WASHINGTON – Israel’s former ambassador to Washington precipitated a stir not too long ago when he suggested that Israeli leaders ought to focus extra on courting American evangelicals than American Jews, who he mentioned are “disproportionately among our critics.”
But Ron Dermer’s remarks – by which he known as evangelical Christians the “backbone of Israel’s support” in the U.S. – have taken on new resonance in latest days as a various coalition of Israeli political events seeks to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from energy.
No one labored more durable to domesticate ties between Israel and the U.S. evangelical neighborhood than Netanyahu, consultants say, and lots of American Christian leaders are intently watching the political upheaval in Israel that will decide Netanyahu’s destiny, seemingly on Sunday when Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, is scheduled to vote on the coalition authorities.
Controversial pastor Mike Evans calls Naftali Bennett ‘pathetic, bitter’
The deep connections between Netanyahu and American evangelicals burst into view final weekend, after a controversial American pastor, Mike Evans, launched an unvarnished and highly personal attack on Naftali Bennett, the right-wing politician poised to succeed Netanyahu as prime minister underneath a deal he struck with centrist chief Yair Lapid and 6 different events in Israel’s Knesset. The coalition contains hardline conservatives, center-left factions and a small Arab celebration – a attainable first in Israeli politics.
“You want to be in bed with the Muslim Brotherhood and Leftists. God have mercy on your soul,” Evans wrote in a public letter to Bennett. “You are a pathetic, bitter little man, so obsessed with destroying Netanyahu that you’re willing to damage the State of Israel for your worthless cause.”
Evans held a press convention in Jerusalem on Monday by which he apologized for his “rude” language attacking Bennett, however then repeated a lot of his broadside towards the fragile coalition opposing Netanyahu. If accepted, he mentioned, the coalition would “waive a white flag (of give up) to radical Islam.”
Evangelical leaders promise continued ‘friendship with Israel’
Other American evangelical leaders quickly disavowed Evans’ remarks, taking explicit concern with his prediction that American evangelicals would abandon Israel if Netanyahu was ousted.
“His assertion was absurd, it was unhelpful, and it is completely not reflective in any respect of the viewpoint of any evangelical chief that I do know,” mentioned the Rev. Johnnie Moore, who served as a casual spokesman for the group of evangelicals that advised former President Donald Trump.
Moore said American evangelicals should not be meddling in Israeli politics. And while Netanyahu is a revered figure among American Christians, he said, “I’m definitely totally positive that the evangelical friendship with Israel is stronger than any authorities, any political celebration, any prime minister.”
Marc Zell, an American Republican activist based in Israel, said he doesn’t think the coalition government, if approved, would cause a rupture in Israel’s ties with American evangelicals.
“Most evangelicals help Israel due to shared values and Israel’s eschatological function from a Christian perspective,” Zell mentioned, referring to Evangelicals’ beliefs about “end times.”
Netanyahu more admired than Reagan, for some
Still, the firestorm over Evans’ remarks has highlighted the alliance between Netanyahu and conservative evangelicals in the U.S.
“He’s turn out to be a family identify among Republicans. They love him, notably the evangelicals,” said Shibley Telhami, an expert on U.S. policy in the Middle East and professor at the University of Maryland who has done extensive polling in the U.S., Israel and the Arab world.
Telhami conducted a poll ahead of the 2016 presidential election that asked respondents which government leader they admired most in the world.
“Benjamin Netanyahu was number one, forward of Ronald Reagan, among evangelicals,” he said.
Moore said there’s good reason for that depth of support.
“Unlike any Israeli determine since the founding of the fashionable state of Israel, (Netanyahu) has had direct relationships with evangelical leaders – and scores of them – for a really, very lengthy time frame,” he said. Netanyahu “was keen to stroll throughout a bridge (between Jews and Christians) because it was being constructed.”
Netanyahu now appears to be activating America’s conservative Christian leaders – or at least Evans – to help him stay in power, Telhami said. Evans said he met with several members of Israel’s parliament on Monday in an effort to persuade them to abandon the anti-Netanyahu coalition.
Young, ‘woke’ evangelicals’ views are shifting
Zell said the bigger worry is a shift in younger American evangelicals’ attitudes of Israel.
“There is a rising technology hole among evangelicals that is not working to Israel’s benefit,” he said. “From this standpoint, it is attainable that the insurance policies of the new authorities – to the extent we will know what they will be – may very well enchantment to ‘woke’ evangelicals.”
A poll conducted this spring by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke and the Barna Group confirmed help for Israel among younger evangelicals dropped from 75% to 34% between 2018 and 2021. Telhami mentioned his polls have yielded comparable findings.
“This raises questions on the sustainability of the sturdy evangelical help for Israel that the Israeli proper has cultivated for years and that proved dependable throughout the Trump administration,” he wrote in a recent analysis for the Brookings Institution.
In an interview, Telhami mentioned youthful evangelicals appear to view Israel extra “by way of the prism of social justice … than by way of biblical prophecy or the strategic calculus that the a few of their leaders are making.”
That may explain, he said, Dermer’s suggestion that Israel beef up its efforts to court American evangelicals over Jewish Americans, who generally lean toward the Democratic Party.
But Zell, who is the chairman of Republican Overseas in Israel, said that is not an effective strategy, no matter who emerges as Israeli’s prime minister on Sunday.
“We can’t ignore the perspective of American Jews, for no different motive than Israel’s detractors will inevitably use the lack of help for Israel among US Jewry as a weapon of their marketing campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state,” he said in an email.
“American Jews have to outgrow their reflexive embrace of Democratic/Progressive speaking factors on the subject of Israel. By the identical token, Israel must do a much better job in speaking with the American Jewish neighborhood and particularly the youthful Jewish populations.”
Contributing: Jotam Confino
This article initially appeared on USA TODAY: Will Israel keep US evangelical Christian support without Netanyahu?