No president in the history of the United States has given as much power and influence to Evangelical Christians than President Donald Trump. The decadent playboy from New York has steadily appointed self-described devout Christians, such as Mike Pence, Nikki Haley and Rex Tillerson, to the most influential positions in the US government, almost – some would say – to the complete exclusion of non-Evangelicals.
Many people struggle to understand the relationship between these strange bedfellows. It does not appear the president has undergone some sort of personal religious conversion over the past few years. It is more likely that Trump simply recognizes that these hard-core conservative Christians were some of the only serious leaders who refused to join the “Never Trump” movement within the Republican establishment during the elections. In other words, he may not have had a choice, forced to choose from the only qualified candidates left standing in his pool of potential appointees.
The effect of Evangelical Christians on President Trump’s Middle East policy cannot be overstated. It is clearly evident that his declaration to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was not due to pressure from American Jewish community or even Israel’s Foreign Ministry. This bold step to break with a 50-year-old status quo is due to one reality alone: the president’s desire to make good on his campaign promise to the crowd of his most staunch supporters.
The support of the Evangelical Christian community has always been helpful to Israel. During the intifada years, when tourism was at its lowest, the Evangelical tour buses kept Israel’s tourism economy alive. They have literally donated billions of dollars over the past decade to social and humanitarian projects, through organizations such as the International Christian Embassy and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. There is no question that the socioeconomic resilience of the State of Israel would be quite weaker without its faithful Christian friends.
It is important to recognize that with the new power enjoyed by Evangelicals on Capitol Hill, they are no longer just helpful for Israel’s economic prosperity. They are essential for its security. From UN ambassador Haley’s insistence on treating Israel with equanimity at the UN, including her willingness to use her veto powers at the Security Council, to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s vigilance in scrutinizing the implementation of the Iran nuclear agreement, Israel is very fortunate its Christian friends are fulfilling such positions today.
Not surprisingly, the strongest allies and best friends of Evangelical Christians in Israel are Israel’s Messianic Jews – Jews who, contrary to popular opinion, insist that one can believe in Jesus and still remain Jewish. In fact, these two communities are virtually inseparable. It would be quite challenging to find any significant business or NGO in Israel that is funded by Christians, which does not have local Messianic Jews in its executive leadership. This would include Christian television networks such as TBN, CBN and GodTV, which broadcast content from Israel every day to billions of viewers worldwide. Go to any large gathering of Evangelical tourists in Israel, and you are likely to find Israeli Messianic Jews both on stage and in the crowd.
It is interesting to note that even in the White House, Messianic Jews have made their way into President Trump’s inner circle along with their Evangelical friends. The president’s personal lawyer and trusted confidant, Jay Sekulow, is a Messianic Jew who became famous in Evangelical circles for defending the freedom of expression of Jews for Jesus before the Supreme Court of the United States.
It would behoove the Israeli government to recognize that the small Messianic Jewish community in Israel, which apparently numbers less than 20,000 people, has become, since the election of Donald Trump, disproportionately influential and important to Israel’s security and diplomatic standing. Unfortunately, it appears that neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, nor anyone in his Cabinet, fully understands this new reality.
Indeed, the Interior Ministry still seems to take pride in preventing Messianic Jews from immigrating to Israel. In the recent well-known case of Rebecca Floer, a Jewish daughter of Holocaust survivors was prevented from immigrating under the Law of Return because the ministry claimed it had reason to believe she was affiliated with the Messianic Jewish community.
In view of the deep relationship between Evangelical Christians and the Messianic community, perhaps the government of Israel should start viewing Messianic Jews as diplomatic assets rather than a religious threat.
When any descendant of Jews submits an immigration request to the Interior Ministry today, assuming that they have provided the basic documents required, including proof of their Jewish heritage, their file is immediately transferred to the Aliya Department of the Jewish Agency. The Jewish Agency then proceeds to carry out an in-depth background search, including investigating the applicant’s Google profile up to its 200th page, and if any connection is found between them and Messianic Judaism or Christianity, their aliya request is summarily denied. This practice has already been noted and critiqued by the annual Freedom of Religion Report of the US State Department. The question is if this procedure is really necessary. Apparently, it is not implemented against any other Jewish immigrants including those who may adhere to Reform Judaism, Atheism, Buddhism, Scientology or Hinduism.
I believe that by embracing the Evangelical community on one hand, and stabbing their Messianic Jewish friends in the back with the other, the Israeli government is playing with fire. Will the discriminatory practice of Israel toward Messianic Jews ever harm its relationship with the Evangelical Christians? Perhaps not, but do we really want to take that chance?
The author is director general of Rav Tikshoret. He was formerly a journalist for Yediot Aharonot and a spokesman of the Labor Party.