Former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer recently urged Israel to prioritise maintaining the support of American evangelical Christians over that of American Jews. “People have to understand that the backbone of Israel’s support in the United States is the evangelical Christians,” he said, pointing to the fact that evangelicals comprise about a quarter of Americans while Jews make up less than two percent of the population. He also noted that it’s “very rare” for evangelicals to criticise Israel, while American Jews are “disproportionately among [Israel’s] critics”.
Indeed, white evangelicals were a significant portion of Donald Trump’s base, with 81 percent voting for him in 2016, and he catered to them through such Israel-friendly moves as the transfer of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and support for settlements and Israeli annexation of the West Bank and the Golan Heights. Though President Biden may use less crude rhetoric and have reinstated humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, his position does not constitute any real shift from that of Trump and thus similarly gratifies the desires of evangelicals.
Evangelical devotion to Israel was on full display in a recent sermon by John Hagee, senior pastor at Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas. Hagee is also the founder and national chairman of Christians United for Israel, the main US Christian Zionist organisation that boasts 10 million members. About 80 percent of evangelicals espouse Christian Zionism, the belief that the modern state of Israel is the result of Biblical prophecy, namely the notion that 4,000 years ago God promised the land to the Jews, who will rule it until Jesus’ return to Jerusalem and the rapture – at which time Jews must convert to Christianity or be sent to hell.
Though Hagee had originally planned to speak on marriage and commitment on Sunday, May 16, he shifted to a sermon titled “The Battle for Jerusalem” given recent events in Palestine: attempted expulsions of Palestinians from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah to make way for Israeli settlers; raids by Israeli security forces of Al-Aqsa Mosque; and Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip, which killed at least 248 Palestinians, including 66 children. Israel has reported 12 dead, including two children, from Hamas rocket fire.
Numerous analysts including Noura Erakat, Mariam Barghouti, Yara Hawari, and Rashid Khalidi have pointed to recent events as the latest in Israel’s expansionist, Zionist settler-colonial project that aims to dispossess Palestinians and Judaise the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea – a project in contravention of international law.
Of course, Christian Zionists see the situation very differently.
In his sermon, Hagee hit the main Christian Zionist talking points, hammering home the idea that God gave the land to the Jewish people, that Jews are the “apple of God’s eye”, and that when Jesus returns he will rule the earth from Jerusalem. “I long for that day,” intoned Hagee.
Hagee also shared his theory about the latest violence, placing sole blame on Hamas and arguing that Russia and Iran put Hamas up to it, ultimately stressing that Russia and China are working to push America’s presence out of the Middle East. “This is a direct challenge of America’s ability to defend Israel,” he said, warning that if the United States does not support Israel, God will not support the United States. This Israel-related prosperity gospel purports that good things – in terms of financial as well as physical wellbeing – are God’s will for those who “bless Israel”.
Hagee criticised Biden and his administration during the sermon, insinuating that Biden is always ineffectively dawdling “in the basement” – an insult of Biden favoured by Trump – and that the current leadership is “trying to get us to forget God”. In contrast, he praised former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a Christian Zionist, as a “dedicated Christian” and “a wonderful man of God”. “Pompeo is the kind of man we need in national leadership,” Hagee said in comments before the sermon, “not someone that hides in the basement all the time.”
Yet Hagee did not criticise Biden’s response to events in Palestine-Israel – and no wonder, as the Biden administration’s response does not fundamentally deviate from the support Trump or, indeed, past US administrations have shown Israel.
The Biden administration’s statements framed the violence in terms of Israel’s “right to defend itself” from Hamas, rather than acknowledge the reality of an Israeli colonial project and ethnic cleansing campaign against Palestinians. It also blocked a statement by the UN Security Council calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and criticising Israel’s expulsion of Palestinians in East Jerusalem. In addition, the Biden administration approved $735 million in arms sales to Israel.
Despite Biden’s stance, there are solid signs of a Democratic shift in the US in favour of Palestinian rights. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced a House resolution to block those arms sales, and Senator Bernie Sanders did the same in the Senate. Representative Betty McCollum has also put forward legislation that prohibits US taxpayer dollars from funding Israeli human rights violations. Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar sharply criticised Biden’s response to recent events.
Effective, sustained organising by groups like Students for Justice in Palestine, the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, and Jewish Voice for Peace, as well as intersectional work between Palestine advocates and movements like Black Lives Matter, have helped to push for this change and will ensure that it continues. But in the meantime, whether Hagee realises or acknowledges it, he and Christian Zionism have, while perhaps not a straightforward ally in the Biden administration, a leadership whose failure to stand up for what is just mimics their own support of Israel – just minus the rapture part.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.