Elchanan Poupko

Has Anyone Seen Netanyahu’s Evangelicals? 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and China's President Xi Jinping (R) shake hands ahead of their talks at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, on March 21, 2017. (AFP Photo/Pool/Etienne Oliveau)

There are many things you can say about Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu; not being smart is not just one of them. From placing in a top IDF unit, his time at MIT and the United Nations, and many other achievements, Netanyahu is a brilliant man. With this brilliance, he calculated the number of Jews in America vs. the number of Christians and decided he would be better off betting Israel’s future on Evangelical Americans than on the American Jewish community. Netanyahu’s Ron Dermer famously said: “People have to understand that the backbone of Israel’s support in the United States is the evangelical Christians. It’s true because of numbers and also because of their passionate and unequivocal support for Israel.” So how has this policy of swapping Evangelicals for American Jews been working out?


Despite being a betrayal of everything Judaism, Zionism, and everything Jewish history stands for, the idea of swapping pesky diaspora Jews for ardent Evangelicals might seem like a mathematically correct idea. Yet the results seem to embody the Yiddish saying about the man who also ate the most foul-smelling fish and was also shamefully expelled from Town. 

Netanyahu is now the first Israeli Prime Minister in history to be told publicly that he cannot come to visit the United States. In response to a reporter’s question about a Netanyahu visit, President Biden said that: “President Herzog will be visiting,” which also means that a Netanyahu visit is far off the horizon if at all possible. While Netanyahu’s disinvitation to Washington is important from a global and geopolitical perspective, it is most tragic when realizing how it resonates with American Jews who are not only not offended but, in many cases, happy about this policy.

Previously when President Biden mentioned Netanyah’s disinvitation, he said he thought American Jews agreed with this disinvite. Tragically, for the most part, President Biden was right. Judging by the protests against Netanyahu officials visiting New York for its annual Celebrate Israel Day Parade, American Jews and the American Israeli community in the U.S. would vocally protest a Netanyahu visit.


Speaking to someone in another American Jewish organization during the peak of the protests in Israel, I asked her if she thought a million Jews would protest against Netanyahu if he came to Washington, DC. She thought for a second and said: “Oh yes.” Whether it would be a million or just a thousand, the tragedy of Netanyahu is his turn against his own people, brethren, allies, and friends for no visible alternative. The tragedy of this cannot be overstated. When David Ben Gurion came to New York in 1948, he was greeted by more than a million American Jews; 75 years later, if PM Netanyahu comes, he will likely be met by thousands of Jewish protesters who will come out because they care about Israel. The fact that an American president reflects the positions of both American and Israeli Jews, according to recent polls, is a heartbreaking moral tragedy. And the Evangelicals who were supposed to replace us? They are nowhere to be found. 

Looking at Evangelical during this whole period of chaos in Israel’s government, one thing is clear: they will not pave Netanyahu’s way to Washington. This is where Dermer went so wrong in understanding the difference between Evangelical support for Israel and Jewish support for Israel. Evangelicals will not oppose Israel the way others do, and when asked what side they prefer in a conflict, they will say Israel. Will Evangelicals rush onto airplanes the way American Jews did during the Yom Kippur War, build Israel’s hospitals and universities, and mobilize for the sake of Israel the way American Jews do when needed? Absolutely not.  

Tragically, now that Netanyahu’s failed math experiment has gone wrong and he can no longer show his face in a room filled with American Jews, nor does Evangelical support for him substitute the steadfast support American Jews lend Israel, he has gone on to do the same childish math with China. Well, if the U.S. will not give him the support that he set ablaze and no longer has, it seems like there are more Chinese in the world. In what has been deemed as a “strategic mistake” by Israeli security experts, Netanyahu announced a Beijing visit under the cloud of not being welcome in Washington. While Netanyahu has the simple option of shelving his coalition’s controversial war on the judiciary, marginalizing extremists and terrorism supporters in his coalition, and other steps that would resonate with Washington, Netanyahu figured gambling Israel’s future away with the China-Russia-Iran block might better benefit Israel. 


Before taking this pivot towards China, Netanyahu, and Dermer must ask themselves where their promised Evangelicals are and why those are not paving their way to Washington. If they find that their Evangelical friends are nowhere to be found and are busier fighting other battles, they must reckon with that before going on to China. Albert Einstein–a pesky liberal Jewish non-Evangelical–would say: the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. 


It is time for the current Israeli government to stop Israel’s downward spiraling by asking how they got here and how shared values, history, and commitments to a common future are more powerful than shallow third-grade math calculations. Until then, if anyone has seen where Netanyahu’s Evangelical supporters have disappeared, please ask them to check in with him before his next flight to Beijing. 

About the Author
Rabbi Elchanan Poupko is a New England based eleventh-generation rabbi, teacher, and author. He has written Sacred Days on the Jewish Holidays, Poupko on the Parsha, and hundreds of articles published in five languages. He is the president of EITAN--The American Israeli Jewish Network.
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