For many Evangelical Christians, the likely downfall of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a shock of biblical proportions.
The majority of the estimated 60 million American Evangelicals who have supported the prime minister, comparing him to Moses and King David, are watching quietly from the sidelines as the man who united them with Israel prepares to be dethroned.
Netanyahu is the Israeli premier that the Christians know and love. He is also the man who, in 2017 at a Christians United for Israel (CUFI) conference, told them they were Israel’s best friends in the world.
“When I say we have no greater friends than Christian supporters of Israel, I know you’ve always stood with us,” Netanyahu said in a video address. “You stand with us because you stand with yourselves because we represent that common heritage of freedom that goes back thousands of years.”
“America has no better friend than Israel and Israel has no better friend than America,” Netanyahu continued. “And Israel has no better friend in America than you.”
Evangelicals overwhelmingly supported the direction that Netanyahu’s policies were taking Israel, whether it be his unwavering war on terror, his pro-settlement agenda that kept the biblical heartland in Jewish hands or his hardline stance against Iran.
Although not a religious man himself, Netanyahu was seen by Evangelicals as upholding their American and religious values.
Evangelicals have long threaded a biblical narrative into Netanyahu’s premiership, much like they did with former president Donald Trump’s presidency.
The Evangelicals likened Trump to Cyrus, the historical king of Persia who liberated Jews from captivity in Babylon and allowed them to return to Israel and rebuild the Temple. For many Evangelicals, God raised up Trump much like He did biblical kings and other leaders in ancient times.
WHEN NETANYAHU was late for the 2012 CUFI conference in Jerusalem, Pastor John Hagee – who heads the largest pro-Israel lobby group in the United States – compared him to the messiah as he waited for the prime minister to arrive at a Jerusalem hotel to address the crowd.
“There’s a saying in Judaism about the messiah – I know that even if he tarries, he’ll come,” Hagee told attendees back then. “I know that the prime minister will come, and even if he tarries, he’ll come.”
Once Netanyahu did arrive, Hagee did not hold back in his introduction of the premier, saying that Netanyahu “changed the path of Christianity in America, when he asked me in 2006 if he thought American Christians could unite for Israel.
“Ancient Israel had Moses, who led them in the desert; during the golden era they had King David, who conquered Jerusalem; and today, when there are existential threats, Israel has a champion who can confront the challenge. Please welcome the prime minister,” Hagee said.
Evangelicals were thrilled with Netanyahu’s leadership. In just the last four years, working with Trump, the US Embassy was moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, America recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights and the Abraham Accords were signed between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.
“Evangelicals believe that Netanyahu deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for his participation in the historic and game-changing Abraham Accords, and they are right – he does,” Israeli-American Evangelical author Joel Rosenberg wrote in an unpublished op-ed that he shared with The Jerusalem Post.
He explained that Netanyahu, more than any other leader in the history of Israel, “actively courted and cultivated relationships” with the Christians.
“Why?” Rosenberg asked. “Because he believed Evangelicals, who are deeply immersed in the teachings of the Bible – who truly know and love the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and believe in the prophecies about the rebirth of the State of Israel and regathering of the Jewish people to their ancient homeland – are Israel’s most important, faithful, loyal and strategic allies in the world.”
The Evangelicals responded enthusiastically to Netanyahu’s request for help, acting on behalf of the Jewish State in Washington, on social and mainstream media outlets, through tourism, charity and prayer.
But while Evangelicals have a special relationship with the premier, that does not mean they cannot have an equally good relationship with another leader, said Rev. Johnnie Moore, president of the Congress of Christian Leaders and who helped organize the Trump campaign’s Evangelical advisory board in 2016. He believes Evangelicals will have a strong connection with whatever government exists in Israel.
“The Evangelical relationship with Israel has been fortified by the work of Netanyahu,” Moore told the Post, “but now it transcends the nuts and bolts of politics. I don’t think Evangelical support for Israel is contingent on the nuances of either Israeli or American politics.”
Aside from a harsh and unrestrained open letter published Thursday by Evangelical leader Mike Evans, the founder of the Friends of Zion Heritage Center in Jerusalem and of the Jerusalem Prayer Team, few Christians have openly meddled in the Israeli election.
While Evans claimed that Yamina head Naftali Bennett has “lost the support of Evangelicals 100%”– for his choice to oust the premier and form a government with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid that includes the Arab Islamic party Ra’am – most Evangelicals said they have not yet taken a position on the potential new government.
Most Christians love and support Netanyahu but are less familiar with Bennett and Lapid. Still, they are likely to honor any new premier, whether or not they agree with his policies. Just as Christians were faced with two ways in which to react to President Joe Biden – either they could see him as doing no right, or they could find the areas on which they can agree – so too will they have to make a choice with the new Israeli premier.
The last six months have shown that faithful Christians uphold the message of their bible, which commands the people to pray for their rulers.
EVANGELICAL SUPPORT for Israel is based on the Bible and God’s commandment to bless Israel and to love the Jewish people.
Moreover, Evangelical leaders told the Post that nearly all Evangelicals hold dear the biblical maxim: Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
“Pray for peace in Jerusalem,” it says in Psalm 122:6. “May all who love this city prosper.”
So, every day, Evangelical Christians around the world pray for the peace of Jerusalem – regardless of who sits in the prime minister’s residence on Balfour Street.
In other words, Christians will love Israel, because it is Israel.
But there are actions that Bennett could take to help ensure a steady transition, Rosenberg said.
“The first person who Bennett should reach out to is Pastor John Hagee and he should plan to speak to the Christians United for Israel summit this summer” – just like Netanyahu did every year, he said.
Rosenberg said Bennett should invite several dozen prominent Evangelicals involved in CUFI and other top Christian organizations to come to Israel, have dinner with him, give them private briefings and begin building this relationship.
Finally, he recommended that Bennett appoint an ambassador to the Christian world, a promise that Netanyahu made to the community two years ago at a Christian Media Summit in Jerusalem but never carried out.
“Evangelicals love Netanyahu, but we know of course that he is not the messiah,” Rosenberg said.
In Ecclesiastes, God explains that there is a time and a season for everything. As such, Rosenberg said that Christians are expected to understand if Netanyahu’s season is over and “we will love and support and pray for the next prime minister – whoever that may be.”