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.