Trump’s Jerusalem Move Caters to Religious Extremists

Jerusalem Move Caters to Trump's Base of Bigots

The opening ceremony of the US Embassy in Jerusalem featured billionaire Sheldon Adelson and prominent far-right evangelical Christian leaders John Hagee and Robert Jeffress. Journalists Max Blumenthal and Dan Cohen discuss the alliance between Trump, Netanyahu, and far-right extremists in both the US and Israel

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AARON MATE: It’s the Real News. I’m Aaron Mate. 

President Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem was a major victory for two of his key bastions of support: far-right pro-Israeli government neocons, and far-right evangelical Christians. And both groups were represented at Monday’s ceremony. Billionaire Sheldon Adelson was among those in attendance. The Reverend John Hagee, founder of Christians United for Israel, gave the closing benediction, and delivering the opening prayer was Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas. 

ROBERT JEFFRESS: And now, Father, as we come to dedicate this embassy in the city of Jerusalem, the city that you named is the capital of Israel 3000 years ago, we want to thank you for the tremendous leadership of our great President Donald J. Trump. Without President Trump’s determination, resolve, courage, we would not be here today. And I believe, Father, I speak for every one of us when we say we thank you every day that you have given us a president who boldly stands on the right side of history, but more importantly stands on the right side of you, oh God, when it comes to Israel. 

AARON MATE: Joining me to discuss the evangelicals and pro-Israel neocons who have cheered on Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem are Max Blumenthal and Dan Cohen, independent journalists who have just come out with a new film called Killing Gaza. Welcome to you both. Max, set the stage for us. Why is this Jerusalem decision so important to evangelicals? 

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, I wrote my first book on the Christian right, and now it’s all kind of coming together here under Trump, who’s just this paragon of morality. He has such a strong moral compass. But you know, the importance of Jerusalem, Jerusalem is central to Christian Zionists. And two of the most prolific Christian Zionists, John Hagee and Robert Jeffress, were in Jerusalem as key supporters of the, you know, paragon of morality Donald Trump, who grabs people by their rosaries. 

I mean, this guy really exposes how the Christian right has no principles whatsoever beyond pure power, and this desire to fulfill biblical prophecy in Jerusalem. Jeffress and Hagee are what we would call pre-millennialists, and pre-millennialists believe that the return of Christ will only come through a series of dispensations. Dispensations can be disasters, natural disasters, or wars that are foretold in the Book of Revelations, which was not an original part of the Bible. And pre-millennial dispensationalism is dominant among American evangelicals who, who are white, and tend to be extremely politically conservative, and form a large part of Donald Trump’s base. 

Apocalypticism and biblical prophecy is a great way to raise money among those people. You’re basically telling them the world is going to end at this point, and you’re helping them interpret history in a really crude way. And they’re waiting for Christ to returns. Pastor Hagee, actually, has led tours to the Hill of Megiddo, where he believes, this is a hill in Jerusalem, where he believes that Jesus will descend on a, on a throne, and usher in the second coming. In that case, all Muslims and Jews and Mormons, and everyone who isn’t already saved and born again in the blood of Christ, will be doomed to an everlasting lake of fire as foretold in the book of Revelations. Everlasting lake of fire. It’s not just like the lake of fire that’s temporary, you don’t just burn up. You’re just burning forever. 

So that’s what they believe. Robert Jeffress is a particularly interesting character who comes out of the Southern Baptist Convention. The Southern Baptist Convention was originally fairly moderate. Jimmy Carter was a member in the 1980s. There was a stealth takeover by extreme right wing elements, I think Jerry Falwell helped lead this. And Jeffress, figures like Jeffress came in. And they began, or they first formed the Moral Majority. Then they helped form the Christian Coalition. And Jeffress in the late ’90s emerged at a smaller church on the border of Oklahoma through an antigay campaign he waged, where he took two books out from the local library that were about, normalized the homosexual lifestyle. I think, you know, one of the books was called, like, My Dad Has Two Roommates, or My Dad Has a Roommate, or something. And he had parishioners pay $54, the price of the books, to the library so that he would never return them. And then he gave a big sermon declaring that gay is not OK. 

To demonstrate how hardcore he was as a member of the Southern Baptist Convention, Jeffress gave a speech, maybe around 2004 or ’05, declaring that Jews cannot be saved; Mormon, Mormonism is an abomination of God, against God. 

