The Israeli Ministry of Tourism was front and center on the floor of the 2011 National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) Convention in Nashville, which took place at the end of February. The NRB convention is an opportunity for thousands of Christian broadcasters, pastors and vendors to network together.
Israel’s Ministry of Tourism (MOT) and others involved in Israel's tourism industry jumped on the convention bandwagon with an award-winning exhibit (the largest at the convention), an awards breakfast, press luncheon, numerous interviews, meetings, and raffles for free trips to the Holy Land.
Various Jewish leaders and diplomats from Israel and the Diaspora have put in appearances at the NRB convention and prayer breakfasts in honor of Israel since the 1980s, where homage has been paid to prominent Christian leaders and radio personalities who have voiced considerable support for the Jewish state. However, in addition to supporting Israel politically, promoting tourism, and condemning anti-Semitism, a number of leading NRB broadcasters, administrators and award recipients are big on evangelizing the Jews, and strengthening the messianic Christian presence in Israel.
The original Ministry of Tourism press release announced that Malcolm Hoenlein, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, was scheduled to speak at this year's "Celebrate Israel Breakfast" at the NRB convention.
After reviewing the list of speakers and award recipients, Jewish Israel contacted Mr. Hoenlein a few weeks prior to convention and provided him with information and expressed our concerns. He very promptly replied and, in response to a later inquiry, wrote to us that did not attend the awards breakfast. However, Jim Fletcher of Prophecy Matters reported that Malcolm Hoenlein did give a video address at the breakfast. We will discuss Mr. Hoenlein's correspondence and position in more detail towards the end of this report.
Israeli representatives from the Ministry of Tourism don't seem to mind evangelicals unabashedly using Israeli sponsored happenings and a Jewish presence at the Christian conference to "witness" the christian faith to Jewish attendants. After all, "business is business" and …
"NRB is a non-partisan international association of committed broadcasters and Christian communicators coming together to spread the life-changing Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through every electronic medium available."
For anyone who may have thought Israel was being promoted as a Jewish country, think again. View these excerpts from the new Israeli Tourism Ministry video, released just in time for the NRB convention. Israeli brains and hearts surely could have produced an inviting and inspiring presentation which would have appealed to gentiles without bending to Christian belief and sacrificing Jewish dignity and integrity. After all, Christians like the "Old Testament", too!
But Israelis are loathe to draw red lines at the risk of alienating friends and potential Christian business and tourism. So, it was no surprise to see former Republican State Senator Henry Eugene "Hank" Erwin, Jr. of Alabama standing in front of the NRB Israeli exhibit and interviewing Israeli messianic pastor Samuel Smadja, who explained in great detail the obstacles involved in bringing Jews to Jesus. Excerpt:
"The second obstacle is the deity of the messiah. The concept of the trinity or the concept of a messiah who is fully god and fully man is not a known concept for the Jewish people. They believe in a man as the messiah…That's why Paul, every time he writes to the Jewish people, puts an emphasis on the deity of the messiah. And we all agree that christ was not crucified because of his healing or his teaching. He was crucified only because he said, "me and my father are one" and that was the obstacle for the Jewish people, and that's still the obstacle until today.
In addition to Samuel Smadja being a missionary who actively speaks about and seeks "effective ways to bring the Jewish Messiah to the Jewish people", Smadja is the owner of Sar-El Tours and has top evangelizing leaders on his client list. Hey, isn't that a recent picture of Mike Huckabee and Jon Voight standing with the messianic pastor?
[note: Jewish Israel has yet to receive a response to the letter we wrote to Mike Huckabee regarding his keynote appearance at the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute banquet.]
The gentleman pictured standing between Huckabee and Smadja is messianic Israeli Amir Tsarfati:
"Capt. Amir Tsarfati is a Messianic Jew, a Jewish believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. He was born and raised in Jerusalem and surrendered his life to Jesus Christ after he watched the “Jesus” film during his teens. He is a director of Behold Israel, a teaching ministry about Israel, the Middle East. Lately he has started consultancy work for various law enforcement agencies in the US and has been invited to give seminars on homeland security issues. He is a captain of the Israeli Defense Force Army Reserves. He was Deputy governor of Jericho and sat on the panel which negotiated its turnover to the Palestinians. Capt. Tsarfati speaks 4 languages and leads tours of the Holy land."
Rabbis for Jesus
Apparently, Christian pastors weren't the only clergy with an affinity for Jesus who were present at the NRB convention. Orthodox Rabbi Dr. Gerald Meister told an NRB audience assembled to present a pro-Israel award to Christian radio personality Janet Parshall that, "I regard the gospels as Jewish literature". He went on to quote from the new testament.
