Sometimes I have the feeling that Israel is being glorified in Christian circles and that whatever a governing coalition under Benjamin Netanyahu decides is automatically good.
The message sometimes comes across that, “The light is in the right camp and the darkness is in the left camp.” Therefore, the current Israeli judicial/constitutional conflict is also judged as such. Israel’s national right-wing coalition is considered purely the light, and the Supreme Court is the darkness. But this calculation is not so simple. People often get lost in the tension between promise and reality. And I would like to present this in a comparison between Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump.
I see a few shades of light and dark on BOTH sides. Is God at work only among right wingers? Or among others as well?
Even though Donald Trump has been indicted for conspiracy to defraud the United States, he continues to enjoy broad support among white evangelicals. In the Christian press, he is even praised as a saviour. In 2016, before he became president, Trump said, “Christianity will have power. When I am there, you will have a lot of power, you don’t need anyone else. Remember this”. He kept that promise. He has fulfilled the number one concern of many evangelicals by making abortion more difficult across America. He did this by nominating Supreme Court judges who later helped overturn the broad federal right to abortion.
Trump moved the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, again due to evangelical support for Israel. Some base their support for Trump on the Bible, comparing him to King Cyrus. Despite being an unbelieving Persian ruler of another religion, Cyrus is anointed as God’s shepherd in Isaiah 44-45. Biblically he is an almost-messianic figure who delivered Israel from Babylonian captivity. This concept of an imperfect vessel set aside for a greater good has often been applied to Trump. He understood and implemented the wish list of evangelical voters.
One in three Americans identifies as an evangelical Christian, and 60 percent of the Republican electorate is evangelical. It is a nationalist Christian movement that combines patriotism, politics and God. This movement is powerful and has great influence. It is an American parallel to what is happening in Israel. The voters of the current ruling coalition in Jerusalem are also a nationalist Jewish movement that combines patriotism, politics and God. From my point of view, faith in God does not primarily belong in the political arena, even if this is often not easy to understand.
The problem begins with the assessment of Christians in the western world. As a Jerusalem editorial board, we have seen and experienced over the years how Christians around the world view Israel and world politics. European Christians, for the most part, cannot stand Trump for a number of reasons. On the other hand, they have no problem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and believe that everything his governing coalition is currently deciding is correct. Because for many of them, he represents the light, while the left legal system is the darkness.
I know quite a few Christians in Europe who have a big spiritual problem with Trump, but not with Netanyahu. Why, according to their biblical understanding, do the same believers have no problem with Bibi, but do have a problem with Donald? In both cases, Jerusalem and Washington, Bibi and Donald stand for biblical values in politics. Whether they both embrace biblical values in their own lives I don’t know. But I know that’s what right-wing voters in this country think, and Republicans (for the most part) in the US think so too. While many evangelicals personally dislike Trump, their relationship with him is transactional. They choose him because he shapes the land to their liking. They hold their noses and vote for politics rather than character. This also applies to orthodox voters in this country with Bibi. Other evangelicals, of course, love Trump himself. They see Trump’s enemies as God’s enemies. In their eyes, he can do no wrong.
Right-wing and religious voters in this country also see Bibi’s enemies as God’s enemies. So, all those who are against Bibi are the bad guys, leftists and traitors. People are liable to be considered in darkness simply because the light is only on the right and religious side of Israel. But in my view, this calculation is incorrect. There are positive and negative aspects to be found in both the coalition and the opposition. A person cannot automatically be good or bad just because he belongs to this group or the other. In that case, the free will that God promised us as human beings in the Bible is lost. In that case, all you have to do is join a group and hope you either belong to the good guys or to the bad guys. The joke is that people really think that way and think they can redeem themselves. In politics, in Israel or in the USA, the right-wing are automatically labelled God-fearing people.
I would like to believe that the majority of people in both nations are looking for a real relationship with God, but that doesn’t mean that their leaders Bibi and Donald are looking for the same thing. Following a leader blindly is dangerous. And so, I know many Christians in Europe who blindly agree with Netanyahu, but not with Trump. These same Christians are sure from their biblical understanding that Bibi and his coalition are doing everything right, but Donald in Washington is not. But there are also people who love both.
And how does former Brazilian President and Christian Jair Messias Bolsonaro fit in in the pattern? Three years before taking office in 2019, he was baptized again in the Jordan River. He is a close friend of Netanyahu. Just because he’s right-wing politically, is God on his side? Because Bibi’s coalition opposes a left-wing humanism that is seen as a countervail to the power of God, the legal system is immediately cursed as darkness.
That will not do. Sorry, I see the light first in people, whether on the right or left. There are good people among the left in this country too, and not all ideas in the left legal system are a sin; just as not everything on the right is a praise to God. God promised this land to the people of Israel. That is a biblical fact that people have to come to terms with politically. Therefore, many people believe that only a right-wing coalition government can fulfil this divine mission of preserving and properly leading the Land of Israel. But when the State of Israel was founded 75 years ago, the country was governed by a left-liberal and socialist, almost communist government. In this case, the left-leaning state system was part of a divine promise!
The biblical promise was fulfilled at that time with the left on top. God is not limited to acting through only one particular political party in Israel; he has a goal. God achieves this with the left and right. According to the Torah in Deuteronomy 17, we are not to stray to the right or to the left.
“And lest the king lift up his heart above his brethren among the people, he shall not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left.”
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