The Terrifying Alliance Between End Times Christian Zionists and Donald Trump

On Sep­tem­ber 13, evan­gel­i­cal pas­tor John Hagee stood before San Antonio’s Cor­ner­stone Church — which seats 5,400 peo­ple and is tele­vised to mil­lions more — and told con­gre­gants how to vote on Novem­ber 3. ​In the forth­com­ing pres­i­den­tial elec­tion let every bible-believ­ing Chris­t­ian go vote the bible,” he said, to the cheer­ing and applause of a tight­ly packed crowd of mask-less wor­shipers (On Octo­ber 4, news broke that Hagee has been diag­nosed with Covid-19). He con­tin­ued, ​Take Amer­i­ca back from the god of social­ism that now threat­ens the very sur­vival of this nation.”

Hagee was refer­ring to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in all but name, a sig­nif­i­cant endorse­ment from some­one whose sphere of influ­ence extends far beyond his mega-church and its relat­ed school sys­tem. Hagee is the founder of Chris­tians Unit­ed for Israel (CUFI), an orga­ni­za­tion that claims 9 mil­lion mem­bers (a num­ber that may or may not be inflat­ed) and may be more influ­en­tial with the right than the well-known Amer­i­can Israel Pub­lic Affairs Com­mit­tee (AIPAC). CUFI has tremen­dous reach among U.S. church­es and exerts pro­found sway over the white evan­gel­i­cal Chris­t­ian base that turned out en masse for Trump in 2016. ​Chris­t­ian Zion­ism,” the polit­i­cal ide­ol­o­gy that ani­mates the orga­ni­za­tion, is premised on an end-times prophe­cy which CUFI trans­lates into a bloody, con­fronta­tion­al for­eign pol­i­cy that has made stun­ning strides over the past four years. 

And this ide­ol­o­gy is being used to mobi­lize a large base ahead of a cru­cial elec­tion. In mid-Octo­ber, the orga­ni­za­tion will be show­ing its new doc­u­men­tary ​Nev­er Again?” in 800 the­aters — in addi­tion to church­es—across the coun­try, a move that crit­ics say is like­ly aimed, at least in part, at encour­ag­ing U.S. church­go­ers to sup­port Trump. As Hagee and oth­er Chris­t­ian Zion­ists have used their perch­es to mobi­lize sup­port for Trump, the pres­i­dent has show­ered them with pol­i­cy wins, from the mov­ing of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem to vio­lent bel­liger­ence towards Iran. Dur­ing an intense elec­tion sea­son that has been upend­ed by news of Trump’s Covid-19 diag­no­sis, it is impos­si­ble to ful­ly grasp the con­tours of the 2020 con­test, or the glob­al role of the Unit­ed States under Trump, with­out under­stand­ing this pow­er­ful polit­i­cal force. 

What’s under­re­port­ed is the mas­sive size of the Chris­t­ian Zion­ist vot­ing bloc and how much Trump is rely­ing on it as a prospect to retake the White House,” says Ste­fanie Fox, the exec­u­tive direc­tor of Jew­ish Voice for Peace (JVP), a nation­al orga­ni­za­tion that oppos­es the Israeli occu­pa­tion. ​That has been the rea­son and ratio­nale for Trump’s very promi­nent anti-Pales­tin­ian agen­da from day one.” 

Jonathan Bren­ne­man, a Pales­tin­ian-Amer­i­can orga­niz­er with Friends of Sabeel North Amer­i­ca (FOS­NA), a Chris­t­ian orga­ni­za­tion that advo­cates for the rights of Pales­tini­ans, tells In These Times, ​After Trump was elect­ed, Chris­t­ian Zion­ism might be the main frame­work the major­i­ty of Amer­i­cans think of Pales­tine with. Chris­t­ian Zion­ism is in the air we breathe.”

What is Chris­t­ian Zionism?

