St. Louis evangelical Christians stand with Israel, too

Israelis Ido (left) and Eden shared stories about their army service and life afterwards with a largely Christian audience in Ellisville. Photo: Eric Berger

By Eric Berger, Staff Writer

It wasn’t the sort of question you typically hear at an Israel advocacy event in the United States. But many of the more than 130 Christians gathered Sunday in Ellisville applauded when an audience member asked two Israeli speakers: Do the “Jewish people understand” the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians to be “a conflict between Ishmael and Isaac?”

Then there was a louder eruption, with people saying “amen” when the woman asking the question declared, “I think Israel should be a one-state solution, and it should be Israel… They don’t want a world with you at all. I appreciate what you guys do. Thank you for coming.”

This was the first stop on a trip billed as the “Israeli Soldiers Tour,” sponsored by StandWithUs, a pro-Israel advocacy group. The tour features two Israeli 20-somethings stopping at schools and other organizations around the country. The event in Ellisville was also sponsored by The Bergson Group, a local organization dedicated to promoting Israel advocacy among Jews and Christians, and Concerned Women of America of Missouri, a socially conservative Christian group that supports Israel and, for example, is against abortion.

The gathering here provided a glimpse at the passion for Israel that exists among evangelical Christians. The movement makes up a quarter of the U.S. population; some polls have shown that support for Israel is stronger among evangelicals than American Jews. 

Leaders of evangelical groups such as Christians United for Israel have said “supporting Israel is not a political issue … it is a Bible issue,” and were critical of former President Barack Obama’s policy towards Israel. They also have expressed support for President Donald Trump’s plan to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. 

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Those opinions appeared to be prevalent among attendees at the event Sunday, which was held at the Pillar Foundation, a center dedicated to Christian homeschooling.

The two speakers had both completed their compulsory service in the Israel Defense Forces. Later that day, they spoke at Washington University and were also expected to speak in Oklahoma, Louisiana and Texas during the two-week tour.

Eden, a 26-year-old student at Ben Gurion University in the Negev, spoke about how she always feared a terrorist attack as a child. She showed a photo of herself running a marathon in Tiberias. And she spoke about serving in the IDF as a social welfare officer.

As a child, she said she believed that she could convince world leaders that there should be peace, but “as I grew up, I understood that it wasn’t so easy to achieve and that for now, I have to defend my country, otherwise, it will cease to exist.”

(A spokesperson for StandWithUs said the organization does not release soldiers’ last names for security reasons.)

Ido, a 25-year-old former infantry officer who fought in the 2014 war in Gaza, now studies philosophy, politics and economics at Tel Aviv University.  He was in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup when Hamas, a terrorist organization, increased the number of rockets it fired into Israel and the IDF responded by launching Operation Protective Edge in Gaza. 

“It just felt like I had to go back and join my fellow soldiers and friends in Israel,” he said. “Those people had my back for years and it just felt like I had to have theirs now.” 

The screen behind him showed a graphic comparing the size of Israel to the Arab world. 

“Israel is so little, when we fight, the battlefield isn’t miles away from home; it is actually very, very close,” he said. The IDF, he emphasized, tries to protect civilians from air raids by dropping leaflets and making phone calls.

“I truly believe that one day soon we will defeat the terrorist organizations and achieve peace with the Arabs’ cooperation — because this is basically what we all want,” he said.

Afterwards, the speakers faced questions about issues such as proposed embassy relocation, which both said they supported. Then one audience member asked how the Israelis felt about a two-state solution. Another woman quoted the bible on Israel.

“The God who we serve; the God of Israel; the God of the Bible has made it very clear how he feels about Israel and the land of Israel and he has said, ‘Woe to anyone who tries divide up his land and give it to anyone but the Jewish people,’ ” she said.

Both Israelis appeared to avoid saying directly whether they support a two-state solution.

“What is important to me is what is good for Israel and as someone who has been to the West Bank many, many times, the specific situation we have right now (there) is not the best solution for Israel — I think we can have a much better one in which we as a people are secure,” said Ido. 

Eden said she does not see the settlements “as an obstacle for peace,” and that in regards to a “one-state solution” she feels the “same way in my heart,” but “just like I want a state, the 26-year-old girl that lives in Gaza wants a state as well, so I don’t want to” have a state “instead of her.”

Stuart Klamen, a local math teacher who founded the Bergson Group in 2015, also declined to share his opinion on a two-state solution. He said he is not focused on the political or theological differences between Jews and Christians — even on a two-state solution — but was instead focused on ways they could cooperatively support Israel.

“I think there are plenty of opportunities for Israel advocacy beyond” people’s opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “and that’s what I’m looking to advance.”

The IDF speakers did not address the question on Isaac and Ishmael.

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