Middle East Eye / May 12, 2021
Influential Christian Zionist group’s comments follow a slew of high-profile Republican support for Israel’s attacks on Palestinians.
The leader of the largest Christian Zionist group in the US has called for Jews and Christians to stand firm in support of Israel, as the condemnation and outcry over Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza grows across the globe.
On Wednesday, the death count in Gaza spiralled to 56 Palestinians, including 14 children, after three days of air strikes shattered neighbourhoods and razed entire buildings to the ground. Meanwhile rockets fired from Gaza had reportedly killed at least five people in Israel.
“This time in world history Christians must not stand idly by. This time righteous people must take a stand against evil,” Pastor John Hagee, the leader of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), wrote on Wednesday.
“This time we must circle the wagons and fight the battle against Jewish hatred. This time Christians and Jews must unite and win the war against antisemitism.”
His comments on Wednesday are the latest in a string of endorsements of Israeli actions from high-profile American Christian evangelicals, including former vice president Mike Pence, and former secretary of state Mike Pompeo.
Despite the provocations by the Israeli government, the State Department has remained publicly resolute in its support for Israel’s actions, and most Democratic lawmakers appear to be exercising an attitude of “bothsidesism” in calling for de-escalation of tensions.
Since it began three days ago, the State Department has repeatedly refused to condemn Israel’s bombardment of Gaza.
‘An extremist ideology’
Officials from the administration of former US president Donald Trump are pinning the current impasse on what they are calling President Joe Biden’s “ambiguous policy” towards Israel.
“Biden delayed his call with Israeli leadership and restarted funding to the Palestinian Authority through the UN – both signal to Hamas & terrorists in the West Bank that America places less value on our relationship with Israel. It matters who leads,” Pompeo wrote in a tweet on Wednesday.
Likewise, Republican senator Ted Cruz, who also has long-established ties with the evangelical community, told the Hugh Hewitt Show that Biden’s “ambiguous policy” towards Israel had encouraged the “terrorists to launch rockets at Israel”.
Reacting to Pastor Hagee’s statements on Wednesday, Jonathan Brenneman, a spokesperson from Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA), a Christian ecumenical organisation seeking justice and peace in the Holy Land, told Middle East Eye that CUFI was “an extremist ideology built off an insulated internal narrative that does not track with reality”.
“The organisation is reliant upon its members’ ignorance about what is happening in Palestine,” Brenneman said, adding the CUFI was silent when Israeli police attacked Palestinian Christians celebrating Easter in Jerusalem.
“They just don’t deal with inconvenient truths that disrupt their narrative. CUFI won’t even bother to answer questions about Israel’s expulsion of Palestinians from Jerusalem, Israel killing children in Gaza, or Israel’s apartheid system. CUFI just pretends it’s all make-believe.”
Similarly, Samantha Brotman, membership manager of Jewish Voice for Peace, described Pastor Hagee’s tweet as “a frightening, although unsurprising, example of the kind of dangerous Christian Zionist rhetoric we all need to be challenging – Jews and Christians alike.”
“Christian Zionists, like Hagee, try to tell a story of Israel and Palestine that reduces Palestinians and Israelis to characters plucked straight from the Bible; portrays Palestinians as villains motivated only by primordial Jew hatred, and lifts up American Christians as the saviours who are uniquely suited to rescue Jews from the clutches of an evil Islam.
“It’s not only idiotic, but it’s incredibly dangerous,” Brotman said.
Christian evangelicals make up around 25 percent of the American electorate. It is estimated that 75 percent of them are white, with many identifying as Christian Zionists. Speaking at a CUFI event in 2017, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described Christian evangelicals as “Israel’s best friend”.
The Christian Zionist movement believe Israel is a manifestation of prophesies mentioned in the Bible and that Jews must be encouraged to return to their spiritual homeland.
According to this set of dispensationalist beliefs, once all Jews are assembled in Israel, the Antichrist will arrive and bring about Jews’ mass conversion to Christianity, and kill those who do not convert.
Despite the purportedly dark forecast for Jews in this scenario, the Israeli courting of Christian Zionists began in the late 70s and early 80s and accelerated under Netanyahu and Trump, who enjoyed particularly huge support among Christian Zionists.
Brenneman says CUFI routinely “twist realities in Palestine” to fit into their narrative.
“This includes claiming events in the ‘Holy Land’ are fulfilling Biblical prophecy or erasing any act of violence, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, to make it appear that Palestinians are acting out of irrational hatred, rather than strategically protesting the unlivable conditions Israel places us under.”
On Monday, Ron Dermer, the former Israeli envoy to the US, said Israel should prioritise the support of evangelical Christians over that of American Jews, who he said were “disproportionately among our critics”.
“About 25% [of Americans] – some people think more – are evangelical Christians. Less than two percent of Americans are Jews,” he told The Times of Israel. “So if you look just at numbers, you should be spending a lot more time doing outreach to Evangelical Christians than you would do to Jews.”
Evangelical Christians were reportedly influential in convincing Trump to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, to move the US embassy to Jerusalem and to set up the Abraham Accords – or the Israeli normalisation deals – with a series of Arab nations.
Pastor Hagee’s CUFI began in 2006 in direct response to Israel-Iran tensions.
The organisation currently claims to command the support of some 10 million Christian evangelical supporters of Israel across the US.
Azad Essa is a senior reporter for Middle East Eye based in New York City