In early November, a photograph of four white men in cowboy hats at JFK airport was uploaded to social media with the caption, “These cowboys from Arkansas and Montana were at JFK today on their way to help out at the farms in Israel. They are not Jewish.” By the time the cowboys landed in Tel Aviv, a Jerusalem Post commentator declared, “they were already a social media sensation”.
Indeed, since then they have netted thousands of likes and comments such as “God bless Israel! I will always stand with her” and “The Jewish people are so grateful to have friends.” Israeli and American media outlets have also celebrated the cowboys through interviews and updates about their work and time in Har Bracha, a Jewish settlement in “Judea and Samaria” – the term for the West Bank used by those who believe the land belongs to the Jewish people.
Yet the cowboys are also a conduit to understanding a fundamental likeness between white American and Jewish Israeli society, namely their settler projects intent on the erasure of dehumanised “natives”.
The men volunteer through the Christian Zionist organisation HaYovel, or “The Jubilee”; according to the organisation’s website, this biblical term “looks forward to a day of worldwide redemption and a fully restored land of Israel.” As Christian Zionists, the cowboys and their sponsors believe that four millennia ago, God promised the land to the Jewish people, who will rule it until the rapture and, ultimately, the second coming of Christ. In this scenario, Christians will be saved and ascend to heaven while those adhering to other religions will be sent to hell.
While not all evangelical Christians in the United States (approximately a quarter of the population) hold these Christian Zionist convictions, polls show that a large majority believe that the modern state of Israel and the gathering of millions of Jewish people there are “fulfillments of Bible prophecy that show we are getting closer to the return of Jesus Christ”. Many Christian Zionists also believe in the “prosperity gospel,” which contends that blessing Israel results in personal and financial gain. These tenets compel Christian Zionists to support Israel’s settlements and other expansionist policies through donations, lobbying, and, as in the case of the cowboys, labour.