Chsistian Aroup calls Israel support a biblical mandate

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

In fact, the group wholly supports the Israeli settlements in Gaza, the Golan Heights and West Bank.

"We think it's unwise to give up land for peace — especially in Judea, Samaria, Gaza and the Golan," said Richard Hellman, CIPAC founder and president.

"Ultimately, it's the Israelis' call. We won't argue with their democratic process. But we don't think we should encourage or foster a weakening of Israel. Friends don't encourage friends to sacrifice security."

Hellman spoke about his lobby's role in American negotiations with Israel during a recent phone interview from his home in Washington, D.C.

He'll address these issues at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24 at an open meeting of Americans for a Safe Israel, 1185 Vicente St., S.F. , and at 1 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 25 at a luncheon sponsored by the California Christian Committee for Israel at the Bay Bridge Holiday Inn, 1800 Powell St., Emeryville.

Hellman's interest in the Jewish state began at a young age — about 5. A Jewish girl in his class said Jesus was a Jew. Hellman insisted otherwise.

"I was certain Jesus was a Catholic," he said. "Obviously I lost my first ecumenical debate."

Today Hellman gets his religious justification for Christian support of Israel from the Bible.

He quotes biblical passages like Genesis 12:3, which says: "And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee, and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed," or Isaiah 58:12, which says: "And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in."

Since CIPAC draws inspiration from Jewish and Christian biblical sources, Hellman said support of Israel isn't just a Jewish issue "but a scriptural mandate to all."

CIPAC's mandate calls for supporting the freedom of Jews to live anywhere in Israel, which CIPAC includes as Gaza, the Golan and all of Jerusalem. It backs U.S. aid for Israel's military security and for immigrant absorption. CIPAC also opposes the creation of a Palestinian state and arms sales to any nation at war with the Jewish state.

Since founding CIPAC in 1989, Hellman has expressed these views in briefings to Congress:

"The members of Congress are appreciative of the information we bring to them. It's a point of view they don't hear every day," he said.

And having lived in Israel for seven years, Hellman lends not only a Christian but also a personal perspective to the crusade.

An attorney and self-described born-again Christian, Hellman was invited by the Israeli government to work as an environmental lawyer in 1976. He helped pass laws that limited billboards, cleaned up beaches, helped create a Ministry of Environment and was named environmental-legal adviser to the municipality of Jerusalem.

In 1983, he returned to the United States "committed to education and mobilization to support a safe and secure Israel — our best friend and ally in the Middle East."

Hellman estimates there are 60 million to 70 million "Bible-believing Christians" in the United States. CIPAC is reaching out to them not only because of its biblical mandate but because Jewish political influence may wane as the Jewish population drops.

"The Jewish community is shrinking in absolute number relative to the population of the United States," he warned.

While Hellman and his organization are strong supporters of Israel, he acknowledges that some Jews question CIPAC's motives.

Christians tend to back CIPAC's message of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, Hellman said. Congress is also mostly supportive of CIPAC's mission, he said. Jews, however, "want to know if we're trying to convert them.

"From the beginning I've been resolute that this is not our agenda. We're looking at a biblical and ethical imperative. We believe a restored Israel is fulfillment of prophecy," Hellman said.