The mod­ern polit­i­cal ide­ol­o­gy of Chris­t­ian Zion­ism is, in most cas­es, premised on the prophe­cy that the migra­tion of Jews to Israel is a nec­es­sary pre­req­ui­site for the sec­ond com­ing of Jesus Christ. Upon the rap­ture, Jews will either con­vert to Chris­tian­i­ty or go to Hell, accord­ing to this belief sys­tem, which is most close­ly asso­ci­at­ed with evan­gel­i­cal, charis­mat­ic or pen­te­costal strains of Chris­tian­i­ty. In a Feb­ru­ary 2018 ser­mon, Hagee put it this way: ​God has a set time to do every­thing, and Israel is God’s prophet­ic clock for doing it. Rec­og­nize this fact: that God’s clock only moves when the Jew­ish peo­ple are in the land of Israel, and when they are in the land, the clock starts ticking.” 

In prac­tice, this polit­i­cal ide­ol­o­gy as exer­cised through CUFI has meant unbri­dled sup­port for Israel ​as a Jew­ish state,” align­ment with the most far-right polit­i­cal forces in Israeli soci­ety, and back­ing of the eth­nic cleans­ing and killing of Pales­tini­ans. While strains of Chris­t­ian Zion­ism vary, Hagee holds that the rap­ture will be pre­ced­ed by a cat­a­clysmic war, a belief that makes him enthu­si­as­tic about con­flict and con­fronta­tion with Pales­tini­ans, as well as with Iran and its allies. In 2005, Hagee declared that ​it is time for Amer­i­ca to embrace the words of Sen­a­tor Joseph Lieber­man and con­sid­er a mil­i­tary pre­emp­tive strike against Iran to pre­vent a nuclear holo­caust in Israel and a nuclear attack in America.”

The anti-Pales­tin­ian, anti-Semit­ic and anti-Mus­lim ethos embed­ded in the Chris­t­ian Zion­ism of groups like CUFI is well doc­u­ment­ed. ​It applies bib­li­cal prophe­cy to a mod­ern nation state and trans­forms a 70-year strug­gle for polit­i­cal and human rights into a myth­ic, ahis­tor­i­cal, world-end­ing reli­gious con­flict,” says JVP’s Fox. ​That’s super dehu­man­iz­ing to Pales­tini­ans, Mus­lims and Jews, but also is extreme­ly dan­ger­ous when you are using the tools of state­craft to basi­cal­ly pur­sue the end of the world.”

This ide­ol­o­gy is often dressed up as phi­lo-Semi­tism, or extreme love of Jews. (Élan Carr, the State Department’s Spe­cial Envoy for mon­i­tor­ing and com­bat­ing anti-Semi­tism, boast­ed at an event in Tel Aviv in 2019 that the Unit­ed States is ​still the most phi­lo-Semit­ic coun­try in world his­to­ry.”) But crit­ics note that lurk­ing beneath this sup­posed ado­ra­tion is a pro­found instru­men­tal­iza­tion of Jews. ​Chris­t­ian Zion­ists essen­tial­ly think all Jew­ish peo­ple are car­i­ca­tures of the ancient Israelites — a car­i­ca­ture they asso­ciate, in turn, with the mod­ern state of Israel — and that the loy­al­ty of all Jews is, or should be, to Israel,” says Ben Lor­ber, a research ana­lyst for Polit­i­cal Research Asso­ciates, a social jus­tice think tank. ​Tied in with this, there is a pal­pa­ble sense in which they despise Jews in the dias­po­ra, espe­cial­ly lib­er­al Jews.”

Hagee has caught crit­i­cism for some of his overt­ly anti-Semit­ic mes­sages. In a late-1990s ser­mon, he argued that Hitler had enact­ed God’s will by expelling Jews from Europe and forc­ing them to Israel. ​Then god sent a hunter,” he preached. ​A hunter is some­one with a gun and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter.” Hagee has main­tained that the speech was mis­char­ac­ter­ized and tak­en out of con­text, but he deliv­ered it again some­time ​between Sep­tem­ber 24, 2005 and Jan­u­ary 1, 2006,” accord­ing to a Huff­in­g­ton Post report. Mean­while, a sim­i­lar mes­sage has echoed through­out his oth­er work. In a 2006 book Jerusalem Count­down, Hagee said Jews bear the blame for anti-Semi­tism because of an old curse on the ancient Hebrews, result­ing from idol wor­ship. And in a show of pro­found dis­re­spect to the West Africans hit hard­est by the Ebo­la cri­sis, Hagee said in 2014 that the dis­ease was an exam­ple of God pun­ish­ing for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma for ​divid­ing Jerusalem.”

