A 1978 study by an Israeli scholar on American fundamentalist churches helped spur the Likud Party's courting of Christian Zionist leaders, such as the Revs. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, according to Clifford Kiracofe, a former senior staff member of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Since then, Israeli Prime Ministers Yitzhak Shamir, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Ariel Sharon have addressed Christian Zionist gatherings of thousands in Jerusalem and met with evangelical leaders and groups during trips to the US.
Evangelical leaders began traveling to Israel and organizing tours for churches from across the US. Today a network of more than 200 pro-Israel grass-roots organizations has developed in the US, and Christian Zionist groups work to involve American congregations in prayer, financial aid, and advocacy.
For Ray Sanders and thousands of US churchgoers, their role is to learn how best to bless Israel.
"We take that injunction very seriously, and we want the Jewish people to realize the goodwill we have toward them, contrary to centuries of anti-Semitic history," he says. CFI runs several humanitarian projects, including a distribution center for the needy in Jerusalem, where donations from the US have provided clothing and household items for 250,000 people.
The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), which draws support from the Christian Zionist community, holds an annual Day of Prayer for Israel that last year involved 18,000 US churches. Since fundraising began eight years ago, individuals and churches have contributed about $100 million in humanitarian aid for Israeli social programs ($20 million in the past year alone), and sponsored 100,000 émigrés from Russia and Ethiopia, says Yechiel Eckstein, who founded the group with an evangelical pastor.