Vice-president Mike Pence’s recent visit to Jerusalem marked a towering victory for right wing fundamentalism, both Christian and Jewish.
Pence’s fervent speech to the Israeli Knesset, rife with biblical references and described by the newspaper Haaretz as a “Zionist speech” that was more of a sermon, was a triumph for short-sighted folk who naively believe a Jewish temple will once again be built on Temple Mount. Fundamentalist Christians who hold to the popular premillennial dispensationalist views believe this is a necessary precondition for Jesus to return and inaugurate the apocalyptic terrors anticipated by those who mistakenly read Revelation as if it were a literal guide to the future.
Some Israelis refer to it as the “Trumpocalypse.” One prominent Israeli attorney has publicly slammed Pence’s approach to Jerusalem as an “end-of-days Biblical theme park.” Trump has demonstrated that he has no real interest in religion that does not serve political ends. Pence may be even more dangerous, because he is actually a devout Christian — unfortunately, of the most fundamentalist persuasion. Why care about peace if you believe the world is destined to end with Armageddon? Jesus’ message of love and blessing for peacemakers are trumped by misguided apocalyptic expectations.
American fundamentalists have long supported efforts of Ultra-Orthodox Jews whose idea of “peace” is to deprive Palestinians of all rights and annex every inch of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Many also support an organization called the “Temple Institute,” a mainstay of Holy Land tours led by fundamentalist preachers and TV evangelists. The Temple Institute is recreating furnishings and equipment similar to that used in the Second Temple, believing that one day they will be used in a restored Jewish temple. These include a massive gold-plated menorah that strategically situated in plain site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Temple Mount, an “in your face” symbol of their hopes to destroy the two mosques on Temple Mount and replace them with a new Jewish temple.
If you want to start World War III and bring on man-made apocalyptic terror, that’s the way to do it.
With their unabashed and one-sided support of the most conservative Israelis, Trump and Pence are playing into the hands of those who want to ensure that there will never be peace with the Palestinians. By siding totally with Israel’s right wing, they have effectively removed the U.S. from having any influence in potential peace talks.
In so doing, they blindly claim that Trump has done more for bilateral ties with Israel than any other U.S. president. It is true that no other president has joined himself at the hip to Benjamin Netanyahu (also under investigation for illegal activity), and Trump has embraced Israeli Zionists more than any other U.S. president, but he’s done nothing good for Israel as a whole. Apparently neither Trump nor Pence remember that it was President Truman who first recognized Israel, Kennedy who provided defensive weapons, Johnson who give them offensive weapons, Nixon who came to their aid in 1973, Carter who brokered peace with Egypt, and Clinton who worked out a peace deal with Jordan. Both Bush presidencies showed support for Israel, and Obama presided over a long-term defense treaty.
The difference is that the former presidents understood that supporting Israel is a complicated affair and that diplomacy should consider the rights of Arab Israelis and Palestinians as well as Jews. Trump has done nothing except grandstand with talk of moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and kowtow to an Israeli version of his famous “base,” making any hope of peace or justice for Palestinians much more difficult.
Never has it been more clear that fundamentalist religion and political power are a dangerous, dangerous mix. May God save us from the Trumpocalypse.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.