Taher Herza­l­lah, an orga­niz­er with Amer­i­can Mus­lims for Pales­tine, a group that has par­tic­i­pat­ed in inter­faith efforts to mobi­lize against CUFI, told In These Times it is impor­tant to also pay atten­tion to the anti-Mus­lim racism is built into the orga­ni­za­tion’s teach­ings. ​They use this counter-ter­ror­ism nar­ra­tive,” he says. ​It’s this idea that there is this Islam­ic hea­then, that we have to pro­tect Israel from the Islam­ic world, that Israel is a bea­con of light in a region of dark­ness. You hear that kind of racist lan­guage a lot.”

While CUFI isn’t the only Chris­t­ian Zion­ist orga­ni­za­tion, it is the most pow­er­ful, and it appears to exert con­sid­er­able influ­ence over a base that is already high­ly favor­able to its goals. A Life­Way Research poll con­duct­ed in Sep­tem­ber 2017 found that 80% of evan­gel­i­cals believe that the estab­lish­ment of the mod­ern state of Israel in 1948 and migra­tion of Jews there ​were ful­fill­ments of Bible prophe­cy that show we are get­ting clos­er to the return of Jesus Christ.”

CUFI, how­ev­er, has its crit­ics among pro­gres­sive Chris­tians, who argue that the orga­ni­za­tion is not a nat­ur­al out­growth of Chris­tian­i­ty, but a cyn­i­cal polit­i­cal project that is using Chris­tian­i­ty to jus­ti­fy a bel­liger­ent and vio­lent for­eign pol­i­cy. ​U.S. empire has always tried to use Chris­tian­i­ty to jus­ti­fy its hor­rif­ic set­tler colo­nial­ism,” says Rochelle Wat­son, orga­niz­er with FOS­NA. ​You can see a mod­ern-day ver­sion of that with CUFI. Yes, this is about the right and Trump and a shared polit­i­cal project, but it’s also part of such a long continuation.”

A Chris­t­ian Zion­ist for­eign policy

Align­ment with CUFI’s strain of Chris­t­ian Zion­ism is one of the con­stant threads through­out Trump’s for­eign pol­i­cy actions and procla­ma­tions. On a Rosh Hashanah call in mid-Sep­tem­ber, Trump told Amer­i­can Jew­ish lead­ers, ​We love your coun­try,” an implic­it asser­tion that all Jews are Israelis, con­sis­tent with both a com­mon Chris­t­ian Zion­ist axiom and an anti-Semit­ic dual loy­al­ty trope. (Trump has made sim­i­lar state­ments in the past.)

But more impor­tant than words, Trump has gone even beyond the usu­al bipar­ti­san, uncon­di­tion­al U.S. sup­port for Israel. In 2018, at Trump’s cer­e­mo­ny mark­ing the mov­ing of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem — a clear provo­ca­tion against Pales­tini­ans and gift to the far-right gov­ern­ment of Ben­jamin Netanyahu — Hagee gave the bene­dic­tion (Hagee claimed in a ser­mon to have coun­seled Trump to under­take this move). Close Trump asso­ciate and evan­gel­i­cal pas­tor Robert Jef­fress — who has unleashed anti-LGBTQ invec­tives and said Jews are going to Hell — deliv­ered the prayer. In August 2020, at a cam­paign ral­ly in Oshkosh, Wis­con­sin, Trump declared that he moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and rec­og­nized Jerusalem ​for the evangelicals.”

