Rabbi Popular With Evangelicals Tries to Push Trump Into Tougher Qatar Stance

International Fellowship for Christians and Jews launches its first major lobbying effort through ad campaign in key U.S. media outlets

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein. It's the first time his organization has launched a campaign for something other than fundraising.
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein. It's the first time his organization has launched a campaign for something other than fundraising. Credit: Emil Salman
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

An Orthodox Israeli-American rabbi, known for his strong ties to the international Christian evangelical community, is launching a major advertising blitz this week in the United States aimed at pushing the Trump administration into a tougher stand against Qatar.

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, hopes to capitalize on his clout among Christian evangelicals – a key base of support for the president during the last election – to move American policy in a direction he views as more favorable to Israel.

As part of this campaign, Eckstein’s organization will be running a full-page color ad on Monday in USA Today, among the most widely circulated newspapers in the United States, while launching a “takeover” of advertising on its digital edition for the entire day. Starting Tuesday, the organization will bring its message to two leading cable news networks, CNN and Fox, with 30-second and 60-second ads.

The full-page color ad that will appear in USA Today will feature an open letter from Eckstein to Trump, accusing Qatar of taking actions that have been “deeply detrimental to the cause of Middle East peace,” such as supporting Israel’s arch-enemy Hamas.

“As the founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, an organization that carries out charitable work around the world and which has more than 1.4 million active donors who support Israel,” Eckstein wrote in his letter to the president, “I strongly believe that progress toward peace in the Middle East requires the United States to hold regional governments, including the state of Qatar, to account for such behavior, which represents an impediment to peace and stability. We hope that, as part of your bold new approach to the Middle East, you will use the considerable influence of your office to compel such changes.”

Speaking with Haaretz, Eckstein said he had specifically chosen media outlets that would allow him to reach “the common folk” in America. “That’s the audience we want – not the readers of the New York Times, and not the Jewish and business elites,” he said.

The $350,000 investment in the campaign, he said, was being financed by a small group of concerned Jewish activists in the Republican Party. These Republicans had concluded that the international fellowship was a good organization to spearhead such effort, he said, because of its wide reach in the American heartland. Eckstein said he was not at liberty to release the names of the donors but said they were not “big names.”

Despite this collaboration with members of the Republican Party, Eckstein insisted that his organization remains and would continue to remain non-partisan. “We are talking about a fundamental issue here,” he said. “This is not political partisanship.”

For Eckstein, whose organization raises about $140 million a year from Christian evangelicals around the world for a variety of charitable projects in Israel, this campaign represents a departure from its core mission. “This is the first time we are investing money in advertising that is not directly aimed at fundraising,” Eckstein acknowledged. “But we believe this campaign will help us reach people who can become future donors.”

Since its establishment in 1983, the IFCJ says it has raised more than $1.4 billion for charitable causes in Israel. It donates mainly to projects focused on fighting poverty and, more recently, promoting immigration.

Eckstein is not the first individual with deep connections to the Christian evangelical world to try to wield influence on the new administration’s Mideast policy. Mike Evans, the founder of the Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem and one of the first Christian evangelicals to declare his support for Trump’s presidential run, was behind a massive billboard campaign that greeted the U.S. president on his trip to Israel last month. The billboards, plastered around Jerusalem, proclaimed that “Trump is a friend of Zion” and requested that “Trump make Israel great.” Evans explained that the campaign was aimed at ensuring Trump make good on his campaign promise to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. That has yet to happen.

As part of its new campaign, IFCJ is also urging supporters and donors to send their own letters to the president and to members of Congress, urging action against Qatar.