AARON MATE: Max, we have that clip. Let’s go to the video. 

ROBERT JEFFRESS: If we tell people what the Bible says, that every other religion in the world is wrong. Islam is wrong. It is a heresy from the pit of hell. Mormonism is wrong. It is a heresy from the pit of hell. Judaism, as you know, you can’t be saved being a Jew. You know who said that, by the way? The three greatest Jews in the New Testament, Peter, Paul, and Jesus Christ. They all said Judaism won’t do it. It’s faith in Jesus Christ. 

AARON MATE: That is Robert Jeffress, who again opened up the U.S. embassy ceremony on Monday. Max, you were saying. 

MAX BLUMENTHAL: You can pretty much see where Jeffress is coming from, and it’s, he’s not a very pluralistic character. His views are not really in keeping with the First Amendment, or separation of church and state. His views are, do not align with Donald Trump’s views. But again, the Christian right has shown, I mean, the mask on the Christian right is lifted in the Trump era, and it shows they they don’t have any principles. They just believe in power. And Donald Trump is doing something that they have wanted for a very long time, which is to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. 

And in 1984 a Christian right group actually bought a house that used to belong to Palestinians who were ethnically cleansed, so it’s what is considered in Jerusalem an Arab home, and they turned it into kind of an ersatz, a substitute U.S. embassy. And they call it, I think they call it, like, the Christian Embassy. And they stage a march every year, and have a big Christian international evangelical convention to call for the U.S. to move its embassy to Jerusalem. They really see this in terms of biblical prophecy and the second coming. 

So Pastor Hagee, Pastor John Hagee comes along for the closing benediction. Pastor Hagee is the most powerful Christian Zionist figure in the country. He is the founder of Christians United for Israel, which is actually set up, as I reported back in 2006, it was set up by AIPAC, the mainstream arm of the Israel lobby, which is considered a Jewish organization. So Hagee was sort of created as this political figure, a political operative, by the American Jewish establishment. And this is someone who has stood before his congregation in San Antonio, Texas the Cornerstone Church, and declared that Hitler was a halfbreed Jew, and that when the Antichrist returns he will be a homosexual with fierce features. Those were Hagee’s exact words. Hagy has also said that-. And this is what Christian Zionists believe, it isn’t just Hagee being this madman, that Theodor Herzl, the sort of intellectual godfather of Zionism, was a fisher, and he was out there capturing, bringing Jews into the Zionist ideology. And then Hitler was a hunter, and he took those Jews who were brought in and hunted them, and chased them to Israel. And so Hitler, in his own way, along with Herzl in symbiosis were fulfilling biblical prophecy and helping to bring about the second coming of Christ. 

This is why Pastor Hagee, when me and a few other researchers, mainly Bruce Wilson, brought this audio to light, John McCain, who had accepted Hagee’s endorsement, rescinded it. McCain’s not really an evangelical guy. But Hagee has been connected to the Trump camp through Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is the press secretary. And her father, Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, is very close to John Hagee. He’s done paid speeches at Hagee’s church. They’re as close as you can get. And so Hagee is brought to do the closing benediction. 

And you might find it strange, you know, Hagee standing next to Jared Kushner, the Orthodox Jewish son-in-law of Trump. You know, Trump boasted that he was having a Jewish grandchild in front of AIPAC in 2016. And so you have supposedly proud Jews in Jerusalem next to evangelicals who believe that the Antichrist is a halfbreed Jew. And so is Hitler. 

And so how does that, how does that work out? It works out perfectly. Both of them, Zionists and anti-Semitic Christians, have had this historical relationship where they believe that Jews have no place in the diaspora, and that anti-Semitism can actually propel Zionism by driving Jews into the so-called promised land. And so here we see just another fulfillment of that really toxic symbiotic relationship. 

AARON MATE: Max, you mentioned earlier how this move to Jerusalem is seen by this crowd as the fulfillment of a biblical prophecy. And this is a theme that was also expressed on Fox News by Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, who likened President Trump to King Cyrus. 

JEANINE PIRRO: Donald Trump recognized history. He, like King Cyrus before him, fulfilled the biblical prophecy of the gods worshipped by Jews, Christians, and yes, Muslims, that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish state, and that the Jewish people finally deserve a righteous, free, and sovereign Israel. That’s Jeanine Pirro on Fox News. Dan Cohen, talk about this, this comparison of Trump to King Cyrus. 

