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Five minutes with: Author Joel Rosenberg

We sat down with Joel Rosenberg to discuss writing, being a Jewish Christian, the Middle East, and his new book

Image Source: Joel Rosenberg

When did you first realize that you were interested in writing?
Ever since I was 8 years old, I've wanted to write novels and screenplays. Writing has been a passion of mine ever since. And I really don't have any other professional skills — certainly none of the classic Jewish skill sets. I'm not a doctor, lawyer, accountant or even chiropractor. For much of the 1990s, I worked in politics in Washington but all of my candidates lost. Or, if they did well, it was long after I worked for them. Basically, I'm good at making things up. So, it was either go into journalism and write Fake News, or become a novelist. I'm happy with the choice I made.

Which of your books have you most enjoyed writing?
Wow, that's hard to say. I'll always love "The Last Jihad," because that was my first novel, and such a bizarre story. I began writing it in January 2001, almost nine months before Sept. 11, yet the first page puts readers in the cockpit of a plane that's been hijacked by radical Islamist terrorists and it's coming in on a kamikaze attack into an American city. Then, after the attack (which was against Denver, not New York or Washington), my fictional American president sends U.S. forces into battle to remove Saddam Hussein from power. That was exciting to write but too surreal to see all the real-world events that unfolded later.

Beyond that, I've loved writing all 14 novels, each for different reasons. But "The Auschwitz Escape" was particularly special. It was the first work of historical fiction I ever wrote. For that I traveled to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp that was run by the Nazis in southern Poland. I met with the top scholars at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial research center in Israel. The story is fiction, but it's inspired by two true, historic events. The first was the greatest escape in human history, when four men escaped from Auschwitz in the spring of 1944, not simply to save their own lives but to warn Churchill and FDR of what was really happening in that death camp and to plead with them to either liberate the camp, or bomb it out of existence. The second true story upon which the novel is based is a group of Evangelical Protestant pastors in the little French town of Le Chambon sur Lignon. They rallied the town of some 3,000 people to save some 5,000 people fleeing from the Nazis, most of whom were Jews. Several of the pastors were eventually arrested and sent to concentration camps. It's an extraordinary story of faith and courage in the face of unspeakable evil. After the novel was released, I actually got to go visit the town, meet the Christians in the town, hear their stories, and give them copies of "The Auschwitz Escape." It was a very touching experience. I'll never forget it.

You've said that your books focus on worst case scenarios that could happen in the near future, but hopefully won't. Does it ever get stressful thinking up so many possible cataclysmic world events?
Absolutely. I spend a great deal of time trying to get into the heads of evil people, reading what they write, watching their speeches, studying their biographies, studying their strategies and tactics and trying to understand their world view. Some are Sunni radicals, others are Shias. Some aren't simply radical Islamists but rather Apocalyptic Islamists, people who literally are trying to bring about the end of the world as we know it. Others are extreme Russian nationalists. And Nazis. And North Korean nutcases. It's as sobering as it is stressful to study these people for long periods of time and then try to extrapolate what they believe into what they might try to do one day. I find myself watching a lot of sitcoms with my wife at the end of a work day — "Seinfeld," "Everyone Loves Raymond," "Frasier," etc. — to take the edge off. That, and the Scriptures, of course. My faith is a deep source of joy and peace, and I need to lean on the truths of the Bible when I'm so deeply immersed in the lies of our enemies.

You've frequently praised Jordan's King Abdullah II. How important do you think Abdullah is to Mideast stability?
There are a number of Sunni Arab leaders that have emerged in the Middle East in recent years as bold reformers and vitally important allies of the United States, from Jordan's King Abdullah to Egypt's President el-Sisi to the United Arab Emirates' Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ) to Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). There are others, from Bahrain to Oman to Morocco, and beyond, and it's both fascinating and encouraging that the U.S. has so many Arab allies right now that truly understand the threats we all face from Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, al Qaeda, ISIS, and the like.

That said, King Abdullah is, in my opinion, America's most faithful Sunni Arab Muslim ally. The others are very good in many ways, but they are newer. King Abdullah ascended to the throne in 1999. He took over when his father, the late King Hussein, passed away. King Hussein was an extraordinary leader — made some huge mistakes early in his career such as joining the Arab alliance against Israel in the 1967 war (which led to Jordan losing half its kingdom and its control of East Jerusalem), and siding with Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War. That said, King Hussein learned from his mistakes and ended up building a wonderful alliance with the U.S. and signing a historic peace treaty with Israel.

