On Monday, Vice President Mike Pence delivers the keynote speech at the annual summit of Christians United For Israel — signaling what some see as a new ideological shift for the White House.
“His speech marks a fundamental change in the language that the White House has historically employed to articulate the United States’ relationship with Israel,” Dan Hummel a fellow at Harvard Kennedy School, wrote in the Washington Post.
That fundamental change is towards Christian Zionism, an ideology that bases its political support for Israel on the belief that the modern state of Israel is a manifestation of prophecies in the Bible — and that the very fate of the United States is prophetically linked with Israel.
“Christian Zionists argue that the fate of the United States hinges on how fervently it supports Israel,” Hummel wrote. The uncritical support of Israel that goes along with this belief, Hummel went on “threatens to exacerbate the recent erosion of Democratic support for Israel.”
CUFI calls itself the “largest pro-Israel group in the United States,” claiming more than 3 million members. It was founded in 2006 by John Hagee, an evangelist from San Antonio who endorsed Donald Trump for president in May 2016.
Hummel describes Pence as “ardent Christian Zionist” who expresses his support for Israel in explicitly prophetic terms. His appearance at the summit “signals a new era of Christian Zionist influence in the White House.”
American popularizers of Christian Zionism include Hal Lindesy, author of the apocalyptic 1970s bestseller “The Late Great Planet Earth.” The ideology is also associated with political conservatives — with leaders of the Religious Right like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell advancing the belief that America should support Israel because the Jewish state is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy.
Pence once again pledged that the Trump administration would move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, this time to Christian supporters of Israel who have become increasingly restive at President Donald Trump’s failure to make good on his campaign promise
“To the men and women of Christians United for Israel, this president hears you,” Pence said to cheers Monday evening at the annual CUFI conference in Washington. “This President stands with you. And I promise you that the day will come when President Donald Trump moves the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It is not a question of if, it is only when.”
Earlier Monday, a panel including Pastor John Hagee, who founded the movement 12 years ago, expressed concerns that Trump, who otherwise was presented at the conference as preferable to his predecessor, President Barack Obama, was losing credibility by not making good on his campaign promise. “Moving to Jerusalem would prove that our president stands by his word,” Hagee said.
Trump in June renewed a waiver on a law passed in 1995 mandating the move, as all of his predecessors have done, and has backed away from the pledge.
Pence, who has long been close to the pro-Israel community, has said several times that Trump would fulfill the promise.
Sam Kestenbaum is a contributing editor and former staff writer for the Forward. Before this, he worked for The New York Times and newsrooms in Sana, Ramallah and Beijing. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @skestenbaum and on Instagram at @skestenbaum.