DAN COHEN: Well, this meme, this idea which I’ve been seeing more and more among the right wing, the Christian right in the U.S., actually originated around the election of Trump from the most extreme right-wing religious Zionist Israeli figures, who basically saw Trump as a king who had decided that all of, you know, that Israel, the biblical land of Israel, was for the Jews. And, and basically saw it as a green light to move forward with their plan of total ethnic cleansing. 

The meme, this meme of Trump as King Cyrus originated from what’s called the Temple movement, which is the movement that seeks to create a massive holy war, as they would describe it, by destroying the Al Aqsa compound, and then they would build a temple in its place. But the whole point of of destroying the Al Aqsa compound, why they are so obsessed with it, is because it would create a great enough war, it would give a big enough war to cover the total ethnic cleansing, to basically finish the job that the original original Zionists started. 

Now, why, why are they so obsessed with this? It’s, you know, where did this ideology come from, this extreme ideology in Israel, when it was, you know, founded by Labor Zionists which were actually, you know, secular, and many of them were atheists. It’s because religious Zionism goes back to the 19th century, the late, the late 19th century. And basically they saw Zionism-. While most Orthodox Jews saw Zionism as heresy, and they condemned it very severely as, as basically, you know, a false prophet, and totally, totally outlawed. A few very fringe and extreme rabbis embraced it, and synthesized this new idea of religious Zionism, which replaced the idea in Judaism of, with redemption, which has been interpreted to mean many different things. But took it, and said we are going to attach this, have this literalist interpretation, to settling Israel, the biblical land of Israel, or Palestine. And beyond, actually. And today with Jordan, Syria, Lebanon. 

And so while this movement was, this ideology was very fringe, you know, prior to the establishment of the state of Israel, and even until 19-. All the way up until 1967 it was, it was very marginal. The war of conquest, of the six-day war, basically gave a shot of life into this ideology. And so these religious Zionists, who were mostly mostly Ashkenazi and middle to upper class, and were very quiet at that point, suddenly understood that biblical prophecy is happening around them, and it is the time to settle the West Bank. And they could use the, you know, ostensibly secular state of Israel as what they termed, what the chief rabbi of this entire movement, Yitzhak Hacohen Kook, who was appointed by the British, I should say he was not, you know, considered a popular rabbi. He was simply appointed by the British. His idea was that the state of Israel is the donkey, and in the concept of the donkeys, Messiah. So the state of Israel is the donkey, and the Messiah rides in on the donkey. 

So the secular Jews toiled to create the Jewish state. And they don’t actually know what they’re doing. And then the religious Zionists come in and create it as this theocratic kingdom, this monarchy, and then rule. And so back in October, I believe, of 2015, I actually, you know, simply because my name is Cohen, you know, the priestly class in Judaism, I was able to go inside a meeting of basically the ruling rabbis, what’s called the [san heger]. It’s a biblical term. And record what-. And these are state-funded rabbis, these are very important figures. I was able to record the chief rabbi of this movement explaining how you carry out an ISIS-style genocide. You basically go to another country. You go to a neighboring country. You say we, we are offering you peace, and all you have to do is renounce Christianity, renounce Islam, destroy your churches, destroy your mosques, and live under our laws. And if you say yes, if you agree, we let you live. And if you don’t, then we cut your head off, and then do what we will with your women. 

And so this is the, what is becoming mainstream, more mainstream, acceptable among religious Zionists, which dominates the settler movement. And the settler movement is totally in control of the Israeli government. You know, so it’s a totally fanatical movement that very few know much about outside of Israeli academic circles, and the Shabak who, you know, the Israeli security services that follow these guys very closely. But they have massive power. They have massive funding. They have, in particular from the Christian right in the U.S. And so it’s this, you know, kind of bizarre relationship of fanatical religious Zionists and fanatical Christian Zionists who both see each other as useful in advancing their own prophecy, in which, you know, they both have interpretations that the other ones will all be wiped out. 

