From climate deniers who base their rejection of science on biblical passages, to the “pastors” who excuse Roy Moore by pointing out that Joseph was older than Mary (I am not making that up), to bakery owners who defend bigotry as “sincere religious belief,” America is awash with zealots who debase both authentic religion and core American values.
Which brings me to the Evangelical Christian Zionists who represent a disproportionate percentage of Trump supporters.
It is tempting to see Trump’s decision to move America’s embassy to Jerusalem, a break with decades of American Middle-East policy, as a gift to the Evangelicals who believe that, in order to bring on the Rapture, Jews must be gathered in a secure Holy Land. (Lest anyone mistake this belief for pro-Jewish sentiment, they also believe that Jews who do not accept Jesus will burn in hell for eternity.)
A University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll (among a national sample of 2,000 American adults, fielded by Nielsen Scarborough November 1-6 and released at the Brookings Institution last Friday) found that 59 percent of Americans said they preferred that Trump lean toward neither side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In contrast, 57 percent of Americans, including most Republicans, said he is in fact leaning toward Israel. Our poll also shows that 63 percent of all Americans oppose moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, including 44 percent of Republicans.
Furthermore, Evangelicals aren’t all of the “Christian Zionist” variety.
Two-thirds of Evangelicals say Trump’s policy is already leaning toward Israel—a proportion that’s even higher than that of the rest of the population. Even on moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, the support is hardly overwhelming: While 53 percent of Evangelicals support the move, 40 percent oppose it.
So why is he taking a step that knowledgable advisors like Mattis are said to oppose, a step certain to destabilize one of the world’s most dangerous regions? Why take a step that will make his (ridiculous) promise of a “deal of the century” bringing lasting peace to the Middle East impossible?
From the outset, most experts understood that the “deal of the century” was most likely beyond reach and that its collapse may lead to President Trump lashing out with such moves as moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and giving the green light to expand Israeli settlement in the West Bank. The fact that the White House may take a controversial step on Jerusalem now, before he even has a chance to unveil his plan, means one of two things.
The first is that his advisers live in their own bubble, reinforced by unprecedented inexperience. In fact, this is already a public fear. Despite deep partisanship on almost every issue, Americans come together on this issue: 81 percent of all Americans, including 71 percent of Republicans, prefer Trump relying on experts in his Middle East diplomacy, not on inexperienced family members and personal lawyers.
But there is a second possibility: That the Trump administration has already given up on its “deal of the century” and is looking for ways to pin the blame on someone else.
The ramifications of an embassy move would be felt far outside of Jerusalem. It would overturn 70 years of international consensus, and, many argue, would effectively signal the end of moves to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
The status of Jerusalem is an issue that was supposed to be left to negotiations between the parties, as part of a peace agreement. Moving the embassy is seen as America pre-judging that delicate issue. The obvious wisdom of leaving the issue open is why 86 countries have embassies in Tel Aviv–and none have embassies in Jerusalem.
A number of American Jewish organizations have criticized Trump’s decision, accusing the President of ignorance and of ‘irresponsible’ decision-making. Polls show only 20% of American Jews supporting this decision.