The embassy move wasn’t the only ges­ture Trump has made (and impor­tant­ly, is a cause that, at least in the­o­ry, has been tak­en up by Democ­rats — includ­ing Joe Biden — long before Trump’s tenure). In March 2019, Trump signed a procla­ma­tion rec­og­niz­ing Israel’s annex­a­tion of the Syr­i­an Golan Heights, and in Jan­u­ary 2020 for­mal­ly unrolled his so-called ​deal of the cen­tu­ry,” which would fur­ther entrench Israel’s eth­nic cleans­ing, dis­pos­ses­sion and occu­pa­tion of Pales­tini­ans. Trump’s much-trum­pet­ed ​Abra­ham Accords” nor­mal­iz­ing rela­tions between Israel, the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates and Bahrain, in their name direct­ly imply that the Unit­ed States is a Chris­t­ian coun­try that is enter­ing into agree­ments with coun­tries of oth­er Abra­ham­ic reli­gions. Hagee was resplen­dent upon their sign­ing: ​Anoth­er his­toric day as we watch the sons of Abra­ham come togeth­er to sign the Abra­ham Accords with Israel, Bahrain and the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates,” he declared on Twit­ter. Yet, as Pales­tin­ian-Amer­i­can schol­ar Noura Erakat point­ed out, the agree­ments ​reflect a geopo­lit­i­cal alliance among repres­sive regimes to expand the U.S. sphere of influ­ence in the Mid­dle East,” in part to pro­tect weapons flows, and comes at the expense of Yeme­nis, Pales­tini­ans and all peo­ple sub­ject to these repres­sive governments. 

The influ­ence of Chris­t­ian Zion­ism on the Trump administration’s for­eign pol­i­cy goes beyond Israel and Pales­tine. CUFI is an enthu­si­as­tic cheer­leader of ratch­et­ing up of ten­sions with Iran, prais­ing Trump’s Jan­u­ary 2020 assas­si­na­tion of Major Gen­er­al Qassem Soleimani, the com­man­der of Iran’s Quds Force and a rank­ing offi­cial of Iran, which near­ly brought the Unit­ed States into direct war with the coun­try. CUFI has been a vocif­er­ous sup­port­er of Trump’s ​max­i­mum pres­sure” sanc­tions against Iran, which have dev­as­tat­ed peo­ple in Iran and wors­ened Covid-19 deaths. It also sup­ports U.S. sanc­tions osten­si­bly tar­get­ing Hezbol­lah, which have made Lebanon’s mul­ti­ple, over­lap­ping crises far worse.

Lara Kiswani, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Arab Resource and Orga­niz­ing Cen­ter, a grass­roots orga­ni­za­tion, cau­tions against view­ing these poli­cies as sole­ly the result of the influ­ence of one orga­ni­za­tion. Instead, she says, it’s impor­tant to iden­ti­fy the ​shared inter­ests around white nation­al­ism and eth­no-nation­al­ism. CUFI is part of that equation.” 

There’s a long his­to­ry of the coa­lesc­ing between right-wing forces under Zion­ism,” says Kiswani. The Trump admin­is­tra­tion has not only embold­ened white nation­al­ists and the Chris­t­ian right domes­ti­cal­ly, but also part­nered with oth­er enth­no-nation­al­ist states like Israel. Mean­while, there is also a ​shared inter­est between the eth­no-nation­al­ism of Israeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Netanyahu and a white Chris­t­ian base,” she argues.

Some say this polit­i­cal part­ner­ship is also premised on some­thing both com­mon and mun­dane in U.S. pol­i­tics: Trump’s efforts to mobi­lize a base in sup­port of him­self. ​I’m not going to try to get inside Trump’s head,” Steven Gar­diner, assis­tant research direc­tor for Polit­i­cal Research Asso­ciates and author of a new report on Chris­t­ian Zion­ism, told In These Times. ​But it’s clear from his actions that what­ev­er his beliefs are, he’s pan­der­ing to the Chris­t­ian Zion­ist base, and going above and beyond the kind of sub­stan­tive sup­port for Israel that comes in the ongo­ing finan­cial and mil­i­tary sup­port and mil­i­tary alliance in the region.” Gar­diner includes Trump’s bel­li­cose poli­cies towards Iran with­in this larg­er trend. ​For the Chris­t­ian Zion­ist world,” he says, ​Iran is the new dev­il in play for them.”

