by Thomas Buonomo
John Hagee, San Antonio-based evangelical mega-church pastor and founder of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), exhorts his followers to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” while exerting pressure on the U.S. government to undermine the conditions necessary for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. As an indicator of his 10-year-old organization’s growing power, six recent Republican presidential candidates—not only fringe theocrats masquerading as conservatives but serious contenders including Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush—paid tribute to CUFI by speaking at its annual conference last July.
Hagee has since declared his support for Donald Trump, who initially stated that he would be neutral on the Israeli-Palestinian issue before realizing that maintaining this position would be politically costly for him.
This year Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be addressing the conference attendees by satellite. Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, will also be a featured speaker.
Hagee advocates that the U.S. officially recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and that Israel annex territory the Jews conquered thousands of years ago that the Palestinians now claim for their own future state. He argues that the land belongs to Israel under an eternal divine covenant. He also repeatedly warns that those who bless Israel will be blessed and those who curse Israel will be cursed, quoting the proclaimed divine injunctions found throughout the Bible. Blessing Israel, according to him, means supporting its territorial expansion even though it is impossible to do so without also supporting the forcible expropriation and killing of Palestinians. Cursing Israel, he contends, means opposing these military conquests.
Palestinians, and Muslims more broadly, do not recognize Hagee’s religious narrative. Nor do the vast majority of Israelis, although this has not precluded cynical Israeli officials from exploiting CUFI’s support. As a small country in a hostile region, Israel needs powerful allies, and there is no more steadfast ally than the U.S., in part because of its Christian Zionist population.
The Palestinian Liberation Organization recognized Israel in 1993, and the Palestinian Authority in power in the West Bank has expressed its continued commitment to a two-state solution. The Palestinians will almost certainly never agree to relinquish their claim to East Jerusalem or more territory outside of minor land swaps within the two-state framework.
Christians thus must reconcile Jesus’s exhortation to advance peace in the world with Hagee’s position that Christians should support Israel unconditionally, based on his interpretation of Biblical scripture. Hagee has asserted that God orchestrated the return of the Jews to Israel by using Hitler as his divine agent. This is perplexing enough, without addressing the question of why God felt it necessary to cause or allow Israel’s ancient territory to be inhabited by Arabs who have been fighting for roughly a century now for ownership of it.
Many Christians view the reestablishment of Israel in 1948 as the fulfillment of prophecy. It was indeed an impressively unlikely event, yet its improbability does not dictate that it must have been a divinely orchestrated event. It is an event that must be de-mystified: the establishment of the state of Israel required the preservation of culture and national aspiration over centuries, and intensive organizing by affluent and politically established Jewish leaders over decades. And millions of Jews were murdered before it could be achieved.
If one can believe that a loving God would use Hitler as his divine agent to orchestrate the return of the Jews to Israel for his glory, as Hagee would have us believe, one can be persuaded to believe anything.
This is a terrifying and tyrannical narcissism that requires us to dispense with the most basic conceptions of love. One might say it borders on sadomasochistic. According to this narrative, the Jews must endure incredible suffering for God’s self-fulfillment.
God’s ways may be “mysterious” or “higher” than that of humans but when they become so mysterious as to be completely inscrutable, Christians should consider that perhaps something is amiss with religious leaders such as Hagee. He may be charismatic, financially successful, and political influential, but so are some of the most diabolical men in the world. That is not to say Hagee is necessarily diabolical—although he is almost certainly delusional. If his prophetic interpretations are insufficient to conclude this, his dabbling in astrology might give cause for doubt.
A good rule of thumb is that if supposed divine prophecies require military force to be achieved, they are not divine in origin. Rather, they are self-fulfilling ones justified by cynical or deluded and ultra-narcissistic leaders. In this case, Christian Zionist leaders purporting to understand divine intent will continue to lead America down the road to intractable conflict the longer U.S. policymakers decline to challenge it for the sake of political expediency (or because they actually believe it themselves, as some prominent officials appear to).
Christians should be on guard against the allure of supposed divine revelation and instead focus on emulating a more worthy divine attribute: the desire to advance peace in the world. The way to do so is not by attempting to prove the veracity of one’s beliefs through force of arms (or unconditional military aid). It is by following our higher, more empathetic instincts.
This does not mean Christians should not advocate for strongly defending Israel but rather that America should be more judicious in doing so—for instance, by holding Israel accountable for expansionist policies that make the prospect of peace more distant.
Thomas Buonomo is a geopolitical risk analyst with expertise in Middle East affairs. His views are his own.