This week, Jews in Israel and around the world will commemorate Yom HaShoah, a Holocaust Remembrance Day that marks a somber time for remembrance and reflection. On Thursday, thousands of Israeli and diaspora Jews and supporters will walk silently from Auschwitz to Birkenau in Poland in a procession called the March of the Living, designed to highlight Jewish resilience and survival along the path where thousands of Jews were killed during Nazi death marches in the 1940s.
Progressive Jewish activists such as ourselves have long expressed discomfort over the nationalist, militarist version of Holocaust memory on display at the March of the Living. This year, however, we were doubly concerned when headlines briefly declared that prominent Christian Zionist leader and antisemite Mike Evans would be leading the march.
Within hours, March organizers clarified that although Evans would be attending, “he has no official role in the planned events.” But why would Evans have the chutzpah to jubilantly make such a patently false declaration to the press? And what does this tell us about the contemporary Christian Zionist movement? Among other things it tells us that in spite of (or rather, in line with) the movement’s support for an expansionist, reactionary, and exclusively Jewish Israel, Christian Zionism is one of the largest antisemitic movements in the world today.
‘The soul snatcher of Long Island’
Mike Evans is a prominent U.S. evangelical leader, prolific author, and head of influential Christian Zionist institutions like the Jerusalem-based Friends of Zion Museum and the Jerusalem Prayer Team, a global outreach network with 30 million followers on Facebook. Evans has maintained close relationships with generations of Israeli heads of state from Menachem Begin to Benjamin Netanyahu, and exerts influence within GOP circles in the U.S., recently serving as an Evangelical Advisor to former President Donald Trump.
Yet despite these lofty credentials, Evans’ professed love for Israel is laced with antisemitism. In June 2021 Evans, enraged at Israeli leadership after Netanyahu’s electoral defeat, published an op-ed in the Times of Israel which drew upon a wellspring of implicit medieval and modern antisemitic tropes, slandering Israeli leaders as sinful Christ-killers, crass and materialistic, sexually licentious, power-obsessed and more.
At the end of his op-ed, Evans careened into full-on Holocaust revisionism. “I understand how the Holocaust happened,” he wrote, claiming that German Jews, whom he made into a metaphor for today’s Israeli leaders, “were busy insulting each other, drunk on the wine of pride. They did not see the smoke of Auschwitz rising because they were more German than they were Jews.”
This perverse victim-blaming inverts the historical reality that, in fact, fascist Germany violently denied its Jews first their national identity, then their lives—but this didn’t stop far-right Israeli outlets like Israel Hayom from celebrating Evans’ bid to lead the event commemorating these Jewish victims of German fascism, over seven decades later.
Before he embraced Christian Zionism in the 1980s, Mike Evans led missionaries to convert Jews to Christianity. In the 1970s, Evans was the leader of Bnai Yeshua, an organization of ‘Jewish Christians’ that rivaled Jews for Jesus in its aggressive attempts to “see every Jewish person in the world,” as Evans put it, “come to a greater relationship with the God of Israel through the acceptance of Jesus as the messiah.” In 1976, Evans, with the support of Christian Right leaders like Pat Robertson and David Wilkerson, moved Bnai Yeshua from Texas to Long Island in order to target one of the nation’s largest Jewish communities with his proselytizing.
The move led one writer to give Evans the nickname “soul-snatcher of Long Island,” and prompted Jewish leaders and mainline Christian partners to form an emergency counter-missionary task force to block his efforts. In another outrageous Holocaust inversion, Evans at one point responded to this pushback by suggesting Bnai Yeshua members would wear yellow stars symbolizing their persecution by the Jewish community. Evans’ name remained on missionary alert bulletins released regularly by Jewish community organizations until at least 1985.
Evans now avoids explicitly calling for the proselytizing of Jews, but a closer look suggests another story. In 2017 Shannon Nuszen, a former missionary who today works to counter Christian missionary activity in Israel, described the “gut wrenching feeling” she experienced at Evans’ Friends of Zion Museum. Geared towards a Christian Zionist audience, the museum’s exhibits featured coded appeals to missionary activity and celebrations of “deathbed evangelism,” where missionaries target lonely, vulnerable and impoverished Holocaust survivors in order, as Nuszen put it, “to convert them to Christianity in their dying days or even last moments.”
Christian Zionist antisemitism
Evans’ brand of antisemitism, masked as philosemitism and enthusiastic support for Israel, is common amongst Christian Zionist leaders. These leaders tend to believe Jewish ingathering in Israel is key to hastening the End Times, in which Jesus will return to Earth to bring salvation to Christians while non-Christians, including Muslims and Jews, will either accept Jesus as their Savior or face eternal damnation and physical annihilation.
