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New program provides ‘birthright’ trips for US evangelicals to visit the holy land

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“There’s one thing better than standing with Israel, and that’s standing in Israel,” Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer confirmed on May 8, 2015, at the annual Christian Solidarity Event at the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC. That night another connection between Israel and US evangelical Christians was born when the Covenant Journey, a new initiative inspired by the popular Taglit-Birthright Israel program, was announced.

“It is critical to bring the next generation of leaders in the Christian community to Israel. If they walk in the places where the patriarchs and the prophets and the kings and that young rabbi from the Galilee walked, then they will stand with Israel here, and they will strengthen their Christian identity.” The description of the Covenant Event was laced with these romanticized connections between biblical Israel and modern-day Israel. All that was missing was Moses parting the Sea for the young evangelicals to walk to their homeland.

Covenant Journey logo (Image: Facebook)

Covenant Journey logo (Image: Facebook)

After returning from a trial trip to the biblical version of Israel, Erica Tomlin, a 19-year-old sophomore at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, the school founded by the late Reverend Jerry Falwell, gushed, “I grew to love Israel by reading my Old Testament, but after visiting Israel, it gave me a push to act for Israel.“  Surely donations began to roll in to the new program, after she added, “It changed my career path. Now I want to work on advocating for Israel.”

The largest Christian donor to the Covenant Journey is fundamentalist Steve Green, an Oklahoma billionaire and the President of the craft chain Hobby Lobby owned by his father, also named Steve Green. The Green family received major public attention last year after challenging President Obama’s Affordable Care Act in the Supreme Court. Hobby Lobby successfully argued against the provision requiring employers to include coverage of contraceptives in their health care plan. Green’s landmark Supreme Court victory, and its news coverage and publicity, made him a hero in conservative Christian circles. Once again David had triumphed over Goliath.

The younger Steve Green, chairman of the board for Museum of the Bible and a keynote speaker at the Event, echoed the concept that the students would walk where the people of the Bible walked.  He views this program as the beginning of many faithful evangelical Christians living in “biblical Israel,” Judea and Samaria, also known as the West Bank. The Covenant Journey is an 11-day version of his Bible Museum, each carefully curated part of Israel a living reflection of the biblical narratives and their place within the state of Israel. Evangelical Christian and American Jewish teens are not the only people who fall for the connection.  On my first trip to Israel, I felt my heart beat faster when my taxi drove from Ben-Gurion airport to my hotel in East Jerusalem. A Hebrew road sign. Jericho! Another sign in Hebrew: Jerusalem. The next morning, when I saw men praying at the Western Wall, the scene was identical to the cover of my Hebrew grammar book.

“As young adults experience Israel firsthand, their faith is strengthened, their knowledge of the Bible is increased and their understanding of the connection between the Bible and the Land of Israel is put on solid ground. It will create a foundational platform from which they can become goodwill ambassadors for Israel and the Jewish people,” Steve Green told the joyful audience that evening at the Israeli embassy. “The Covenant Journey participants will never be the same.”

The Philos Project, a pro-Israel group with a stated mission of promoting “positive Christian engagement in the Middle East,” became involved with the Program more than three years ago when it was only an idea. The Paul E. Singer Foundation is described as a “core funder “ of the Philos Project on the website of the Jewish Funders Network International Conference. Paul Singer, a Jewish hedge-fund billionaire, one of the largest donors to Republican politics, is the largest Jewish funder of the Covenant Project.  The Philos group’s board also includes Richard Lang, president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary; Mark Tooley, president of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, a conservative religious think tank, and Republican Jewish activist Dan Senor, who served as a Bush spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority, in Iraq.

These original organizers wanted a group that would be patterned on Birthright, and would be funded by both Jewish and Christian donors. The Christian Birthright group will not include individuals involved with Christians United for Israel (CUFI), the largest and most well-known pro-Israel Christian group, founded and headed by Rev. John Hagee.  Perhaps because this founder of CUFI has written a book called Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World (2006) in which he argues that Adolf Hitler was a “half-breed Jew” and states that Hitler was sent by God, as a “hunter,” to persecute Europe’s Jews and drive them towards “the only home God ever intended for the Jews to have—(modern-day) Israel” (97).  The emphasis of the Philos Project is unlike that of CUFI. Philos emphasizes “reviving an intellectually rigorous Christian approach to foreign policy, especially as it relates to the Middle East,” and educating Christians on the theological, historical, and political issues surrounding Israel and the Jewish people.

