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Trump or Netanyahu? American Evangelicals Support Israel, Yet Signs of Change

Image: Frédéric Soltan / Corbis / Getty Images

In the public spat between Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu, who would American evangelicals support? A new survey suggests it might be the Israeli.

Polled shortly after the Gaza war last May, it also reveals a substantial generational gap in level of support for Israel and a lack of impact by pastors from their pulpits.

And it happens to release this week, following Trump’s explosive comments.

In excerpts from a recently released interview, the former president blasted the former prime minister for his statement of congratulations to Joe Biden after the 2020 election.

“Nobody did more for Bibi. And I liked Bibi. I still like Bibi,” stated Trump in an expletive-laced diatribe, using Netanyahu’s nickname. “But I also like loyalty … Bibi could have stayed quiet. He has made a terrible mistake.”

Netanyahu responded with praise for Trump. But in noting a friendship with Joe Biden, he also honored the longstanding partnership between the US and Israel.

During his presidency, Trump moved the American embassy to Jerusalem, acknowledged Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and negotiated with five Muslim-majority nations to normalize relations with the Jewish state.

American evangelicals joined Netanyahu in appreciation. According to a new online poll surveying a multiethnic panel of approximately 1,000 self-identified evangelical and born-again Christians, 35 percent say they became more supportive of Israel because of Trump’s policies. Only 11 percent became more supportive of Palestinians, while 53 percent had no change.

And overall, 68 percent of American evangelicals believe the Jewish people today have the right to the land of Israel, by virtue of the covenant God made with Abraham which “remains intact today.” (About 23% say they don’t know.)

The survey, conducted by professors from the University of North Carolina–Pembroke in conjunction with Barna Group, was released today but conducted in July, well before public knowledge of Trump’s falling out with Netanyahu.

The 15-year Israeli prime minister scored a 74 percent favorable rating, based on the share of evangelicals who gave him a score of 6 or greater on a 10-point scale. One in five (22%) gave him the top rating possible. The survey did not include a direct comparison. But given the fact that it included…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on December 15, 2021. Please click here to read the full text.

Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Can ‘Abraham’ Bring Peace to the Middle East?

In forging the first Arab-Israeli peace deal since 1994, President Donald Trump paid homage to a patriarch.

He named the historic normalization the “Abraham Accord.”

The familiar Bible character “is referred to as ‘Abraham’ in the Christian faith, ‘Ibrahim’ in the Muslim faith, and ‘Avraham’ in the Jewish faith,” explained David Friedman, US ambassador to Israel.

“And no person better symbolizes the potential for unity, among all these three great faiths.”

In signing the accord, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) joined Egypt and Jordan as the only Arab nations to make peace with Israel. Telephone lines are already being connected between the Gulf nation and the Jewish state, with preparations underway to exchange embassies.

It may open a new era. Fellow Gulf nations Bahrain and Oman signaled their support, while Saudi Arabia did not oppose it.

“This is a once-in-a-generation diplomatic achievement, but I predict it will be the first, not the last,” said Johnnie Moore, an evangelical leader engaged in behind-the-scenes advocacy. He and bestselling novelist Joel Rosenberg led an evangelical delegation to the UAE in October 2018 (as well as two delegations to Saudi Arabia), and Moore has personally visited three more times.

“The Abraham Accord,” he said, “will prove to be the moment when the grievances of the past no longer overpowered the promises of the future in the Middle East.” A hero of faith to both Christians and Jews, ‘Ibrahim’ is already a central figure in the UAE. The nation…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on August 17, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

13 Christian Takes on Trump’s Peace Plan for Israel and Palestine

Trump Peace Plan

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on January 28, 2020.

After three years of anticipation—and dread—President Trump announced the launch of his “Deal of the Century” to achieve peace between Israel and Palestine.

With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his side, he outlined details for a proposal that would recognize a Palestinian state following extensive land swaps and security arrangements.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was not present, having broken off communication with the White House following several US decisions deemed biased toward Israel.

Abbas immediately rejected the plan, which Palestinians had long declared “dead on arrival.”

But Netanyahu’s acceptance was enthusiastic, declaring himself willing to begin negotiations with the Palestinians on such terms. A day earlier, Netanyahu’s challenger Benny Gantz also signaled his party’s agreement with Trump’s proposal.

With three Arab states lacking a peace treaty with Israel in attendance—Oman, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates—Trump hopes there will be a regional push to implement his plan.

And with $50 billion promised as investment for the nascent Palestinian state, the president believes all the necessary pieces are in place.

“All previous generations from Lyndon Johnson tried and bitterly failed,” Trump said. “But I was not elected to do small things, or shy away from big problems.”

It only required he approach peace in a “fundamentally different” manner…


Following a summary the article includes the perspective of

  • Joel Rosenberg, co-founder of the Alliance for the Peace of Jerusalem
  • Salim Munayer, head of the Jerusalem-based Musalaha reconciliation ministry
  • Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian journalist and secretary of the Jordan Evangelical Council in Amman
  • Hanna Massad, a Palestinian pastor who led Gaza Baptist Church for 12 years and returns regularly
  • Gerald McDermott, Anglican Chair of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School who recently wrote The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel and the Land
  • Yohanna Katanacho, a Palestinian pastor and academic dean at Nazareth Evangelical College
  • Lisa Loden, the Messianic Jewish co-chair of the Lausanne Initiative for Reconciliation in Israel–Palestine
  • Joel Chernoff, general secretary of the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America
  • Martin Accad, chief academic officer at Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut
  • John Hagee, the founder and chairman of Christians United for Israel
  • Todd Deatherage, cofounder and executive director of Telos Group, which seeks to build a “pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, pro-peace movement”
  • Wissam al-Saliby, the Geneva-based advocacy officer for the World Evangelical Alliance
  • Ibrahim Nseir, Syrian pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Aleppo

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Identity Politics: Israeli Election Squeezes Arab Christians

Ariel Schalit / AP, via CT
Ariel Schalit / AP, via CT

From my article at Christianity Today, published March 18, 2015:

Israel’s election wasn’t easy on its Arab Christian citizens.

From one direction, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rallied his base by warning, “The Arabs are flocking to the polls in droves.” From the other, Ayman Odeh, a Palestinian-Israeli politician from Haifa, led an unprecedented but disjointed coalition of Arab secularists, communists, and Islamists, and received the endorsement of Hamas.

The tension illustrates the struggle of Arab Israeli Christians to craft a national identity between the increasing clamor of Zionism and Islamism. The result, according to evangelical leaders: a “ghetto mentality” among Christians and fewer opportunities for public witness and ministry.

Netanyahu’s Likud emerged victorious over its left-of-center rivals, the Zionist Union, buoyed by promises to abandon prospects for a Palestinian state. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, a Likud ally, told Odeh during campaigning, “You’re not wanted here.”

As voter turnout surged, however, so did Arab participation. Odeh’s “Joint List” placed No. 3 among the 10 parties that captured seats in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. “I’m very wanted in my homeland,” Odeh replied.

But where is this homeland for Arab Christians? The answer is quite contested.

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.


1967 and the Right of Return

The Israeli Separation Wall

Much of the political discourse following President Obama’s speech concerning the Arab Spring centered on his direct statement that the 1967 lines should serve as the starting point for negotiations between Israel and Palestine. His phrasing included ‘with mutually agreed swaps of land’, but was largely ignored in the subsequent hubbub. Commentators noticed that the 1967 lines, though serving as the basis of American policy for decades, had never been so publically stated by a US president.

Yet Prime Minister Netanyahu made a public statement, which, though serving as the basis of Israeli policy for decades, I had not remembered being stated so unequivocally. He proclaimed, ‘The Palestinian refugee problem will be solved outside the borders of Israel.”

Within the context of various political responses to this issue, I simply wish to remind readers of the very human lives involved in the refugee issue. Some of these were our friends when we lived in Jordan.

During the 1948 war following the declaration of the State of Israel by the United Nations, the first wave of refugees was created. War creates chaos and destruction; in the midst of this many ordinary Palestinians, with no stake in the fighting, chose to flee.

Yet many others, also with no stake in the fighting, were forced from their homes as whole villages were uprooted under threat of death. This was not a systematic Israeli policy, but neither were these isolated incidents. Yet while international law calls for the right of refugees to return to their homes, official Israeli policy following the war forbade this. Currently, it is treated as a negotiation point; that is, until Netanyahu made explicit what had previously been assumed. The ‘demographic realities’ of Palestinian refugees threaten the existence of Israel as a ‘Jewish’ state.

