Evangelical Christians Are Supporting Israel — But There’s A ‘Disturbing’ Agenda Behind It (2024)

As Israel’s siege of Gaza raged on in March, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made time for a meeting in Jerusalem with a delegation led by Mario Bramnick, a Florida-based pastor with close ties to former President Donald Trump who has become a leading figure in a theocratic movement dedicated to bringing forth the end of the world.

Bramnick may not be a household name to many Americans, but he’s an “apostle” in the New Apostolic Reformation — meaning members believe he was anointed by God to lead and receive prophecies and is imbued with spiritual gifts, including the ability to prophesy, heal and speak in tongues. He and the NAR, a burgeoning network of charismatic evangelical churches, believe in the biblical prophecy that the return of Jews to Israel will hasten the return of Christ.

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Netanyahu likely knew he was meeting with an End Times evangelical pastor: The prime minister has long been invested in currying favor with such radical American Christians. What’s unclear is if Netanyahu knew just how radical the Christians in this delegation were, and just what their beliefs about Jewish people consisted of.

Bramnick is what some scholars call a “Christian supremacist,” owing to his prominent role in the NAR, which believes in the existence of the supernatural, including modern-day prophets and apostles. He sees Trump as prophesied to rule over the U.S., and wants to transform America, and then the world, into a Christian theocracy, all to hasten Christ’s return to Earth and to begin his followers’ rapture to heaven.

Part of that project, per the NAR’s interpretation of scripture, is unequivocal support of Israel. While millions of American evangelical Christians have long been fervent supporters of the Jewish state because of End Times prophecies, most have been content to allow Jews to be Jews until Christ’s return, when the Lord would convert them to Christianity and allow their entrance to Heaven. This is a form of end-days theology that scholars call “premillennialism.”

But Bramnick and the wider NAR network represent a major shift in evangelical support for Israel. They are “postmillennialists”: They want Jews to convert now.

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“They want to turn Jews into Christians, and ever since the Crusades and earlier, that kind of Christian opposition to Judaism, that Christian desire to annihilate Judaism, has been a large part of the antisemitism Jews have faced,” said Ben Lorber, a senior researcher at Political Research Associates and author of the book “Safety Through Solidarity: Fighting Antisemitism and Winning a Just World.”

“It’s very kind of unnerving to see Christian Zionist leaders who say they support Israel now, but they hold that kind of intense agenda kind of under wraps,” Lorber said. “But that’s really a large part of what’s motivating them, and it’s very disturbing.”

Lorber said Israel’s relationship with these Christian Zionists could ultimately be a devil’s bargain: What does it mean, after all, that figures like Netanyahu who claim that the war in Gaza is in defense of Jews across the world are forming alliances with Christians who want Jews to no longer be Jewish?

Evangelical Christians Are Supporting Israel — But There’s A ‘Disturbing’ Agenda Behind It (1)

GPO, State of Israel

Israel has now killed over 37,000 Palestinians, 70% of whom are women and children, in a siege that the International Court of Justice has ruled a “plausible” genocide. Netanyahu and others in his far-right government often cast criticism of this mass slaughter as antisemitic.

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Meanwhile, in America, leading figures in the NAR have held demonstrations at universities leveling the same accusation at pro-Palestinian students.

On May 8, a couple of hundred such Christian nationalists gathered outside the University of Southern California in Los Angeles to declare their love for Jews. It was a sometimes garish display of affection, with people waving Israeli flags and American flags and “Don’t Tread on Me” flags as a plane circled overhead trailing a banner that read: “Israel is Forever, Jewish Lives Matter.us”

The always-smiling Sean Feucht, a wealthy MAGA musician and pastor with curly blond locks hanging down over a black leather jacket, looking like the final boss of American youth ministers, had organized this “United For Israel” demonstration. He strummed a guitar as he led the crowd in worship songs like “Our God Is An Awesome God,” interspersed with renditions of the U.S. and Israeli national anthems, plus chants of “U-S-A!” and “Bring them home!” — a reference to the Israeli hostages still held in Gaza by Hamas, the militant Palestinian group that on Oct. 7 killed more than 1,100 people in Israel and abducted some 250 others.