What did Erica Tomlin see, and what will the students wandering through Israel this summer see: from a distance and surrounded by Israeli tour guides, they will be piled into an air-conditioned bus and shown Christian holy sites, including Jerusalem; Nazareth; the Sea of Galilee; Mount of the Beatitudes; Tabgha, and Capernaum. In the Old City they also will stand tall at the Western Wall and Jerusalem’s Jewish quarter. They will receive hospitality in settlements in Judea and Samaria, among the residents many Americans who have come to live in the land of the Bible.  At the southern borders of Israel, participants will hear about the country’s security threats from the terrorist Palestinians of Gaza.  In the south, parallel to Gaza, they will visit Sderot, a Jewish settlement with a children’s playground and its adjacent bomb shelters. The set design is even more impressive when the Covenant tourists get to stand in front of a stack of Hamas rockets fired at the Southern town.

The Covenant Journey tourists will not stand in front of the Apartheid Wall, amazed at how small even their tallest friend is compared with the 25-foot high wall, twice as high as the Berlin Wall.  They will not meet Palestinians, although their Israeli tour guides might show them the exterior of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, located inside the Old City of Jerusalem. The site, central to all Christian faiths, is believed to enclose both the site of the Crucifixion and the tomb of Jesus.

However, nowhere will these Christians on the Covenant Journey consider themselves on a pilgrimage when they visit the most sacred Christian sanctuaries of the Holy Land. In reality the Covenant Journey will be half a Covenant Journey, the half where the Old Testament sites are presented as tangible proof of the Jewish biblical narratives while the Christian Gospels will not be presented by guides who believe in their veracity. They will meet no Palestinians; they will not walk unsupervised in villages surrounded by the Wall.   They will see Rachel’s Tomb, but they will not wander at night across Shepherds Field, east of Bethlehem, where the shepherds received the message from an angel one starry night that Jesus had been born.

In the last book of the Christian Bible, Revelation, the author claims that 144,000 (12,000 from each of twelve tribes) Jewish witnesses will be saved as Christians because they have preached the Gospel. This bizarre book ends with the torment and tribulation that indicates that Jews, other than the 144,000 who have been redeemed, will drown in a river of blood or “ be cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone (Rev19:19-21).  Nobody associated with the Covenant Journey expects Jews to convert to Christianity or to be slaughtered in an Armageddon worthy of Steven Spielberg. They do expect another scenario altogether.  The more young Christians who return to the US dazzled by the land of Israel, the fewer BDS students will win over the student audiences in American colleges and universities to the Palestinian cause. The Covenant students will fight for the land of Israel to remain just that.   The partners in this Covenant are those who want to stamp out BDS on American college campuses and those who have the money to fund it.

The young Christians who are brought to Israel this summer to strengthen their biblical faith and encourage them to become goodwill ambassadors for Israel will pay only $500. Ironically the first group of students will be from the Ivy League, hardly an evangelical hotbed. With the emphasis of the Program on intellectual study of the Bible and Jewish history in Israel, the hope is that Covenant Journey alums will empower the church to advocate for real peace in tangible ways.

Clearly Covenant Journey is betting on these students to be the leaders of their generation. There will be evangelical students groups going too, not to be mixed in with the Ivy Leaguers.  I suspect that the articulate Ivy group will not be evangelizing for next summer’s Covenant Journey, but rather be the seedbed for turning off the Students for Justice in Palestine at their schools.

About Alice Bach

Alice Bach is a retired professor of Religious Studies and Feminist Studies. Her most recent work focuses upon religion, politics and media. Outside of academia she has also written more than 20 children’s books and now works as a freelance journalist.

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38 Responses

  1. Kay24
    June 16, 2015, 10:42 am

    Now on to the naive evangelicals, who still think Jesus is going to be welcomed by the Jews.

    Let’s give the devil it’s due, it is a great plan to make sure Christians keep drinking that koolaid.
    Soon they will be singing the same dedicated songs to what they will be made to believe, is their fatherland, they will also be made to believe BDS is like nazism, and that Israel’s crimes are all to defend the Holy land.

    • RockyMissouri
      June 17, 2015, 1:37 pm

      But there will be those brave souls who will be noticing that VOID that screams silently, and speaks to their heart…’where are the Palestinians’?