This does not mean, how­ev­er, that Trump is not also try­ing to cur­ry favor among more bipar­ti­san pro-Israel forces like AIPAC (CUFI most­ly draws its sup­port from the right). Accord­ing to Gar­diner, ​AIPAC has been more or less non-par­ti­san, or at least will­ing to ally them­selves with any­one who could con­ceiv­ably be an ally of Israel. Chris­t­ian Zion­ists, on the oth­er hand, fore­ground the very acts that are going to antag­o­nize not just Amer­i­can lib­er­als, but lib­er­al Jews in the dias­po­ra in particular.”

In terms of mobi­liz­ing vot­ers,” Gar­diner con­tin­ues, ​It’s the Chris­t­ian Zion­ists that are going to get them­selves into hun­dreds of church­es, not AIPAC. If you’re a ​good’ politi­cian, you can do two things with the same action: appeal to AIPAC and Chris­t­ian Zion­ists. There’s no rea­son you would­n’t.” AIPAC, for its part, has allied with Chris­t­ian Zion­ists, and had Hagee speak at its 2007 sum­mit. And both AIPAC and CUFI have ral­lied around sim­i­lar and over­lap­ping aims, includ­ing the crim­i­nal­iza­tion of the Pales­tin­ian-led Boy­cott, Divest­ment, and Sanc­tions movement.

While it is dif­fi­cult to know what Trump actu­al­ly believes, and there are reports that he has mocked his Chris­t­ian sup­port­ers, it is unde­ni­able that he’s filled his admin­is­tra­tion with staunch Chris­t­ian Zion­ists. Speak­ing at CUFI’s 2019 sum­mit, Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence rat­tled off the Trump administration’s hawk­ish record to resound­ing applause and trum­pet­ed his close rela­tion­ship with CUFI. Address­ing the group’s sum­mit in 2017, Pence declared, ​For my part, like all of you, my pas­sion for Israel springs from my Chris­t­ian faith.”

CUFI mobi­lized aggres­sive­ly in sup­port of Mike Pompeo’s con­fir­ma­tion as Sec­re­tary of State. ​The bipar­ti­san vote in favor of the nom­i­na­tion comes on the heels of a rig­or­ous grass­roots and lob­by­ing cam­paign waged by the Chris­t­ian Zion­ist group,” boasts a state­ment from the orga­ni­za­tion. Pom­peo has, in turn, sig­naled his stal­wart sup­port for this bloc. At the recent Repub­li­can Nation­al Con­ven­tion, Pom­peo deliv­ered his speech from the roof of the King David hotel in Jerusalem, earn­ing him the Wash­ing­ton Post head­line, ​Pompeo’s Chris­t­ian Zion­ism takes cen­ter stage.”

Fight­ing the Right

CUFI’s inner work­ings and expen­di­tures are shroud­ed in secre­cy. As San Anto­nio Cur­rent reporter San­ford Nowl­in has point­ed out, while the Cit­i­zens Unit­ed for Israel Action Fund — CUFI’s lob­by­ing arm — files 990 forms with the IRS, CUFI is includ­ed under Hagee’s church and offers no such dis­clo­sures. As a result, the action fund’s lob­by­ing expen­di­tures appear to be much low­er than groups like AIPAC on paper, but it is dif­fi­cult to know how much CUFI spends to wield polit­i­cal influ­ence. In August, jour­nal­ist Aiden Pink report­ed that CUFI ​was award­ed near­ly $1.3 mil­lion in Feb­ru­ary 2019 for 10 week-long pil­grim­ages to the Holy Land, each con­tain­ing 30 of what Con­cert doc­u­ments call ​influ­en­tial Chris­t­ian cler­ics from the U.S.’” Accord­ing to the report, CUFI did not ful­ly dis­close those funds.

But all indi­ca­tors sug­gest that the pow­er­ful machine of CUFI itself is push­ing a right-wing polit­i­cal pro­gram in the lead-up to the pres­i­den­tial election. 

CUFI is mobi­liz­ing their mas­sive base to turn out for Trump and his anti-Pales­tin­ian, anti-Jew­ish, anti-peo­ple of col­or agen­da, and so their roll­out of the film series across the coun­try through con­gre­ga­tions is 100% aimed at vot­er turnout and ril­ing up the base and look­ing to Trump as a source of anti-Pales­tin­ian pol­i­cy that will help them pur­sue their end times view of the world,” says Fox, ref­er­enc­ing the upcom­ing screen­ing of CUFI’s doc­u­men­tary, which the orga­ni­za­tion says is about ​the hor­rors of anti-Semi­tism and the pow­er of sur­vival and redemption.”

