Saturday, December 9, 2017
Last Wednesday president Donald Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It's a move that rolls back decades of American policy and it was swiftly condemned not only by Palestinian leaders, but also by many European leaders and Pope Francis. While many political analysts see this as mostly symbolic move, it's one that could lead to increased turmoil in the Middle East, and also set back the always difficult peace process between Israel and Palestine.
While the move was not surprisingly cheered by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and hard line American supporters of Israel like billionaire Sheldon Adlelson, there was also rejoicing from the American Evangelical movement. But why? Obviously Jerusalem has enormous resonance with Christians given that it's where Jesus Christ was crucified, but why should American Evangelicals care so much about where the capital of Israel is located? It all has to do with their interpretation of the biblical book of Revelations and their belief in the so called rapture.
As lined out in the surprisingly popular Left Behind book series, (and the not so popular, crappy looking movie series of the same name) millions of American Christian Evangelicals believe that at any given moment, they will be magically spirited up to heaven in what they call the rapture. The rest of the earth will then be plagued by years of violent turmoil, leading to armageddon and the return of Jesus, who will cast all people who aren't Christians into the fiery pits of hell. Furthermore, they also believe that for the rapture to take place, a Jewish homeland must be created in the Middle East. This belief has lead to an interesting phenomenon: conservative Jews from Israel who oppose a two state solution will often travel to American Evangelical churches to speak about their beliefs to the churchgoers, who happily receive them and donate money to their cause. Left out of their discussions is the fact that the Evangelicals all believe that, as non-Christians, all of the Jewish people they're donating money to are doomed to burn in hell! I would assume that the Israelis themselves are also aware of this, but don't care as long as they can get financial support. While it should be pointed out that the Left Behind books do have a Jewish character in them, and that he, after the rapture, converts to Christianity and gets to go heaven at the end. Yet this would seem more like an absurd fig leaf defense against anti semitism (Jews for Jesus get to go to heaven!) than any real acceptance of Jews (or Hindus or Buddhists for that matter) as anything other than unholy.
It would appear that Trump's goal for the move was to appeal to both conservative donors like Adelson and white Evangelical voters who voted for him in high numbers. So Trump has just made a a major foreign policy decision that could have tragic, fatal consequences, at least partly driven by the pipe dream belief of Evangelicals that they can go to heaven any minute while avoiding that whole pesky dying thing. It's crazy things like this that make me wish that religion and politics could just move to mostly neutral corners, accepting that their goals rarely sync up in a positive way, which is the prevailing wisdom in most industrialized nations. Just not in the US. But then, I also can't believe that our president has decided that his son in law Jared Kushner, who has no foreign policy experience whatsoever, (and who very well may soon be indicted for his relation to the ongoing Russia scandal investigation) should be in charge of Middle East peace talks. Sadly, this disastrous move will be seen as just another in the long list of reasons why Donald Trump should never have gotten anywhere near the White House.