      ‘Is it true that the Israeli army has targeted INFANTS…and small CHILDREN…the DISABLED..?’

      They will discover the truth. And wonder WHY the USA supports this monstrous behavior..!! …………………..Then more will begin to ask questions.

      BDS works.

      • Kay24
        June 17, 2015, 5:32 pm

        I don’t know RockyMissouri. Some still think being gay is a choice, and that God sent a hurricane to punish some in LA. There is no hope for them, really.

      • CigarGod
        June 17, 2015, 9:10 pm

        I have personally spoken with otherwise normal people, who think it is a good idea to kill the kids of our so-called enemies…because they will grow up to be terrorists. Even here in the usa, I have spoken to people who think we should withhold food stamps from children because they think their single mother is too lazy to work. Yep. Good…Christian people…so they say.

      • Kay24
        June 18, 2015, 9:21 am

        When 3 Jewish kids were killed Gaza was flattened and over 2000 Palestinians were massacred.

        By that violent standard, how much revenge are the Palestinians entitled to?

      • CigarGod
        June 18, 2015, 9:39 am

        No revenge.
        But, plenty of defence (in the idf tradition).

      • Kay24
        June 18, 2015, 9:52 am

        CigarGod, yes it could be packaged IDF style as “defense”.

  2. Pippilin
    June 16, 2015, 1:00 pm

    “Holy Land”. Now that’s a misnomer if I ever heard one.

  3. italian ex-pat
    June 16, 2015, 4:46 pm

    And there I was, thinking that the “Honeymoon in Israel” program was over the top! Can’t these people see how they are being used as pawns in the hasbara games Israel is playing? I suppose the allure of an almost-free trip is irresistible. Actually this kind of trip reminds me of my first time in China (early ’80s) when a PRC watchdog would always be with us to make sure we didn’t wander off the pre-approved itinerary.

    I’m thinking that perhaps many hotels in Israel have lots of empty rooms (hopefully due to shortage of regular tourists), and are offering rock-bottom rates to the sponsors of these trips. It’ll be interesting to see what demographic group they will be targeting next.

  4. JWalters
    June 16, 2015, 6:35 pm

    And they won’t be discussing what Jesus might say about mass slaughter and robbery. And they won’t be discussing how Jesus’ execution was arranged by the financial elite of that day for kicking them out of the temple.

    These brainwashed people give Christians a bad name.

  5. michelle
    June 16, 2015, 6:54 pm

    one wonders that if faced in The Flesh with The Son of The Creator of
    every & all the heavens & the earth if one could not believe …. doubtful
    belief is all well & good
    what one does with their belief is what defines/decides them
    The 10 Commandments List, Short Form

    1.You shall have no other gods before Me.
    2.You shall not make idols.
    3.You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
    4.Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
    5.Honor your father and your mother.
    6.You shall not murder.
    7.You shall not commit adultery.
    8.You shall not steal.
    9.You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
    10.You shall not covet.
    believe or not the top ten make sense
    would that those that claim to believe did follow these rules
    as they were intended
    G-d Bless

  6. ckg
    June 16, 2015, 7:15 pm

    No right wing evangelical trip to Israel is complete without a trip to Armageddon. I passed by the valley on my way to Nazareth and saw the rows of church tourist busses taking it all in where it’s all going down. A frightening sight, the tourists that is.

    • Walid
      June 16, 2015, 8:25 pm

      “a trip to Armageddon. I passed by the valley on my way to Nazareth and saw the rows of church tourist busses taking it all in where it’s all going down.” (ckg)

      About Armageddon, there’s a misconception about it that refuses to go away. It’s the not the actual place where it’s all going down but simply the location where the forces of good and evil would be massing for the big battle. The actual location where the big boom is supposed to happen is in the Valley of Kidron, just outside of Jerusalem, which is about 60 miles south of there. Armageddon is only mentioned once in the Bible but the story is pieced together from various prophecies in the Old Testament in Chronicles, Joel, Daniel, Zechariah, Amos and so on that in a nutshell puts the location of the big battle at Kidron Valley outside of Jerusalem. The story goes on to say that the battle will happen only when the forces of good will pass by Bethany to pick up the returned Jesus that is to lead them against the forces of the antichrist. Oddly, Moslems are also into this story of Jouz and Majouz (Gog and Magog)

      Maybe Kidron is not on the tour because that’s where hundreds of tons of raw sewage are dumped in the valley’s river by Israel, the settlements and the Palestinian towns.

