The Rise of Christian Zionism – The Christian Evangelical Assault on Palestine

By Paul Antonopoulos – CSS Project Director;  MENA and Latin America Research Fellow

The Christian Evangelical Assault on Palestine Based in a Claimed Literal Interpretation of the Bible, Absent Genuine Religious Content

 

resident of the United States, Donald Trump formerly allowed the relocation of the U.S Embassy in occupied Palestine to be relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, sparking unrest across the entire Muslim world, despite the warnings given to him by his own national security team. The opening prayer at the new Embassy was delivered by Evangelical Reverend Robert Jeffress with the closing prayer given by Evangelical Reverend John C. Hagee on May 14, 2018, the 70th anniversary of the creation of the Zionist entity commonly known as Israel. It was unsurprising to see Evangelical pastors playing such a key role at this event as 81% of Evangelical Christians voted for Trump.

Who are the Evangelicals? Evangelicalism is a puritanical sect of Christianity that take a literal interpretation of the Christian scriptures, comparable to the Wahhabis of Sunni Islam, and devoid of any spirituality. In addition to their domestic efforts to roll back liberal ideals and defend neo-liberalism in the USA, they also take a radical foreign policy that always attempts to justify US interventionism, including in Palestine. This puritanical interpretation of Christianity has seen it galvanize and create a strong network of megachurches, schools and universities, and create a behemoth media presence on radio, television and new mass media such as apps and social media.

Analysts were left confused why Trump would cause such a great provocation by recognizing Jerusalem as “Israel’s eternal capital.” The answer is quite a straightforward one.

It lays with a key tenet of Evangelical belief, Christian Zionism, with Evangelical vice-president Mike Pence being one of its most ardent and committed members.
The scholar Daniel G Hummel states that: “Christian Zionism has a long history in American politics, but it has never captured the bully pulpit of the White House. Past administrations often used general biblical language in reference to Israel, but never has the evangelical theology of Christian Zionism been so close to the policy-making apparatus of the executive branch. By identifying with Christian Zionism while in office, Pence risks the Trump administration’s ongoing search for an ‘ultimate deal’ to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and erodes the US’s claim that it can be an ‘honest broker’ in the Middle East.”

The Evangelicals believe that there will be a golden age where Jesus Christ reigns on Earth. However, before his return there will be a tribulation where Christ defeats evil, but not after natural disasters, wars and the Antichrist devastate the world. After these tribulations, the Evangelicals believe that the people of the Mosaic covenant, including the Jews who will convert, will bring on the so-called golden age. They believe that with Jews reclaiming the Holy Lands for themselves, they are bringing the world closer to the second coming of Christ and therefore play an important role in Christian prophecy.

It is for this reason that the Christian Zionists have unequivocally and blindly supported Israel and justify their inhumane treatment of the Palestinians. One such example is Israel’s largest charity, The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, funded largely by American Evangelicals and since being founded in 1983, has raised a total of $1.5 billion for Israel. However, mixed in with this prophecy which is used to justify their support for an apartheid racist regime, is politics and US interventionism. Evangelical pastor Robert Jeffress claims it makes geopolitical sense to wholeheartedly support Israel — “our only reliable ally in the Middle East.”

In January when Pence visited Israel and spoke at the Knesset, the heads of the established Christian churches in Palestine refused to meet with him during his trip, revealing the schism between Evangelicals and the Christians in the Holy Land. Palestinian Archbishop Atallah Hanna, Head of the Sebastia Diocese of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, stated: “The Christian Evangelists are tantamount to pulpits in the service of the Zionist enterprise. They are enemies of Christian values, and when they come to Palestine they do not visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Church of the Nativity, but rather [Jewish communities] located on the stolen lands of our people as a sign of solidarity with [Israel].”

This huge disconnect between the Christians of the Holy Lands and the Evangelicals demonstrate that in pursuit of misguided prophecy, the Evangelicals are willing to hypocritically overlook their virtuous preaches of love and unity in the name of Jesus Christ while Palestinians continue to experience the worse type of apartheid, discrimination and injustice on a daily basis. This experience is not only reduced to the Muslim Palestinians, but also to the Christian Palestinian minority.

Research carried out by Dar al-Kalima University in the occupied West Bank town of Beit Jala found that: “The pressure of Israeli occupation, ongoing constraints, discriminatory policies, arbitrary arrests, confiscation of lands added to the general sense of hopelessness among Palestinian Christians” and that these conditions have put Palestinian Christians in “a despairing situation where they can no longer perceive a future for their offspring or for themselves.”

Although it may appear that the US Embassy move seems like an isolated incident, it will be with little surprise that the October election of Jair Bolsonaro to the Brazilian Presidency, will see the Brazilian Embassy potentially move to Jerusalem as well. Bolsonaro was baptized by an Evangelical pastor in the Jordan River in 2016, believed by Christians to be where Jesus was also baptized. This move saw him garner the support of Brazil’s powerful Evangelical minority, believed to be at least 27% of the population. It is therefore unsurprising that one of his first statements after becoming President-Elect was to announce the Embassy relocation: “As previously stated during our campaign, we intend to transfer the Brazilian Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Israel is a sovereign state and we shall duly respect that” – a move that aligns Bolsonaro with Trump and bolsters his image as a “Tropical Trump.”

In another shocking statement, he threatened to close down the Palestinian Embassy in the Brazilian capital, saying: “Is Palestine a country? Palestine is not a country, so there should be no embassy here,” and that “We do not negotiate with terrorists.” With such aggression to Palestine it is unsurprising that Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, rained down praise on Bolsonaro, especially playing the narrative that the entirety of the Palestinian population are terrorists – elderly, women and children included.

“I am certain that your election will lead to a great friendship between our nations and to a strengthening of Israel-Brazil ties,” Netanyahu told Bolsonaro during a congratulatory phone call. “Looking forward to your visit in Israel,” he added.

In another Christian Zionist assault on Palestine, all which occurred in the year 2018, Malcolm Turnbull was ousted from the Australian Prime Ministership in August in a soft coup and replaced by Pentecostal Scott Morrison. The new leader, in one of his first moves as Australia’s leader, announced his country’s intentions to move the Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by Christmas 2018. The initial announcement of the Embassy move was quickly shot down by the media, commentators and even many within his own Party.
Although it remains to be seen whether Canberra will follow through with their threat, what is certain is that with the ascension of Christian Zionists into positions of power globally, the Palestinians will continue to be viewed as pesky terrorists that are withholding the second Coming of Christ.

Such aggression against the Palestinians is seen, felt and experienced from the Christian Zionists that even native Palestinian Christians view them with disdain as the Evangelicals ignore the plight and struggles of Christians in the Holy Lands because of pressures, discrimination and violence by Israeli authorities.

Although political scientists may view contemporary conflicts and diplomacy through the scope of political theory, dominated through the lens of Realism, the rise of Christian Zionism must also be studied and understood. This comes as the worlds greatest superpower is now (or perhaps always been?) partially guided by such theological thinking, with Latin’s America’s largest power following suit, along with America’s Pacific guard dog, Australia, now joining the fold. This understudied and underappreciated theological-politico theory can no longer be ignored by contemporary political scientists, especially as the existence of an independent and sovereign Palestine hangs in the balance.

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