'Pro-Israel' evangelicals furious at Netanyahu's fall turn to sickening antisemitism

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Holocaust exploitation? Old-style unadulterated theological antisemitism? The sexualized betrayal of “the Jew,” now revealed as perfidious, power-obsessed and perverted? A bizarre reframing of the charge of deicide?

The recent screed by Mike Evans, a Christian Zionist leader celebrated by Benjamin Netanyahu, Donald Trump and a host of prominent Israeli institutions, has it all.

The trigger? The political downfall of Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister who, more than any before him, cultivated deep ties with U.S. evangelicals, and his replacement by Naftali Bennett, the prime minister designate whose diverse, improbable coalition is not to some evangelicals’ tastes at all.

Indeed, for Evans, Israel’s new coalition is an affront to evangelical support for Israel, to the covenant between them and Netanyahu, writ so large that he hurls at them almost every hateful slur ever hurled by antisemites against Jews.

Evans, who claims 77 million followers (on social media, at least), attacks Naftali Bennett and the entire coalition of Israelis he represents for their betrayal and “crucifixion” of long-time friend, Netanyahu, and vows to dedicate his life to their destruction.

U.S. President Donald J. Trump receiving the Friends of Zion Award with faith leaders in the Oval Office, December 11, 2017. Mike Evans is holding the award.Credit: D. Myles Cullen / The White Hous

The Times of Israel “featured” blog post is one of the most revealing texts about the toxic relationship between Jews and Christian Zionists I have ever read. It not only exposes the extent to which Trump’s “pro-Israel” actions were completely an Evangelical dance, but also the danger of that relationship for Jews, and for Israel.

Evans served for four years on Donald Trump’s evangelical advisory board, and when the administration decided to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Evans himself arranged (at a reported cost of $100,000) for 220 billboards to be plastered around Jerusalem announcing “Trump, Make Israel Great” and “Trump is a Friend of Zion.” 

He established the “Friends of Zion Heritage Center” in Jerusalem, a frequent stop for foreign dignitaries like Mike Pompeo and Jair Bolsonaro, and Jewish diaspora grandees like the Adelsons and Malcolm Hoenlein, vice-chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. The museum not only centers Evangelicals in the story of Israel but celebrates efforts to convert Jews to Christianity, including deathbed conversions of Holocaust survivors. 

Evans has been a key beneficiary of the sea-change in opinion on the Zionist Right in relation to Evangelicals. Once anathema to Israel’s right-wing Orthodox Jews, the Netanyahu governments recognized that, with the right cultivation, the U.S. Evangelical community, already theologically partial to Israel, could offer a massive political and financially lucrative source of unconditional support.

That dynamic was hyper-accelerated during the Trump presidency when Evangelicals gained more clout, not least over Israel policy, than ever before.

Indeed, the outgoing Israeli ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer declared last month that Israel should pay more attention to American Evangelicals, whom he claimed constituted “the backbone of Israel’s support in the United States,” at the expense of American Jews, whom he argued constitute its most inconvenient and fiercest critics.

Banner hung on the evangelical Friends of Zion Museum, founded by Mike Evans, to celebrate U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capitalCredit: Olivier Fitoussi

Though on its face this constituted a shocking repudiation of Zionism and Israel’s very raison d’etre, Dermer was merely saying the quiet part out loud. The statement reflected years of belief by the Zionist Right that the only value that mattered was uncritically “supporting Israel,” and specifically supporting its rightwing agenda of settling the West Bank settlements and oppressing Palestinians.

The Israeli Right today equates support for that agenda as the only measure of support for “the Jews” as a whole and opposition to it as the only important way to measure antisemitism. Hence their embrace of autocrats and antisemites like Victor Orban, Rodrigo Duterte, Jair Bolsonaro and, for that matter, Donald Trump.

Indeed, it remains a constant refrain of the Zionist Right that Evangelicals are the best friends possible of Israel – and therefore “the Jews.” Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, for example, chief rabbi and architect of the settlement of Efrat, remains a long-time and prominent ally of the Christian Right, particularly John Hagee and his CUFI (Christians United for Israel) organization.

