Learning From an Evangelist About Israel

My interlocutor on the plane could tell me why immigrants receiving state support need Christian help and the dangers Israel faces even though God promised the land to the Jews.

Christian supporters of Israel at an event marking the resumption of settlement construction in Revava, 2010.
Moti Milrod

We met in the tight space between the seats and the washrooms on the plane. This is where one goes to stretch out. I didn’t realize that Jesus would be joining us promptly. The lady with the pleasant look and voice initiated the conversation. “Returning from a trip to Israel? Oh, you live there. We’re a group of forty from an evangelical church in the western United States; we were on a two-week visit to Israel.” She was born to an evangelical family and her husband is in the oil business. They’ve lived in many oil-producing countries.

Where were you? “Everywhere” she replied. Of all the places they visited she chose to tell about a Christian institution which assists Jewish migrants. In truth, I was surprised.

Jewish migrants to Israel? “Yes” she affirmed. I wondered why an organization helping migrants is needed when anyway they receive hugs and assistance from the state. I wondered at the paucity of the English language, which doesn’t know the secularized religious term oleh (one who ascends) for immigrant.

“Oh yes,” said my interlocutor, “state assistance is insufficient. Among them are very poor people and they can come carrying only two suitcases.”

Really? My amazement was sincere.

“Yes, yes,” she said enthusiastically, relating how the “path of these migrants to Israel is quite difficult. At least for some of them. They arrive in dilapidated ships.” How little I know about the hardships of Jews coming these days to the holy land, I thought to myself with remorse.

Why would you take interest in Jewish migrants to Israel and in an institution that helps them I asked, this time with feigned innocence, since I could guess her answer. “Because we believe that all Jews should return to live in Israel, and that when that happens the Messiah will return. That’s what the Bible says.”

Is it true, according to your belief, I asked, that when all Jews converge on Israel they’ll have to convert? I had the impression that she was evading giving a direct answer. It’s important that they come, she said. Jesus is our salvation, she repeated a few times. He atoned for our sins through his suffering. That’s what the Bible says.

At the end she noted: “They can remain Jewish but they’ll have to believe in Jesus. He’s our salvation. That’s what’s written. There are Jews who keep the Sabbath and believe in the Messiah.” I think I didn’t ask her if it’s true that if the Jews refuse to convert they’ll be murdered. I didn’t expect a truthful reply, only a quote from the Old or New Testament, at best.

If Jesus already came and atoned for our sins why does he have to come again? Because He and God are dissatisfied with the conduct of the Creation and its creatures, she explained (her wording was better, basing itself on the sources, which my extreme atheism makes difficult to remember).

“We had a marvelous guide,” she recalled. “Only through him did we realize what dangers and challenges this little country is facing.” If I were your guide, I allowed myself to say, you would have seen completely different things.

Her eyes showed interest. What, for example? For example dispossession, expulsion, oppression, destruction, a Palestinian nation that belongs to this land. “But the Bible says that God promised the land to the Jews” she said. My knowledge of theology is limited, obviously, but I dared tell her that as far as I know it doesn’t say there that God is a real estate dealer. She smiled pleasantly. We both didn’t feel like arguing while flying over the Atlantic.

The seven species

The next day, at a B&B in San Diego, an Israeli couple joins my breakfast table. What are you doing here? Talking about dissidence in Israel. And you? “We’ve just returned from a conference of evangelical Christians, great supporters of Israel. They’re important for Israel’s economy.” Are these the ones who say that all Jews should go to Israel and convert and if not they’ll be murdered? “Until that happens” said the woman, “they are great supporters of Israel.” Her husband added “they’re also very affluent.” The couple sells unique cosmetics made from the seven biblical species. Evangelists love it.

New York

Two Jewish friends update me on what’s happening: Trump will speak at the AIPAC convention, Sanders won’t. The New York State Senate decided (with a Republican majority) to slash $485 million in funding to the City University of New York system’s operating expenses, due to allegedly anti-Semitic comments made by activists in Students for Justice in Palestine. Comedian Samantha Bee got some mileage from a Trump supporter in Cleveland who yelled at a demonstrator: “Go to Auschwitz, go to fucking Auschwitz.” A Google search revealed that another Trump supporter at the same rally yelled something else, which did not get the same high rating in cyberspace. The Tablet website reports that this person yelled at demonstrators from the group “Black Lives Matter” – “Go back to Africa.”