“Ani Yisraeli.” I am an Israeli!

WHEN CHRISTIANS BECOME JEWS.

As Christian Zionists, what can we do to support Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount?

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American Pastor John Hagee gave a powerful speech at the 2010 Washington Convention Center for the annual Christians United for Israel (CUFI) Summit, in which he addressed the Jewish community.

“Permit me to say something to you straight from the heart. Please know that what I say now is a sentiment shared by millions of Christians across America and around the world. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is, ‘Ani Yisraeli – I am an Israeli.’” Hagee repeated the refrain as only as a televangelist could: “When international bodies ignore the world’s genocides, massacres and racism to attack Israel, we proudly proclaim: Ani Yisraeli – I am an Israeli. When college professors teach lies about Israel and students loudly call for Israel’s destruction, we proudly proclaim: Ani Yisraeli – I am an Israeli. When hateful protesters try to shout you down, we proudly proclaim: Ani Yisraeli – I am an Israeli.”

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I was one of just a handful of Jews wearing a kippa at the 2010 CUFI conference. As such, I was particularly moved when the crowd of 4,000 gentiles began to chant “Ani Yisraeli.” Christians chanting, many waving blue and white flags with the Star of David, some blasting shofars – this was not something I had ever seen in my days at yeshiva in New York or back home in Ohio. I had never before experienced such a powerful yet confusing event.

What I had heard of were Christians co-opting Jewish symbols in an effort to mislead and manipulate.

Kippa-wearing missionaries whose tzitzit would hang just below their “Jews for Jesus” T-shirts while distributing their offensive literature was a notorious practice.

This past week, CUFI hosted its 12th annual summit in Washington, DC, where US Vice President Mike Pence and Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer both spoke. CUFI has grown since 2010 into America’s largest pro-Israel organization, with 3.5 million members.

So, is all this a big trick? Was Hagee’s “Ani Yisraeli” simply a more political and high-profile form of missionary activity? I don’t think so. Rather, we are seeing a major shift over the past few years when it comes to Jewish-Christians relations.

Christians have embraced Israel and Israel has reciprocated with more and more cooperation, communication and relationships forming each day.

This past May, Israel365, the organization I started to connect Christian Zionists with Israel and to serve as a “light unto the nations,” held a conference at the Bible Lands Museum. We convened thought leaders from Jewish and Christian media to discuss the appropriate role of faith in journalism. We also gathered leading voices, quoted by these outlets, through whose activities many readers see the fulfillment of biblical prophecy.

Among our panelists was Yaacov Hayman, executive director of the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation.

Hayman discussed the hot-button issue of prayer on the Temple Mount. He argued against the discrimination taking place against Jewish worshippers and the violent acts of desecration at the hands of Islamic fundamentalists on Judaism’s holiest spot.

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Visibly moved, an audience member from Washington raised his hand and asked: “As Christian Zionists, what can we do to support Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount?” Hayman, an Orthodox Jew with a long white beard, responded, “It’s important for Christian pilgrims to visit the Temple Mount. And when they do, they should wear a kippa as a sign of solidarity with the Jewish people’s struggle for prayer rights there.”

This was the first I had ever heard a Jew, let alone an Orthodox one, calling for Christians to impersonate or dress like Jews.

This request was even more remarkable since it is not the kind of practice a Jew would feel comfortable reciprocating. Jewish law codifies a prohibition against wearing a cross or even saying, “I am not a Jew.” During the Holocaust, rabbis debated the permissibility of purchasing forged passports with “RC” for “Roman Catholic” stamped instead of “J” for “Jude” in order to save a life. You know there is a shift taking place when Jews are calling for Christians to begin dressing like Jews.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the audience of Evangelical Christians at this week’s CUFI conference that they are Israel’s best friends in the world.

“Israel has no better friend than America. And Israel has no better friend in America than you,” said the prime minister, via livestream, to a standing ovation.

We have entered a golden age of Christian-Jewish relations. Leaders such as Pastor Hagee, who has taken public positions against proselytizing Jews, deserve credit for being sensitive to Jewish concerns while forging ahead to galvanize Christian support for Israel. In this new era, we can form relationships without the fear of hidden agendas and should no longer feel threatened when Christians impersonate Jews by wearing a kippa or claiming “Ani Yisraeli.”

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