They are not Jews, but they have been propelling U.S. policy in the Middle East toward Zionism for decades. White evangelical Christians are one of the most loyal voting blocs to U.S. President Donald Trump and a key factor in the president’s constant backing of Israel.
For the second time in his presidency, Trump broke with traditional U.S. policy by recognizing as Israeli a disputed territory, in this case the Golan Heights, on the border with Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.
The strongest applause for that decision came not from American Jews, mostly Democrats, but from white evangelicals, who voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016 and among whom 69% continue to support him unwaveringly, according to a study published last week by the Pew research center.
“The main, and perhaps only, reason Trump is taking these steps in Israel is because it’s what his base of evangelical, white and conservative voters want him to do,” explained historian John Fea, author of “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.
Twenty-five percent of Americans, according to Pew, are evangelical Protestants, people who “believe in the absolute authority of the Bible and in salvation through Jesus,” as defined by University of North Texas political and religious expert Elizabeth Oldmixon for the Vox news portal.
The most fundamentalist evangelicals, who, according to Oldmixon, number about 15 million people, are the most vehement U.S. defenders of the Jewish state.
“Many evangelicals who support Trump believe that the restoration of Israel as a nation-state and the return of the Jews to their homeland is a harbinger of the return of Jesus Christ.
“It is an interpretation based on a literal reading of the prophetic books of the Old and New Testaments, and implies that Israel’s success as a nation is central to God’s future plan for the world,” he added.
Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, and one of the most influential evangelical preachers in the White House, spelled out the biblical genesis of that theory in an article published on Fox News’ Web site.
“God promised Abraham, the father of the Jews, that he would give him and his descendants the land that now makes up modern Israel (…). That clear promise of God is the reason American Christians of both parties supported the recognition of the State of Israel in 1948,” the pastor summed up.
The evangelicals’ support for Trump disorientated many observers of the presidential race in 2016, when that conservative community decisively supported a candidate who had been divorced on two occasions, the protagonist of adultery scandals and who a few years ago defended the right to abortion.
Trump’s achievement was due in part to his selection as Vice-President of Mike Pence, who describes himself as a “born-again evangelical Catholic” and has infused the White House with deep social conservatism.
Another influential evangelical is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who last week said that Trump could have been sent by God to save Israel from the threat of Iran, like Queen Esther, who in a biblical episode interceded to save the Jews of the Persian Empire from genocide.
“As a Christian, of course I believe that’s possible,” Pompeo said in an interview with CBN television.
The conservative Christian vote may be key to Trump’s re-election in 2020, and two weeks ago a group of evangelical leaders received at the White House details of the peace plan that President Jared Kushner’s son-in-law will soon present.
“Several attendees expressed concern about the possibility that the peace plan could give the Palestinians a capital in East Jerusalem,” the Axios portal reported, citing a source who attended the meeting.
This rejection of the two-state solution brings the evangelicals into line with the Israeli right, and has fostered a symbiosis between Trump’s political priorities and those of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.