Israel Will be a 2016 Evangelical Litmus Test

Or so say Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, and Joel Rosenberg, convert from Judaism and author of numerous end-times-themed novels.

Yesterday, the trio published a piece in the Christian Post, arguing that the 2016 “evangelical primary” is already underway, and that “no one seeking the GOP nomination in 2016 can afford to ignore this vital and dynamic constituency. There is simply no viable road to the presidency for a Republican candidate who fails to win strong support from voters of faith.”

This argument is, of course, so familiar that it could have been written in 2000, or 1992, or 1988. It contains the usual warnings that politics alone can’t solve America’s problems (“America needs the help of Divine Providence,” “we need a new Great Awakening”). “Life” and “marriage” are listed as the #1 and #2 issues. “Israel and Radical Islam” come in at #5 (after religious liberty and national security), but one could see them being moved up a notch or two if violence continues to escalate:

Does the candidate have a clear and coherent view of U.S. vital interests in the Middle East, including a demonstrated, consistent, long-standing support for Israel and a solid understanding of why Israel matters to the U.S.? Does the candidate have a clear understanding of the urgency of the threats posed by Iran, ISIS, and Radical Islam more broadly, and a serious approach towards dealing with such threats? Does he or she have proven wisdom and experience in dealing with the Middle East issues, or is the candidate too new to the foreign policy arena?

In light of yesterday’s terrorist attack on a Jerusalem synagogue, Nance, in a statement, calls Israel a “cornerstone” for the 2016 presidential nomination, adding, “continued violence in Israel and constant turmoil in the Middle East makes a clear and comprehensive foreign policy agenda a must for any potential conservative presidential candidate.” Concerned Women for America, long chiefly concerned with domestic issues, recently added Israel to its advocacy agenda. Last month, the group hosted a pro-Israel—or, more accurately, pro-Netanyahu—rally on Capitol Hill. The clear message of the rally: the conflation of “American values” with “standing with Israel.”

As has been the case for several election cycles, reports of the demise of the religious right have been greatly exaggerated. While their overall numbers may be declining, conservative white evangelicals are still highly motivated to vote, as demonstrated in the midterm election this year. For the midterms, they were motivated by what politicians cast as religious liberty issues, but it’s not a stretch to imagine who those issues could be entwined with Israel. Advocacy groups already have been casting the political arrangements on the Temple Mount as a threat to the religious freedom of Jews (and Christians).

For the religious right, religious liberty succeeds as a get-out-the-vote motivator because it taps into dual passionate beliefs and fears: first, that America is not just a nation of Christians, but a nation guided and governed by conservative Christian imperatives; and second, that forces working against America’s status as a “shining city on a hill” endanger that Christian identity and America’s future.

Of course Israel has always been an issue in presidential campaigns, but the current situation on the ground, along with a growing number of Christian right political players adding it to their advocacy agenda, will likely catapult it into the forefront in 2016. (The most interesting horse-race thing to watch here will be the battle between the Ted Cruz and Rand Paul camps.)

When the candidates try to outdo each other with boasting of their “pro-Israel” credentials, it will likely trigger the inevitable can-the-Republicans-win-over-the-Jewish-vote debates. But those discussions will miss the real story. It won’t be Jewish voters the candidates are trying to reach.

  • Jim Reed

    In 2016 support for Israel will be just as important as it was in all those past years. The only difference in 2016 is now there is also a backlash forming against that position.

  • jaunita

    I agree there is a backlash forming. I see and hear it from fellow Christians, many of them who were solidly pro-Israel for years. This year’s most recent war/conflict received closer world-wide journalistic scrutiny (and criticism) which has resulted in many evangelicals questioning their hard-line support for Israel.

  • Jim Reed

    Plus now we know Netanyahu is chickenshit.

  • Jeffrey G. Johnson

    Of the 34 Jewish members of Congress, 32 are Democrats. There is one independent, and one Republican.

    Given these numbers it is very odd that Republicans position themselves as the champion defenders of Israel (unlike those filthy anti-Zionist Democrats who want to make peace with a non-existant people calling themselves “Palestinians”).

    I think it’s very obvious that GOP emphasis on Israel is not about winning Jewish votes, but about winning the vote of apocolyptic minded Christians who view Jerusalem not so much as the center of a conflict between modern day humans fighting over land, resources, security, and political control of their own destinies, but rather as the cosmic stage of a divine battle whose pre-ordained result will of course be the triumph of Jesus. It’s not really a very Jewish friendly view of Israel’s importance.

  • apotropoxy

    Perhaps the GOP should call for Israel to be formally acknowledged as the USA’s 51st state?

  • Whiskyjack

    Exactly. But since when has logic or rationality been part of the Republican agenda?

  • Matt McLaughlin

    Israel looks so ridiculous i think any candidate that emphasis israel will be sure to lose. Israel failed in only that it was never ‘pulled-off’. Ginzberg’s prediction has occurred:
    In 1891, Ginzberg, a Jew, had made his first visit to the Jewish
    > settlements in Palestine. It resulted in an important essay,
    > The Truth from Palestine. What distinguished his report from
    > the gushing accounts of other Jewish visitors was the sober
    > realism with which he noted the many problems. High among
    > them was the existence of an indigenous population. “We
    > tend to believe abroad that Palestine is nowadays almost
    > completely deserted, an uncultivated wilderness, and anyone
    > can come there and buy as much land as his heart desires.
    > But in reality this is not the case. It is difficult to find
    > anywhere in the country Arab land which lies fallow.”
    > He makes short work of the argument that lesser breeds can
    > be duped about Zionist intentions and bought off with the
    > benefits of colonialism. “The Arab, like all Semites,
    > has a sharp mind and is full of cunning … [They]
    > understand very well what we want and what we do in the
    > country, but … at present they do not see any danger for
    > themselves or their future in what we are doing and
    > therefore are trying to turn to their advantage these new
    > guests … But when the day will come in which the life of
    > our people in the Land of Israel will develop to such a
    > degree that they will push aside the local population by
    > little or by much, then it will not easily give up its
    > place.”

  • Matt McLaughlin

    never remember the word being used as a noun, mostly an adjective.

  • Jeffrey G. Johnson
  • Jeffrey G. Johnson
  • Joe Maizlish

    The political system offers us many litmus tests (or we can call them representatives of belief systems) by diverse groups: taxation, Israel,
    the sexual issues.
    Maybe the conservative evangelical is more desperate now because they’re losing on
    homosexual rights. But all who place ideology above compassion have this problem. Always trying to deal with apprehensions and doubts about
    their own purity and fears of divine or parental or self-retribution for their natural human complexity — but which they consider failings
    — by attempting to enforce a demand for purity on others.

  • Aravis Tarkheena

    This, this, and this. Thank you.

    I wish that crowd would leave my people alone.

  • phatkhat

    I wish that crowd would leave us ALL alone! I wish their rapture were real and happening soon, so that the world could get on with the business of living in the here and now.

  • Hans

    What sane lover of liberty and democracy and human rights — whether Christian, conservative or not — can disagree with the importance of the question below posed by the allegedly dangerous and crazy Christian conservatives????? Do we still believe in our civilizational values, or not???? Please, Ms. Posner, stop your stereotyping. I assume you wish to preserve all kinds of liberal values yourselves. They can only be preserved if someone stands up for them!!!!!!

    Does the candidate have a clear understanding of the urgency of the threats posed by Iran, ISIS, and Radical Islam more broadly, and a serious approach towards dealing with such threats?