Rabbi Dr. Meister is an eloquent intellectual theologian and speaker who has served as the Adviser on Christian Affairs for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and directed the Inter-Religious Department of the World Zionist Organization. He currently sits on the advisory board of Laurie Moore Cardoza's organization, "Proclaiming Justice to the Nations" (PJTN), and is on the advisory board of James Hutchens' Jerusalem Connection International. Rabbi Meister is fluent in English, Hebrew, Yiddish, German, French, Italian, and has extensive knowledge on the Catholic Church.
At the closing of the awards evening Rabbi Meister was asked by evangelical hostess, Laurie Cardoza-Moore of PJTN, to respond to the following question:
"You feel that Jews should embrace Christians who support the Jewish people but many Jews reject this and many have even rejected supporting their own people and the land. What is the basis for these attitudes and feelings?"
Rabbi Dr. Meister proceeded to expound upon the lack of godliness and faith in the Jewish community, stating, "those pockets of the Jewish community which suffer from this lack of godliness will always have a problem with Christians". He leveled criticism at rabbinic leaders for being "derelict in teaching faith and doctrine" and declared, with regards Romans Chapter 11 of the new testament , "I confess publicly that I wholeheartedly embrace this parable of this olive tree"*. He concluded with a "let us pray" prayer beginning with "Our Father who art in heaven".
*[Note: for a further explanation of "the parable of this olive tree" see the term "grafted" in Jewish Israel's Glossary.]
Some of Rabbi Meister's "erudite" and "messianic" ideas may or may not be suitable for "in-house" rabbinic discussion and debate. But airing the dirty laundry of the Jewish world at an evangelical convention and pandering to the fundamentalist Christian world on and in their terms is both halachically untenable and downright unwise.
Last year it was Rabbi Meister who openly questioned the "wisdom" of a known liberal Jewish university and noted that "it has a spiritual obligation to do no harm to the Jewish world". Perhaps that's a standard that the good rabbi should apply to himself, as he is actively working with those who lend support to missionary leaders whose goal it is to undermine the very foundations of Judaism. It was the Jerusalem Post's Caroline Glick who just last week penned a column which drew the analogy between anti-Zionist American Jews and so-called "messianic Jews", as the both try to "to undermine the community from within."
The "Forgotten" messianics behind the scenes
In accepting the Ed McAteer Tree of Life Award presented to her by Laurie Moore-Cardoza, Janet Parshall spoke powerfully and boldly, declaring, "Anti-Semitism is a sin, pure and simple". That declaration, as well as Pope Benedict XVI's exoneration of the Jews for the death of Jesus, are welcome statements. But it's the uniqueness of the Jewish nation, its obligation to remain separate from the nations, and the absolute irrelevance of jesus in Jewish life which will continue to be a thorn in Janet's side and in the side of fundamentalist church leaders.
It's worth noting that the day after Parshall received the award for "honoring Israel" and delivered her rousing speech, a messianic missionary who targets Jews for conversion was featured on her radio show and graced the homepage of her website.
It was Janet Parshall who resigned in 2007 as co-chairwoman of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus' “Judeo-Christian Womens' Summit”, over the concept of "Judeo-Christian" and the evangelical right to proselytize in Israel.
The term "Judeo-Christian" is sometimes referenced by Jews in the context of Western civilization and values. But evangelicals and messianics infuse the concept with an added spiritual dimension that amounts to a theological fusing of both faiths. In her resignation letter to the Knesset Caucus, Ms. Parshall penned the following:
"Judeo-Christian values have no meaning apart from Scripture… the proclamation of the Good News [the gospel of jesus christ] is the ultimate Judeo-Christian value”.
Parshall received significant press over her 2007 resignation when she publicly declared:
“I thought, wait a minute. We can’t just blindly support Israel…We have to be able to tell them as a friend, you can’t do that. You can’t silence us.” She says she realized that Israel was telling evangelicals, “We’ll take your aid, your support and your tourist dollars, but we won’t take your Jesus.”
Janet Parshall currently serves as treasurer of NRB and her husband, Craig, is the Senior Vice President and General Counsel for NRB.
Laurie Cardoza Moore's acclaimed film, "The Forgotten People" was screened at the awards ceremony for Parshall. That film was co-produced by messianic missionary Yochanan Ben Yehuda and features the messianic music of Ted Pearce. Some are using it as a tool to inspire Jewish evangelism, as well as to "do something for the Jewish people." To Jewish ears, this is nothing less than highly oxymoronic.
Kay Arthur who serves on the board of directors of NRB gave the closing prayer at the "Celebrate Israel Breakfast". An Israeli Tourism Ministry caption under a photo of Arthur describes the benediction as "moving".
