A prominent evangelical leader, claiming to speak for tens of millions of Christians around the world, warned on Monday that Israel could lose the support of the evangelical world if Benjamin Netanyahu was replaced as prime minister.
Speaking at a press conference at a Jerusalem hotel, Mike Evans, who has been friends with Netanyahu for 40 years and was a member of Trump’s unofficial group of evangelical advisers, said: “Bibi Netanyahu is the only man in the world who unites evangelicals.”
Evans claimed that a huge billboard campaign he initiated three years ago persuaded Donald Trump to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and recognize the city as Israel’s capital. “You didn’t get that from the Jewish community in America,” he said. “You got it from the evangelicals.”
Evans sparked a storm in recent days for lambasting leaders of the anti-Netanyahu bloc, who hope to swear in their new government by next week. In a blog post on the Times of Israel news site, he compared members of the parties that comprise the proposed unity government to “rabid dogs” who wish to “crucify” the country’s longest serving prime minister.
Evans, who arrived in Israel on Sunday night for a quick 24-hour visit, said he had spent the day meeting with members of the anti-Netanyahu coalition, and four of them had confided in him that “they’re ready to bolt and they’re waiting for the first one – none of them want to be first.”
“Bibi Netanyahu’s death was greatly exaggerated,” he declared, indicating that he believed Netanyahu would continue to serve as prime minister.
Evans took the opportunity to issue an apology to Naftali Bennett, slated to become prime minister if the unity government is sworn in, after viciously attacking him in an open letter published over the weekend. Calling Bennett “a disgusting disappointment,” Evans accused him in the letter of betraying “the very principles that a generation gave their blood for and died for.”
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“I want to personally apologize to Naftali Bennett because I used some harsh statements and rude language,” he told reporters. “Mr. Bennett has actually been a strong Zionist most of the time I know him, and he deserves more respect.”
He said his biggest concern about the proposed new government was that it included “anti-Zionist Arabs,” and “post-Zionists.” He refused to address a question about Netanyahu courting the very same Arab party he described as “anti-Zionist.”
Initially billed an “emergency conference” to discuss the actions required for the “development and preservation” of the alliance between Israel and the evangelical world, the event was initially meant to be held in the Knesset. Evans said the venue was moved to a Jerusalem hotel because “we got kicked out.” He insinuated that the decision to bar him from the Knesset was politically motivated.
Many evangelical leaders have distanced themselves from Evans in recent days, fearing that his incendiary rhetoric could damage their ties with Israel. Evans insisted, however, that his critics represented only a small minority of so-called “Christian Zionists” and that the majority, like him, understood that nobody but Netanyahu was equipped to lead Israel.
He compared the upcoming vote in the Knesset in support of the new government to “a vote for or against Zionism.”
“Are you going to wave a white flag because you’re so blinded by your hatred, by your petty politics and by your obsession with power?” he asked. “Are you going to vote for Zionism or for anti-Zionism?”
Evans described Netanyahu as “a flawed man” but said that “King David was 10 times more flawed.”
“You’ve got a prime minister who isn’t a likable fellow, and his father wasn’t either,” he said, “but the power brokers of the world trust him.”
Evans insisted that Netanyahu had not sent him to lobby for him and that he had not spoken to him in a year.
At times shouting with emotion, at times on the verge of tears, Evans said his desire to “defend Israel” stemmed from the abuse he suffered as a young boy at the hands of his anti-Semitic father. Evans, who sometimes refers to himself as a Jew, said his mother was an Orthodox Jew.