Then Feucht took hold of a megaphone to announce the next speaker: his good friend, Ché Ahn, pastor at Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena and one of the most powerful American religious figures you’ve probably never heard of. Also considered a modern-day “apostle,” Ahn heads up the Harvest International Ministry (HIM), a network of more than 25,000 churches and nonprofits in more than 65 countries.

Che Ahn with a word pic.twitter.com/Zzfs8j7Y22

— LEFT COAST RIGHT WATCH (@LCRWnews) May 9, 2024

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Praying into the megaphone, using terminology that might be unfamiliar to those not in certain evangelical circles, Ahn called for the mass conversion of Muslims and Jews to Christianity.

“Lord, you’ve broken down the dividing wall and you made us one new man in Yeshua, and we pray that this gathering will be catalytic in bringing a great harvest of Muslims into your kingdom but also the fullness of Gentiles will be fulfilled that all of Israel will be saved,” Ahn said. “We pray this in Yeshua HaMashiach’s [Jesus the Messiah, in Hebrew] name. Amen.”

Ahn did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

The USC demonstration came as Ahn and Feucht positioned themselves as the vanguard in the fight against antisemitism which, in their worldview, is largely synonymous with criticism of Israel. The alleged antisemites who concerned them were the pro-Palestinian students at USC — many of whom are Jewish — and at campuses across the country, who were setting up encampments to demand their schools divest from Israel over its ongoing bombardment of Gaza. Prior to his rally at USC, Feucht also led a rally against pro-Palestinian students at Columbia University.

But there are many reasons to be skeptical of Christian Zionists’ claim that they are good-faith arbiters of what constitutes antisemitism, and to look warily upon their loud professions of love for Jews. After all, if Ahn, the NAR and Feucht really do love Jews, it’s a kind of love that demands that Jews ultimately abandon their faith and traditions — to be everything that they are not.

It is, according to some scholars, many of whom are Jewish themselves, fundamentally antisemitic.

Sean Feucht And The End Times

Evangelical Christians Are Supporting Israel — But There’s A ‘Disturbing’ Agenda Behind It (2)

Stephanie Keith via Getty Images

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In 2019, a 2-year-old girl named Olive Heiligenthal suddenly stopped breathing and died at her home in Redding, California. Her parents were part of the congregation at Bethel Church, a charismatic evangelical megachurch known for its musical acts, like Sean Feucht, and for maintaining a School of Supernatural Ministry where congregants could learn how to perform miracles.

Olive’s mother, Kalley, a worship leader at the church, did not ask the congregation for condolences. She asked them to perform a miracle: to pray to raise her child from the dead. “We are asking for bold, unified prayers from the global church to stand with us in belief that He will raise this little girl back to life,” Kalley wrote on Instagram. “Her time here is not done, and it is our time to believe boldly, and with confidence wield what King Jesus paid for.”

The parishioners prayed incessantly for nearly a week as Olive’s body lay in a local morgue. “No words here tonight,” Feucht wrote in a tweet with a video of the congregation singing and praying. “Living in a community that fully believes what they preach — I have become a prisoner of hope. #WakeUpOlive.” But on the sixth day, the congregation ended their prayers of resurrection and held a memorial service. Olive hadn’t woken up, nor would she ever.

The #WakeUpOlive saga underscored how a growing segment of the evangelical world is guided by a belief in the explicitly supernatural: in literal prophets, apostles, demons, curses and miracles. In recent years, these true believers, like Feucht, have had increasing sway in Republican circles.

