In its fiftieth anniversary year, the State of Israel has no better friends than American evangelicals. So it seemed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he addressed the Voices United for Israel Conference in Washington, D.C., in April 1998. Most of the 3,000 in attendance were evangelicals, including Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition, Kay Arthur of Precept Ministries, Jane Hanson of Women's Aglow, and Brandt Gustavson of the National Religious Broadcasters. (Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson supported the conference but did not attend.)

On the day before he met with President Bill Clinton, who urged him to trade West Bank land for peace with the Palestinians, Netanyahu told the conference: "We have no greater friends and allies than the people sitting in this room."

To many observers, the close relationship between Israel and many American evangelicals seems baffling. Many American evangelicals pledge their love for the State of Israel, support its claims against those of the Palestinians, and resist anything that might undercut Israel's security. But they also target Jews for evangelism and sometimes blame them for the mess the world is in. Israel eagerly accepts evangelicalism's public support and aggressively courts its leaders. But many Jews bitterly condemn Christian proselytism and do what they can to restrict the activities of missionaries in Israel. Nevertheless, both sides seem to be getting more than enough out of their relationship.

The close tie between evangelicals and Israel is important: It has shaped popular opinion in America and, to some extent, U.S. foreign policy. To understand how it developed, one must know something about how many evangelicals interpret Bible prophecy and what difference ...

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October 5, 1998

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