Of the many strange bedfellows that politics breeds, one of the strangest in recent memory is the alliance between evangelical Christians, largely in the United States, and the Israeli governments of Netanyahu, Barak, Sharon, and now Ehud Olmert. The reasons for the alliance make a certain amount of political sense–evangelicals gain prestige with their own constituents and with the Israeli government, and Israel gets money and political support, particularly in the current administration where evangelicals’ concerns carry so much weight.
Just below the surface of this alliance, however, lies an implacable conflict. Israel, after all, wants to promote a Jewish state, a homeland for Jews throughout the world–the only place where the language, culture, holidays, and rhythms are distinctively Jewish. Evangelicals, on the other hand, see Israel as a central player in their eschaton–their understanding of the rapidly-approaching end of days. According to evangelical eschatology based on their reading of the Book of Revelation, the return of the Jews to their Land signals the advent of the End Times–the final cataclysmic battle that will lead to the millennial reign of Jesus Christ. In practical terms, this means that evangelicals are working to gain a foothold in Israel through building Christian institutions and through a campaign aimed at converting Jews, most recently with an evangelical television channel (including Jews-for-Jesus programming) that would become a part of Israel’s YES cable network.
Successive Israeli governments have been only too happy to welcome both Christian tourists and Christian dollars and have been building attractions for that particular market, such as a Holy Land theme park in the Galilee backed, among others, by Jerry Falwell. But as the Talmud says, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. The more Israel comes to count on evangelical money and influence in Washington–and it is clear Israel needs the evangelicals far more than the evangelicals need Israel–the harder it becomes for Israel to resist evangelicals’ demands for access, for particular policies, for special treatment.
Evangelical leaders claim not to have any ulterior motives in helping Israel, that their largesse simply reflects their affection and concern for God’s chosen people. But the truth is that evangelicals aren’t interested in Israel’s wellbeing except insofar as it serves their own eschatological agenda. And recent developments suggest that Israel better be wary if it wishes to remain the Jewish homeland and not simply the crown jewel in the evangelicals’ holdings. If evangelical influence continues to grow in Israel as it has to now, the government will be selling out our homeland for 30 pieces of silver.
The Other Virtual Talmud Rabbis Say: