In mid-August of this year, Donald Trump made a whistle-stop visit to Oshkosh, Wisconsin. During his remarks at the campaign rally held on the tarmac beside Air Force One, the President reminded his listeners of what he had done for Israel. “And we moved the capital of Israel to Jerusalem”, he said, having in mind of course the US embassy. “That’s for the Evangelicals. You know, it’s amazing with that – the Evangelicals are more excited by that than Jewish people. That’s right, it’s incredible.”
Here in Poland we are accustomed to ascribing the US’s staunch, enduring support for Israel to the so-called “Jewish lobby”. Many will of course specify AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. One way or the other, the general understanding is that the close relationship between the US and Israel is above all the work of American Jews – who make up approximately 1.8% of the US population. What few realize is that the relationship in fact draws its strength from the might of Christian Evangelicals in the US.
Illustrating the misconceptions is an article from December, 2017 published in an influential Polish daily on the freshly announced decision of the White House to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. The author – a respected expert on Israel – openly admitted that he simply could not fathom what was happening. “There is no obvious benefit that Washington obtains from this move”, he explained. “One might surmise”, he continued, playing to the prevalent assumptions, “that Trump’s decision is proof that the Jews run Washington – except that 44% of American Jews oppose the decision, and 36% would accept it only if it furthered the peace process”. “America loses in this gambit”, the expert added, “and Trump wins only among Israelis who are otherwise unconcerned with him, as well as among the Israeli political elite, together with the opposition – only that they all support him anyway. So what’s going on?”.
Five months later on May 14, 2018 – Independence Day in Israel – the new American embassy was ceremoniously opened in Jerusalem, and it was impossible not to discern whose favor was being curried. After all, the ceremony was commenced with a prayer led by Pastor Robert Jeffress – and it concluded with a prayer by Pastor John Hagee.
Thus, when in November 2019 the United States recognized the legality of the settlements in the West Bank, the same expert explained matters differently. Namely, he now understood that the measure was “dictated primarily by the concerns of domestic policy in the US”, and that it was to “bolster the President’s fundamentalist Christian electorate […] which committedly supports a strong Israel in the Messianic hope of Jesus’ Second Coming” . This time he was quite on target – although he mistook Evangelicals for Fundamentalists, and gave sole focus to eschatology, whereas the Evangelicals’ pro-Israeli stance most closely relates to how they identify with Israel Biblically conceived.
Christian Evangelicals may be labeled “the more devout” among Protestants at large. Baptists and Charismatics – and not staid Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians. US Evangelicals make up at least one-third of American society. Gallup recently reported that, unchangingly for decades, Evangelicals amount to 40% of Americans. That translates to 70, perhaps even more than 80 million voters. For half a century now, American Evangelicals have been very active in public and political life. Indeed, since the 1970s they have been the strategic center of the Religious Right, which embraces also conservative Catholics, Jews, and Mormons.
When you open a Protestant Bible published in the US, inside the cover you’ll most often see not only a map of Israel in the times of the Prophets along with a map of Israel during the life of Jesus – for such Bibles also include a map of modern Israel. This is altogether fitting, as Christian Evangelicals see today’s Israel as belonging to the scriptural narrative they know from the Bible. Going back for centuries, Evangelicalism has maintained that the Covenant between God and His people Israel remains in force. Just as the Roman Catholic document Nostra Aetate declared in 1965, at the close of the Second Vatican Council.
This is just one of the reasons why Christian Evangelical organizations so zealously support Israel. Among those organizations we need mention the Moral Majority led by Pastor Jerry Falwell, to whom Prime Minister Menachem Begin gave the Jabotinsky Award in 1980. Active in the 1990s was the even more influential Christian Coalition led by Pastor Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed, who visited Poland a few years ago. We foremost need to highlight today’s CUFI – Christians United for Israel – led by Pastor John Hagee, the very John Hagee who led the closing prayer at the ceremonious opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem.
Christians United for Israel is by far the largest pro-Israel lobby in the US. CUFI today boasts 9 million members. For comparison, AIPAC has approx. 100,000 members, which is a whopping 90 times fewer. Moreover, CUFI not only conducts energetic lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill (as does AIPAC), but is active all across America, mobilizing pastors and college students and organizing nationwide campaigns and large-scale events on behalf of Israel. It also bears noting that among AIPAC’s members are many Evangelicals – even pastors. The co-operation of Jews and Evangelicals within AIPAC is attentively cultivated. Hence, at AIPAC’s annual conference in 2007 the guest speaker Pastor John Hagee, in describing the partnership of Jews and Evangelicals on behalf of Israel, called it a “match made in heaven” .
We may now turn to faith-based diplomacy, which is a highly developed field of Israeli diplomacy pursued ever so effectively in mobilizing the support of Evangelical Christians for the Jewish State. This support rests on Evangelicalism’s traditional “Teaching of Esteem” toward the Jews, and Israeli leaders ever since David Ben-Gurion (just as leaders of the Zionist movement before him) have energetically tapped into that esteem within the scope of official diplomatic efforts.
We have ahead of us four webinars which I recently conducted with outstanding specialists on faith-based diplomacy and Christian Zionism, the phenomenon of Christian, Bible-based support for Israel. I strongly recommend all four.
In the first we shall listen to two guests: Tomas Sandell, the president and founder of the most important Christian, pro-Israeli organization in Europe – the European Coalition for Israel; and Josh Reinstein, director of the Knesset’s Christian Allies Caucus. As a preview, let me quote a comment Director Reinstein made during our webinar: “I was at the event in Jerusalem when they opened the embassy and looking around, there were 800 people there. 700 of them were Christians, mostly pastors from America”.
In the second webinar our guests are Yossi Klein Halevi and Yaakov Ariel. Halevi is a leading Israeli public intellectual, a well-known writer, and pontifex. In 2019 the Polish Council of Christians and Jews recognized him as “Man of the Year” for his efforts on behalf of Polish-Jewish relations. Professor Ariel, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is the historian who both most broadly and deeply understands the beginnings, development, and current condition of the “match made in heaven”.
The guests in our third webinar are Professor Daniel Hummel and Reverend David Pileggi. Reverend Pileggi is the Rector of the Anglican Christ Church in the Old City of Jerusalem, where he has lived for 40 years. He is also an expert on 19th-century Christian Zionism. Professor Hummel, an Evangelical Christian, is an eminent researcher into the institutions and infrastructure that have arisen since 1948 in the co-operation between Israel and American Evangelicals.
In our fourth and final webinar we shall listen to two further renowned experts on Israel’s relationship with Christian Evangelicals. They are Professor Jonathan Rynhold from Bar-Ilan University in Israel and Professor Shalom Goldman from Middlebury College in Vermont.
The reflections presented in these four webinars on the effectiveness of Israel’s faith-based diplomacy vis-à-vis the US are to prepare us to answer the question: can Polish diplomacy apply Israeli best practice in the realm of faith-based diplomacy to Poland’s own transatlantic relations?
Of course, Polish-American relations are altogether solid. Nonetheless – as is most often the case even regarding close bilateral ties – our relations with America are top-heavy. They are lacking what Israel enjoys: pro-active grass-roots support. American Polonia, as sober observers well know, is in fact a largely imaginary construct.
The Three Seas Association, together with our soon-to-be launched foreign affairs journal by that name, will be committedly devising ways for Polish diplomacy – borrowing upon the model of Israeli faith-based diplomacy – to establish contacts and forge co-operation with the Religious Right in the US, which comprises over 1/3 of American society and is a dynamic presence in public and political life. Importantly, the Religious Right is typified by close co-operation between Evangelicals and Catholics. That makes Poland’s possibilities altogether promising – and most certainly worth examining.
 See https://wyborcza.pl/7,75399,22749974,po-co-trumpowi-uznanie-jerozolimy-za-stolice-izraela-sa-dwie.html
 See https://wyborcza.pl/7,75399,25426814,usa-uznaly-osiedla-na-zachodnim-brzegu-za-legalne-to-poparcie.html
 See https://news.gallup.com/opinion/polling-matters/235208/things-know-evangelicals-america.aspx
 See https://www.cufi.org
 See 25:35-25:50 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5as5_VjK62M
Philip Earl Steele
Historian, editor, former lecturer at the University of Warsaw. Author of the book The Conversion and Baptism of Mieszko I and many papers, especially ones on religious studies, published in Poland, Israel, the Czech Republic, the US and the UK. His Polish-language book entitled Israel and Evangelical Christians: “A Match Made in Heaven” will be published soon.