Gaza has been bombarded indiscriminately by Israel for more than a month. Israel’s cruelty is not surprising but the unwavering support to Tel Aviv by the United States is outraging. The U.S. administration supports Israel financially, diplomatically, and it even helps the Israeli army in Gaza. While the reason seems to be an overlap of interests, it is certainly more than the United States’ foreign interests. This article argues that religion is a basic factor in the U.S. support for Israel.
In particular, some American Evangelicals, known as Christian Zionists, see support for Israel as a religious obligation for the realization of Apocalyptic prophecies. Some Evangelical Christians support the Republican Party, and although Democrats are now in power, Evangelicalism is so deeply rooted in U.S. foreign policy that even the Democrats can’t ignore their demands.
Why do Evangelicals support Israel?
Historically, some American Evangelicals support Israel due to verses like Genesis 12:2-3, which reads “I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee.” They claim that the establishment of the state of Israel is a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. Since Christian Zionists are the biggest religious group in the country, exceeding Catholics and other mainline Protestants, and accounting for 23% of the electorate, U.S. governments cannot ignore their demands. According to dispensationalist theology, humanity is currently in the last dispensation of the Book of Revelation, that is to say, we are experiencing the end times. Evangelical Christians claim that the Second Coming of Christ can only occur after the fulfillment of certain prophecies.
Such major prophecies include the return of Jews to the “Promised Land,” the foundation of Israel, the preaching of the Bible to the entire world, and so on. Another prophecy foretells that Armageddon, the end-of-the-world battle, will take place at the plains of Megiddo in Northern Israel. In the battle, Christ will defeat the Anti-Christ and each side will lose 200 million soldiers including nine million Jews; only 144,000 Jews will acknowledge Christ as the Messiah. In fact, different Evangelical groups offer different interpretations, but they all share the belief that to support Israel is a Biblical obligation: God says in Genesis 15:18-19, “To your descendants, I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates.”
Evangelicalism is a movement within Protestant Christianity. In fact, the birth of Evangelicalism and the support of Israel by Protestants go back to the 19th century. It should be noted that many great Christian thinkers like Saint Augustine, Martin Luther, Thomas Aquinas, and John Calvin did not read prophecies in the Bible as foretelling the establishment of an earthly state of Israel. For them, Israel meant “people of God” and “returning to Israel” meant returning to the Church; they never referred to Jews when talking about Israel.
It was John Nelson Darby, an Anglican British priest, that introduced dispensationalist theology, the basic ideology of Christian Zionism, in the 19th century. However, Cyrus Ingerson Scofield is a more famous name in Dispensationalism as he greatly contributed to the spread and consolidation of this theological school in the United States. There are strong claims that Scofield wrote the book with the sponsorship of Samuel Untermeyer, a Jewish lawyer and staunch Zionist. According to those critical of Evangelicalism, Scofield’s book was deliberately written to insert Zionism into Protestant theology.
While Evangelical support for Israel was not so overt in earlier times, following the Israeli victory in the Six-Day War (1967), which they saw as a miracle and actualization of Biblical prophecy, defending Israel became their top priority. By adopting the verse of the Old Testament “To stand against the Jews is to stand against God” as one of their basic tenets, Evangelicals, have turned supporting Israel into worship. When Israel was trying to improve its image in the 1970s, the Israeli government discovered how influential Christian Zionists were in U.S. politics and allied with them. The Jewish lobby also began to collaborate with Evangelical Christians to influence U.S. politicians.
Many analysts agree that Christian Zionists defend Israel more than Jewish Zionists. For example, at the Christian Zionist Congress held in Jerusalem in 1985, when Christians in attendance said that Israel must annex the West Bank, a Jewish attendant asked for the use of a more moderate language. In response, a Christian spokesperson said, “We don’t care what the Israelis vote! We care what God says, and God gave that land to the Jews!”
According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, 67% of Evangelicals has a positive view of Israel, 80% believes that the state of Israel is the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, and 45% states that the Bible influences their opinions about Israel. Since Evangelicals are the biggest political bloc in the U.S. and have strong ties among themselves and with political parties, particularly Republicans, their demands are not ignored. Jewish lobbies also encourage them to mobilize and put pressure on the government.
U.S. politicians and Zionism
Regarding how U.S. politicians and governments have received such pressure, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter famously once said, “The Judeo-Christian ethic and the study of the Bible were bonds between Jews and Christians which had always been part of my life.” He went on, “I considered this homeland for the Jews to be compatible with the teachings of the Bible, hence ordained by God.” Ronald Reagan also felt an affinity with Israel and looked at the Middle East from a Christian Zionist perspective. He believed that there were signs of an impending Armageddon.
On the other hand, former president George W. Bush believed that the United States was God’s chosen nation, and that he was chosen by God to become president. He frequently referred to Biblical verses in his speeches, hinting that the Bible was a major guide for his policies related to the Middle East. Donald Trump was perhaps the U.S. president who was the staunchest supporter of Israel; after all, during his presidency the U.S. embassy was moved to Jerusalem. Trump also chose his team from Evangelical Christians like Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo, who argued that Trump was chosen by God. The current U.S. president, Joe Biden, is another staunch supporter of Israel and calls himself a Zionist.