A new program to bring young evangelical Christians to Israel on an 11-day subsidized trip has been dubbed “Birthright for evangelicals” because it was inspired by the successful Birthright Israel program open to Jewish young adults. And it’s a testament to that success that other groups seek to copy it.
But comparisons between the two should not be drawn too closely. The Christian program, whose actual name is Covenant Journey, is sponsored by the evangelical Green family, owners of the Hobby Lobby chain and backers of the Museum of the Bible that will open in Washington, D.C., in 2017. It is also sponsored by the Philos Project, a pro-Israel group whose goal is “positive Christian engagement in the Middle East.” Its largest backer is Jewish hedge-fund billionaire Paul Singer, according to the Forward.
Evangelical Christians have long been among the strongest supporters of Israel, evidenced by the numbers who travel there each year and the unwavering backing they’ve given to the Jewish state in various political arenas. According to Steve Green, Covenant Journey “will create a foundational platform from which [participants] can become goodwill ambassadors for Israel and the Jewish people.”
On that score, we applaud the Green family, other evangelicals and their Jewish supporters who wish to fund trips to Israel. They are more than welcome, and Israel needs all the friends — and tourist dollars — it can get. But we must also stress that what makes Birthright Israel — the term and the trip — unique is that the program has given more than 400,000 Jewish 18- to 26-year-olds a 10-day Jewish and cultural exposure to Israel, without a political agenda.
In strengthening a Jewish man and woman’s love and support of Israel, Birthright Israel has operated from the fundamental premise that the Jewish state is literally a birthright to members of the tribe. That’s why religious and secular camps, left, right and center are represented on Birthright trips. Israel, in other words, is a matter of Jewish identity, not an external target of support.
Covenant Journey, in contrast, tied in as it is to conservative politics and religious dogma, is entirely different. For evangelicals, it will almost certainly strengthen their support of the Jewish state. And that is a good thing. But let’s not pretend that Israel will ever be a birthright for anyone other than Jews.