King Abdullah has wisely and quite adroitly built on the foundations laid by his father. He has, by far, more experience than any other Arab leader in Middle East. He's navigated all kinds of challenges and steered Jordan on a moderate path, willing to fight the Radicals, willing to protect its Christian minorities, willing to welcome more than 1.3 million Syrian refugees and protect them from the savagery of the civil war there, willing to maintain peace with Israel, able to provide the U.S. extraordinary intelligence on ISIS and other terror groups. My goodness, the list of the King's impressive accomplishments goes on and on.

So, yes, I think the king is a vitally important ally of the U.S. and a force for stability and moderation in the Middle East. I've had the honor of getting to know him in recent years. He's read three of my novels. We've met together five times, and I must say I'm deeply impressed with him. He's the right man at a dangerous moment. But he needs help. Specifically, he needs more international financial assistance. He doesn't have oil. Jordan doesn't have a wealth of natural resources. The U.S. provides much aid, but the rest of the world needs to do much more. The kingdom is straining under the weight of all these refugees. The Jordanian people are hospitable, but there's only so much sacrifice they can make. I fear for what could happen if Jordan is allowed to collapse under the weight of this burden. God help us if the king is overthrown and radicals seize the country. I'm not saying this is likely. But the world should come alongside Jordan far more than it has so far to make sure it remains an island of stability and sanity in an ocean of terror and violence.

You've spoken before about how when you first converted to Christianity, many people questioned how you could be both Jewish and Christian. You also mentioned how few Jewish Christians there were back just a few decades ago. In the years since your conversion, how has this changed? Is there a stronger network for Jewish Christians today?
When I was born in 1967, it is estimated that there were fewer than 2,000 Jewish people on the entire planet who believed that Jesus was and is the Messiah. When my Jewish father came to faith in Jesus in 1973, he thought he was the first Jew since the Apostle Paul to believe that Jesus was the long-awaiting Messiah promised in the ancient prophecies. I then came to faith in 1975, and many Jewish people in the early 1970s were beginning to realize that Jesus was our Messiah. Now, fast-forward almost 50 years. Where are we now? A new study came out in early 2018 that found that there are now some 871,000 Jewish followers of Jesus — Jewish Evangelicals — in the United States alone. Worldwide, we estimate there are now approximately 1 million Jewish believers in Jesus, out of a total global Jewish population of 15 or 16 million people. So, we're definitely seeing a surge that is unprecedented since the First Century, and I find this very exciting and very encouraging. My people are discovering that the God of the Bible — the God of Israel — really does love us, and really did keep His promises, and really did send the Messiah, and that He really wants to forgive our sins and save our souls and fill us with the hope and peace and joy we have always longed for and haven't always experienced.

You've stressed that Christians need to not only pray for Israel, but for the Palestinians as well. Could you elaborate on that?
Absolutely. The Bible commands us to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem." The Scriptures certainly makes it abundantly clear that God loves the Jewish people, the nation of Israel, and that all who follow Jesus — the Jewish Messiah — must love Israel and the Jewish people, as well. But the Bible goes further. Jesus commands His followers to love our neighbors. All Muslims are our neighbors. All Arabs are our neighbors. And certainly the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza are our neighbors. So, Christians are commanded to love them all because God created them, and loves them, and wants them to know Him personally and experience His love and forgiveness and peace.

Now, some Christians say, "No, I'm not going to do that. The Palestinians aren't my neighbors. They're my enemies!" To that I say, "Well, Jesus also commanded us to love our enemies and pray for them."

The question is simple: Are we going to obey Christ, or not?

I can't say I always loved Palestinians. I never hated them, mind you. But only in the last decade or so have I made an intentional effort to build friendships with Palestinians, both Muslims and Christians. I've become much more intentional about praying for Palestinians on a daily basis, and learning more about their lives, and trying to understand their dreams and fears, and finding ways to serve them and encourage them. I can't say I have a detailed plan that will bring about peace between Palestinians and Israelis. But Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers." The Bible says, "seek peace and pursue it." So, I'm trying to do that. And especially as an Israeli citizen now, with two of my four sons serving in the Israeli army, I'm praying for peace and working for peace more than I ever have.