Jewish dignitaries rose together with Christians and bowed their heads as Arthur prayed for her messiah to come "to Zion to reign as king of kings and lord of lords…and that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess yeshua the one and only savior."
Ms. Arthur's display of interfaith chutzpah should come as no surprise. Back in 2003, she told 60 Minutes that, "the Jews need conversion".
Israelis may want to consider what Kay Arthur means when she prays for "the peace of Jerusalem". She says it quite clearly in her preaching:
"When you pray for the peace of Jerusalem, you're praying for the return of the Messiah. You're returning— you're praying for His return, for His coming, His second coming because that's when they [the Jews] are going to repent."
Of course, why should that stop the Israeli Tourism Ministry from using Kay Arthur as a poster child along with Jay Sekulow of Jews for Jesus fame and missionary Jack Hayford?
Meshi Zahav on Christian Radio
Yishai Fleisher, of Eye on Zion Media, formerly the director of A7 radio, put in an appearance at the NRB convention. Yishai was interviewed by IRNUSA Radio's Scott Wilder who broadcasts "a thinking man's Christian Talk show". Fleisher gave a pitch for Zaka and introduced Zaka founder Yehuda Meshi Zahav on air. But IRNUSA is a Christian radio station which features messianic missionary programming, such as Sid Roth's Messianic Vision, which encourages the targeting Jews ("to the Jew first").
We contacted Yishai and asked him the following:
"Should Israelis be cooperating with Christian missionary radio stations and participating in events hosted by organizations whose members and leadership give high priority to evangelizing Jews?"
"I see attending these types of events as a diplomatic exercise and it helps me identify those who have a real heart for Israel from those who do not."
Ministry of Tourism puts its faith in Christian PR firm
Israel can't get enough of Christian tourism. Indeed the Israeli economy has become increasingly dependent on the Christian market. Jewish Israel feels that gentile tourists are deserving of the finest in services and accommodations, and should enjoy an enriching historical, cultural and overall inspirational experience while here in Israel. And Israel's tourism industry should be encouraged to seek and develop business opportunities in a variety of international sectors and niches. However, it is simply wrong for Israel's Ministry of Tourism to forfeit, diminish or compromise the Jewish nature of Israel in an attempt to expand an ever-growing Christian or multi-cultural market. The Tourism Ministry's latest promotional efforts, from videos to trip itineraries, have turned Israel into nothing less than a Christian land.
But Israelis are not producing this PR material. The Ministry of Tourism has turned to a foreign company from Pennsylvania to develop the Christian brand for Israel. Infinity Concepts was founded by Pastor Mark Driestdat, who has a reputation for "transforming Christian ministries" and protecting the right to proselytize on American television in the name of religious freedom.
Infinity Concepts has a client list which includes missionary and messianic organizations which have been active in evangelizing efforts in Israel [note: the Jewish-run charity Shiloh Children's Fund also uses the services this Christian marketing firm].
Infinity Concepts is a featured member on the NRB website and the company's founder and president Mark Dreistadt hosts workshops at NRB conventions, serves on the Television Committee for NRB and was just elected as a new member of NRB's board. This could explain why Israel's Ministry of Tourism enjoyed an especially hefty dose of attention at this year's convention.
Jews for Jesus Advocate received Israel Tourism Ministry Award
Haim Gutin, Israel Commissioner of Tourism for North and South America, is not only comfortable with Jesus and going to church to promote Israel, but he is apparently also at ease with Jews for Jesus. He presented Jay Sekulow, a "messianic Jew" and advocate for Jews for Jesus, with the Ministry of Tourism's 2011 Israel Ambassador Award at the NRB convention's "Discover Israel Breakfast" (also referred to as the "Celebrate Israel Breakfast").
Sekulow is Chief Counsel for Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), an alias for Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism, Inc. which, among other things, effectively defends the rights of so-called "messianic Jews" in America. However, religious freedoms, including the rights of "messianic Jews" in Israel, are the subject of Sekulow's critical reports, co-authored by the European Center for Law and Justice, which are disseminated to the United Nations and make their way to the US State Department. Not surprisingly, Israeli Evangelical attorney Calev Myers of the Jerusalem Institute of Justice has turned to Jay Sekulow for advice and Sekulow has opened up an office for the ACLJ in Jerusalem.
Jewish Israel has previously reported that Jay Sekulow is endorsing Anne Ayalon's Christian Center and resort on the Kinneret. While many evangelicals are desperately seeking their "Jewish roots", Anne Ayalon, the wife of Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon, is holding fast to her evangelical roots. Anne just can't seem to get enough of Jesus, as is evident from this recent video. This month's Jerusalem Post Christian Edition has a cover and five-page feature story dedicated to "The Galilean" project.
