Editorial

The Evangelical Bear Hug

FILE Photo: Evangelical Christians attend a conference in Jerusalem, 2015.
Olivier Fitoussi

Under the public radar, one of the events with the greatest influence on what happens here in Israel is underway in Washington: the annual Christians United for Israel convention.

For years the Israeli right wing has worked to create a closer political and financial alliance with evangelical Christianity, which supports the Zionist enterprise and the Jewish people returning to their land as a prerequisite to the second coming of Jesus at the end of days. The process reached its peak with the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States.

Haaretz Weekly Episode 33Haaretz

>> Read more: Religious fanatics have hijacked America's Israel policy. And they're not even evangelicals | Opinion ■ A year after embassy move, U.S. evangelicals look for new Israel challenge 

About 80 percent of white evangelical Christians voted for Trump. This year’s huge gathering in Washington is a main election event and Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – evangelical Christians themselves – are addressing thousands of evangelicals there. So are National Security Adviser John Bolton, White House Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, and the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who is being flown in for the festivities. Not a single senator from the Democratic Party appears on the list of speakers.

The evangelical lobby made a decisive contribution toward Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and recognize Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights. It has also directly affected American policy on Iran, the aim to shut down UNRWA by defunding it and opposition to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. The ceremony inaugurating the embassy in Jerusalem included evangelical aspects, and even a speech by Pastor John Hagee, the founder of Christians United for Israel. A year later, ceremonies marking the anniversary of the embassy transfer were also held under the auspices of a Christian preacher.

Trump’s remuneration to his Christian voters makes a critical difference to the reality here in Israel, with the encouragement of the right-wing alliance. But it’s not only in the United States. The steady growth of evangelical, pro-Zionist communities has also affected the Israel policy in Latin America, notably in Brazil, and also in Australia and the Philippines.

The positions of the evangelicals don’t stop with geopolitical messianism. This year an evangelical church near Miami postponed a pro-Israel event after the Israeli consul general participated in the local gay pride parade. Evangelicals are also behind a wave of American anti-abortion legislation. The temporary overlap of interests between the Jewish messianic right and the disciples of evangelical Christianity also has the potential for causing social damage in Israel.

An Israeli government that looks after the country’s future and thinks long-term about its citizens’ lives cannot permit itself to buy support on credit from a community that is acting out of the belief that the Jews play a interim role in the process of Christian redemption. The chance to solicit funds and support for the occupation and the settlement enterprise is blinding the right-wing camp and its leaders. This involves a dangerous game with religious fire. The State of Israel needs to free itself from the evangelical bear’s hug.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.