Countering college campus anti-Israel propaganda in film
CBN CEO Gordon Robertson on the Ophel in Jerusalem’s Davidson Center. Archeologist Eilat Mazar believes this area to be a bakery in the royal palace of King Solomon. The large jars were used to store flour, oil and date honey for the royal bakery.
(photo credit: ERIN ZIMMERMAN)
“We were not telling enough of the story of what is coming out of Israel from an innovation standpoint, so we decided to tell that story.”
‘I grew up in a Baptist church in Virginia and I had never seen anything like this.” Gordon Robertson, president and CEO of The Christian Broadcasting Network, was 11 years old when he first visited Israel in the summer of 1969. Some 51 years later, he vividly recalls his childhood experiences at the Western Wall. “The jubilation at the Western Wall at that point in time was incredible,” he says. “I find it hard to put into words. There were men dancing with Torah scrolls, and the sheer jubilation that the generational prayer of ‘Next year in Jerusalem’ had now become ‘This year in Jerusalem’ and Jerusalem was no longer divided – there was something profound about it for me. I had a sense of how monumental this was, and it put me on a lifelong journey to find out more and to personally answer the question why it was significant and why it moved me so deeply.”Robertson, who is the son of Pat Robertson, host of television’s long-running program The 700 Club, imparted his special feelings for Judaism and Jerusalem to his children by bringing them to Israel for what he calls a “Christian version of a bar mitzvah.” “I have two girls and a boy,” says Robertson, “and when each turned 12 years old, I would travel with them to Israel, baptize them in the Jordan River and then we would go to pray at the Wall. It was a transcendent moment for me in 1969 and was a transcendent moment for my son 13 years ago, when he was 12, and it is something that is carried on through the generations.”TODAY, ROBERTSON is the executive producer of CBN Films, and has produced numerous films relating to the history of both ancient and modern-day Israel. In 2017, he released In Our Hands, which tells the story of the battle of Jerusalem during the Six-Day War through the eyes of the IDF’s 55th Paratrooper Brigade, highlighting their role in the liberation of Jerusalem. The docudrama combines dramatic reenactments with interviews of veterans of the Six Day War and archival footage and photos. After the film was completed, Robertson invited members of the IDF 55th Paratrooper Brigade to attend the premiere. “As the film began,” says Robertson, “I was remarkably anxious as to how they would receive it. At the end, when they showed their approval with a standing ovation, it was one of the highlights of my life.” Robertson says that it was a revelation for the IDF veterans to receive support and affection from a Christian group.It began with Robertson’s desire to tell the world the true story of Israel.“We were not telling enough of the story of what is coming out of Israel from an innovation standpoint, so we decided to tell that story.” Made in Israel, Robertson’s first project, was a series that focused on Israeli innovation in such diverse areas as medicine, hi-tech, agriculture, and water technology. “That started the process of creating more documentaries about Israel.” Robertson says that Made in Israel had a substantial evangelical audience in the United States. Interestingly, he says that a majority of the viewers of the YouTube version come from Israel. He adds that when Ido Aharoni, former Israeli Consul General in New York, and a 25-year veteran of Israel’s Foreign service, saw Made in Israel, he commented admiringly, “Israel needs a PR agent. We’re not getting our own story out.” I said, ‘Maybe some Christians can do your PR. How do we get your story out?”Robertson then created a series for The 700 Club, entitled The Hope: The Rebirth of Israel, that told the story of the birth of Israel focusing on a number of Israel’s visionaries and founders, including Theodor Herzl, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, Chaim Weizmann, David Ben-Gurion, and Golda Meir. The programs included interviews, historical reenactments and archival footage of actual events. “That series turned out to be surprisingly popular and surprisingly evergreen, and people are still interested in that documentary today,” says Robertson. He says that the program has been viewed around the world in English-speaking countries such as Great Britain, Australia, Canada, and the United States, and has become very popular in the Philippines as well. ANOTHER SERIES created by Robertson – To Life – tells the story of Israeli humanitarian work around the world. “This is a remarkably untold story,” says Robertson. “Here’s a nation the size of New Jersey that has reached out to 140 countries with humanitarian aid. When disaster strikes – hurricanes, typhoons, or earthquakes – Israeli teams are on the ground from IsraAID or the IDF, literally within 24 hours.” To Life was released in 2019, in honor of Israel’s 70th anniversary, and it follows Israeli volunteers in Uganda, Nepal, Greece, Kurdistan and the Palestinian Territories.Robertson and the Christian Broadcasting Network have also entered the political arena with their film about the conflicting Arab-Israeli claims to the land of Israel, in Whose Land Is It? Most recently, in 2019, Robertson released Treasures of the Second Temple, which attempts to trace the location of the sacred items from the Second Temple, including the Menorah and the Ark, which disappeared after its destruction in 70 CE. Gordon Robertson’s film work about Israel covers a wide range of subjects, including archaeology, history, innovation and Israel’s humanitarian work. Robertson says that the underlying ethic behind them all is accuracy.“We want them to be unassailable. We didn’t want to have any chink in the armor that factually we were off, so we went to multiple sources and multiple experts. We said, ‘Let’s get the story right and the scripts right and the visuals right.’ It has paid off in the long run. The proof was when the 55th paratroopers stood up and gave us a standing ovation for In Our Hands.”Robertson feels that his films about Israel are especially important today in the context of the BDS movement that threatens Israel’s legitimacy. “Everyone in Israel and in America needs to understand that BDS has had a great impact on college campuses in America. These buzzwords of ‘apartheid’ and ‘oppression’ and ‘colonialism’ and ‘occupation’ are repeated over and over again without any understanding of the history of the conflict,” he says. Recalling a promotional tour for In Our Hands that was held in New York in 2017, Robertson learned of a BDS protest that was being held at the same time at New York University. “One of the leaders of the protest was a student from Mexico, and the irony was that the same week that the BDS protest was happening at NYU, the IDF disaster team received a hero’s welcome in Mexico for the work that they did after the earthquake, and here there was a student-led protest at NYU.”Robertson says the Palestinian narrative has been focused on the destruction of Israel rather than an attempt to build their own state. “That narrative is lost on the college campuses today,” he says. “Now, more than ever,” he adds, “we need to make sure that the real history is told, and that the real source of conflict is told: that the idea of a Jewish state is completely unacceptable to the Palestinian mind.”This article was written in cooperation with CBN.