Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before the U.S. Congress this week has been criticized as destructive to U.S.-Israel relations. House Speaker John Boehner invited Netanyahu without telling the White House and made clear that the invitation’s purpose was to counter Obama’s message and challenge his policies. Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, warned that “by virtue of the invitation … and the acceptance of it … on both sides there has now been injected a degree of partisanship” that is “destructive of the fabric of the relationship” between Israel and the United States. On Friday, Netanyahu told an Israeli interviewer that he’s coming to Washington to enlist the American public against Obama’s Iran policy. Many in the American Jewish community have urged Netanyahu to cancel his speech, which they see as a grave mistake.
A recent report by Molad, an Israeli progressive think tank, shows that Netanyahu’s controversial speech is merely the latest expression of an alliance that has been forming over the last two decades between the Israeli Right and Evangelical conservatives in the United States. This alliance is based on partisan political interests and comes at the cost of the strategically crucial friendship between Israel and the US. Christian “Zionists” are not driven by Zionist motivations, but by religious aspirations and are using the alliance to promote their partisan political interests. The Israeli right, on its part, is using the alliance to bolster its political force and to advance positions that contradict Israel’s real interests.
Last October, three months before Netanyahu’s speech was scheduled and while most Israelis were celebrating Sukkot, a weeklong international conference was held in Jerusalem, away from the attention of the press. It was an annual conference of Evangelical conservatives. The main event of the conference brought together four thousand Evangelical conservatives from eight different countries. On stage, Jürgen Buller, head of the International Christian Embassy, urged the audience to be patient. “The restoration is a process,” he emphasized. “It is a physical process that will bring spiritual restoration. God says that when the time is right he will unleash the spirit of Christ upon human beings. Be patient with the Jewish people. They are struggling with the same issues your countries are struggling with: there are pride parades in Jerusalem; abortions take place on this land. This is a nation that still needs to be saved.” The fact that Evangelical conservatives deliver apocalyptic prophecies is not surprising in itself. What is significant about this particular speech is that the State of Israel sponsored it.
In fact, during the same event, PM Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a pre-recorded greeting to the participants of the conference. Netanyahu assured the audience that “Israel has no better friends than you anywhere in the world.” Buller returned a compliment: “there is not government in the world that has such close ties with evangelists as the government of Israel,” he told the audience. And he was probably right. The Israel Ministry of Tourism officially sponsored this event, as it did in past years, and for the first time in the history of this conference, the President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, was in attendance.
Despite the enthusiastic support of the State of Israel, only one event in the whole conference was open to Israeli audience: “The Israeli Guests Night.” During this event, a unit of IDF infantry soldiers, in uniform, stood on stage holding the Israeli flag. Above them hung a huge sign, which read: RESTORATION. The audience applauded for minutes on end. The soldiers were somewhat embarrassed and unsure of what is going on. In particular, the soldiers did not know that the word “restoration,” written in enormous letters over their heads, means the return of Christ and the conversion of all Jews into Christianity.
A few days before this event, Israeli Knesset Members joined twenty parliament members from sixteen different countries for a political convention. The agenda was hawkish, to say the least. The funding came from the World Jewish Congress and the Christian Embassy, an organization whose annual budget comes to around $20 million. The Knesset Christian Allies Caucus (KCAC), which is part of the Israeli Knesset, was the main official sponsor of the convention. At the height of the event, Israel Minister of Defense, Moshe Ya’alon, briefed the audience about the current security situation. At least four other Members of Knesset, all from right wing parties, were present.
The Settler-Evangelist Alliance
Throughout the last decade, the Israeli Right has forged a significant alliance with a sub-movement of Evangelical conservatives, self-described as “Christian Zionists.” These Evangelical conservatives believe that the return of the Jews to the Land of Israel is in accordance with the prophecy and necessary for the second coming of Jesus Christ. Some of them also believe that Jews ought to convert to Christianity and that two-thirds of the Jews will be annihilated in Armageddon. Unlike Zionism, the Jewish political movement that founded the State of Israel, “Christian Zionism” is not anchored in the right of the Jewish people to self-determination through political sovereignty. Rather, they endorse a messianic vision, according to which the founding of Israel, as well as Israel’s expansion and prophesized destruction, are part of a divine plan. These Evangelical conservative groups are concerned neither with the citizens of Israel, nor with the state of Israel, nor with the Jews’ right to sovereignty, but with the second coming of Christ, which, they believe, the State of Israel precipitates. The “Christian Zionists”are therefore not Zionists at all.
