This article was first published in May 2019, but has again become relevant in light of the current political upheaval in Israel. For more on that, see Stan Goodenough’s latest ‘Bibi’s Coming Back’ — Biden’s Staying Away.
Love him or hate him, there is one crucial area in which Benjamin Netanyahu stands head and shoulders above his political rivals: his ability to connect to and leverage Christian support for Israel.
For years, Christian support was appreciated, but not necessarily taken seriously in connection to the political and physical threats facing the Jewish state. As such, Netanyahu’s warm ties to the global Israel-loving Evangelical Christian community was likewise seen as little more than an interesting sideshow.
All that changed in more recent years.
Following the elections of Donald Trump in the United States and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, it became abundantly clear that outspoken Bible-believing Christians were more than a mere curiosity in the Western politic arena. They could sway elections and are now steering the ships of some of the world’s largest and most powerful nations.
There remains some question over whether or not Trump himself should be considered a genuine “born again” Christian, but both his Vice President, Mike Pence, and his Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, most certainly are. Unabashedly so.
“Keep preaching the Good News. Keep preaching in season, and out of season,” Pence told a gathering in the US back in 2018, encouraging fellow Christians to “always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that you have.”
Sounding more like prophetic preacher than America’s top diplomat, Pompeo said during a 2019 visit to Israel that “Trump has been sort of raised for such a time as this, just like Queen Esther, to help save the Jewish people from the Iranian menace. …I am confident that the Lord is at work here.” Pompeo explained in an interview with CBN at the time that his conduct as Secretary of State was “informed by my understanding of my faith, my belief in Jesus Christ as the savior.”
It is all but unprecedented to hear senior Western government officials speak that way, at least in this day and age. Unless you’ve traveled of late to Brazil, where their current president has been singing a similar biblical tune.
During his election campaign in 2018, Bolsonaro repeated the phrase “Brazil above everything, God above all.” In an interview with CBN following his victory, the new Brazilian president stressed, “I believe in the Word of God.” While Boslonaro is himself Catholic, his wife, Michelle, is an Evangelical Christian. That, and his overt biblical rhetoric, was enough to garner Bolsonaro no less than 70 percent of the Evangelical vote.
Netanyahu knows better than probably any other Israeli politician that the Christian voters who tipped elections in the US, Brazil and elsewhere are staunch, even vigorous supporters of Israel not because of its “shared Western values,” but because of the Bible. There are plenty of other countries that share values with the West, and they are often acknowledged, but none of them have managed to become central election issues whenever Americans, Brazilians, Canadians or Europeans go to the polls. Israel has, and that’s because Bible-believing voters in those countries ascribe religious and prophetic significance that goes beyond politics to the reborn Jewish state.
Netanyahu understands this. Combined with having spent some of his formative years in the US, where he learned to “speak the language” of the Evangelical world, this makes Netanyahu uniquely qualified among Israeli politicians to capitalize on what many now finally recognize as politically-critical worldwide Christian support.