      • ckg
        June 16, 2015, 8:44 pm

        Thanks, Walid. I was expecting you to chime in. I wish you could be their tour guide.

      • gamal
        June 16, 2015, 10:25 pm

        ” Oddly, Moslems are also into this story of Jouz and Majouz (Gog and Magog)” you mean Ya’juj and M’ajuj surely, or maybe i have it wrong.

        “Jouz”? the only one i can think of is the 30 equal divisions of the Quran to be read daily through ramadan,

        Ya’juj and Ma’juj, as in 21:96, are from Al-kahf, which seems to me to be series of jokes, at our expense, and al-anbiya, in which, inter alia, Ibrahim is revealed to be a practical joker of the first order.

        there are of course ahadith, of course there are why wouldn’t there be.

        you are correct that many nutters are in to this i include a link to some guys not only pretending to be scholars but who also believe that Jurassic park is a reality,

        I believe Lord Sacks has just written a book on Islamic extremism ( i am guessing he is against it and that its an imminent threat) perhaps he knows, eschatology is pretty stupid in my book, and so here are some Muslim nutcases, i defy anyone to read without laughing. Just before you click Nafeez Ahmed has an interesting article on the utility of Muslim nutters, which includes a picture of Chertoff who seems to be turning into Skeletor, its probably a better choice than what i deposited below.

        some deeply scat Islamic “scholarship” quite charming in its innocent idiocy.

      • Walid
        June 16, 2015, 11:57 pm

        Hi ckg, lots of useless information but a good exercise to keep the mind sharp.

      • Walid
        June 17, 2015, 12:12 am

        “Ya’juj and Ma’juj, as in 21:96, are from Al-kahf, ” (gamal)

        You’re right, gamal, my mind went off into the wrong direction with majouj or majouz as I was writing it and compounded the error by doing worse to Ya’jouj. You’re right also that the story is on the wild side.

        Thanks for the correction.

      • gamal
        June 17, 2015, 6:31 am

        “You’re right, gamal”

        you know my friend sometimes like in colonialism and its resistance in terms of “eschatology” we all wrong.

      • Walid
        June 17, 2015, 7:12 am

        Ramadan Mubarak, gamal.

      • gamal
        June 17, 2015, 7:45 am

        ya akhi Ramadan Karim

  7. ckg
    June 16, 2015, 7:41 pm

    Christian groups visiting the Holy Land should ask to hear perhaps the two most prominent Christian in the Holy Land, Hanan Ashrawi.

    • Atlantaiconoclast
      June 17, 2015, 11:37 pm

      they would first have to know who she is, and the Christian Zionists are woefully ignorant about Palestinians and their leaders

  8. ckg
    June 16, 2015, 8:12 pm

    *the most

  9. Marnie
    June 17, 2015, 12:05 am

    That’s really scraping the bottom of the barrel isn’t it Mr. Dermer? It would be very enlightening for this tour to include B’nai Brak and certain streets in Jerusalem (Mea Shearim) where tour participants can be treated to a chorus of “Are you Jewish?” followed quickly by “Get Out!”, “Israel is for Jews!” and maybe if they’re really getting the whole experience, their holy books will be snatched out of their trembling hands and burned in front of them, all in the name of welcome to the holy land gentile pigs – next year not in Jerusalem, just send us your money.

  10. Marnie
    June 17, 2015, 7:15 am

    Please, whoever is the tour guide, please bring this christian soldiers to Hebron where they can put their money where their faith is and help the Palestinians –


    06/16/2015 22:23

    Some Palestinian Hebron shops can re-open after 15 years of forced closure

    “The IDF is short on details but confirms that some stores would be re-opening in the area of the city under Israeli military and civil control.”

    Short on details or a plot? I’m very worried for the shop owners. After all this time and all the new settler spawn having been born in this 15 year period, raised on a steady diet of ethnic superiority, Bamba and hatred, who is going to protect the shop owners and their merchandise? Is this some kind of a joke? It seems like the perfect storm to me and of course, if there is any violence, it will be blamed on the shopowners or their customers, not the monsters who are in their midst. Are we to believe that the IDF will protect the Palestinians this time, or do their usual shrug of the shoulders, and look the other way. I wouldn’t open my shop doors, fuck that. I wouldn’t do anything to assist in attempts to whitewash the crimes of the IDF. They’re going to have to work a lot harder to right the wrongs, this doesn’t even scratch the surface. A$$HOLE$.

