Reflecting its desire for closer ties with the Christian evangelical right in the United States, the Israeli government has embarked on a campaign to cultivate influential journalists who serve this community.
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Hoping to explain the country and its often-controversial policies to this new target audience, the government is sponsoring and subsidizing a first-of-its-kind “Christian Media Summit” in Jerusalem. About 140 reporters, editors and publishers, representing roughly 70 media outlets, have been invited to the four-day conference, which will be held in mid-October. The government will be paying for the room and board of all the participants, according to information provided by the sponsors.
The conference is being sponsored by the Government Press Office (which operates under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs. Participants are scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, among other dignitaries, during their visit.
According to Nitzan Chen, director of the Government Press Office, the journalists invited represent a broad spectrum of Christian media outlets, including the Catholic press, though most are affiliated with the evangelical movement.
“We thought that the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem would be a good opportunity to hold such a conference,” said Chen. “We hope these journalists will become good ambassadors for Israel and if this conference succeeds, the idea is to hold it every year or two.”
Nitzan said the invitation list was compiled in consultation with National Religious Broadcasters (NRB), an international association which, according to its website, is comprised of more than 1,100 member organizations representing millions of viewers, listeners and readers. “The Association exists to represent the Christian broadcasters’ right to communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world,” the website notes.
Although representatives of media outlets from around the world were invited to the conference, Chen said, most of the participants are expected to come from the United States, as the sessions will be held in English.
The Christian evangelical movement, which is overwhelmingly pro-Israel, threw its support behind Donald Trump in the last election. Christian evangelicals tend to embrace the right-wing Israeli position that Jews should be allowed and encouraged to settle in the West Bank, which they consider to be part of the biblical Land of Israel.
According to a draft itinerary, the planned sessions at the conference include: “Reporter’s Notebook for Covering Israel and the Middle East,” “Resources for Telling the Israeli Story,” “Like Dreamers: 50 Years of a United Jerusalem and Divided Israel,” and “Israel and the Fight Against Radical Islam.”
Among the tours that will be offered to participants is one titled “Co-existence” that includes a trip to the Gush Etzion settlement bloc where Oded Revivi, the mayor of Efrat – one of the largest West Bank settlements – will deliver a talk addressing the following question: “Are Settlements an Obstacle to Peace?” Another tour, which will focus on how Israel uses separation barriers to enhance its security, will include a visit to the controversial wall in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, which has drawn especially fierce criticism among anti-occupation activists for its close proximity to homes and local businesses.
Most of the scheduled tours, according to the draft itinerary, include a visit to the Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem, an institution founded by Mike Evans, who was among the first Christian evangelicals in the United States to declare his support for Trump’s presidential run.
Days before Trump’s visit to Israel in May, Evans financed a huge billboard campaign in Jerusalem, hoping to pressure the American president to make good on his campaign promise to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The signs proclaimed: “Trump is a friend of Zion.”
Evans, known as a staunch opponent of the two-state solution, is a member of Trump’s executive evangelical advisory board. The Friends of Zion Museum, which opened two years ago in Jerusalem, pays tribute to Christians who helped Jews throughout history, with a special focus on Christian Zionists.
The Israeli government has in the past sponsored conferences for journalists representing Jewish media outlets abroad, but never before has it targeted the much larger Christian media.