- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 27, 2002

JERUSALEM Leaders of the Christian Coalition, who completed a weeklong solidarity visit to Israel on Friday, say they will try to persuade millions of fellow believers to visit the Jewish state in defiance of a Palestinian uprising that has frightened off most tourists.
Pro-Israel fervor among the United States' largest religious grass-roots lobby has swelled to a fever pitch in recent months, driven by the war on terrorism declared by the Bush administration.
For an organization that has built itself into one of Washington's most influential conservative political groups by campaigning against abortion and in favor of education reform, the Middle East agenda is a new direction.
The delegation members said they had toured flash points around the West Bank and Jerusalem as part of a "fact-finding mission" that would be used to help galvanize support for Israel back in the United States.
Hours after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 11 Israelis on Thursday by detonating an explosive on a Jerusalem municipal bus, Christian Coalition President Roberta Combs led the group in taking a bus ride along the identical route.
"We cannot let the terrorists win. We hope to take a stand, because once they inject fear into your heart, then they win," Mrs. Combs told reporters.
"I'm going back home, and I'm going to encourage people to come to Israel because this is the Holy Land. I feel very saddened that the economy here is down and tourism is down because of fear that the media has injected into people's hearts. They're fearful to come because they really don't know what's going on here."
Coalition members said they don't have any partisan preferences in Israel, though the delegation's speaker list consisted entirely of conservative Israeli politicians.
Days after 12 Israeli soldiers and security personnel were killed in the West Bank city of Hebron, the delegation toured the site guided by Jewish settlers who are considered to be on the nationalist fringe by many Israelis.
The evangelical lobbyists say they have been driven to the front lines of the Arab-Israeli conflict by a passage in the Old Testament.
"When God gave the covenant to Abraham, he said those that bless you, those I will bless," said Mike Brown, the Christian Coalition's national churches liaison and chief lobbyist to the House of Representatives. "Those that curse you, him will I curse."
The Christian Coalition senses that its 2 million members are increasingly tuned into events in Israel as the United States prepares for a war in the Middle East. At the same time, the September 11 strikes in New York and Washington have stirred empathy for Israel's daily fight against Palestinian militants, Mr. Brown said.
In October, the lobby organized 10,000 demonstrators to attend a "Christian solidarity with Israel" rally in Washington. The group wants to replicate the demonstration on the state level.
"The issue of Israel [has] a great deal of emotional resonance with their constituency. This is a way of rallying the troops as it were," said Gershom Gorenberg, author of "The End of Days," a book exploring the relationship of fundamentalist Christians to the state of Israel.
"They're using the energy of the Israel issue to strengthen the organization and channel it to other issues that they're working on."
Jim Backlin, the Christian Coalition's director of legislative affairs, said he plans to lobby incoming House Majority Leader Tom DeLay to support a bill that would force the administration to make good on a 7-year-old promise to relocate the U.S Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, a move that would upset relations with Arab countries in the region.
Whether throwing the lobby's support behind Israel will result in a broad alliance with American Jews remains to be seen.
Certain theological differences between the two religions create tension between fundamentalist Christians and Jews.
One involves a prediction in Christian scripture that the second coming of Jesus Christ will be preceded by the return of Jews to the biblical land of Israel, a view that conflicts with Jewish Messianic teaching.
"I'm familiar with their theology. But that has no relevance whatsoever to accommodating them," said David Wilder, a spokesman for the Jewish settlers in Hebron.
"Theology is for individuals or perhaps study groups, where things can be discussed and debated. We welcome anybody who comes in here. It makes no difference to me who they are."


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