In an effort to capitalize politically and financially on the demographic changes that are remaking America, both the Israeli government and State of Israel Bonds are launching major outreach efforts to the Hispanic community, which is growing in number and electoral importance in the country.
As part of that effort, Israel Bonds in September signed an agreement with the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference in which it “agreed to back our effort in getting their Christian members to buy and invest in Israel Bonds, thereby investing in the Israeli economy and in the Holy Land,” said Israel (Izzy) Tapoohi, Israel Bonds’ CEO. Bonds in an arm of the Israeli government.
Such an investment, he pointed out, will help their members save for the future money and thus serve as a “double blessing — they will be investing in Israel and investing in their own future.”
The NHCLC is part of the 60 million-member Christians United for Israel, headed by the controversial Pastor John Hagee. Now, Israel Bonds intends to expand its reach into the Evangelical community by reaching out to Hagee, founder and national chairman of CUFI, by meeting with him early next year.
Hagee made headlines in 2008 after Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) renounced Hagee’s endorsement after learning of Hagee’s controversial comments.
For instance, Hagee once reportedly delivered a sermon in which he declared that the Holocaust had been divinely ordained to fulfill a biblical prophesy; he claimed that the Jews’ rejection of Jesus was the root of anti-Semitism; he opposes a two-state solution with the Palestinians (which the Israeli government supports) and believes Jesus Christ will one day “reign the Earth from the city of Jerusalem.”
Some Jewish leaders such as Jeremy Ben-Ami, founder and executive director of J Street, have questioned the wisdom of being associated with Hagee. In February 2010, he wrote a column asking “whether it’s in the long-term interests of the Jewish people and the State of Israel to be in a close alliance with those, like Pastor Hagee … who believe … that all Jews will either be killed or converted to Christianity in advance of Jesus’ return.”
A spokesman for Israel Bonds, Raphael Rothstein, stressed that his organization is “not involved with Hagee politically — we are focused only on his love of Israel and in no way do we endorse or get involved in anything other than his desire to build a Jewish nation.”
He noted that Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, has attended one of Hagee’s conventions and that other Israeli diplomats have also reached out to him.
“Hagee has been involved with Bonds for years in terms of his visits to Israel and his support of the Jewish community,” he said. “Now that we are organizing an intensive marketing approach, Tapoohi will meet with Hagee.”
Tapoohi said the decision to reach out to Christian Evangelicals was made about a year ago.
“Even if each one bought just one bond it would be a tremendous contribution,” he said.
The Rev. Carlos Ortiz, vice president of the NHCLC, said his organization has about 40,200 church affiliates in the United States with a membership of 16 million, the largest Hispanic Evangelical organization in the U.S.
“We in the NHCLC love and support Israel and have so many events throughout the year in support of Israel,” he said. “We believe we are blessed by blessing Israel. We believe what it says in Genesis, chapter 12, verse 3: ‘God will bless those who bless Israel.’ We also believe that we have to pray for peace in Israel. In Psalm 122, verse 6 it says, ‘Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, as God shall prosper those who love thee.’ So there is always a promise of prosperity and blessing for anybody who blesses the nation of Israel and the Jewish people. … Israel Bonds is a vivid representative of the State of Israel.”
Although Tapoohi said that “for the moment they are going for the $100 Mazel Tov Bonds,” eventually they would be offered a bond to be called the Holy Land Bond.
His goal, Tapoohi said, is to get their list of members so Israel Bonds’ telemarketers could invite them to buy bonds and to reinvest before the bonds they hold mature. Tapoohi wasn’t specific on how much money the entire effort would cost, or its fundraising goal.
Rev. Ortiz was in the city this week and briefed the staff of Israel Bonds at its Manhattan office.
The outreach to the Hispanic community is seen as particularly important because of its burgeoning growth here. The U.S. Census Bureau announced last week that the Hispanic population is expected to nearly double by 2060, a year that Hispanics will account for nearly one in three people in the U.S.
But already the import of the Hispanic community is being realized here politically. Although Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney carried about 20 percent of the white vote, he lost because a record turnout of nonwhite voters favored Barack Obama in a big way. About 75 percent of the Hispanic vote alone — some 10 million voters — cast their ballots for Obama.
In light of these demographic changes, the Israeli Foreign Ministry decided recently to embark on a campaign to reach out to Hispanics and other groups that supported Obama, including African-Americans and the Chinese, according to the Israeli newspaper Yediot Achronot.
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon was in Florida last week meeting with Hispanic leaders and speaking with local media about Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a bid to bolster Israel’s standing in the Hispanic community there, the paper said.
“Tightening and maintaining the ties between Israel and the leaders within these communities safeguard the strategic alliance between Israel and the U.S.,” Ayalon was quoted as saying, adding that this relationship is “vital to Israel’s security.”
In addition, the paper said the ministry has hired 13 Spanish speakers to maintain community outreach from Israeli consulates throughout the U.S.
Shahar Azani, consul for media affairs at the Israeli Consulate in New York, was in Denver last week to meet with Spanish leaders there. He said the Spanish-speaking Israeli representatives would be doing “specific outreach to the Hispanic media for interviews.”
“We also have freelancers who write from New York and, whenever there is an opportunity, we cooperate on a national basis in our outreach to a community that plays such an important role in American life,” he said.
David Newman, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council-Long Island, said his group has been working with the Salvadoran community on the Island for the last two years. He said they are the largest subset in the Spanish community on the Island, numbering 30,000 in Nassau County and 45,000 in Suffolk.
“We did two programs together in Great Neck and Oceanside that highlighted the efforts the consul general of El Salvador to Switzerland, Jose Arturo Costellanos, to create safe passports and birth certificates for Jews during the Holocaust,” Newman said.
Together with George Mandel-Mantello, a Jewish Salvadoran diplomat, they are credited with saving more than 20,000 Jews.
In addition, Newman said his organization arranged for four pro-bono lawyers from the New York Legal Assistance Group to go to the Salvadoran Consulate in Brentwood, L.I., and provide legal services to those from the Salvadoran community who sustained losses from super storm Sandy.
“These things created a positive relationship so that when we held a pro-Israel rally when Israel responded to the intense rocket fire from Gaza, someone from the Spanish community came and spoke,” Newman said.