Israeli Group’s Attempt to Strengthen Ties With Black Pastors Faces Obstacles

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Black evangelical leaders visited a Jerusalem crafts workshop for elderly Israelis, a project supported by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. The group and Israel's tourism ministry sponsored the pastors' trip to Israel, part of the Fellowship's new outreach effort to Black congregations. (IFC)
Black evangelical leaders visited a Jerusalem crafts workshop for elderly Israelis, a project supported by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. The group and Israel’s tourism ministry sponsored the pastors’ trip to Israel, part of the Fellowship’s new outreach effort to Black congregations. (IFC)

NPR reports Israel is reaching out to a group of Black pastors and is in the process of learning how to navigate American racial and political issues.

A group of Black pastors from the Church of God in Christ recently conducted a week-long trip to Israel paid for by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. The organization has traditionally built relationships with white evangelical churches. Like white evangelical churches, members of the Church of God in Christ also believe the modern state of Israel is a manifestation of a promise from God.

However, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, said he had to approach the Black pastors differently. They are Democrats, while most white evangelicals are Republicans. Since they are Democrats, they are more likely to be supporters of President Barack Obama. Ekstein lobbied against Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran and sees Iran as an “existential threat” to Israel.

Obama also has a strained relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu, who lobbied against the Iran deal. Netenyahu also came to America, addressed Congress, and urged America to go to war with Iran.

According to NPR, Kristina King, director of the fellowship’s new outreach program, said many Obama supporters saw Netanyahu’s behavior as disrespectful.

“Safety and security is the issue with the Jewish community,” she said. “Respect is the issue with the African-American community. So when you disrespect our president, it’s a hard offense to overcome.”

However, members of the delegation declined to talk about the issue saying it was “too sensitive.” The delegation also visited a migrant center and met with Jewish Ethiopians, who have struggled to be integrated into Israeli society. There have also been complaints of police violence against Ethiopians, similar to what is happening in the United States. This might be an area that appeals to the Black pastors, said NPR. Bishop P.A. Brooks, global vice president for the Church of God in Christ, said he would like to help Israel with its racial problems.

“I feel we can assist in that area, in funding,” he says. “And we could, in a consultative way, advise how best to handle these types of situations and not be in denial.”

Valeria C. Cooper, associate professor of Black church studies at Duke University, said Black and Jewish people have been allies since the civil rights era, but this union has fractured in recent years. Progressive Blacks have sided with the Palestinians and believe they are being treated unfairly. A group of more than 1,000 Black activists, including Angela Davis, Dr. Cornel West and rapper Talib Kweli, recently signed a solidarity statement with Palestine. Many of the activists feel Israeli oppression of Palestinians is similar to what Black people are going through in America.

“Black and white evangelicals share an almost mythic understanding of Israel and a very unqualified support of Israel,” said Cooper in an interview with NPR. “On the more progressive side, among African-Americans in particular, there are those who see the Palestinian struggle as racialized.”

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