(Photo: REUTERS/Lee Celano)
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins led seven members of Congress known for their strong ties to evangelical Christians on a nine-day swing through Israel's Holy Land earlier this month, touring the country's most important religious sites and meeting with top-level Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The trip, sponsored by the U.S. Israel Education Association with grants from several Christian and Jewish organizations, included Congressmen Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.), Ted Poe (R-Texas) and Steve Scalise (R-La.).
The delegation spent the majority of their time behind what is known as the "green line," or the areas near Samaria that mark the line between Israel territories captured during the Six-Day War in 1967. While experiencing the Holy Sites helped the Congressmen gain an appreciation for Israel, Perkins noted the most important aspect of the trip was time spent with Netanyahu and other government officials and their concern for the recent agreement the Obama administration reached with Iran over the country's nuclear arsenal.
"Israeli officials, including the Prime Minister, were more direct in their remarks than I have ever heard, " Perkins told The Christian Post in a pre-Thanksgiving interview.
"Mr. Netanyahu, who was delayed in joining our group because he had been on the phone with President Obama, called the agreement a 'historic mistake' and we agree. The Israeli government does not feel western solutions are the right solutions for Middle Eastern Solutions," Perkins said, in reference to lifting sanctions on Iran.
The Prime Minister said Israel would not be bound by the six-month agreement made between Tehran and the U.S., also criticizing the Obama administration from keeping the negotiations a secret, even from America's closest allies.
Both the visiting U.S. Congressmen and Israeli leaders feel strongly the economic sanctions have been a key part of keeping Iran in check. For example, they agree such sanctions have worked so well that it was the primary reason Iran was willing to discuss and make any agreement with the U.S.
"These sanctions have worked," Perkins said. "But if reducing sanctions does not work – in other words if Iran does not keep their word – then we could see military action from Israel if they believe their national security is in danger."
Perkins also noted that critics of the agreement, including many in Congress, see the move as little more than an opportunity for a weakened president to "move the red line down the road" in hopes the current administration will not have to deal with the severity of the issue and can pass it along to another president.
The delegation also met with Christian evangelical leaders in Israel, discussing the hot-button issue of religious persecution.
Bishop Naim Khoury, who leads the First Baptist Church of Bethlehem, which is under Palestinian control, has endured years of bombings and shootings. Yet in spite of these acts of hostility, he believes Israel and Jews are God's chosen people and they have a right to their own settlements.
Khoury's church has also been informed that it is no longer recognized by the Palestinian government, including the performance of funerals, weddings and birth certificates. Part of the reason for this treatment may stem from the fact that he promotes Christ to both Jews and Arabs alike.
"We believe it's people who don't like what we're doing and the message we offer," Khoury explained in a July 2013 interview with a Middle Eastern publication. He explained that his church is strongly opposed by Palestinian Christian adherents to "Palestinian liberation theology," a religious-political ideology that supports and encourages violence against Israel and denies the religious roots of Jewish nationalism.
But Perkins notes there is also a positive side to this situation.
"Psalm 122 does not have an expiration date," said Perkins. "Bishop Khoury strongly believes that the promise for peace and prosperity contained in this Psalm for Israel is still possible and he's working toward that objective."