Among our friends in Jordan not all desired to return. Muhammad, a barber, told me his family now possessed Jordanian citizenship and had a decent middle-class life, with his children in school. He had great sympathy for the refugees struggling in camps, still possessing the keys to their grandfathers’ homes, but for himself, why would he leave? Besides, the homes for those keys no longer exist, long since turned into modern Israeli settlements.

Many say the poverty of the Palestinian refugee camps is due to Arab exploitation. Wishing to maintain an issue with which to accuse Israel, these governments fail in their humanitarian duties to incorporate Palestinian citizens into their own national fabric. These claims appear largely true. There are few saints in this dispute.

Yet there are human beings. These were the pawns in a struggle which originally were swept aside in effort to secure a Jewish predominance in the new state of Israel. They are the pawns who exist in squalor while the politics of peace rumble onward to nowhere. They will remain the pawns of a policy that denies their rights under international law, under auspices of demographic politics. Perhaps a compromise of settlement in an eventual Palestinian state will satisfy. Even so, the moral struggle is compromised as well.

What should be thought of the rhetoric of a ‘Jewish’ state? This is a difficult question since ‘Jewish’ reflects both ethnicity and religion. Many Jews in Israel are secular or atheist. Many Israeli citizens are of Arab ethnicity, Jewish, Christian, or Muslim. Does a Jewish state correspond to the unquestioned legitimacy of a French state or an Egyptian state? Does it parallel the nationalistic hopes of a Kurdish state or a Palestinian state?

Demographic realities are changing the world, challenging the ethnic block notions of nationalism on which current world politics were assembled. In certain parts of the US, ‘white’ no longer represents a majority of the population, especially as the Hispanic population increases through immigration and higher birth rates. In France, the Muslim population increases rapidly, threatening (potentially) its secular foundation. Meanwhile, certain smaller emirates in the Gulf have only a fraction of the population as national citizens, the rest being foreign workers. What do these realities spell for national heritage, and its preservation?

Americans, conceptually, can swallow demographic changes easier than other nations, as we embrace the alternate descriptions of ‘melting pot’ and ‘salad bowl’. Though degrees of diversity are debated in these expressions, both imagine that the end result is a common endeavor toward national values of freedom, liberty, and democracy.

Along American history we have swept away an indigenous people, questioned if we can integrate Catholics or blacks, but in the end our values triumphed over our prejudices. Yet currently we wonder about the threat to so significant a national identity marker as language. Can we allow demographic changes to supplant, or at least saddle alongside, our English tongue?

Along existing notions of statehood, it seems right that the ‘Jews’ should have a nation. Yet it seems wrong that they engineer their demographics to maintain an ethnic (or religious) majority for themselves. Critics of Israel invoke apartheid South Africa; though the comparison is not fair, does the policy of denying ‘right of return’ resemble a similar insistence on maintenance of ethnic power?

Israel is in a very difficult position. They can yield to a Palestinian state, in which they lose control over the area and open themselves to security threats. Or, they can simply annex the land they now occupy and lose the population battle, putting tension between their twin values of ‘Jewish’ and ‘democracy’, in which one might have to yield to the other.

Instead, it appears the policy is to maintain the status quo, no matter how much President Obama declares it to be ‘unsustainable’. Certainly Fatah and Hamas, as well as the other Arab states, share complicity in the problem. Hamas’ charter and other language to ‘wipe Israel off the map’ do not contribute to fruitful negotiations.

Yet while Palestinians suffer internally and in refugee camps, Israel profits through continued expansion of settlements and superior access to water resources. Yes, it risks nurturing the hatred given to an occupier, as well as international approbation. Yet so far, these have not been enough to push her towards a settled peace. Yet, having been invaded multiple times, on what basis can Israel trust a peace?

Yes, Israel’s position is difficult, but so is that of the ordinary Palestinian individual. Since 1948 the thousands of refugees have now become millions. Can Israel be expected to absorb these? It is the hard work of politics that does not allow sentimental morality to dictate solutions. Yet when the hard work systematically denies people their rights, and this on the basis of dubiously moral ‘demographic realities’, perhaps the sentimentality should be given more sympathy. In whatever position you take on Israel, remember the refugee who simply wants to go home.

Unfortunately, over the years on both sides, ‘home’ has become for many a zero sum game.