How will pro-Israel Evangelicals react to the post-Bibi era?

They don’t know Naftali Bennett or Yair Lapid, so there is no trust yet, but it can be developed

American evangelicals pray (photo credit: REUTERS)
American evangelicals pray
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The formation of a new government to replace Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu is a political earthquake that will shake the pro-Israel Evangelical community in the United States and around the world.
After serving as prime minister for 15 years, with the last 12 served consecutively, Netanyahu is the only Israeli premier most Evangelicals know.
He is certainly the most respected and trusted.
More than that, Bibi is beloved by the vast majority of the 60 million Evangelical Christians in the United States, and by many of the 600 million Evangelicals worldwide.
Most Evangelicals do not know Naftali Bennett, the incoming prime minister. Nor do they know Yair Lapid, the incoming foreign minister.
Indeed, most never heard of them until this month, so there is no trust there yet.
Such trust can be developed because, above all, Evangelicals love and support Israel unconditionally. They want the best for the Jewish state, regardless of who leads the country. But trust will take time and a concerted effort.
For starters, it would be useful for the leaders of Israel’s new government to realize why Evangelicals have come to love Netanyahu so much.
 
A champion of Israeli security
Ever since he burst on the American scene as Israel’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations during the Gulf War in 1991, appearing frequently on CNN and other TV programs, the vast majority of rank-and-file Evangelical Christians at the grassroots level were drawn to Netanyahu.
They see him as a stalwart champion of Israel security, peace and prosperity, and that’s what they want in an Israeli leader.
They deeply admire Netanyahu’s courageous and decisive stand against the terrorist masters in Tehran – whom they believe pose an existential threat to the State of Israel – and against radical Islamist terrorist movements around the region, from Hamas to Hezbollah to the Muslim Brotherhood to the Islamic State and beyond.
They cheered when Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress and courageously spoke against former president Barack Obama’s dangerously flawed nuclear deal with Iran.
They applauded when he consistently confronted Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s corruption, complicity with terrorists, and congenital resistance even to direct peace talks, much less actually negotiating a peace treaty.
For decades, they stood enthusiastically with Netanyahu in the effort to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem and to persuade the US to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and they were grateful when those efforts bore fruit.
And they were thrilled that under Netanyahu’s leadership Israel signed peace and normalization agreements last year with four Arab governments: 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.
Consistently cultivating Evangelical leaders
What’s more, senior Evangelical leaders came to know Netanyahu personally. They have met with him, interacted with him, asked him their questions, and had him speak at their conferences, events and churches.
More than any other leader in the history of Israel, Netanyahu actively courted and cultivated relationships with Evangelical leaders for 30 years.
Why?
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 the ingathering of the Jewish people to their ancient homeland – are Israel’s most important, faithful, loyal and strategic allies in the world.
Evangelicals have, therefore, responded enthusiastically to Netanyahu’s requests to help him bolster political support and congressional funding for Israel in Washington, fight antisemitism across the globe, and defend Israel in the mainstream media and on social media.
What’s more, they have responded generously to his requests that they bring more Christian tourists to Israel, give more charitable donations to care for the poor and needy in Israel, and build a larger movement of prayer for the peace of Jerusalem, in keeping with King David’s admonition in Psalm 122:6.

Operating as global statesman
Today, Evangelicals see Israel suddenly – and in their eyes, unexpectedly – losing not just another prime minister but a powerful and effective global statesman.
Indeed, Netanyahu has become a global brand who wields far more international influence than a country of fewer than 10 million citizens would seem to warrant.
Over the past several decades, he has learned to play on the world stage with political giants of our age. Netanyahu can pick up the phone and get Joe Biden, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Mohammed bin Salman, Narendra Modi, Boris Johnson, Angela Merkel, and others on the line. He can jump on a jet and meet with any of these power players at a moment’s notice. He knows them. They know him. He meets with them regularly. And love him or hate him, these world leaders respect Netanyahu, and know that he does not mess around when it comes to Israel’s security.
Evangelicals have little exposure to, or context for, the messy political in-fighting in Jerusalem, the allegations of Netanyahu’s corruption, or the frustrations that even many of Netanyahu’s long-time allies have his his personality and style of management.
Most are not aware that the leaders of almost all the center-right parties in Israel are former Netanyahu chiefs of staff, top advisers, or cabinet members who now refuse to work with him any longer.
In short, most Evangelicals are not ready to say, “Bye bye, Bibi.”
Now, however, they must.

The test – and opportunity – for Bennett and Lapid
The big question now is this: Will Bennett, Lapid and their colleagues and advisers learn from and build upon the Netanyahu legacy with Evangelicals?
For the sake of the country and this important alliance, I hope so.
Most Evangelicals, for example, will be pleasantly surprised to discover that:
• Naftali Bennett is, in many ways, Netanyahu’s protegé,
• Bennett served in the same IDF Special Forces unit as Netanyahu,
• Bennett served as Netanyahu’s chief of staff and was once one of his closest political allies,
• Bennett’s ideology and policies are almost exactly the same as Netanyahu’s,
• Bennett served in Netanyahu’s cabinet in multiple positions, including as defense minister and as education minister, and
• Bennett wanted to join a Netanyahu-led right-wing government, but it was Netanyahu who was unable to cobble together the necessary 61 seat majority.
Likewise, most Evangelicals will be surprised to learn that Yair Lapid used to work very closely with Netanyahu, and that:
• Lapid served in Netanyahu’s cabinet as finance minister,
• Lapid is a centrist, not a radical left-winger, and
• Lapid actively and successfully courted many right-wingers to join this new “change government,” not just Bennett and his Yamina Party, but also Gideon Sa’ar (who used to be the number two official in Netanyahu’s Likud Party), and Avigdor Liberman (who used to be Netanyahu’s chief of staff).
I have not yet met with Bennett but have gotten to know some of his team.
However, I have met with and interviewed Lapid over the years, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, and incoming justice minister Gideon Sa’ar (whom I consider a personal friend), as well their advisers.
While I don’t agree with them on every issue, I like these men. I believe they are honest, principled, candid and care deeply about steering Israel in the right direction.
I also believe that if they are positive and proactive in reaching out to the Christian community, participate in interviews with Christian media, and invite Christian leaders to meet with them, they will be warmly welcomed by Evangelicals and truly strengthen this critically important alliance.
The writer is a dual US-Israeli citizen and a New York Times best-selling author with five million copies of his books in print. Based in Jerusalem, he is also founder and editor-in-chief of All Israel News (allisrael.com) and All Arab News (allarab.news).