The Government Press Office and the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage hosted 180 influential Christian broadcasters and producers for a four-day summit to learn the “truth about Israel,” in the hopes that the experience will turn them into better advocates for the Jewish state.
The second annual Christian Media Summit featured addresses by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and numerous ministers and Knesset members, with the goal of strengthening the relationship with Israel’s most fervent non-Jewish religious supporters.
“This conference represents a major breakthrough by the government of Israel, whereby it is willing to invest heavily in the relationship between the state and the journalists that cover breaking events here, in order to make sure that Christian journalists aren’t learning about Israel from third parties, but rather are getting their information directly from the source,” said Nitzan Chen, director of the Government Press Office.
“We hope the participants will become unofficial ambassadors for Israel,” Chen told JNS.
In an intimate question-and-answer session, a relaxed Netanyahu told Christian broadcasters visiting Israel from nearly 40 different countries, “We have no better friends than our Christian friends. You are champions of truth. There is only one thing that I ask of you: to tell the truth.”
“Israel is a robust democracy,” he said. “It supports the rights of all: Jews, Christians and Muslims. We are the only ones who do so in this region,” he said, stressing that “people should support Israel” because “it’s the right thing to do.”
Netanyahu used Bethlehem, the city of Jesus’ birth, as an example of what happens when Christian populations are placed under Muslim authoritarian rule. “When we handed Bethlehem over to the Palestinian Authority, the Christian population there was 80 percent. You know what it is now? 20 percent,” he said.
“I would tell people everywhere that Israel is the vanguard of freedom in the Middle East,” the prime minister explained. “Without Israel, radical Islam would overrun the entire Middle East. Who’s fighting the Iranian takeover of the region? Israel is fighting it. Israel has prevented at least 40 terrorist attacks by [ISIS, known in Israel by its Arabic name] Daesh. Israel has prevented these attacks with superior intelligence.”
“We don’t only protect Christian holy sites. We protect Christians.”
Speaking about the spiritual connection between Jews, Christians and the land of Israel, Netanyahu told guests, “Every Shabbat, I pick up a certain book. It is a very good book. It was written here. It is always relevant, it is always inspiring. There is nothing like the Bible. It is the best book ever. I truly practice what I preach.”
Ambassador Friedman followed Netanyahu. “Not a day goes by that I don’t thank G-d for being the first U.S. ambassador to serve from the embassy in Jerusalem,” he said. He called the broadcasters “the vanguards of truth.”
He acknowledged that as an observant Jew, “my religious observance ends at the prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel.” He then cited the Christian book of John: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
“This is where you come in,” said Friedman. “All of you are on the front lines of the mission to convey the truth to an audience which thirsts for the truth.”’
Chen told the audience that today, “there has been an uptick in anti-Semitism and BDS. Both have become acceptable and confused with legitimate criticism of Israel, and under the guise of free speech. As envoys of your countries, my hope is that you will return to your countries and spread the good news about Zion.”
“We don’t force them to write anything about Israel,” Chen told JNS. “But by strengthening our connection and providing Christian journalists with access, with footage and with good story ideas, we are hopeful that they will write good things about Israel.”
David Parsons, vice president and senior international spokesperson of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, told JNS that targeting Christian media is not only sound on an ideological level, but also makes sense if you look at the reach of Christian media around the world.
“If you take a look at TBN or Daystar, they each have many more viewers than CNN, so the government of Israel realizes that this is a great way to get Israel’s message out there,” said Parsons.
Esther Ohana, tours director of InnovatioNation for Keshet, a leading tour provider for Christians, who arranged logistics for the conference, told JNS that hosting a conference of influencers affects public opinion and has an impact on Christian tourism.
“When you bring people to Israel at a conference like this — to see what there is and to get a taste of what Israel has to offer — they are going to go back and say, ‘Listen guys, if you want to understand what is going on here, you have to come. You cannot understand it just from reading the news,’ ” said Ohana. “I am hopeful that the participants here will influence people from their churches and their communities to come to come to Israel, and see Israel and learn firsthand what is going on here.”
Parsons, who served as a consultant to the GPO for this conference, believes that Christians are coming not only out of curiosity, but also out of a sense of duty.
“I believe that Christians have a very unique moral role and duty in this day because Christianity spread so many lies and blood libels against the Jews. We have a moral duty today to tell the truth about Israel and the Jewish people,” he said.
“Today, the truth of Israel is the same of Israel in the Bible and biblical times. It is one and the same people. And it was G-d who scattered you, and G-d who brought you back. And we believe that Israel has a bright future.”