Bren­ne­man, for his part, finds it dif­fi­cult to dis­tin­guish between CUFI’s advo­ca­cy for Trump and its gen­er­al sup­port for a right-wing pro­gram. ​CUFI’s over­all project has always been a polit­i­cal project — about push­ing right-wing pol­i­tics through in the name of Chris­tian­i­ty,” he says. 

To oppose this polit­i­cal effort, FOS­NA is mobi­liz­ing its base to demand that local the­aters pull the CUFI doc­u­men­tary. Bren­ne­man under­scores that ​while Chris­tians have a par­tic­u­lar respon­si­bil­i­ty to denounce CUFI, all peo­ple of con­science should be wary of CUFI’s pow­er, and chal­lenge it.” 

There is no short­age of oppor­tu­ni­ties to do so. In addi­tion to the film screen­ings, there are Hagee’s overt remarks to help get Trump elect­ed. In 2019, he told Mark Levin of Fox News, ​If this next elec­tion is not a reelec­tion of Pres­i­dent Trump, our coun­try is going to go into a social­ist tail­spin.” Beyond explic­it endorse­ment, his church part­ners with and pub­licly lauds the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. In June 2020, as the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic and relat­ed pover­ty and food cri­sis rav­aged San Anto­nio, Hagee’s Cor­ner­stone Church issued a press release announc­ing it had dis­trib­uted ​12,500 food box­es, total­ing over 300,000 pounds, as part of the Trump Admin­is­tra­tion’s Farm­ers to Fam­i­lies program.”

CUFI has a vast out­reach appa­ra­tus that includes cam­pus orga­niz­ing, a prayer net­work, trips to Israel and more — but this has not inoc­u­lat­ed the orga­ni­za­tion from steep oppo­si­tion. CUFI’s 2019 sum­mit was met with bois­ter­ous protests led by an inter­faith coali­tion. And Wat­son says FOS­NA hopes to do more in the future to ​reach broad­er pro­gres­sive Chris­t­ian move­ments” that might not be aware of the harms done by CUFI. 

A key part of this, she says, is rais­ing aware­ness among Chris­tians who might not know about the group’s hate­ful pol­i­tics. FOS­NA is work­ing with Black for Pales­tine, a grass­roots effort, to reach out to Black church­es specif­i­cal­ly. In Decem­ber of 2019, 477 Black cler­gy and activists signed an open let­ter argu­ing ​the time is now for Black church­es, cler­gy, faith lead­ers, and laypeo­ple to cast aside the pol­i­tics of Chris­t­ian Zion­ism and link arms with our Pales­tin­ian neigh­bors and their allies in the glob­al move­ment for free­dom and justice.”

Jew­ish Voice for Peace, for its part, is work­ing to counter this bloc in the upcom­ing elec­tion. ​We have made this assess­ment that white evan­gel­i­cal Chris­t­ian Zion­ists are a mas­sive vot­ing bloc and are help­ing pave the way for Trump’s reelec­tion, and a dri­ving for­eign pol­i­cy in Israel and Pales­tine,” says Fox. The group is plan­ning to focus on oust­ing Rep. Michael McCaul (R‑Tex.) and Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham (R‑S.C.) — both sup­port­ers of CUFI — and hopes to use this cam­paign to raise broad­er aware­ness about the harms of Chris­t­ian Zionism. 

As a Jew­ish group,” Fox says, ​our pri­ma­ry focus is on edu­cat­ing those who are not part of the bloc to under­stand what is going on and what is dri­ving U.S. pol­i­cy — to edu­cate our own base and fel­lows of con­science. At the same time, we are in deep part­ner­ship long term with groups like FOS­NA that are seek­ing to do the work inside of Chris­t­ian community.”

Both are nec­es­sary,” she says. ​CUFI is absolute­ly bring­ing their all to the fight.”

As a 501©3 non­prof­it pub­li­ca­tion, In These Times does not oppose or endorse can­di­dates for polit­i­cal office.

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