Trump’s brokering of the disputed deal helps the incumbent president shore up the Christian Zionist vote ahead of the November presidential election.
As the dust settles on the announcement of normalisation between the UAE and Israel, focus is turning to the less prominent beneficiaries of the disputed deal.
Christian Evangelicals, who have been a driving force behind the White House’s pro-Israel policy for generations, have welcomed the agreement between the Gulf Arab state and Israel to make their alliance public.
That good reception to the disputed deal is likely to bolster support for US President Donald Trump, who helped to broker the deal. Just months earlier, there were concerns that the Republican leader was losing support over his handling of the pandemic among the demographic, which is considered one of the most important voting blocs in the US electoral system.
“This is historic. Today (Trump) announced a peace agreement between Israel (and) the United Arab Emirates. I’m grateful (Trump) knows the importance of working for peace.” Franklin Graham, a prominent Evangelical leader, wrote on his Twitter account.
Christian Evangelicals are significantly more likely to support Trump’s approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict than Jewish people inside the US.
The US president, for his part, has also made no secret of his intent to court the Evangelical and Christian Zionist vote.
“It’s an incredible thing for Israel...it’s incredible for the evangelicals, by the way,” Trump said on the Fox News channel.
Trump’s brokering of deals between Israel and its Arab partners, especially without any real concession on the part of the Israelis, such as relinquishing its plans to annex occupied Palestinian territory, dovetails nicely into the Christian Zionist belief that the land of Israel (or Palestine) is the rightful property of the Jewish people.
The more Arab allies Israel therefore has in the region, especially those not willing to challenge its expansionist vision in the occupied territories, the more stable Israel’s future as a Jewish state looks in the eyes of the Christian Evangelicals.
For Christian Zionists, however, the latest deal between Israel and the UAE, pales in comparison to Trump’s earlier decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, therefore acknowledging the city, including occupied East Jerusalem, as the country’s capital.
In a campaign stop in the swing state of Wisconsin on Monday, Trump again boasted his credentials for gaining the Evangelical vote.
“We moved the capital of Israel to Jerusalem,” the US president said, adding: “The Evangelicals are more excited about that than Jewish people. It is incredible.”
This has more to do with apocalyptic Christian Zionist theology than the stability of the modern state of Israel or the safety of the Jews who now live there.
Why do Evangelicals support Israel?
Evangelical Christians are far from a monolith and their reasons for supporting Israel can be motivated by anything between guilt for Christendom’s past persecution of Jewish people to millenarian prophecies, in which the establishment of a Jewish homeland in the holy land is a precursor to the return of Christ and his establishment of a thousand-year long kingdom.
Around a half of Christian Evangelicals believe that support for Israel is necessary to ensure that Biblical prophecies are fulfilled.
Some are also informed by negative perceptions of Arabs brought on by centuries of Orientalist representation that has characterised the Palestinians in a uniformly unfavourable light.
Respect for Jews is also not much better, and for many Evangelicals the relationship is utilitarian rather one based on a genuine feeling of unity. Some academics, including ones interviewed by the Washington Post in 2019, have noted how there are currents within Evangelical thought that hold on to anti-Semitic stereotypes, while considering themselves pro-Israel.
In terms of theology, traditional Evangelicals believe that upon the establishment of the prophesied kingdom, Jews will convert en-masse and accept Christ as their saviour. Those who do not will perish in the ensuing war between good and evil and eventually end up in hell, according to the Evangelicals.
These views ensure that Christian Zionism remains exclusively under the purview of the religious right within the Republican party and that many Jews remain suspicious of the Evangelical movement.
A survey by the Israeli lobby group, J-Street, found that 80 percent of Jews surveyed opposed any kind of alliance between Jewish pro-Israel groups and the Christian Zionist movement.