American political candidates don’t get very far if they don’t pay proper respect the “special relationship” between the US and Israel. The reasons are quite practical: we share common enemies in the Middle East (Iran, ISIS, Hezbollah), and a mutual relationship—we supply the tech support, Israel provides the eyes and ears—helps both countries achieve their priorities. (Note that I am not saying anything about the validity of those priorities or our total lack of moral imagination in resolving a land dispute about a piece of dusty land the size of New Jersey. That’s too big for this blog post.)
But in selling the American people on a project that requires working with a nation we know has spied on us, politicians have opportunistically connected our political interests in the region with a particular Biblical eschatology, a vision of how history works and what it is working toward. This vision, rooted in the dispensationalist theology of Thomas Darby, says that time is divided into epochs, during which God deals with humanity in a different way. The Biblical timeline focuses first on the Hebrews, God’s chosen people, who become Jews, the people who believe in the monotheistic God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, and who, under the guidance of Moses, Joshua, and Caleb, took the land that would become the state of Israel. After just a few generations, that land was lost–first divided, then conquered–and the Jewish people dispersed. Most of what Christians call the Bible is set during some period when Israel was not yet (Genesis, Exodus) or was split (1 Kings), invaded (2 Kings, Daniel), occupied (1 Chronicles, 2 Kings), exiled (Nehemiah), or a colony of Rome (most of the New Testament).
Above, a dispensationalist timeline outlining the different epochs of Biblical history—and the future—as understood by premillennialist Christians.
So, for a nation selected by God for a special covenant, Israel doesn’t seem very beloved by God during most of this Biblical timeline.
In this dispensationalist view of time, which is at the center of the popular Scofield Reference Bible, Israel would emerge as a nation again—an event that, when it happened in 1948, gave conservative Protestants hope that God was moving us toward a new dispensation. The premillennialist view, which has taken hold in conservative American Protestantism, says we’re just on the brink of Jesus’ return. “The end is near” folks have been around for awhile now, but they really ramped it up in the 1970s with Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth and Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth. (The first, in fact, was the bestselling nonfiction title of the decade in the US. Of all books—not just religious titles.) Since then, the theology has appeared in many other genres, including Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind books.
Above, a bumper sticker expresses the popular premillennialist view that Jesus will take all believers to heaven when he returns. It says, “Warning: In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned.”
The central point of this theology is: Jesus is coming and though we don’t know when, exactly, it’s going to be soon. We can tell it will be soon because the world is falling farther and farther into sin. (You can measure how fast we’re speeding toward The End in one of my favorite spots on the internet, Rapture Ready Index. Trust me—you want to visit it. Today it’s at 181, with downward pressure due to declining Satanism but upward pressure from Gog (Russia) and liberalism (anti-Trump fervor).) Jesus will “rapture” true believers from wherever they are, and those who are left will face hell on Earth.
And Israel plays a key role in this.
Obviously, this theology resonates only with select group of Christians. Unfortunately, they include most of the folks on Donald Trump’s evangelical sounding board, Ted Cruz, and perhaps about 20 million Americans who subscribed to Christian Zionism, the belief that Biblical prophecy foretells that Israel will occupy all the land from the Nile to the Euphrates, that the Jews of all nations will return to Israel, that Jews will again worship on the Temple Mount (now the Dome of the Rock, where Muslims worship), and that Jews will convert to Christianity. And they tend to vote at a high rate.
All of this pushes such believers, who run several organizations that funnel money into Israel, to oppose any efforts at peace (even though most Israelis want peace with their neighbors) and to deny the very existence of a Palestinian—something our own politicians have echoed.
Above, a pin from Christians United for Israel (CUFI), a Christian Zionist organization that rallies Christians to support US and Israeli policies that align with a Christian Zionist vision of the Apocalypse. Check your Senator and Congressional Representative’s official photos to see if this pin appears on his or her lapel.
The mixing of theology and politics makes it hard for some Americans to distinguish between what is foreign policy and what is prophecy, and Trump supporters have embraced that. Many Americans Christians have a nearly superstitious relationship to Israel, quoting a passage from Genesis 12:3: “I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curses thee.” They call of this passage isn’t just to share material gifts (also, spies and weapons) with Israel; it’s also a warning that if you don’t do these things, you’ll be punished—that we, the US, will be punished. (And, interestingly, some far right Jewish leaders hold a similar position: that a Trump administration will usher in the Messianic age when he makes it possible for Jews to rebuild their temple and begin animal sacrifices again (which have already been happening on a small scale), all as part of a plan to practice pre-diasporic Judaism. And these aren’t folks on the fringe; some of them are members of the Knesset.)
And so, fealty to Israel must be paid—and that has made it much easier to push through US policy toward Israel that may or may not always serve the interests of the people in those nations.
And then came Trump, who, as much as any politician, promised loyalty to Israel at all costs. American Jews voted for him in about the same proportion as they are registered Republican—about 1/3. They were either unconvinced or unbothered by his anti-Semitism or felt that he was still a candidate preferable to Clinton.
This week might be changing that.
Within a few hours of Trump’s sharing highly sensitive intelligence with Russia, a nation that has aligned with Iran and Syria, two nations that have threatened Israel, it became obvious that the source of that information was Israel. We don’t yet know the outcome for the asset, but it’s very possible that Donald Trump endangered the life of an Israeli intelligence officer. At minimum, he made it impossible for Israel to trust him with information. Indeed, Israel had, in a bizarre conversation, already been warned by US intelligence not to share information with our president or his administration because it was not clear he could be trusted.
Then, today, Trump reneged on plans to speak at an ancient fortress is Israel, Masada. It is an UNESCO heritage site, and Trump was not permitted to land his helicopter there because the dust damages the site. Trump was informed that his helicopter would need to land at the base of the site, not on top of the monument, and then he would take a cable car. It appears that, in a fit of pique, he just canceled the visit instead.
Above, Masada, an ancient fortress where Jewish rebels faced Roman soldiers and, according to Jewish history, committed suicide rather than surrender. It was later a monastery and is now a tourist site and museum. No, you can’t land your helicopter on it, you world-class ass.
Trump will have other opportunities to insult our closest ally in the most volatile part of the world during his visit there.
These mistakes are potentially deadly. For American Christians who believe that we can’t survive unless we support Israel, they should be evidence that they may have voted for the anti-Christ.