Nevertheless, due to their religious vision, Evangelical conservatives take an avid interest in the expansion of Israel, an interest shared by the Jewish Settlement movement. To be sure, the Evangelical conservatives and the Jewish Settlers differ in what they see as the endgame of their political efforts. While Evangelical conservativesbelieve that the expansion of Israel will lead to its inevitable demise, the Jewish Settlers plan to control the whole Land of Israel for eternity, or thereabouts. This non-negligible ideological difference between the groups is put aside in favor of their more pressing common interests. Evangelical conservativesand Jewish Settlers share a conservative social agenda and a deep hostility towards Islam. Most importantly, both the Jewish Settler leaders and Evangelical conservativesadamantly oppose a two-states solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Impact of the Settler-Evangelist Alliance
Support of West Bank Settlements. Evangelical conservatives heavily fund Israeli settlements in the West Bank. In recent years, tens of millions of US dollars have flowed into settlements for projects ranging from public buildings to security equipment to dairies and water towers. Evangelical conservative organizations provide large numbers of volunteers for farmers in settlements, including in illegal outposts (settlements that are illegal under Israeli law as well as international law).
Anti-democratic efforts. Within Israel, the Evangelical conservativelobby works closely with IDF units and supports missionary organizations, anti-abortion non-profits, anti-gay action, and movements working to establish the Third Temple on the Temple Mount with the aim of sparking war with global Islam. In the battle between democratic and anti-democratic forces inside Israel, Evangelical conservatives side decidedly with the anti-democratic camp.
Lack of Transparency and Corruption. Another serious problem is the lack of transparency regarding the Evangelical conservatives’most fundamental concerns. For some time now, Evangelical conservative groups have engaged in intensive parliamentary lobbying through the powerful Knesset Christian Allies Caucus (KCAC) – one of 26 such lobbies in world parliaments. The KCAC’s work is directed by the political agendas of the Washington-based Israel Allies Foundation (IAF)’s leaders and donors. Over the years, the IAF has successfully created total identification between the official lobby group and the foundation – including unlawful use of Israeli state symbols – enjoying the false front of an official Knesset entity. The IAF, and many other organizations, often arrange lengthy trips to exotic destinations around the world for MKs, some even adding direct funding. The latter, in return, promote the interests of these various churches in Israel by awarding them prizes, cutting red tape for them, and even assisting with fundraising on their behalf.
U.S.-Israel Relations. A primary cause for concern over the Settler-Christian alliance is the influence of Evangelical conservativeorganizations on U.S.-Israel relations. These highly-funded organizations now impact crucial foreign policy decisions, lending the settler right wing an unprecedentedly powerful voice in Washington. For example, they massively pressure the White House, regardless of presidential affiliation, to avoid advancing any political compromise between Israel and the Palestinians. And they have also played a major backstage role in the current Obama-Netanyahu crisis leading up to Israel’s 2015 general elections.
In March 2012, PM Netanyahu gave a speech for an audience of eight hundred Evangelical Christians, all member of “Christians United for Israel,” whose leader, John Hagee, has a long relationship with PM Netanyahu. Hagee is known in the US for his outrageous anti-gay and anti-Muslim statements. He is also one of the most avid supporters of an Israeli military strike in Iran and his organization, Christians United for Israel, has lead the campaign for Netanyahu’s speech. Hagee himself has recently said that “Obama’s treatment of Netanyahu will cause God to destroy America.” Again, such talk would not have been so disturbing if it did not come from a close ally of Netanyahu and a man who wields substantial funds and political power.
Conclusion: the Settler-Evangelist Alliance is an Imminent Threat to Israel
The Israeli Right, currently in power in Israel, has allied with fringe religious organizations that wish to bring about Israel’s destruction. This alliance is meant to thwart any attempt to end Israel’s military rule in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, to fight liberal trends in Israeli society, and to block democratic equality in Israel. As such, the alliance poses an imminent threat to the future of Israel. In speaking before Congress uninvited by the White House, PM Netanyahu might be undermining old friendships, but, at least to his mind, he is also fortifying new ones.