Explaining Christian Zionism to Israelis

To many Israelis, the world of Christian Zionism is largely hidden from public view. But a new report out from the Israeli progressive think tank, Molad, aims to change that, casting a bright light on the oddly symbiotic alliances between Christian Zionist activists and Israeli leaders. The investigative report, released Friday, documents these relationships, as well as those between Christian Zionists and the settler movement, which benefits from their largesse.

Christian Zionists, says Liat Schlesinger, Molad’s researcher for the report, are routinely referred to in the Israeli press as “Christians who love Israel.” But that description obscures their theology. “It doesn’t allow a critical look into their theology, what is their purpose, what is their interest in Israel,” she said in an interview in which she shared many of the report’s findings.

The term Christian Zionist, said Schlesinger, “is very confusing” to Israelis. “What we’re showing in the report is they’re not Zionists if they wish for the destruction of the Israeli state. Zionism is one thing and their religious motive is something else.”

The narrative is familiar to Americans who follow religion, politics, and the Middle East: Christian Zionists support Israel. When in Washington, they will frame this support—frequently described as biblically mandated love—in political and policy terms, such as opposing a nuclear deal with Iran or negotiations with the Palestinians. (Or, more recently, supporting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming speech to a joint session of Congress.) But at church, on religious television, in books, and at religious conferences, this love for Israel and Jews is unabashedly presented as biblical prophecy come to life, culminating in the return of Christ and the conversion or elimination of Jews.

While Christian Zionists (and Messianic Jews, and evangelicals who straddle both) remain largely outside the orbit of the average Israeli, these activists from around the world have made themselves crucial allies to Israeli lawmakers. The Molad report, which is currently available only in Hebrew, aims to show Israelis the role Christian Zionists play in the country’s politics, and how Israeli politicians dismiss violent end-times prophecies as mild theological differences among friends. Schlesinger noted that the Israeli right wing often accuses the left of accepting foreign money, but there is “secret funding that comes to right-wing parties from evangelicals that is completely hidden from the public.” [UPDATE: an English translation of the executive summary is now available.]

Mining public documents, Schlesinger uncovered at least 69 trips Knesset members took around the world—including some to attractive destinations seemingly divorced from the turmoil of the Middle East, like the Caribbean, Barbados, and Rome—paid for by Christian Zionist organizations, and one, even, by the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America. Many of the Christian Zionist organizations are hardly household names, even in the U.S., highlighting that many small, obscure Christian Zionist organizations together make up a subculture invisible to Israelis yet deeply influential to their country’s politics.

While U.S. ethics requirements mandate that members of Congress disclose the funders and purpose of foreign travel, including specific locations visited and meetings held, Israeli law only requires disclosure of the funder and destination. (Because of those requirements in the U.S., the American public can discover more details about Christian Zionist-funded trips American lawmakers take to Israel and the occupied territories.)

In turn, Schlesinger said, MKs provide the flourishing Christian tourism business in Israel with special treatment: VIP meetings with members of the Knesset, officially sanctioned awards to prominent Christian Zionists, MK endorsements of the Christian ministries, useful for the ministries’ fundraising activities, and Christian worship services featuring Israeli soldiers, and even one in the Knesset. Israeli MKs look the other way when Christian Zionists attempt to import the American culture wars, by opening crisis pregnancy centers or bringing anti-gay rhetoric to Israel.

The Israeli right wing, said Schlesinger, “is promoting the idea that Christian Zionists love Israel, so it’s free. We take their money and we don’t convert.” But the Molad report is “showing that they are trying to influence Israeli society and import their agenda.”

While the prospect of evangelicals influencing Israeli law or policy on LGBT issues or abortion seems remote, their influence on settlements, the occupation, and opposition to a peace deal with the Palestinians has a far more profound impact. (Christian Zionists, for example, are big supporters of continued settlement growth and of what they call an “undivided Jerusalem,” which would negate the possibility of a Palestinian capital there and thus a two-state solution.)

