, a taped version of the remarks of Israeli Minister Tzipi Livni was handed out minutes after the conclusion of her speech.

ICEJ Media liaison David Parsons, a seasoned veteran of the minefield of Jewish-Christian relations in Israel, admitted to me that Robertson's "views are off." In a parallel to the kind of differences of opinion that are part and parcel of organized Jewish life, Parsons expressed mild criticism of Robertson, noting that Israel is just one of the issues Robertson deals with in his vast media empire. "We're here in Israel and we're refining the message," Parsons acknowledged. The incident would be "a good opportunity to engage with Pat on these things," he continued, while definitively asserting that Robertson "is not trying to force any conversions," and "we're not going to be part of any missionizing."

But it was politics, not theology that Robertson focused on during his other public appearance. Addressing an outdoor rally near the Knesset kicking off an annual Worldwide Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem, Robertson stuck to the standard hard-line support for Israel laced with biblical references.

"I see the rise of Islam to destroy Israel and take the land from the Jews and give east Jerusalem to (Palestinian leader) Yasser Arafat. I see that as Satan's plan to prevent the return of Jesus Christ the Lord," Robertson said.

Referring obliquely to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to remove Jewish communities from Samaria and the Gaza Strip, Robertson commented that only God could decide on transfers of biblical land.

Robertson, who has been sharply critical of Islam in the past, called Israel's Arab neighbors "a sea of dictatorial regimes." He said he "sends notice" to Osama bin Laden, Arafat and Palestinian terrorist groups that "you will not frustrate God's plan" to have Jews rule the Holy Land until the Second Coming of Jesus.

Robertson urged Israel to be strong. " God says give Him no rest, and we will give Him no rest until indeed He establishes Jerusalem and makes it His capital and His praise throughout all the nations of the Earth.

Leaders of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus (CAC) don't have a problem with the political message, but expressed concern over Robertson's messianic remarks.
According to Josh Reinstein, CAC director, the Caucus won't work with anyone who supports missionary activities for Jews.

CAC co-chair, MK Yuri Shtern, who appeared with Robertson at the Day of Prayer rally, but was not present for Robertson's evening speech, said he is "very upset. I had hoped a leader of his [Robertson's] standing accepted the continuing existence of the Jewish people as part of God's plan."

As Robertson explained to the audience in his speech, on his first flight into Israel in 1968, "The Lord spoke to me and said, "You've made mistakes in Virginia, you've made mistakes in New York—you don't make mistakes in Israel."

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