Chairman’s Report – February 21, 2014
February 21, 2014
Bringing Truth to Capitol Hill
Israel delegation to the National Prayer Breakfast – So far in February the Religious Freedom Coalition has been a part of several major Capitol Hill meetings which presented news from the Middle East that the Obama Administration and many in Congress do not want to hear.
First, the unimaginable — an American Secretary of State referring to a possible boycott of Israel unless that nation accepts borders, in so-called “peace negotiations,” that will reduce its size to being smaller in area than the city of Houston, Texas! That is exactly what Secretary of State John Kerry did, saying, “The risks are very high for Israel; people are talking about boycott.” Even to mention the word “boycott” during a speech was tantamount to an endorsement, since the Secretary holds such a high position in government.
The response from Israel’s Intelligence Minister, Yuval Steinitz, was swift: “Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with a gun to its head when we are discussing the matters which are most critical to our national interests.” Indeed, if the United States says it is going to support economic sanctions against Israel unless it surrenders most of its territory, why should HAMAS and the PLO move an inch in negotiations? In effect Kerry has placed Israel’s enemies in charge of the “peace negotiations.”
These revelations from Secretary Kerry came up just as I was working on the final arrangements for the official Israel delegation to the National Prayer Breakfast here in Washington, DC. The National Prayer Breakfast was to be held on Thursday, February 6th.
The delegation coming to Washington at the time of the Kerry comments was headed by a good Israeli friend of mine who is a Christian. The delegation included Israelis who are both Christians and non-Christians. There were members of the Knesset in the delegation including: Knesset Speaker Yuli – Yoel Edelstein, Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirshenbaum, Knesset member Omer BarLev, and Knesset member Shuli Moalem-Refaeli.
As part of the preparations for the visit, the Religious Freedom Coalition and another social conservative organization arranged a reception at the Capitol Hill Club for members of Congress and others to meet with the delegation. I arranged for several congressmen to be present including Trent Franks, Dr. Paul Broun, Doug Lamborn, Chuck Fleischmann, Jackie Walorski and others.
My co-host for the reception, Rev. Rob Schenck, President of Faith and Action, and his Chief of Staff, Peggy Neinaber, also helped to arrange numerous activities. One of the highlights was a visit to the private chapel which is for members of Congress. We were all escorted by ninety-one year-old Ruth Mizell of Capitol Hill Prayer Partners. During the visit to the Capitol Building Chapel, prayers were offered in English and Hebrew.
At the reception itself, the day before the prayer breakfast, Deputy Minister of Interior Faina Kirshenbaum spoke on behalf of the delegation. She pointed out that in the current “peace negotiations” it is being ignored that Israel has voluntarily surrendered 96% of the land it captured during the 1967 war when it was attacked by several Muslim nations. She said that the remaining 4% in Samaria was not “occupied” but rather “disputed territory,” as it was illegally annexed by Jordan prior to the war in which it was liberated by Israel.
There was just one full day to work with Congress before the prayer breakfast the next morning, and I took full advantage of that day to introduce the members of the Knesset to congressmen and Senators, including one meeting with Senator Mike Lee. At the close of that lengthy meeting in his office, Senator Lee prayed for the delegation and for the peace of Israel.
Sadly, I am not free to disclose the details of discussions in the private meetings arranged for members of the Israeli Knesset and members of Congress. Matters of security were discussed that would be considered private. However, several congressmen expressed their love for Israel and its importance to their Christian faith.
One of the Israeli delegates to the National Prayer Breakfast was George Deek, who is the Deputy Chief of Mission for the Israeli Embassy in Norway. He is the highest ranking Christian in the diplomatic corps for Israel. Messianic Jews and Christian Arabs have become a greater influence in Israel in the past decade. Christian Arabs in particular have begun to identify themselves more with Israel and less with the Palestinian leadership.
Father Gabriel Nadaf, a priest supporting enlistment, says that Christians must serve in the army if they want to integrate into Israeli society. Father Nadaf has said, “I believe in the shared fate of the Christian minority and the Jewish state.” A spokesman for his church has said that unlike Israel, the rest of the Middle East is a dangerous place for Christians. “They are burning churches, they are slaughtering them (Christians), they are raping the girls,” said the aide, Shadi Khalloul.
From that perspective it can be seen why the Knesset members, all of whom were non-Christians, were assisted in their mission to the National Prayer Breakfast by an Israeli Christian who is part of the Israel Empowerment Lobby. Christians are becoming an important integral part of Israel, even as they are being driven out of the rest of the Middle East, as is exemplified in Iraq and Syria.
Syria’s Christian clergy visit the Capitol – The week before the Israel delegation arrived, five very important members of the Syrian clergy visited Washington, DC. These were not members of the clergy “in exile” or living in Europe. All five of the clergymen including two Bishops had traveled to Washington, DC from Damascus, Syria to tell about the current war in Syria from a Christina perspective.