Even while professing deep remorse and guilt over past centuries of European Christian antisemitism, and vocal opposition to contemporary antisemitism (usually conflated with any critique of Israel and its policies), many Christian Zionist leaders view the existence of past and present antisemitism as a necessary and cosmically ordained stimulus to Jews “retaking” the land of Israel.
John Hagee, founder and CEO of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), which boasts millions of members, stated in a 2006 sermon that the Holocaust happened “because God said, ‘my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel.” Although Hagee has since backtracked on this position, in 2015, Hagee again tapped into classical Christian antisemitism and Holocaust revisionism, stating that a “half-breed Jew” committed the Holocaust—referring to a debunked myth of Hitler’s Jewish ancestry—and that the Antichrist will also be a “half-breed Jew.”
Today, a slew of influential Christian Zionist organizations similarly attribute Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as part of God’s plan to induce Ukrainian Jews to “return home” to Israel. The International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem (ICEJ) has repeatedly appealed to its global following to support efforts to relocate Ukrainian Jews to Israel by exclaiming this is their “chance to be part of an urgent, historic and even prophetic wave of Aliyah,” as “so many other divine promises are being fulfilled before our eyes through Israel’s restoration to her ancient homeland.”
Evans used most of Sunday’s press release announcing his ‘leadership’ of the March of the Living to boast of his recent efforts to ‘rescue’ Ukrainian Holocaust survivors in particular, a narrative enthusiastically repeated across right-wing Christian and Israeli Jewish media.
In the Christian Zionist instrumentalization of Jewish suffering, the Jewish people and the state of Israel function as vehicles for the revelation of Christian truth claims. Scholar of the religious Right S. Jonathan O’Donnell calls these characterizations of Jews and Jewish life “overdetermined…fetish objects invested with supernatural power.” In the view of Evans and those with similar beliefs, it’s impossible to respect Jews as Jews and as human beings. This worldview also draws upon the antisemitic assumption that diaspora Jews are inherent outsiders in their respective countries, which Evans echoed in last year’s broadside against German Jewish victims of Nazism.
Given Christian Zionist tendencies to appropriate Jewish narratives for their own gains, it’s little surprise that Christian Zionist leaders are shaping Holocaust education in states like Florida, and comprise the largest lobby pushing for the IHRA definition which categorically conflates critique of Israel with antisemitism.
By misdefining antisemitism to serve their own purposes, Christian Zionists—alongside a sturdy bloc of largely conservative Jewish allies—reinforce a feedback cycle whereby antisemitism is rarely meaningfully addressed, but is allowed to flourish within a white Christian nationalist Right bent upon using Jews for its own agenda.
Moreover, Evans is hardly the only Christian Zionist with a penchant for attempting to convert Jews. Growing trends in Christian Zionism, as researcher Rachel Tabachnick noted in 2015, are no longer content simply to instrumentalize Jews as vehicles for End Times revelation, but are eager to awaken Jews in Israel to Jesus as Messiah as well. To the ascendant New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) concentrated mainly in Charismatic and Pentecostal churches, proselytization of Jews becomes, alongside the liquidation of the diaspora, a key part of the End Times process that must occur before the return of Jesus to Earth.
Apart from the obvious harm to Jews, all of this is disastrous, of course, for indigenous Palestinians who continue to call for freedom, justice and equality in the Holy Land. Like many Israeli nationalists, Christian Zionist leaders view Palestinians as little more than a foreign, expendable population whose very existence threatens the ethnonationalist agenda of the Israeli Right.
To encourage the divinely-mandated ingathering of all of world Jewry to Israel, Christian Zionist organizations funnel millions of dollars every year to support Jewish emigration efforts as well as illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and elsewhere, supporting and often encouraging Israeli Jewish attacks and takeovers of Palestinian land, as is happening in Jerusalem and Gaza today.
As shocking as it would have been, then, for an antisemite like Evans to lead the March of the Living, in one sense he would have felt right at home amidst the Israeli warplanes, soldiers, and evocations of nationalism and military might that unfortunately characterize the ceremony today.
Many right-wing Israeli outlets celebrated the false news that Evans would lead the march, reinforcing the close relationship between Christian Zionist leaders and the Israeli Right in the post-Trump era. As Yom HaShoah moves us to recommit to the fight against antisemitism, we must recommit to oppose Christian Zionism and to fight for a world in which Jews, Palestinians and all people can live in safety, dignity and freedom wherever they are.