How significant do you think it is that the U.S. has moved its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem?
Prophetically, it's not that significant. There's nothing in the Bible about embassies. But geopolitically, it's very significant. The U.S. and Israel are very close friends and allies, and it was kind of crazy that for 70 years the U.S. refused to place its embassy at least in undisputed West Jerusalem, since that was the declared capital of the Jewish state. Congress passed a law in 1995 declaring Jerusalem to be the Israeli capital and insisting the U.S. embassy be moved there. But one American president after another signed waivers every six months deferring the decision, essentially kicking the can down the road. But what that did was convince Palestinian leaders that maybe the U.S. and the rest of the world didn't really consider Jerusalem the legitimate capital of Israel. Rather than encouraging Palestinian leaders to forge a final, comprehensive peace treaty with Israel, it seems to have had the opposite effect.

President Trump is basically saying, "Enough is enough. Jerusalem is the Israeli capital. That's where the prime minister lives and works. That's where the Parliament is located. That's where the Supreme Court is located. It's time to put the embassy there, in fulfillment of a law that's been on the books for 23 years. If the Palestinians want some part of East Jerusalem to be the capital of their own independent state, they'd better come to the table soon and start negotiating because the world isn't going to wait forever. Seventy years of refusing to sign a final peace treaty with Israel is enough, already."

Is that controversial? Certainly. Is it reasonable? Personally, I think it is. Look, I grieve for the suffering of the Palestinian people. They live in poverty. Some live in squalor. Meanwhile, Israel has grown into an economic and technological superpower. I want the lives of every Palestinian to get better. I want them to experience peace and prosperity. I want them to have freedom and opportunity. But let's be honest — that's only going to happen if there is peace. And there can only be peace if the Palestinian leadership comes to the table and makes peace. The rest of the Arab world is urging them to end this conflict and make peace. I think more and more Palestinians want that, as well. But so far, the 82-year-old leader of the Palestinian Authority — Abu Mazen — seems content with digging in his heels and saying no peace, no negotiations, not now, not ever. That's very sad. Israel doesn't suffer from such intransigence. Only the Palestinian people suffer. So, I pray that either Abu Mazen changes his tune, or new leadership emerges that is ready to make peace and build a truly vibrant and dynamic free economy and free society.

What's one thing that you wish people know about you?
I'm a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen. I like to joke that that means I get to vote twice — it's like living in Chicago. My wife and sons and I live in Jerusalem. We actually just bought an apartment there. We love both of our countries, and we're passionate about our faith, and passionate about our desire to see peace in the region.

I'm also passionate about writing novels. I absolutely love being an author. There's nothing else I'd rather do. There are now about 5 million copies of my books in print, in more than two dozen languages. And one of the fun things about the books being read so far and wide is to discover who is actually reading them. Over the years, we've learned that Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, are fans of the novels since back when he was a member of Congress. So is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. King Abdullah is a fan and has read at least three of the novels. I recently got a very kind note from former President George W. Bush who is currently reading "The Kremlin Conspiracy." So, that's fun to know. But of course it also ups the ante because now I'm not just writing for ordinary people – now I have to attract and hold the attention of world leaders. That's an enormous challenge – but a good one, and one I'm up for.

Are you able to give any hints about what to expect in your upcoming book?
Happy to. I can't wait for this next one to be released. It's called, "The Persian Gamble," and it comes out March 12. My hero is a man named Marcus Ryker. He's a decorated former U.S. Marine, and decorated former Secret Service agent who served on the Presidential Protective Detail. This is a man who has taken enormous risks to protect his country and her leaders, and now he is on the most dangerous mission of his life. The Iranians are secretly working with Russia and North Korea to buy fully operational nuclear warheads. They intend to use these warheads soon in attacks against the U.S. and Israel that will make 9/11 pale by comparison. But through a series of events, Ryker uncovers Tehran's plot — their huge, high-risk gamble — and now he's in their blind spot. The Iranians don't see Ryker coming, and that's when things really get exciting.

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