Trump and changes of biblical heft

opinion May 16, 2018 01:00

By The Nation

There are deep reasons why so many Americans ignore the bloodshed in Palestine



The United States opened its new Israel embassy in Jerusalem on Monday. The same day, Israeli troops shot dead several dozen Palestinian protesters on the Gaza border. It was the bloodiest single day for Palestinians since the 2014 war in Gaza when Israeli warplanes, troops and artillery ravaged a territory that has been called an “open-air prison”, killing 2,300 residents and wounded nearly 11,000. That war also claimed the lines of five Israeli civilians and 66 soldiers. 

In the eyes of much of the world – especially Westerners who preach about human rights and the Muslim countries who until recently spoke of the brotherhood of Islam – the Palestinians’ struggle for independence no longer holds much appeal. This might be blamed in part on “fatigue” at being unable to make progress. It’s also due to Saudi Arabia and its gulf state allies, having other interests to pursue, swallowing their principles and forging stronger ties with Israel and the US.

 It’s been a long time since we last heard them demand that Israel be condemned and restrained. Their overriding concern now is the advances made by arch-rival Iran across the Middle East. 

The latest bloodshed on the Gaza-Israeli border did, however, draw calls for restraint from France and Britain. Turkey, not exactly a bastion of human rights, called the killing “a massacre” and called home its ambassadors to the US and Israel. The Trump administration, as expected, pinned the blame solely on Hamas, terming the Israeli military’s shooting of unarmed civilians “self defence”. 

Perhaps the best that can be said about Trump is that his arrogance and ignorance are in plain view. He is also, meanwhile, honouring his campaign pledges. One was to relocate the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Others were to withdraw from the Paris accord on global warming, to persistently challenge Nato, and to get the US out of the Iran nuclear deal, regardless of prior promises made. 

Because of this one man, America has all but lost the moral authority it once possessed. Of course, the voters who put Trump in the White House see the situation differently. He ascended to power in large part because of, rather than despite, his vulgar misogyny, his racism and his indifference to the rising fascist element in his country. For all the talk of a powerful Israel lobby in Washington, it is difficult to imagine any foreign lobbying effort having influence over American public opinion to this extent.

Instead, the causality behind Trump’s ascendancy lies in how US evangelical Christians see Jerusalem. For them, Israel is the Holy Land that God gave the Jewish people. Needing the electoral support of fundamentalist Christians, every recent president has chosen to ignore Israel’s illegal expansion into Palestinian territory. Israel came into existence as a homeland for Jewish people around the world, especially those in Europe increasingly becoming the victims of anti-Semitism.

A recent LifeWay poll found that about 80 per cent of conservative Christians in the US believe Israel’s founding in 1948 fulfilled a biblical prophecy and was a sign that Jesus would soon return to Earth, bringing salvation for believers.

American believers and Trump supporters should know that many Palestinians who have taken up arms against Israel are Christians too. It would be wonderful if the Americans could open their hearts and minds and accept non-white Christians as equals.