    • Walid
      June 17, 2015, 12:35 pm

      Marnie, the Hebron shops opening couldn’t be much more than an Israeli PR stunt. Makes you wonder why some shops would be allowed to open and some would not. A perfect recipe to make trouble for Palestinians among themselves.

      • Marnie
        June 18, 2015, 1:24 am

        “Makes you wonder why some shops would be allowed to open and some would not.”
        Thump on the head to me – thanks Walid. This must all be under the cover of the IDF being short on details.

  11. Kay24
    June 17, 2015, 7:16 am

    It seems Michael Oren has turned to attacking Obama TO SELL HIS BOOK:

    “U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro slammed Knesset Member Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to Washington, for his opinion piece in which he accused U.S. President Barak Obama of deliberately abandoning Israel.

    “Michael Oren published an imaginary account of what happened,” Shapiro said in a Hebrew-language interview with Army Radio. “I disagree with what he wrote. He was an ambassador in the past, but he is now a politician and an author who wants to sell books. Sometimes an ambassador has a limited point of view into ongoing efforts. What he wrote does not reflect the truth.”

    In his opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, Oren wrote that both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Obama made mistakes that damaged the ties between the two countries, but only the latter did so “deliberately.”

    • a blah chick
      June 17, 2015, 8:46 am

      “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Obama made mistakes that damaged the ties between the two countries, but only the latter did so “deliberately.”

      So that whole Iran speech gig wasn’t deliberate? Wow, he must really want that high spot on the Likud list come next election.

      Does Oren still have that “consultant” position on CNN?

      • Kay24
        June 17, 2015, 9:28 am

        I have not seen Oren on CNN for a long time. He must have been busy writing his book.

        Isn’t it strange how these zionists conveniently forgets the person who is primarily responsible for the damaged the tires between the two countries? As if insulting Obama and going over his head to manipulate the Congress is acceptable. It is second nature for these zionists to blame every one but themselves for all their ills. They reap what they sow and simply cannot take it when the repercussions of their actions come back to bite them.

        Let’s not forget Oren must have something to write about, it must have been hard to realize that the crimes of Israel are plenty, but they cannot be written about.

  12. CigarGod
    June 17, 2015, 9:42 am

    Wow, quite the trade show.
    So packed, I must have missed the IDF recruiting booth.

  13. Atlantaiconoclast
    June 17, 2015, 11:35 pm

    The Christian Zionists are far more dangerous than your average Jewish Zionist. They can’t be reasoned with. Its maddening. Hopefully, as more people leave traditional religion, these folks will realize their folly. Here in the South, its particularly bad. There is a complete blackout about what Israel is actually doing in the media outlets that Christian Zionists follow.

  14. Kay24
    June 18, 2015, 8:06 am

    Jewish jihadis at work. Christian zionists okay with this?

    “Arson suspected at Church of Loaves and Fish in northern Israel
    Fire at Church of the Multiplication contained after causing damage to storage room and church offices; graffiti found on site reading ‘false idols will be smashed.’

    A fire broke out late Wednesday night to put out a fire at the historic Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish at Tabgha, located on the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel. Sixteen yeshiva students were arrested Thursday morning over suspected involvement in the arson.”


    • CigarGod
      June 18, 2015, 8:33 am

      And not a whisper on NPR.

      • Kay24
        June 18, 2015, 9:19 am

        As usual not a peep from the MSM. Such racist crimes by Jewish extremists are never mentioned….they do not want the Christian zionists to stop the devotion.

      • CigarGod
        June 18, 2015, 9:36 am

        The silver lining, is they realize…a free mind will weigh and reject their message.

  15. eljay
    June 18, 2015, 10:03 am

    “There’s one thing better than standing with Israel, and that’s standing in Israel,” Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer confirmed …

    “And not only standing in Israel,” he continued, “but standing outside of Israel, in Jerusalem and other territory that the ‘Jewish State’ has been stealing, occupying and colonizing for almost 70 years. And let’s not forget the joy of standing on the necks of the Palestinians who have suffered and continue to suffer so that this supremacist…I mean, glorious ‘Jewish State’ of Israel can exist.”

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