U.S. President Donald Trump said Monday that he moved the United States Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem “for the evangelicals,” marveling that “Christians are more excited by that than Jewish people.”
Trump made these remarks during an election campaign rally at an airport in Oshkosh, Wisconsin as he visited Midwestern battleground states, holding campaign events in an effort to counterprogram media coverage of the Democratic National Convention, which took place virtually on the same day.
“We moved the capital of Israel to Jerusalem,” Trump said. “That’s for the evangelicals. You know, it’s amazing with that – the evangelicals are more excited by that than Jewish people. It’s incredible. And the Golan Heights, don’t forget that, we did the Golan Heights.”
With the phrase “moved the capital,” Trump appeared to be referring to his decision to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on December 6, 2017, followed by the official relocation of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. Jerusalem has been Israel’s capital since 1949, although many countries do not recognize it as such.
Earlier the same day, appearing on Fox and Friends, Trump also framed the agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates as being “incredible” for his evangelical supporters. “It’s an incredible thing for Israel, (and) it’s incredible for the evangelicals, by the way,” Trump said. “The evangelicals love Israel. Love Israel.”
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While the Wisconsin remarks were the first time the president has stated plainly that the decision he made in 2017 and implemented in 2018 was designed to please his evangelical base, Trump has previously noted that Christians were more grateful to him for the decision than Jews.
“I tell you what, I get more calls of thank you from evangelicals, and I see it in the audiences and everything else, than I do from Jewish people,” Trump told evangelical leader and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee shortly after the embassy move took place. “And the Jewish people appreciate it but the evangelicals appreciate it more than the Jews.”
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“It’s not a surprise though Mr. President, because evangelicals are people of the book,” Huckabee said in response. “And they believe you kept a promise, were fulfilling really a 3,000-year old commitment to recognize Jerusalem as the capital.”
Trump replied: “I think it’s a nice thing to say because it really affects Jewish people in theory more, but as you say people of the book, people of the Bible. But the evangelicals really appreciate it and that makes me feel good.”
The embassy relocation in May 2018 was deeply controversial in the face of a 1980 United Nations Security Council decision in favor of Resolution 478, which bans diplomatic missions from the city. Although numerous previous U.S. presidents from both parties had promised during their campaigns to make the move, before Trump, they had refrained from doing so, bowing to the position that the final status of Jerusalem should be part of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
The evangelical community was prominently represented at the ceremony inaugurating the Jerusalem embassy, which included blessings by pastors John Hagee and Robert Jeffress, who led a delegation of evangelical leaders. The decision to invite Jeffress to speak was controversial in light of remarks he made in 2010, suggesting that non-Christian religions, including Judaism “lead people away from God ... to an eternity of separation from God in Hell."
Speaking in Wisconsin, Trump also warned against the foreign policy consequences if the Joe Biden and Kamala Harris ticket emerged victorious in November, including a revival of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran forged by the Obama White House. “China will own the United States and Iran will insist on an even better deal than they made with Obama … we got nothing out of that deal, and I terminated that deal.”