AARON MATE: So as we wrap, I want to talk about American Jews for a second. Max, you were talking before about that spectacle of, you know, Jared Kushner, who considers himself to be Orthodox, appearing with evangelical anti-Semites. And they were, you know, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, his wife, are also blessed by a rabbi, Yitzhak Yosef, who has compared black people to monkeys. And I’m just wondering, thinking about American Jews here, which all three of us are, whether this Trump-. Whether the Trump administration’s open embrace, coupled with Israel’s continued open embrace of far-right evangelicals, will spark even more of a shift than we’ve seen already when it comes to Israel and Palestine. 

When we were all young, even among liberal Jews it was very common to openly support Israel. Now, that has changed now. You have radical groups, progressive groups like If Not Now and Jewish Voice for Peace openly challenging Israel and the occupation. But you still have many liberal Jews now who, although they don’t openly support Israel anymore, are still silent. And I’m wondering if, Max, you have any thoughts on whether this convergence of Trump with far right evangelicals and the far right Israeli government might spur something different might be a catalyst for even more of a shift in the American Jewish community. 

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah. I mean, I think there’s no telling how far the shift will go and how deep it will penetrate mainstream politics. But I really see the, you know, the younger Jews who are involved in organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace and If Not Now as the future of progressive, as part of the future of progressive politics in the U.S. And we’ve seen Bernie Sanders, who’s trying to cater to that constituency, really turn, just completely do a 180-degree turn on his previous position on Israel-Palestine after he had to kind of ask a weatherman which way the wind blew. And he is now at least taking a mildly critical position. 

I think this is going to be an issue in the Democratic primary, and it’s going to be difficult for Democrats to win a primary race, especially in solid blue states, without catering to the emerging progressive base. You look at what the Onion is becoming. I think the Onion is a really significant sign of where the kind of progressive Zeitgeist is. They’re just doing headline, joke after joke just mocking the sadism of the Israeli army. I think today they have a piece going around on social media, you know, IDF soldier recounts harrowing tale of gunning down 8-month-old Palestinian child. Like, those are the jokes we used to make a mocking the Israeli army and its cruelty, you know, while we were in the West Bank watching them tear gas children, and you know, spray skunk into people’s houses. And now it’s, you know, in one of the more kind of mainstream comedy outlets. And basically they’ve realized there’s this entire constituency out there that’s to the left of the Democratic Party, that rejects its foreign policy. They’re mocking the resistance. They set up this cutout site Resistancehole to mock the kind of Russiagate, Maddow-style resistance. 

And the Onion has, its audience is growing because of that. It means there’s this whole constituency and group of people out there who not only don’t feel represented by Democratic Party politics on Israel-Palestine and across the board, but that they’re not organized, and that their only response is through humor and satire. And the question is will they be just driven into cynicism? Or will they be organized, and who’s going to organize them? And right now, you know, one of the places where they can organize is the BTS movement. 

So there is a lot of hope on the outside, even though inside the militarized frontiers of Israel, what we would call it, Dan and I would call the Jewish state in Israel and the Levant, or JSIL, the situation looks incredibly hopeless. The American Jews who are liberal-minded have to look at this spectacle in Jerusalem, where as you mention, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, this completely clueless, out of touch, hovercraft elite couple are being blessed by a fanatical and fascistic rabbi who called black people monkeys in a sermon, they’re going to have to look at that and say, do I want that to be part of my identity? And I think increasingly they’re just going to turn away in disgust. And I really, I’m grateful for any part I could have played in weakening any any American Jewish support for Israel, and I think it’s the job of any journalist who’s there to not just cover events day after day, but to paint a picture of the atmosphere that Palestinians and Jewish Israelis live in, because it’s an atmosphere that’s been, that the U.S. is responsible for, that Israeli security services and military are cultivating, and it is fascistic. It is absolutely fascistic. 

Israel also, finally, we need to not see it as something that is uniquely evil. We need to see it as a representation of imperialism under a false Jewish cover, and as the most extreme, as the West’s most extreme vision of itself, and the realization of its harshest contradictions coming to the surface. We need to reflect on the U.S. when we think about Israel, and the U.S.’s role in the Middle East. 

AARON MATE: We’ll leave it there. Max Blumenthal and Dan Cohen are independent journalists. They have just come out with a new film called Killing Gaza. It’s available at KillingGaza.com. Max and Dan, thanks to you both. 

And thank you for joining us on the Real News.