It was not an uncommon scene in the life of Dr Hillel Newman, Consul General of Israel in the South West Pacific: with the help of Dr David Edery, founder of Friends of Israel, 50 pastors were invited at Newman’s Pico-Robertson home to learn why Christian support for Israel is crucial for them and for Jews.
Standing on the steps of his back porch, microphone in hand, Newman explained his work to pastors.
“Part of our mission is to reach out to different leaders and communities,” said Newman, a longtime diplomat. “The Israelis think we are here for the Israelis. The Jewish people think we are here for the Jewish community. But we are there for everyone. This is our mandate. Alluding to social media “where the attention span is sometimes 150 characters,” the Consul General reminded pastors, “We need to go deeper to explain complex issues.”
Edery, chief architect of the event, works closely with Newman. He has been associated with the Consul General for more than three decades. Edery said Newman visits churches two or three times a month.
Before succeeding Sam Grundwerg as consul general in February 2019, Newman said he was warned he would encounter strong opposition.
“But I didn’t find that at all,” he said.
For some emphatically stated reason, he refused to meet with violently anti-Semitic groups such as BDS supporters. “I don’t go around and waste my time with people who are so deceived and misled,” Newman said. “Radical BDS supporters and anti-Israel groups form a small faction. Very minor. They don’t have a strong support base. They did not spread their wings.
Newman said mainstream Jewish and Christian communities, both Democrats and Republicans, and American churches generally support Israel.
“Look at the congressional resolutions,” he said. “Those who are pro-Israel have bipartisan support.” However, he warned, “You have a radical minority group, inside and outside of Congress, which is concerning.
A number of pastors from various Christian denominations — including those from black and Hispanic churches — spoke warmly of trips to Israel. A pastor has visited the Jewish state 10 times.
Newman’s hometown diplomatic endeavors are having an effect. “My message is a message of friendship,” the consul general said. “They should know that Israel is the only place in the Middle East where Christian communities thrive. They do not flourish within the Palestinian Authority. Very often they are oppressed in the Muslim world. In Israel, they see freedom of expression, freedom of religion.
“They should know that Israel is the only place in the Middle East where Christian communities are thriving.” – Hillel Newman
Every time he speaks, Newman, born in South Africa, encourages pastors and church members to visit Israel. “When pastors go on missions to Israel, they always come back here with a favorable feeling,” he said. “It’s a way to broaden the base of support – when people see the real Israel, not the misleading information in the news.”
Other speakers at the Consul General’s home included his predecessor, Grundwerg, born in Miami, actress Noa Tishby, appointed by the outgoing government of Israel as its special envoy to fight anti-Semitism and delegitimization, and Nasimi Aghayev, consul general of Azerbaijan.
“When pastors go on missions to Israel, they always come back here with a favorable feeling.”
– Hillel Newman
In introducing Aghayev, Newman praised “my dear friend” and his homeland, which is 97% Muslim. He stressed how safe Azerbaijan is for its 30,000 Jews and spoke enthusiastically about its favorable relations with Israel.
Aghayev hailed Newman and organizer Edery, and said he had been a friend of the Jewish state throughout his 10 years in Los Angeles. Azerbaijan has enjoyed a “tremendous friendship” with Israel for 30 years, “since the beginning of our independence”, he said. He noted that Jews had lived there for 2,000 years “without any problems.” After making a long visit to Israel himself, Aghayev came back believing that “it is a really special place where all ethnicities and all religions are respected. The idea is to bring people together rather than divide them.
Tishby, a longtime Los Angeles resident who was born in Israel into a Zionist family, shared her own compelling case for the Jewish state. Tishby’s immediate relatives were heavily involved in the pre-state and founding days, and his grandmother helped start the first kibbutz.
All of the pastors Edery has recruited steadfastly support Israel. “They love the Jewish state,” he said.