When U.S. President Donald Trump arrives in Jerusalem on Monday afternoon, huge billboards proclaiming “Trump is a Friend of Zion” and requesting “Trump Make Israel Great” will greet him.
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It will be hard for the American leader to avoid them. Altogether, 42 billboards featuring intertwined Israeli and American flags have been erected around the city at a total cost of $100,000.
So who’s behind this big campaign? The billboards bear the name Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem, but in fact, the initiative is really the brainchild of one man – Mike Evans, the founder of this institution and among the first Christian evangelical leaders to declare his support for Trump's presidential run.
Evans wants Trump to know that he intends to ensure that the president makes good on his campaign promises. In a statement issued through a local spokeswoman, he said: “Donald Trump won the election because of a historic evangelical voter turnout – the largest in American history. Evangelicals tend not to be monolithic except on two issues – the Supreme Court and Israel. President Trump promised us he would recognize Jerusalem and move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. We wholeheartedly believe that this promise is non-negotiable and will happen while he is president.”
What do we know about Evans? He is the founder and chairman of the Friends of Zion Museum, which opened two years ago in Jerusalem and pays tribute to Christians who helped Jews throughout history, with a special focus on Christian Zionists. He is also a member of Trump’s executive evangelical advisory board. He declined a request for an interview with Haaretz.
Evans, who claims among his close friends the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin and current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is a fierce opponent of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In an article from 10 years ago in Jerusalem World News, an online news site he runs, he wrote: “The acceptance of this vile plan would turn Israel into a living hell... The Palestinians do not need more land; they need a life free of Islamic kindergarten camps that continue to instill hatred for the Jews into children from an early age.”
Evans has written 42 books, most of them self-published, but also several that have made The New York Times bestseller list, including “The Final Move Beyond Iraq: The Final Solution While the World Sleeps,” “Showdown with Nuclear Iran,” and “Jimmy Carter: The Liberal Left and World Chaos.”
He is also the founder of the Jerusalem Prayer Team, a U.S.-based nonprofit whose goal, as described on its website, is “to enlist 10 million people in America and around the world to pray daily and 250,000 houses of worship praying weekly for the peace of Jerusalem.” In a tribute to Evans published on the website, Netanyahu wrote: “In his devotion to Israel, Mike has consistently demonstrated the moral clarity that is necessary to defend Israel against the lies and distortions of its enemies, and championed the Jewish people’s claim to the Land of Israel.”
But Evans, who has born to a non-practicing Jewish mother and an anti-Semitic Christian father, was not always embraced by the Jewish establishment. In 1977, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York set up a task force to counter activities of Christian missionary groups trying to convert Jews. One of its major concerns was an organization called B’nai Yeshua (Sons of Jesus), founded by Evans. These concerns were raised after Evans moved the organization, originally based in Texas, to the heart of Jewish Long Island in New York. Jewish leaders warned at the time that the group appealed to young Jews because of its pro-Zionist agenda.
In an article published 10 years ago in the Inter Press Service news agency, Bill Berkowitz, a veteran observer of the American conservative movement, called Evans “a shock jock for Armageddon, a cheerleader for the apocalypse.” In a more recent profile titled “The Most Influential (and Self-Promotional) Christian Zionist You’ve Never Heard Of,” Berkowitz noted that although Evans does not have the name recognition of other well-known evangelicals, such as John Hagee, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, “he has been a steady presence in the Christian Zionist fold.”
Evans has boasted on several occasions of being the person who jump-started Netanyahu’s career. In a 2012 interview with The Jerusalem Post, for example, he claimed to have recommended the future prime minister for his first public service job as assistant to the then-Israeli ambassador in Washington, Moshe Arens. The report provided no comment from Netanyahu.
Because both Netanyahu and Trump are individuals with “moral clarity,” Evans said in the press statement released through his local spokeswoman, the American president’s visit represents a “historic peace opportunity.”