Christian Zionists stage telethon in support of Israel
By Ami Eden
August 12, 2002
Dozens of Christian television stations are slated to air a five-hour
telethon this week in support of Israeli victims of terrorism, with
half the money raised earmarked for a fund organized by the United
Jewish Communities and its national network of charitable federations.
Dubbed "Comfort My People," the telethon was the
brainchild of Belarmino "Blackie" Gonzalez, owner
of the Santa Fe, NM-based Christian television station KCHF-TV11.
It will be broadcast via satellite from the Pittsburgh studios
of Cornerstone Television, a Christian media outlet associated
with televangelist Ron Hembree.
Gonzalez, whose station reaches 85 percent of homes in New
Mexico, came up with the idea for the national telethon after
he was asked by Andrew Lipman, executive director of the Jewish
Federation of Greater Albuquerque, to help raise money for
victims of terrorism.
Half of the money
is going to the
the other half will
be used to produce
segments on Israel
"About six or seven weeks ago I was praying," Gonzalez
said, "and I said, `God, what would you have us do for Israel?
I know they need help more than ever before. I know that encouraging
people to go isn't enough.' And so, a week later, I got a call from
Rather than simply air a local telethon, as he did several years
ago to support the Albuquerque federation's efforts to pay for Russian
Jewish immigration to Israel, Gonzalez decided to approach fellow
Christian broadcasters across the country. He insisted that participating
stations donate the air time and cover expenses, so that every cent
raised would go to the designated causes. "Just about everybody
I have called has answered yes," said Gonzalez, a nondenominational
Christian who was "born again" in 1968 and who has been
observing the Jewish Sabbath for the past two years.
According to Gonzalez and other telethon organizers, half of the
haul is going to the Albuquerque federation, which will then transfer
its entire share to the UJC's Israel Emergency Fund. The other half
of the money will be used to produce daily news segments on Israel
for Christian television stations.
"We feel there is a tremendous bias in the news coming out
of Israel," said Oleen Eagle, president of Cornerstone Television.
"What we would like to do is to tell it like it is." Although
local federations and regional chapters of Jewish organizations
have been shedding their unease about working with evangelical Christians
on behalf of Israel, the telethon appears to be the first time that
a federation has tapped into the national infrastructure of Christian
With other recent attempts to mobilize , the program raises the
possibility of two unorthodox developments. One, albeit distant,
possibility is that the evangelical community will create a mammoth
pro-Israel juggernaut that will dwarf existing Jewish organizations.
Another, more likely, possibility is that the telethon might be
a harbinger of ground-breaking efforts to integrate conservative
Christians activists and dollars into the federation system or other
existing Jewish organizations, such as the American Israel Public
For now, according to Lipman, the Albuquerque federation plans
to limit its fund-raising activities with conservative Christians
to projects directly benefiting Israel and Israelis. "All we
are doing is capitalizing on what we already saw was the desire
of Christians to contribute to and support Israel," said Lipman,
who will be appearing on the telethon. "Our feeling was, `Why
not let them contribute through us?'" A source familiar with
the planning of the August 13 broadcast said it was possible that
the telethon could end up raising more than $1 million in five hours.
Since the UJC emergency fund was officially unveiled in April, federations
have sent in almost $60 million and pledged another $250 million.
Lipman said he received the blessing of UJC officials. According
to Lipman, however, the national organization has decided not to
send an official to appear on air. Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder
of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, a group
that raises money from evangelicals for Israel, stopped funneling
his organization's funds through UJC. Eckstein said his decision
was fueled by UJC's unwillingness to publicize the contributions
of evangelicals. But Lipman said his sense was that UJC's reasons
for not getting involved in the telethon had to do with a shortage
"UJC made a policy decision as a corporation not to get involved
with these Christian fund-raising efforts around the country,"
Lipman said. Instead, he added, UJC officials concluded it was best
to leave such efforts to local federations. "It would take
too much staff time," he said. "It's easier for them to
say, `Go ahead, you have our blessing, we'll help you if you need
help.'" In response to an interview request, UJC spokesman
Glenn Rosenkrantz issued the following statement: "UJC is very
grateful to evangelicals and other Christians for their support
of the Israeli people during this critical and challenging time,
and we welcome their efforts to increase their support through a
telethon. We support the Albuquerque federation's efforts to make
this effort a success."
In addition to working with Gonzalez's operation, which includes
a radio station, the Albuquerque federation has also teamed up with
a group of local Christians to raise money for Israel-related causes.
So far, Lipman said, his organization has not attempted to raise
money from Christians for the federation's annual campaign benefiting
local, national and international Jewish causes.
Such a step, Lipman said, would pose tricky questions for the federation
system, including concerns that the Jewish community should be taking
care of its own needs. "That's an area we are moving slowly
on," Lipman said. "I don't know how they would feel donating
to the general fund. Long term we will have to see how that develops.
I would give a lot of thought to it."
By arrangement with the Forward