In whose interest is it to move US embassy?
Christian Zionists, for the most part, constitute a subset of American evangelical Christianity. While some are not evangelicals and the movement is spreading beyond the US, its main adherents are American evangelicals. Evangelical Christians constitute a quarter of the US population, according to the Pew Research Center. While it is unclear how many evangelicals are Christian Zionists, it is clear that this group has significant influence within the evangelical community and Republican politics.
To understand the nuances within Christian Zionism, I suggest dividing this group into “fuzzy” and “sharp” adherents. Fuzzy Christian Zionists are typically evangelical Christians who are favorable toward Israel, partly based on religious affinity with the country. They grow up with biblical stories and songs that feature the ancient Israelites and like the idea of a modern Israel in the Holy Land. Pew Research Center polls have found that 82 percent “of white evangelicals believe God gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people, compared with 40 percent of American Jews who believe the same.” They are often inclined to a world view that emphasizes a struggle between what they see as “Judeo-Christian” values versus the rest of the world, particularly Islam, and see Israel as an ally on the front lines of that fight.
Then there are sharp Christian Zionists, who have a specific theological view that demands active spiritual, political and material support for Israel. Some of these emphasize the idea that God’s covenant with Abraham and the Jewish people in the Old Testament applies to the modern world. They believe that God promised the land in question to the Jewish people, and that Christians must support them in reclaiming that land. Many Christian Zionists go further, with forms of dispensationalist theology that revolve around prophecy, believing that the state of Israel and the reconstruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem are essential steps toward an apocalyptic battle and the return of the messiah.
Christian Zionists strongly support the idea of Israeli annexation of Jerusalem and the West Bank and have likely played a role in shaping the current lack of interest in a two-state solution.
Kerry Boyd Anderson
These Christian Zionists are active in lobbying the US government for specific policies that support the state of Israel, including the idea that Jerusalem and the West Bank belong to Israel. Two of the most prominent Christian Zionist organizations are Christians United for Israel and the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. They work closely with some Israeli organizations and politicians toward achieving this goal. Some Israelis and American Jews view the Christian Zionists as genuine friends or convenient allies, but some others express concerns about their theological views of Jews, especially those who embrace dispensationalism.
The existence of Christian Palestinians presents a problem for Christian Zionist approaches to the region. Some are unaware that a large minority of Palestinians are fellow Christians, and many pretend they do not exist. In some cases, Christian Zionists have held up as models individual Arab Christians who express strongly pro-Israel perspectives, despite the fact that they represent a very fringe view within Arab Christian communities. Many are willing to demonize all Palestinians — Christian and Muslim — as Israel’s enemies.
A combination of fuzzy Christian pro-Israel sentiment and the sharper version of Christian Zionist lobbying has long had some influence on US foreign policy — one of many factors that drives Washington’s pro-Israel policies and viewpoints. Now it appears that their influence has grown. One reason is that evangelical Christians have been a key electoral constituency for Donald Trump; 80 percent of white evangelical Christians voted for him. This has opened up high-level access to the White House for a number of evangelical leaders. Another factor is an alignment between Christian Zionist interests and, even for Washington, an unusually high degree of pro-Israel sentiment among those close to Trump and his foreign policy team.
Another important boon for Christian Zionists is having Mike Pence as US vice president. Pence is an evangelical Christian with a long affiliation with Christian Zionists. He was the first sitting US vice president to address CUFI’s annual conference, and many observers see him as an important person behind the decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Christian Zionists certainly believe they have been successful in influencing current policy. They lobbied for moving the US embassy to Jerusalem. Christian Zionists strongly support Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the idea of Israeli annexation of Jerusalem and the West Bank, and they have likely played some role in shaping Washington’s lack of commitment to or interest in a two-state solution.
There are other pro-Israel actors shaping the current US administration’s policies, but Christian Zionists have played an important role in taking Washington’s pro-Israel approach to new extremes. However, this success might eventually come with a downside, as pro-Israel sentiment in the US is increasingly attached to conservative, Republican partisanship, shifting away from previous bipartisan agreement on Israel. If Democrats eventually retake power, Israel might find it more difficult to heavily influence the US political left than in the past.
- Kerry Boyd Anderson is a writer and political risk consultant with more than 14 years’ experience as a professional analyst of international security issues and Middle East political and business risks. Her previous positions include deputy director for advisory with Oxford Analytica and managing editor of Arms Control Today. Twitter: @KBAresearch
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