It had to be a unique event for Faith and Action president Rob Schenck to catch a red-eye from Seattle back to Washington DC, causing him to go on nearly 32 hours of no sleep. And quite the occasion it was: Rev. Schenck was invited as a VIP guest of congressional leadership for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech on the Middle East, which was delivered on Capitol Hill at the beginning of the week.
Mr. Netanyahu’s speech was of extraordinary importance for reasons primarily having to do with the contextual circumstances surrounding the visit. His visit comes at a time when the United States is changing its policies toward Israel and the Middle East. It comes during a tumultuous time in that region of the world. Further, it comes at a time when churches and evangelical Christians in particular are reassessing their attitudes and ideas about the modern state of Israel vis-à-vis the continuing conflicts with Palestinians. In sum, it is a historically vital time for a visit from the Israeli Prime Minister, and Rev. Schenck had the opportunity to take the proverbial temperature in the room.
It is a rare thing for the two congressional houses to get together in the chamber at the same time. Virtually every member was present for the Israeli Prime Minister. This, in itself, speaks volumes about the importance of what was being presented. Rev. Schenck commented that what he will remember most about the atmosphere surrounding Mr. Netanyahu’s speech is the repeated standing ovations which signified bipartisan unity. In this way, America’s disposition toward Israel tended toward the affirmative.
At the same time, it seems quite clear that the underlying policy toward Israel is changing under the Obama administration. While this may disturb traditional evangelicals and be construed as anti-Israel, this was not the tone of the reaction in congress at all. New policy may at least result in a more fruitful conversation whereby support of Israel can be measured with appropriate criticism and the aspirations of Palestinians can be considered more generously.