JERUSALEM – Evangelical Christian love and support for Israel and the Jewish people is “unconditional,” cannot be broken, and does not depend on who is running the Israeli government.
That was the message that Joel C. Rosenberg, ALL ISRAEL NEWS founder and editor-in-chief, delivered in the Knesset on Wednesday, as a keynote speaker at the Jerusalem Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, and Thursday evening on i24, an Israeli TV news channel.
To underscore the point, Rosenberg told i24 News anchor Calev Ben-David that two major pro-Israel Evangelical leaders – Pastor John Hagee, founder of Christians United For Israel, and former governor and ambassador Nikki Haley – have just landed in Israel to express their solidarity with Israel.
Hagee and Haley will meet with senior Israeli leaders, Rosenberg reported, including with incoming Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
The meeting will be a key sign, Rosenberg said, that Evangelical’s support for Israel “is not political, it is theological,” and thus sacrosanct.
Rosenberg was asked if the controversy stirred up by Mike Evans last week was discussed at the conference, which was held at the very museum that Evans founded.
He said it absolutely was, and every single speaker at the prayer breakfast and its two days of related conference events made the same point that Evangelicals would not let them be divided from Israel.
“We stand with Israel no matter what, whoever is the President, whoever the Prime Minister, whoever is in the government,” Rosenberg said on i24 News.
Though Rosenberg said that Evangelicals will occasionally disagree with Israel's policies, “we do not believe that our love is conditional.”
To the contrary, Evangelicals have “unconditional love and support for Israel and the Jewish people. It was the theme of these last two days’ worth of events.”
Here is the full transcript of the interview on i24 News:
CALEV BEN-DAVID: Welcome back to “The Rundown.” Evangelical Christian supporters of Israel gathered together – live or virtually – this morning in the capital for the annual “Jerusalem Prayer Breakfast” in the Holy City. The agenda and speeches were typical of the event, with Evangelical preachers and leaders from around the world calling on their home countries to join the U.S. in moving their embassies to Jerusalem.
But the event, held at the Friends of Zion Heritage Center, also took place amid some intense debate, and some backlash, at comments made recently by the founder of that venue, Mike Evans, who said that Israel risks losing Evangelical support by replacing Benjamin Netanyahu as its leader, also publishing an open letter lashing out at incoming Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at one point in, what I would say, was derogatory language.
Joining us now for more on this is Joel C. Rosenberg, editor of ALL ISRAEL NEWS, and the New York Times best selling author. He is joining us from Jerusalem and is someone who participated in that breakfast and, I understand, other events connected to the breakfast, as this was a multi-day event.
Joel, I have to ask you – Mike Evans has been on this program. We've interviewed him several times. He actually did apologize [earlier this week] for some of the language that he used in discussing Naftali Bennett. But he didn't apologize for the point he was making that Israel could lose Evangelical support because it is replacing Benjamin Netanyahu. First of all, let me ask you, what are you hearing at that breakfast and these other events? Are those comments [by Evans] being addressed and answered by some of the participants?
ROSENBERG: Yes – yes, Calev. I think it’s interesting the fact that Mike Evans is the founder of the Friends of Zion Museum, obviously with many other people involved and a board and numerous financial supporters – but yes, Mike Evans built the Friends of Zion Museum. And it's a great museum. We love the museum. And it was strange to be there when Mike has gone over the line. I consider Mike a friend, but I've challenged him on this privately and publicly. I think his comments are indefensible. I totally respect his love for his friend, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And Netanyahu has done many amazing and wonderful things for the State of Israel and for Evangelicals. But it's one thing to defend your friend. It's another thing to attack your friends, and that's what Mike Evans has done.
Almost every speaker – not everyone, but many of them and not usually by name – but they said, listen, “We totally disagree. There's been a controversy recently, but we stand with Israel no matter what, whoever is the president, whoever the prime minister, whoever is in the government. We will disagree with policies. But we do not believe that our love is conditional. It is unconditional love and support for Israel and the Jewish people. It was the theme of these last two days’ worth of events.
BEN-DAVID: Okay, so one certainly could take issue with some of the tone or the language of Mike Evans. But let's look at the substance of his argument. You say “unconditional love” – but the fact is Benjamin Netanyahu did make a point of seeking support of Evangelicals for Israel, in a sense courting them, of listening to them, of deepening the relationship that Israel had with them. Is there a possibility that with his replacement by this new government headed by Naftali Bennett – with also, we should say, Yair Lapid and maybe also some other political figures who are less in sync with the Evangelical agenda – that there could be some weakening of support from the community for Israel?
