NEW YORK – Christian clergy in New York City want to close the gap between those who do and those who don’t – support Israel, that is.
Prominent Christian leaders across the city have been busy speaking at pro-Israel rallies, meeting with the Israel Consul-General, and penning opinion pieces for newspapers and magazines. For these clergy supporting Israel means standing for religious freedom and democracy in the Middle East.
They have cause for concern: According to the Pew Research Center, support for Israel among American youth has decreased. Of Americans aged 18 through 29, some 29 percent blame Israel for the conflict in Gaza. while 18% blame Hamas. That compares with 53% of Americans 65 and older who blame Hamas, and only 15% who blame Israel.
“Life, liberty and justice, these core values are our shared values. We base them in the Bible,” said Dr. Paul de Vries, president of the New York Divinity School. “More and more Jews and Christians need to stand together. We have a common purpose, we have a shared humanity.”
It’s important that Christian clergy preach beyond the choir when it comes to Israel’s fight against Hamas, said the Rev. Jacques A. Degraff, who serves on the pastoral staff of the Canaan Baptist Church in Harlem.
He and other clergy plan to reach out to community leaders in the city’s five boroughs. They said more education about the root causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the dangers posed by groups like Hamas is needed.
“There is a lot of misinformation being broadcast in the media and on the Internet about the conflict,” Degraff said, speaking on blue tooth after having met with Israeli Consul General Ido Aharoni.
Degraff said many young congregants might regard the Palestinians as the underdogs, “but we’re not talking about Palestinians. We’re talking about Hamas. We’re talking about a group of people sacrificing those who didn’t ask to be sacrificed.”
As part of his outreach, De Vries has been making the rounds. On July 28 he traveled to Washington, DC to address the National Leadership Assembly for Israel. He was also one of 32 Christian leaders from the greater New York to participate in a recent conference at the Faith Exchange near Ground Zero.
At the same conference, president of the NY Chaplaincy Services Rev. Marcos Miranda denounced Hamas.
“The real issue is our support of human life. For life we must stand with Israel and the Palestinian people, and strongly against Hamas,” Miranda said.
Likewise, de Vries said people must realize that Hamas’ assault on Israel is an assault on humanity that hurts both Christians and Jews. Through his work de Vries has met several Christian minsters in Gaza who said constant threats and assaults make it impossible to continue living there.
‘The real issue is our support of human life’
Because he’s outspoken, it’s no surprise de Vries has received emails and phone calls from people critical of his stance. Nevertheless, the reverend said he would keep encouraging people to speak out and show their solidarity with Israel.
Degraff not only feels personally connected to Israel, he sees it as a bulwark against the terrorism sweeping the region.
“Israel is where my Holy Land is, but many Christians don’t always see it that way. In truth Christians are under siege in many places in the Middle East – whether it’s Hamas or Boko Haram or ISIS,” Degraff said.