July 9, 2015 by Darius
US support for Israel is well known. Less well known, though, is the fact that the segment of the US population most responsible for mobilizing pro-Israel American policy is no longer American Jews but Evangelical Christians. Evangelicals account for approximately 30% of the US population and, because they are overwhelmingly conservative in their political views, a much higher proportion of the Republican Party. I’ve been doing some research into the causes and origins of Evangelical support for Israel. Here’s a brief breakdown of why American Evangelicals care about Israel.
- The Bible. Evangelicals hold the entire Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, to be the literal word of God. In Genesis 12:3, God, speaking to Abraham, says “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse.” Evangelicals hold this Biblical passage to mean that the US must support Israel or literally incur God’s wrath.
- End of the world theology. Different Evangelicals believe different things about the exact nature of the end of the world. However, all hold that in order for Jesus to return, there must be a Jewish state in the Holy Land with its capital at Jerusalem. The reconstruction of the Jewish temple will start the final countdown to Armageddon and God’s reign on Earth. Some Evangelicals believe that in the course of these events, Jews will accept Jesus as their Messiah. Most Jews aren’t so sanguine about that part.
- Cold War politics. The greatest foe for Evangelicals during the 1970s and 1980s was Communism. Israel was seen as a bulwark of liberal, capitalistic democracy, standing alone against the Red Arab hordes. Tying in to the previous point, some Evangelical leaders, including Jerry Falwell, thought that a Soviet-Chinese invasion of Israel would trigger the Battle of Armageddon, resulting in the deaths of half the world’s population.
- Personal relationships. When Menachem Begin became prime minister of Israel in 1978, he reached out to Evangelical leaders including Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Falwell and Begin became personal friends. In 1981, when Israel bombed the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq, Begin called Falwell before President Reagan, asking Falwell to justify Israel’s actions to the American people. Additionally, Evangelicals account for billions of dollars each year in tourism to Israel, even persisting through periods of violence in Israel. Israeli authorities have done their best to be welcoming of Evangelical tourists.
- Islamophobia. Many Evangelicals reject Islam’s status as part of the Judeo-Christian pantheon, instead seeing Mohammed as a false prophet. Pat Robertson even referred to Islam as idolizing “Hubal, the Moon God of Mecca.” Many Evangelicals see Israel as the front line in a civilizational struggle between the Judeo-Christian God and Islam.
Going forward, it is highly likely that the relationship between Evangelicals and the Israeli government will endure. Because Evangelicals control the decisive voting bloc in the US Republican primary and, due to their Biblical concept of the State of Israel, see a Palestinian state as a non-starter, Evangelical support for Israel is bad news for a two state solution.