ROSENBERG: No. There is zero chance of that. What's interesting about this, Calev, is that Evangelical love and support for Israel isn't based on Netanyahu. It's based on the Bible. And it's not political. It's theological. It goes so deep in us.
Now, that doesn't mean that when Ehud Olmert was trying to give away half the Old City of Jerusalem, including the Christian Quarter [to Mahmoud Abbas], that Evangelicals will never be critical. On policy, Evangelical leaders across the border are willing and able to be critical. For example, I didn't agree with [the timing of] annexation. So, I criticized Prime Minister Netanyahu for putting annexation, for a while, ahead of possible peace treaties with the Gulf [Arab countries]. Fortunately, he course corrected. So, God bless him for that.
Look, policy is one thing. But support for the State of Israel? That's what bothered Evangelicals by the millions about what Mike Evans said. He was acting as though our support is politically conditioned. It's not.
I think you'll see that with Pastor John Hagee, head of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) – with 10 million supporters in the United States. He just landed in Israel. He just came from the United Arab Emirates. He's meeting with Governor Nikki Haley, together they're going to be meeting with all the top leadership in Israel, including the incoming Prime Minister [Naftali Bennett]. Watch closely for Hagee. If Hagee bails on this new government, then you've got a real story. Right now, Mike Evans, I love him, but I totally disagree with them and almost every Evangelical does.
BEN-DAVID: Well, it's curious that you are even raising the possibility that Pastor Hagee would, you know, possibly turn against…
ROSENBERG: Well, no – I’m not raising that. I'm saying if that were to happen, that would be a huge story. It's not going to happen.
BEN-DAVID: How do you explain, then, Mike Evans? I mean, listen, the comparison that a lot of the commentary is relating to the support that Evangelicals gave to President Trump and in a sense, personalized it in a way that their political support for Trump almost went beyond ideology and really went on a very personal level to one particular political figure. Is that what you think happened with Mike Evans, that in a sense, if one can make a comparison, the way some Evangelicals gave totally unconditional support for President Trump?
ROSENBERG: To a degree. Look, you have to understand, Mike was a huge fan of President Trump. Now, Trump has gone. He's a personal friend of Prime Minister Netanyahu for 40 years, and a political supporter of Netanyahu, and now Netanyahu seems to be leaving. And Mike lost his Facebook page with millions of followers. So that's a huge blow to anybody. And so, you know, I can forgive him for getting emotional – for going over the edge on this one.
But his point, at the core, is wrong. It's just wrong. Now, there will be Evangelicals who are very bothered that Netanyahu is leaving. He is beloved by Evangelicals. He deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. He's probably going to win one, he should, for the Abraham Accords. He has kept Israel strong.
And no Evangelicals – almost even know the name Naftali Bennett, much less Yair Lapid. Most [Christian] leaders have never met these two.
But, as they get to know Naftali Bennett, what are they going to find? They're going to find the protege of Netanyahu. Right? Served in the same elite special forces unit. Huge business success. He has the exact same positions, if not more to the right, than Netanyahu. So, I think there will actually be relief when they get to know Bennett.
But this is Bennett's job, and Lapid’s. He needs to reach out not just to John Hagee, but [to Evangelical leaders] across the board. He's got a lot of catching up to do, both of them do, to build trust. It's not that they're going to lose support of Evangelicals, but they're not trusted because they're not known. We can fix that. They can fix that. But Bennett and Lapid have to be very strategic and consistent about it.
BEN-DAVID: Alright – well, you should know that we spoke to one of Naftali Bennett’s strategic advisers yesterday. [He was] reminding everybody that Naftali Bennett, of course, has roots in the United States from his parents. He lived there. He speaks fluent English. He certainly has a pretty good grasp [of English]. Maybe nobody can match what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has brought to that role, but he [Bennett] will certainly reaching out to the Evangelical community and maintaining a dialogue with them.
ROSENBERG: I think that's true. I think Bennett has all the opportunity in the world because he he really was mentored by Netanyahu. And even though Netanyahu is mad at him, that's because Netanyahu doesn't want to leave power. I get it. But Bennett will be a big surprise in the positive for most Evangelicals. And that's Bennett's opportunity. Now he has to go build those relationships.
BEN-DAVID: Alright, and I'm sure that's going to be part of his agenda in the coming weeks and months.
ROSENBERG: I hope so.
BEN-DAVID: Joel Rosenberg, thank you for joining us on The Rundown.
ROSENBERG: My pleasure.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.