Jewish leadership in a bind
As mentioned earlier in this report, Malcolm Hoenlein, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations (CoP), was scheduled to speak at the NRB's "Celebrate Israel Breakfast". Jewish Israel contacted Mr. Hoenlein about Jay Sekulow and other missionary speakers slated to address the event. We asked Mr. Hoenlein for a statement.
Below is the email response we received on February 14th
I AM TRAVELING AND WILL ANSWER BRIEFLY. MY STAND ON THIS IS CLEAR. I SET UP THE FIRST OPERATION TO COUNTER MISSIONARIES WHEN I HEADED THE JCRC MORE THAN 30 YEARS AGO AND CREATED THE TASK FORCE ON MISSIONARIES AND CULTS.
I WILL LOOK INTO THE POINTS YOU RAISE. I HAVE ASKED ABOUT JAY’S BEING ASSOCIATED WITH MISSIONARY ACTIVITY AND HAVE NOT SEEN ANY EVIDENCE TO DATE. I DO NOT KNOW THE OTHERSPEAKERS AND DID THIS AT THE REQUEST OF SOME ISRAELI OFFICIALS. IF I DO GO I WILL MAKE THE POINT VERY CLEAR.
WHILE THE CONF HAS NO OFFICIAL POSITION WE DO NOT ASSOCIATE WITH THOSE WHO SPECIFICALLY TARGET JEWS.
THERE IS NO BLANK CHECK.
- - - -
We immediately followed up by providing Mr. Hoenlein with significant documentation and links about some of the personalities involved in the breakfast.
Indeed, Malcolm Hoenlein served as executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC). Online archives and articles from the 1970's and 80's indicate that Mr. Hoenlein was in the forefront of the fight against missionaries who were targeting Jews at that time. Ironically, it was Jay Sekulow who represented Jews for Jesus in lawsuits against the JCRC task force on missionaries and cults.
Under those circumstances, it seemed especially inappropriate that Malcolm Hoenlein, who now serves as the influential and articulate spokesperson for The Conference of Presidents (CoP), would attend an awards breakfast for Sekulow, who wields far more power now on behalf of evangelizing entities than he did as an upstart attorney 20 plus years ago.
Even in 1998, when Hoenlein was already well-settled in his position at CoP, he was still holding the line against missionary entities. At the time, Mr. Hoenlein cancelled an appearance at an Israel Jubilee celebration (50th anniversary) after discovering that the organizers of the event, the Christian Alliance for Israel, were messianic. Ironically, Jay Sekulow was slated to speak at the event. Hoenlein is on record as stating:
"We certainly welcome Christians celebrating Israel's 50th anniversary, but if they're Jews for Jesus and other proselytizing groups, we don't give them credibility by associating with them."
On March 3rd, we asked Mr. Hoenlein if he had attended the breakfast and whether he was present to hear Kay Arthur's problematic benediction. He responded that he was neither present at the breakfast nor did he hear Arthur's remarks. However evangelical Jim Fletcher reported on the NRB conference, noting that Mr. Hoenlein had made a "virtual" appearance". Excerpt:
"It was fascinating to note how far Christian and Jewish relations have come in the past several years, as Malcolm Hoenlein (executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations) gave a video address at the breakfast. Hoenlein and others like him… are very good friends to the evangelical community."
[Note: To be fair, Jewish Israel has not heard Malcolm Hoenlein's video remarks, nor did we hear Jay Sekulow's acceptance speech].
Israel, we'll never be the same
The slogan "Visit Israel, You'll Never be the same” is indeed an effective Christian brand and has resulted in a real boon for Israel's tourism industry. But things are getting complex as Israel lights a fire under those already on fire for jesus.
With evangelicals aspiring to actualize a religious union between Jews and "the body of christ", traditional Zionist catch-phrases like "we are one" are being "born-again" and taking on new and forbidden meanings.
"Next Year in Jerusalem", can be heard resonating in churches, but for many it means more than just an Israel Ministry of Tourism sponsored 7-day whirlwind visit of Christian sites (with Yad Vashem and Masada thrown in for good measure).
For the sake of ensuring Jewish integrity and spiritual continuity and at the risk of alienating some of our more zealous "friends", Jewish leadership in both Israel and the Diaspora needs to take a firm stand and reinstate the very fundamental lines between Judaism and Christianity. Otherwise, Israel will never be the same.
Update: This Year in Jerusalem
It's been announced that the Israel Ministry of Tourism will host the NRB Executive Committee Meeting in Jerusalem from June 4-13th.