Hagee is an openly Islamophobic and antisemitic hate-monger – spreading classic antisemitic libels – who dreams of an apocalyptic war in which Israel will be “drowned in a sea of blood.” Yet Riskin is always there to defend him, insisting that their competing visions of the eschaton are irrelevant in light of Hagee’s ideological and financial commitment to territorial maximalism and the settlement project.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets influential Evangelical leader John Hagee at the Prime Minister’s office in JerusalemCredit: Amos Ben Gershom / GPO

Now Mike Evans adds to that grotesque brand of Evangelical antisemitism

For Evans, Israel – with its new parliamentary alliance designed to oust Netanyahu – has betrayed him.

This is in their nature, he argues. Like Hagee, Evans blames the Jews themselves for their own murder in the Holocaust. And he swears he will dedicate the rest of his life to mobilizing millions of Evangelicals to destroy the Israelis who threaten his vision for Israel’s future.

“If they keep up this pathetic, political striptease act, this theater of the absurd, I’ll spend the rest of my life fighting them all, mobilizing millions of evangelicals to join me in the fight. I understand how the Holocaust happened. German Jews 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.”

Note not only the classic anti-Jewish attack, that Jews betrayed their identity and mission as Jews and dared to believe that they belonged in their diaspora nation, but also the disturbing sexualized gender relationship. Evans – who described himself as a prophet sent by God to inspire Netanyahu to seek leadership and thereby save Israel – sees himself as Israel’s husband and protector.

The Netanyahus, former U.S. ambassadors David Friedman and Mike Evans at the second annual Christian Media Summit held in Jerusalem Credit: Amos Ben Gershom / GPO

“I told my wife when I married her,” he writes, “that there was another woman in my life. I had to be with her a lot. Her name was Israel. … I’ve always been thrilled and proud of this beautiful, attractive, seductive Princess Israel. But right now, I’m not. I’m horrified. I’m seeing a display that is nauseous.”

Now, in his mind, “she,” Israel, has betrayed him. Cheated on him. Prostituted herself.

“This Israeli election is indeed a striptease show, with the pathetic part being that those in it are unpleasant, vulgar and disgusting. There’s nothing erotic about them, except them being delusional. Their obsessions have made them believe they are the darling seductive princesses that everyone is gloating over.”

Mark his words. These perfidious Jews are unpleasant, vulgar and disgusting.

Indeed, the classic Christian accusation of perfidy is most apt, as Evans goes on to literally accuse Jews of crucifying their savior, this time not Christ but instead their new savior, Netanyahu.

Friends of Zion event marking a year since the U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem featuring Benjamin Netanyahu, former U.S. ambassador David Friedman and Mike EvansCredit: Emil Salman

How dare they crucify Netanyahu, whom he and his Christian minions foresaw as savior, he asks. He literally quotes three times the classic New Testament text performed at the Passion Play – the basis of the charge of deicide that sits at the heart of 2000 years of Christian anti-Jewish violence – “Crucify him, crucify him!”

“Yet these would-be pretend striptease actors… are screaming at the top of their lungs, ‘Crucify Him, crucify him!’ It is sick and shameful to see such a group running like rabid dogs possessed with power and revenge.”

Rabid dogs, diseased and possessed with power and revenge. This too is a classic trope of Christian Jew hatred for some 2000 years, traced brilliantly by historian Kenneth Stow

The perfidious Jews simply refuse to see the Truth and instead “crucify” their savior.

Friends of Zion event marking a year since the U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem featuring Benjamin Netanyahu, former U.S. ambassador David Friedman and Mike EvansCredit: Emil Salman

None of this should be surprising. Evans – who claims to have been born Jewish before accepting Christ at age 11 – has spent his entire adult life working to convert Jews to Christianity, to such an extent that he has been kicked off college campuses. 

And this is the “backbone of Israel’s support”? This is the evangelical leader Netanyahu has praised for his “moral clarity“? 

The same Mike Evans, in an open letter to Naftali Bennett, sent around the same time as he wrote the blog post, boasted of giving Israel “four years of miracles under Donald Trump.” But, he asks, where is the payback to the love so many Evangelicals frame as “unconditional”: A government deposing Bibi and in cahoots with leftists and Muslims?

Puffed up with self-entitlement, he asks: “What appreciation do you show us? You shit right on our face. How dare you!” 

“Come now,” one of my friends concluded, “when has it ever not worked out for Jews to have Christians be mad at us for failing to play the role they’ve cast for us in their own cosmic drama?”

Joshua Shanes is Associate Professor of Jewish Studies at the College of Charleston and Director of its Arnold Center for Israel Studies