(December 23, 2016 / JNS) By Bradley Martin/JNS.org
In 1884, Anglican clergyman William Hechler called upon Jews throughout the world to return to the land of Israel. After a series Russian pogroms, Hechler formed a committee of Christian Zionists to help move and settle Russian Jewish refugees in Turkish-ruled Palestine.
Since then, Christian Zionist support has been integral to the foundation and maintenance of the state of Israel. Examples include Pastor John Hagee, who has donated millions of dollars toward the cost of bringing Jews from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia into Israel. Reverend Jerry Falwell has said, “I firmly believe God has blessed America because America has blessed the Jew…America must continue to stand with Israel.”
When tourism to Israel reached its lowest point during the second Palestinian intifada (violent uprising), Christian tourists visited Israel at a rate that was sometimes greater than their Jewish counterparts. Chris Mitchell of the Christian Broadcasting Network noted how amidst the daily terror attacks, evangelical Christians continued to visit Israel while many other tourists refrained from going. Mitchell called it “a real signal to Israelis that the Evangelicals are their friends.”
The importance of Israel to the Jewish people cannot be overstated. The Holocaust has shown that Jews must have a homeland of their own, so that they will not to be at the mercy of anti-Jewish bigots who seek their annihilation. Not only has Israel succeeded in becoming a refuge for Jews all over the world, but it is the only country in the Middle East where Christians can live in peace and practice their religion freely. Israel has proven itself to be an invaluable ally to Christians all over the world.
Yet Western policy towards Middle Eastern Christian refugees is an abysmal failure. Despite Secretary of State John Kerry designating the Islamic State terror group as being responsible for genocide against Christians and Yazidis, President Barack Obama still hasn’t prioritized efforts to rescue them. Out of all the Syrian refugees admitted into the U.S., only 0.5 percent were Christians, while even fewer were Yazidis. This is a disgraceful legacy being left behind by Obama, especially because other Western nations have followed suit.
This leaves Israel as the last hope for Christians in the Middle East. Since the West cannot be counted on to provide refuge for Christians, Israel should lead the way for Christians to achieve self-determination and statehood in an increasingly hostile region.
For the first time in history, all the Iraqi Christian militias are working together to retake their historical homeland in the Nineveh Plains back from Islamic State. Retired Lt. Col. Sargis Sangari, CEO of the Near East Center for Strategic Engagement, worked to compose a first-of-its kind document that promoted unity of effort and commonality of purpose among the churches, political parties and Christian militias in Iraq. According to Sangari, there is a military force consisting of 20,000 Yazidi, Christian and Assyrian Christian men, stretching from the Nineveh Plains to the Sinjar Mountains. But defeating Islamic State is not enough to ensure the safety of Christians in the region.
“As of three days ago, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) met to discuss independence for Kurds, to declare autonomy,” said Sangari. “After Mosul is liberated, it will be up to the Christians to decide whether they want to join the KRG or the State of Iraq.”
Sangari went on to say that for Assyrians, autonomy is the only way to ensure their survival.
“Otherwise, you will have a situation in which [Assyrian] families are split up between the Kurds, the Sunnis and the Shi’a [Muslims],” said Sangari. “This will be disastrous for Assyrian Christians, after having just suffered through genocide.”
Israel would also gain an invaluable ally in the region. Assyrian Bishop Mar Awa Royel recently proclaimed that he wished to see a free Assyria become a strong ally with Israel. According to the bishop, Israel would serve as a successful model of statehood for Assyria, while the Jewish state would gain a strong ally in an increasingly tumultuous region.
As was the case with the rebirth of Israel in 1948—when Jews throughout the world came together to rebuild their state—Assyrians, Yazidis and all Mideast Christians must now do the same. With Israel at the forefront of supporting this effort, the Jewish state will not only gain a much-needed ally in a region engulfed by Islamic extremism, but it would put an end to the constant threat of annihilation under which Middle Eastern Christians have been forced to live.
Bradley Martin is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center news and public policy group, and deputy editor for the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research.