Schlesinger said the relationship between Christian Zionists and settlers has also spawned a shadow tourism industry in the occupied territories. Evangelicals, said Schlesinger, enjoy visiting the West Bank, “they like to come to Ariel and ride in armored cars.” American evangelicals harvest grapes for wine made in the West Bank, and they fund a range of services from kindergartens and libraries to security equipment.

The Molad report has already been featured in an Israeli television broadcast focusing on the relationships between Christian Zionists and Israeli and settler leaders. In that report, Oded Revivi, mayor of the West Bank settlement of Efrat, is shown saying he has met Christian Zionists that make him feel like to the left by comparison.

The reporter asks Revivi if rabbis would say not to take money from Christian Zionists. Most, says Revivi, advise taking it. Money, he says, has power.

25 Comments

  • whiteknyght@opendoor.com' Michael L Hays says:

    Fundamentalist Christian support of Israel intends to enhance the prospects for the ingathering of all Jews in Israel as a pre-condition and prompt of the Rapture. In other words, these FCs want to use Jews to serve Christian purposes. So what else is new?

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Money has power, so Israel takes it. And Christian Zionists fundraise it. What does the scorecard show? Conflict is increasing, and war seems more likely. I think the Christians are getting what they want. What about the Israelis? Is this what they want?

  • I recently had occasion interact with a man on LinkedIn who is involved with the Sanhedrin in a foreign services position. We got into it when he said that he had never read the Bible or the Qur’an, because translations were inaccurate, but relied on academic experts to interpret these books for him. I told him that this was a false approach because it was just substituting one translation for another. I also suggested that unless he could understand the context of these experts’ interpretations because he had actually read the books themselves, he was working at a strong disadvantage. He told me in essence to stop confusing him, call Congress, and put a stop to the Iranian negotiations. IN fact he did so in large font, bold print. I stopped even trying to make him understand, and instead told him if he did nothing else he should read Revelations and learn about the fate of the Jews and Israel, which was the motivation behind these Christian Zionist movements. As I pointed out, with friends like these, Israel does not need any enemies. I hope he gets a copy of this report and realizes that even if he choose ignorance over enlightenment, at least he has been warned.

  • whistling.girl2910@gmail.com' pennyroyal says:

    What will bring on the End Times that evangelicals desire (apocalypse, Rapture) is the conversion of the Jews. They are both playing each off against the other.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    But nobody knows the hour. We might continue on getting closer and closer to End Times for another thousand years.

  • gregp@unm.edu' Gregory Peterson says:

    Reminds me of a memory from awhile back, so I could be misremembering it.

    I was channel surfing when I caught Marilyn Hickey telling viewers to praise God for when Israel would be no more. That meant that all the Jews had converted.

  • whistling.girl2910@gmail.com' pennyroyal says:

    this millennialism has gone on since Jesus was around. Early Christians were told that Jesus would come in their lifetime. Apocalypticism is dangerous, esp. in a time of rampant terrorist, ISIS with a similar goal of end times, and loose nukes.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Fortunately those loose nukes are no longer a threat to end the world. There was a time in the past when the superpowers had tens of thousands of nukes pointed at each other, and if war started both sides would use them. A truly huge number of people would be killed as all the cities in major coutries were destroyed. Then clouds of radiation would circle the earth poisoning all who were still alive. The few who survived would find themselves in a world of a nuclear winter, where a cloud of dust covered the entire planet for years blocking the sun and totally wiping out crops for several years. The fortunate few still alive would be killing each other fighting for any stockpiles of food that could still be found. We are not near the end of the world as we were back then living under that risk, and now the most the loose nukes could do would be to wipe out a few cities, and the rest of the world would continue as if there was no prophetic ending.

    If it wasn’t for rich people screwing us, this would be the golden age of mankind.

  • whiskyjack1@gmail.com' Whiskyjack says:

    As a member of humanity in the 21st century, it makes me both embarrassed and depressed that really bad theology can result in such significant political influence and command such monetary resources.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    All theology, good and bad, contains contradictions. If you play those contradictions against themselves, there is no limit to how screwed up the theology can become.

