(RNS) Even after making two documentaries about Israel, the head of the Christian Broadcasting Network felt another one, on the 50th anniversary of the Israeli capture of Jerusalem during the Six-Day War, was necessary.
“As you read today’s news headlines, as you see what the U.N. is trying to do, as you see what is being proposed in U.S. foreign policy with Israel, the current conflicts that continue to erupt throughout the Middle East, you’ll be better informed," said CBN CEO Gordon Robertson. "That’s the goal."
“In Our Hands: The Battle for Jerusalem,” recounts how Israeli troops overcame a Jordanian fortification and took Jerusalem’s Old City, including the Western Wall. It appears in select movie theaters Tuesday evening (May 23), as Israel observes Jerusalem Day to celebrate the restoration of Jewish control over Jerusalem after two millennia.
The docudrama follows “Made in Israel,” a film about Israel’s technological innovations produced for the CBN show “The 700 Club,” and “The Hope,” which delved into the biographies of individuals who formed the modern state of Israel.
Robertson talked to RNS about the film, the connection he feels to the Jewish state as an evangelical Christian and the spotlight the Trump White House has put on CBN News. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.[ad number="1"]
You run the Christian Broadcasting Network. Why make these films about the Jewish state?
That’s a personal story to me, and my interest goes back to 1969. I was just 11 years old, and I went on a trip to Israel with my father (Pat Robertson). It was the first trip for both of us. I went to the Western Wall to pray, and there I saw scenes I had not seen growing up in southeastern Virginia and the sheer joy of men dancing with Torah scrolls. It’s hard to explain, but a connection was created, and a very spiritual connection. I felt I was able to join in with their joy.
And then I decided with my children, when they turned 12 years old, I would do this sort of bizarre Christian bar mitzvah where I would take them to Israel and we would pray together at the Western Wall and it would just be us two. I would take them on this journey and end the journey with a baptism in the Jordan.[ad number="2"]
My father loves Israel and has been a strong support of Israel, and CBN has been a strong support of Israel since those early days, since that first trip. There's just a connection. The amazing thing – it's there generationally.
Do you think your Christian faith plays a role in that? Do you think there is a connection between Christianity and Judaism and the state of Israel?
I like to remind Christians that Christianity is a Jewish religion. All the books of the New Testament were written by Jews.
I joke with rabbis about this. I say, "It's easier for me to go back to the Tanakh (the Hebrew Scriptures) than it is for you to go forward to the Gospel of John." I don’t think they like the joke.
I find a whole lot of depth in Judaism that I encourage Christians to look very carefully at — particularly the festivals. Paul said we’re grafted in, and to be grafted in, there's a lot of sap down in those roots. The more you look at them, the more you study them, the more you understand Christianity.[ad number="3"]
Do you think the Trump administration will be good for the United States’ relationship with Israel?
I’m hopeful it will be good for our relationship with Israel. I sort of always hope that for all administrations. We’ll see. I think there's certainly a conflict of views within our State Department on how to treat Israel and how to treat her Arab neighbors. There's a natural human tendency to avoid conflict, and so if you're trying to have peace between two archenemies, it’s really tough, and you don’t want the perception that somehow or other you’re taking sides.
All that said, the new U.S. ambassador to Israel is certainly a strong supporter of Israel, and the new president's daughter is an Orthodox Jew — a Shabbat-observing Orthodox Jew — so I don’t think he's going to have much trouble just being naturally inclined to support Israel.
RNS had a story earlier this year about the administration turning the spotlight on CBN News. Has that continued, and what do you think that means?
For the individual reporters involved – David Brody, Jennifer Wishon — it's been certainly a nice pat on the back for them individually and professionally to have that kind of recognition. On the other side of that coin, they're fast learning that the press pool can also be a shark tank. When you get that kind of favor from the administration and you get called on in specific in the White House press briefings and they're not, suddenly things get very chilly for you in the press pool and what used to be your fellow journalists are now turning a cold shoulder. It's been an interesting season, and we'll see how it goes.
Certainly, for Jennifer and for David, I'm very proud of them. They’ve worked very hard for many years covering the Capitol, covering the White House, and I think it's well-deserved recognition.
Does your dad have any plans to slow down or retire?
My nickname for him is the Iron Horse. Here he is, 87 years old and still wants to do daily television, and not just any kind of daily television, he wants to do live television, where I like to joke there's the show we plan, the show we do and then the show we wish we had done. With live TV what comes out is what comes out, and you’ve got to live with it.
He’s got a lot of gas left in the tank. He still likes to ride a horse every single day. He is an example for us all with what can happen with your life and how productive your life can be at 87 if you take good care of your body and you eat right and you exercise regularly. He does it all. I’m very proud of him.