Congressman Frank Wolf of Virginia was the first official to meet the clergy. There was virtually no news coverage of their visit. I can promise you that if they were here to make comments against the secular government of Syria, they would have been front page news and Senator John McCain would have been the first to arrange a news conference. But the clergy were here to tell the story of the horrible oppression Christians face under the “rebel” forces armed and financed by the United States.
I arranged for WND.COM news coverage of their presentation at the Heritage Foundation and that was the only national outlet to cover their visit. I was able to do this because I am a regular columnist for that news outlet. (Note: Fox News later ran an interview with two of the clergymen but did not disclose that they were actually in the United States.)
Public meetings with the clergy were arranged by Katherine Gorka who heads the Westminster Institute here in Washington. The Religious Freedom Coalition and the Westminster Institute have worked on projects before that have to do with issues of religious freedom. The credentials of these clergymen from several different denominations are impeccable, and they are united in their plea to save the churches of Syria. Those visiting included:
- Rev. Adib Awad, General Secretary of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria
- H.E. Bishop Elias Toumeh, The Orthodox Bishop of Pyrgou-Syria.
- Rev. Dr Riad Jarjour, Presbyterian clergyman from Homs, Syria,
- H.E. Bishop Dionysius Jean Kawak, Metropolitan of the Syrian Orthodox Church.
- His Grace Bishop Armash Nalbandian, Primate of the Armenian Church of Damascus.
Rev. Adib Awad made a statement that I can assure you will not be seen in any major publication in the United States or Europe. He said that the one modern “Golden Age” for Syrian Christians occurred under the Assad family rule, beginning in 1970. He stated that under the Assad government, Syrian Christians were free to build churches and follow Christian, not Muslim, family law in what was for Christians “probably the most liberal” Arab Muslim state.
This “very acceptable atmosphere” explains why Christians such as General Daoud Rajiha, Syria’s defense minister until he was assassinated on July 18, 2012, have been loyal to Assad’s government. General Rajiha was the head of all Syrian forces until his assassination.
Now, however, jihadist terrorists from 83 countries, backed by foreign nations such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have destroyed this interfaith “land of coexistence,” Awad told those assembled at meetings.
One-third of Syria’s two million Christians have fled the country during “perhaps the single greatest humanitarian disaster in the world today.” During a slide presentation at one event, Syrian Orthodox Church Metropolitan Bishop Dionysius Jean Kawak noted estimates of ten million Syrians needing assistance as of the end of 2013. He said the critical food, water, and electricity shortages afflicting the Syrian population marked a “lost generation.”
Of those clergy in the delegation from Syria, I spoke most often with Rev. Riad Jarjour and Archbishop Dionysius Jean Kawak of the Syrian Orthodox Church. Both men said they could assist the Religious Freedom Coalition with the Christmas for Refugees program inside Syria itself. I had prayed that we would be able to expand the program this coming Christmas, and it appears those prayers are being answered. There are tens of thousands of Christians still living in Syria who have been forced from their homes in areas now controlled by the jihadists. We can reach out to the children of those families this year with a Christmas meal and other aid.
I must note that the two delegations I have written about above, one from Israel and one from Syria, would not have mixed well together. Syrian Christians for the most part look at Israel not as a friend but as an enemy who has bombed their nation many times. The Israeli visitors would argue that those bombings were necessary, and they would accuse the Assad government of assisting terrorists who would attack Israel. Both groups to some degree are correct.
The Western boycotts and economic sanctions against Syria for the last several decades have forced the Assad government to trade with and become somewhat dependent on Iran for many basic supplies. Meanwhile, as Iran has supported the terrorist group Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syria has looked the other way. Unable to destroy the secular government of Syria with sanctions, Western nations now directly arm and fund the jihadists fighting the Syrian government.
The Western support of jihadists in Syria does not help Israel’s security. Israel is far better off with a secular enemy to its north than with a radical Islamist government, which is what it will have if the Obama Administration succeeds in ousting President Assad.
Christians in Syria and Israel want the privilege of worshipping their Lord without threat of violence or death. Despite the problems between the two nations, Israel and Syria are the only nations in the Middle East where Christians have true freedom of religion. We must pray for the Christians of Syria and for the nation of Israel, both of whom face the threat of Islamic domination. As the Christian presence in the Middle East is diminished, the region becomes more radically Islamic and more dangerous to Israel and to the rest of the civilized world.
All the work I do on Capitol Hill is to point to the glory of our Lord and to bring justice and peace for Christians not only in the Middle East, but in this nation as well.
William J. Murray, Chairman
Religious Freedom Coalition, 601 Pennsylvania Ave. NW #900, Washington, DC 20004 * (202) 742-8990
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