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The Christian Zionist narrative helping to boost Trump

May 31, 2018 at 10:21 am

US President Donald Trump (L) meets with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (R) in Jerusalem on May 22, 2017. ( Haim Zach / GPO / Handout – Anadolu Agency )

When you think of US President Donald Trump, the last thing that probably comes to mind is the image of a religious man. Unlike some previous presidents, Trump clearly does not practice Christianity, and shows no interest whatsoever in leading a religious life.

America is a fairly religious country, and viable candidates for president generally express belief in God and at least purport to be Christian – despite the fact that the United States is constitutionally secular.

Since the Ronald Reagan era, the Evangelical right – what could perhaps be described as radical Christianists – has risen to prominence and greatly increased its political influence. Having previously been quietist, non-voters, large parts of the Evangelical movement began  voting en masse for the most right-wing Republican candidates possible.

President George W. Bush, although a Methodist himself, successfully courted the powerful Evangelical vote. Bush’s personal religiosity meant that they likely felt like they were voting for one of their own.

READ: How Israel has aided America’s neo-colonialism in Africa 

Bush seemed to invoke religion constantly. He infamously claimed that God had told him to invade Iraq, and described the so-called “War on Terror” against Al-Qaeda and other Islamic extremist groups as a “Crusade”. Despite the vicious and bloody historical reality of the European crusader invasion of Palestine, this telling description was intended to be a compliment.

Bush might have been no less cynical than Trump, but there seems little doubt his religious practice was born of genuine conviction. Trump is interested in the Evangelicals merely as a voting bloc and clearly doesn’t have a religious bone in his body.

This fact, on the surface – along with Trump’s fairly open contempt for his marriage vows and sexual harassment of women – could lead one to believe the Evangelical right would not vote for Trump. And, indeed, many of them did go instead for Ted Cruz in the primaries – one of their own.

But Evangelicals now have a story they are telling themselves to justify backing Trump’s presidency, regardless of his lack of Christian credentials – and Israel is a key part of it.

The idea has emerged that Trump is a “latter-day King Cyrus” and an instrument of God’s plan. As the Evangelical author Lance Wallnau puts it in the title of his book, Trump is supposedly “God’s Chaos Candidate”.

Graffiti depicting US Donald Trump when he visited Jerusalem’s Western Wall, which Jews claim as their holiest site. [AsafRonel/Twitter]

Graffiti depicting US Donald Trump when he visited Jerusalem’s Western Wall, which Jews claim as their holiest site, is seen on the illegal Separation Wall in the occupied West Bank.

In the Bible story, Cyrus the Great was a King of Persia who permitted the Israelites to return to Jerusalem, from where they had been exiled by the Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar. Cyrus, though a “pagan” king, supposedly issued a decree in line with God’s plan, to rebuild the Temple: “build the house of the Lord God of Israel … which is in Jerusalem.”

The Biblical prophet Isaiah describes Cyrus as God’s “anointed” one, who will have subdued “nations before him” so that “you may know that I, the Lord, who call you by your name, am the God of Israel”.

Trump is thus viewed as a mere tool of God’s power. This is an America-centric view of the world, which sees the United States as a “new Israel” through which God directly intervenes in human affairs.

Although Trump couldn’t care less about religion, he does like to reap the rewards of courting the Evangelical right’s voting base, as well as cosying up to their influential pastors.

READ: There is no such thing as progressive Zionism 

Trump’s move to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, while mainly calculated to please the Israel lobby – not least of which his number one donor Sheldon Adelson, a casino billionaire and fanatical anti-Palestinian racist – is also a nod to the fanatical Christian Zionism of his Evangelical supporters (indeed, the Christian Zionists are a large and increasingly influential component of the Israel lobby).

This apocalyptic theology views an ingathering of “the Jews” in Jerusalem as an essential part of its eschatology. It is a predicate to the Jews converting to Christianity before the messiah Jesus returns for the final judgement. Those who do not convert will be doomed.

Trump is explicitly courting such troubling religious fanaticism. And so is Israel.

In March, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explicitly referenced the Cyrus Bible story in thanking Trump that he “recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Mr. President, this will be remembered by our people throughout the ages.” An Israeli organisation minted a commemorative “Temple coin” with the heads of Cyrus and Trump on it.

For some Western leaders, it seems, religious extremism is only a problem when it is “their” religious extremism, not “ours”.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.