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You're Not in Kansas Any More
by Judy Lash Balint
July 24, 2004

For the fledgling Christian Allies Caucus of Israel's Knesset it was quite a coup. Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) is the first US lawmaker to be hosted by the group whose prime goal is to strengthen ties with pro-Israel Christian groups around the world.

Last week, at a special meeting in the Knesset, the senator from Kansas addressed Israeli parliamentarians as well as representatives of most of the Christian groups operating in Israel.

Brownback was effusive in his support of Israel--not so unusual for a visiting US legislator. What was so notable that it caused the diverse group of Israeli Knesset members to sit up and take notice, were the senator's emotional and heartfelt references to his faith as the basis of that support.

The senator spoke about his upbringing on a Kansas farm where the Bible formed the bedrock of his early education. "Ancient Israel was, and is, a living reality in my home. Its spirituality, wisdom, poetry, its majesty inspired and encouraged me all my life. You have helped form my soul and I thank you for it," Brownback told the forum.

He explained how American support for Israel today comes from Christians raised on the Bible who appreciate the miracle of the revival of the modern state of Israel.

After a brief analysis of the state of the common fight against terror mounted by Israel and the U.S, Brownback returned to his emotional message.

" I love you and the people of America love you. We love the values you have given us that cost you so much to protect for thousands of years.. We love your spirit of determination and calling. We love your heart's desire for peace."

In words rarely heard in the halls of the super-politicized Knesset, Brownback repeatedly referred to God's plan for the land and people of Israel.

"The last time I was in Israel, I looked out the window of my hotel and saw the flag of Israel with the Star of David and the thought entered my mind, "God does keep His promises!" That flag which had been absent in this land for nearly 2,000 years was now flying again. What an awesome God we serve," Brownback exclaimed.

There were nods of agreement among the Christians in the audience, and a flicker of a smile crossed the face of Christian Allies Caucus co-chair, MK Yair Peretz .

The American senator admonished Israel not to be led astray by "the culture wars..[that] embrace relativism, redefine right and wrong, good and evil....The history of your survival and continued existence is filled with examples of what happens to a people when they walk away from God's sacred laws," he warned.

Finally, in the most stunning and humble remarks ever uttered by a foreign lawmaker to the Knesset, Brownback said: "As a Christian, I thank you for my faith that is rooted in yours. And as a Christian, I deeply, deeply apologize for the pain and bloodshed and deafness to suffering that we have hoisted upon you and your ancestors. May this never, ever happen again!"

The Christian Allies Caucus that sponsored the Brownback visit is the brainchild of MK Yuri Shtern of the rightist National Union Party, who co-chairs the effort to reach out to Christians with an unlikely ally, MK Peretz, of the populist Sephardi religious party, Shas.

At the Brownback briefing, Peretz was the only legislator who used the services of an English-Hebrew translator.

Shtern, a former activist who spent years in the struggle for free emigration from the former Soviet Union, views the Christian Allies Caucus as a way to both further Israel's relations with the Christian world, and to thank pro-Israel Christians for their support in recent years.

"We need their help to fight the delegitimation of Israel that is really becoming stronger and stronger," says Shtern.

"Israel has no better friend in the world than the United States, and that is in no small part due to our Christian friends in America, and we hope to see the same happen in Europe, and elsewhere," he adds. Shtern termed the Caucus a "political upgrade" of relations between Israel and its Christian supporters throughout the world. "We will not be demanding that Christians adopt any particular political viewpoint on the conflict here," said Shtern in clarifying the goals of the caucus. "We simply are reaching out to the Christians to support Israel on the basis of our fundamental right to live here in peace and security."

Knesset members of several political parties were in attendance for the Brownback speech. A number of the Israeli legislators wandered in late, and it was obvious that the senator couldn't quite figure out who these casually dressed people were.

Following the sustained applause after his remarks, almost all of the Knesset members engaged in dialogue with the senator. Freshman Likud MK Gila Gamliel, the youngest Knesset member, told Brownback that Israel's main problem is its status as the lone democracy in the region and US pressure for disengagement.

National Union Knesset member Gilad Cohen wondered out loud if there was real US pressure or whether it was just that Prime Minister Sharon tells Israel that such pressure exists.

The event received significant media coverage in Israel, and highlighted the evolving relationship between Israel and the organized pro-Israel Christian world.

The Jerusalem Summit organization helped initiate the Caucus last January and the World Jewish Congress recently signed on as an official endorser .

Reaction amongst Christians in Israel and abroad has been positive. Well known Christian broadcaster Janet Parshall says, "In a very formal way, the Caucus means there will now be the recognition of the work that Christians have done in support of Israel. That is a monolithic step forward, and it gives us, I think, an open door in a more broad fashion to articulate our support for the nation of Israel."

David Parsons, Public Relations Director for the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem and a member of the Caucus notes, "This is another sign that the Israelis and the Jewish people are now genuinely reaching out to Christians. Christians have offered a hand of support and friendship for many years and they're taking it."