Zionism award given to outspoken Christian

December 09, 1991|By Michael Ollove

Jan Willen van der Hoeven has devoted his life to Zionism.

He has worked to transport hundreds of Soviet Jews to Israel and helped them get settled in their new country. He travels the world to speak about the importance of the Jewish state. And he talks proudly of his son and daughter, who both served in the Israeli armed forces.

Mr. van der Hoeven, by the way, is Christian -- and the founder and spokesman for the International Christian Embassy, an 11-year-old institution whose purpose is to demonstrate Christian support for the state of Israel.

In recognition for his service, he received the annual Louis D. Brandeis Award yesterday from the Zionist Organization of America's Baltimore unit.

The award, named in honor of the late Supreme Court justice and Zionist, is given to those "who have, through their work and dedication, enhanced the lives of the Jewish people and contributed to the perpetuation and well being of the Jewish State."

Mr. van der Hoeven adopted that cause as his own when he helped found the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem in 1980. At that time, under pressure from Palestinians and Arab countries, nations with embassies in Jerusalem were moving them to Tel Aviv.

"No one wanted to recognize even the minutest right of Israel to claim their own capital," he said. "That's why we opened our embassy there. To demonstrate solidarity with Israel and to offer encouragement to her. It was a direct response to the cowardice of other nations."

It doesn't take long to understand that the Dutch-born Mr. van der Hoeven is a zealot. In a brief interview before receiving his award at a ZOA banquet at the Towson Center, his voice often rose with enthusiasm and gained speed, and he gesticulated emphatically. "My own wife, an Arab, felt it would be terrible if the Dutch gave in to her own people's blackmail. She wrote them a letter urging them to stay. Of course, they didn't have the guts to remain."

Mr. van der Hoeven said his devotion to the cause of Israel arises from his embarrassment over the treatment of Jews by Christians throughout history. "We have either persecuted Jews in the most shameless manner or seen them merely as objects for conversion," he said. "Everything Christians believe in they got from the Jews."

He said his role model was Corrie ten Boom, a fellow Dutch citizen who hid 18 Jews from the Nazis during World War II. Her father and sister were killed for helping her. She survived the war in a concentration camp.

In bestowing the award on Mr. van der Hoeven, the JOA took note of the International Christian Embassy's efforts last year to raise more than $2 million, which was used to transport 35 planeloads of Jews to Israel from the Soviet Union.

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