  • whistling.girl2910@gmail.com' pennyroyal says:

    well, we humans overpopulating and destroying other life on planet earth bother many of us, but I take your point.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Killing other life and ourselves. The threats are real, and could kill many people and waste a lot of the planet. The threat of end of the world total destruction is now lower, but the threat of a small nuclear war that wipes out a city or two is up. None of today’s threats could reach the level of evil in the book of Revelation.

    The good news is by the end of the century we may have a city on Mars, and from there establish ourselves across the solar system. That would give us a great deal of protection from destroying ourselves in the future, so if Christians are really serious about Jesus coming and bringing end times they need to make sure that happens before we leave the planet, or at least somehow stop or slow down these new space programs that seem to now be starting up.

  • pmdulaney@gmail.com' Paul Dulaney says:

    Wow. As a Christian Evangelical who generally supports Israel I did not realize that there were so many (presumably) American Christian groups meddling in Israel’s internal affairs. I believe that Israel plays a major role in the end times, but I don’t think Jesus Christ needs my help in orchestrating how it is all going to play out.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    It is a tragic doctrine because so many do let it influence them. Even those who think the belief doesn’t influence them might be mistaken. Would you do all you can to help the world successfully negotiate environmental and political concerns? Would you fight like hell to make sure Jesus doesn’t even need to return? If not, then you are a part of the problem.

  • judithmax@comcast.net' Judith Maxfield says:

    In the film “Michael Collins” he created the IRA to match violence for violence. What he did not see was the extreme of what it became, an uncontrollable tiger dead of its soul. The Israeli govt may think it can control their American tiger just as much the American Zionist can do the same. Both are holding a live grenade against the rest of the world. Shame on both houses. Thank you again Sarah for your insights and compassion for the muddled headed us.

  • judithmax@comcast.net' Judith Maxfield says:

    Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright wrote in one of his books, ‘ Heaven is not an evacuation plan’. And here I thought he was too conservative for me. I bet God is laughing and nodding his head yes.

  • pmdulaney@gmail.com' Paul Dulaney says:

    “Would you fight like hell to make sure Jesus doesn’t even need to return? If not, then you are a part of the problem.”

    That’s very kind of you to prioritize what I should be doing with my life, but I’ll seek my spiritual direction elsewhere.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    I think if you look beyond the religious beliefs you can come to a deeper understanding of the situation.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    In the end the Israeli govt will have to pay the price for what it has done. The American Zionist tiger will probably never have to pay the price for what it causes because there is so much redirection and nobody wants to know what it means.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Sarah, before explaining Christian Zionism to Israelis would it be possible for you to explain it to Christians?

  • mwoods@rowandale.ca' Mark Woods says:

    Well, well, well. We have just seen in your comments that there is no end of arrogance on either side of the debate. A Christian Evangelical humbly enters the discussion with an honest comment and an admission that there were certain things he didn’t know before that now have added to his understanding of the situation – something we all experience from time to time – and he gets a jolly good smack-down from the know-it-all likes of you. Thanks for elevating the discussion to a whole new level.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Maybe it was a little harsh, but it is hard for me to see anything Christian Evangelical as humble. I just see close minded vanity. I guess this is in some ways an unfair characterization, and I shouldn’t be applying the evaluation of the group as a whole to each individual in that group when I don’t even know the man.

  • mwoods@rowandale.ca' Mark Woods says:

    Thank you for a thoughtful response. It’s rare in online forums like this. In return I should apologize for calling you a know-it-all. I guess I had my dander up. Rest assured, there are a few of us evangelicals out there who are trying to find ways to be true to our faith without falling into the narrow-mindedness for which we are so often rightfully criticized. It’s one of the reasons why I read Religion Dispatches. It’s good to know what others are saying about us. It points out areas in which we need to be more careful in what we say and think. All the best.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    I think the goal is to make it hard on you, so let us know if we can be of any more help.

  • mwoods@rowandale.ca' Mark Woods says:

    Good one! I’ll let you know. I’ve had people making it hard on me my whole life. In fact, skeptics have been trying to make it hard on us since the get-go, but the Christian church just keeps on chugging along and growing year by year.

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