Mike Pence’s faith drives his support for Israel. Does it drive Mideast policy?

Posted on 05. Feb, 2018 by in Peace

from jta.org –

When Mike Pence moved to Washington earlier this year, he and his wife took with them a framed phrase they had for years hung over their fireplace in their Indiana home, and then over the fireplace in the governor’s mansion in that state.

Now it hangs over the mantle at the vice president’s residence at the Naval Observatory in Washington D.C. The words, from the Book of Jeremiah, read: “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you, and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope, and a future.”

The “you” is the people of Israel, and Pence, an evangelical Christian, makes that clear when he addresses pro-Israel audiences. “They’re words to which my family has repaired to as generations of Americans have done so throughout our history, and the people of Israel through all their storied history have clung,” Pence said last August at the annual conference of Christians United for Israel.

Pence took that message to Israel this week on a trip ostensibly aimed in part at reviving the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace. He is seen as a key Trump administration figure when it comes to Israel policy and reportedly helped nudge the president to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

Pence’s first visit to Israel as vice president led some to ask to what degree are his views — and the administration’s policies — shaped by the brand of evangelical Christianity that invests his faith?

Pence, a convert to evangelical Christianity from Roman Catholicism, has spooked some liberals with his insistence on rooting his pro-Israel bona fides in faith as much as realpolitik considerations of the United States’ national security. Their fear is that a messianic outlook might run riot over one of the most delicate dilemmas facing successive U.S. governments, namely stability in the Middle East.

“Trump has handed Israel policy to Evangelicals,” The Forward’s Jane Eisner wrote last week in an editorial as Pence headed to Israel. “That’s terrifying.” Like many liberals, she worries that policy will be driven by evangelical beliefs that certain conditions — like Jewish control over the West Bank and sovereignty in Jerusalem — fulfill biblical prophecies.

Republicans and conservatives say that it is reductive to believe that Pence shapes his views solely according to the tenets of his faith.

“They always highlight the fact that he’s an evangelical, as if that’s a pejorative when in fact [Pence and other evangelicals] are motivated first and foremost by shared values with Israel,” said Matt Brooks, the director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, who has known Pence for years. “And not just by the shared values, but the important efforts of collectively standing up to threats of Iran, pushing back on ISIS, and on radical Islam, or whether it’s being a critical democratic foundation in a very dangerous place. There are so many places where U.S. and Israel’s interests intersect.”

Pence began his speech to the Knesset by outlining the shared values Brooks described.

“We stand with Israel because your cause is our cause, your values are our values, and your fight is our fight,” he said. “We stand with Israel because we believe in right over wrong, in good over evil, and in liberty over tyranny.”

But he quickly pivoted to depict support of Israel as both biblical (Deuteronomy 30:4, to be exact) and rooted in an American strain of Christianity.

“Down through the generations, the American people became fierce advocates of the Jewish people’s aspiration to return to the land of your forefathers, to claim your own new birth of freedom in your beloved homeland,” he said to applause. “The Jewish people held fast to a promise through all the ages, written so long ago, that ‘even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens,’ from there He would gather and bring you back to the land which your fathers possessed.”

Pastor John Hagee, the founder of Christians United for Israel, described a natural trajectory for evangelical supporters of Israel from biblical belief to the more practical modern reasons for supporting the state.

“The promises of the Hebrew Bible are the foundation of Christian Zionism, but our motivations for supporting Israel do not end there,” he told JTA in an email. “We see in Israel a democracy that shares Western values and is a force for stability in the Middle East. While standing with Israel is a Biblical mandate, it is also a moral imperative and in the national security interests of the US. I am confident that all three of these considerations inform the Vice President’s approach to the Middle East and I believe that is perfectly appropriate.”

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