No words here tonight. Living in a community that fully believes what they preach - I have become a prisoner of hope.#WakeUpOlive pic.twitter.com/DFW41basO9

— Sean Feucht (@seanfeucht) December 17, 2019

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Feucht has a lot of powerful friends, as chronicled in an article by Kate Burns on the independent media website Left Coast Right Watch. He once laid hands on Trump in the Oval Office, praying over the former president. He honored Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) by gifting him with a “Defending Freedom” award at a “Let Us Worship” event in Miami, where he also prayed onstage for DeSantis’ wife, Casey, who was fighting cancer at the time. (A month later, Casey found out she was cancer-free, and Feucht implied that those prayers were the reason.)

And in February 2023, Feucht had a meeting on Capitol Hill with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the far-right Georgia lawmaker who infamously blamed wildfires on Jewish space lasers and who was once the featured guest at a white supremacist conference where one of her fellow speakers praised Adolf Hitler.

He also counts among his friends prominent right-wing influencers with histories of antisemitism. He has called Jack Posobiec, the notorious “pizzagate” conspiracist and neo-Nazi collaborator, a “good friend”; he’s also friendly with Elijah Shaffer, who earlier this year hosted a podcast roundtable with some of America’s most virulent antisemites, laughing along as Gavin McInnes, the founder of the Proud Boys, called Jews “f*cking k***s.” Shaffer allowed white supremacist Nick Fuentes to hold forth, unchallenged, as he falsely claimed Jews used to poison wells in medieval Europe. More recently, Schaffer himself said Jews have “subverted and sort of destroyed our Western civilization.”

Feucht doesn’t appear to have spoken out against his friends’ antisemitism, but he’s been eager to speak out against the purported antisemitism of pro-Palestinian college kids. And he seems to be making a buck or two in doing so.

“Purchase our new “I STAND WITH ISRAEL” t-shirt!” he wrote in an email to his supporters ahead of the USC rally. “Be a walking reminder that antisemitism STOPS at the church, and we will be the generation that pushed back against the hate and showered the people of Israel with LOVE!”

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Many of Feucht’s followers at USC wore different shirts, however, emblazoned with the words “Jewish Lives Matter.” At the bottom of the T-shirt was the URL to a website with a call to convert Jews to Christianity.

Scroll down their "Jewish Lives Matter" website homepage: https://t.co/0vuzr7jn3c & see this.

This is a Christian evangelism ploy! They claim to be allies of Jews, but, on the most sensitive Jewish-Xn point of tension, they aim to convert Jews away from Rabbinic Judaism. 13/ pic.twitter.com/ZMjNhGYYBv

— Matthew D. Taylor (@TaylorMatthewD) May 8, 2024

At Feucht’s rally a week prior at Columbia University, where he led a crowd on a march outside the gates of the Manhattan campus, HuffPost approached him, asking him what would happen to Jews during the End Times. Feucht demurred and deflected.

“What I’m speaking about is tonight, why we’re here tonight,” he said. “Our heart is to bless the Jewish students, to worship and to pray.” (Feucht did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment on this story.)

HuffPost then witnessed one of the rally’s pro-Israel attendees tell a Latino pro-Palestinian protester: “I look forward to you delivering me my food on DoorDash.” (In New York, food delivery drivers are often Latino immigrants.) And later, pro-Israel protesters yelled through the gates at pro-Palestinian students, “Go back to Gaza!”

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Fox News’ coverage of the Columbia protest did not mention these incidents, nor did it focus on how many of the pro-Palestinian students on campus were Jewish, instead describing them as “pro-Hamas,” referring to the militant group that attacked Israel on Oct. 7. “After a week of pro-Hamas rallies and mobs in the streets, this is the first time Jewish and Christian leaders got together and said no more,” Fox News contributor Sara Carter said in a live dispatch from Feucht’s rally.

“Most of the people here, right in front of the gate, wanted to let the Jewish students, as well as the Jewish faculty know: you are not alone,” she said.

HuffPost also watched Carter interview Feucht, tossing him softball questions. “We’ve seen so many pro-Hamas rallies across the country,” Carter said. “Do you think that Americans are starting to wake up and say, ‘OK, what’s going on here?’”

“Well, Billy Graham has a statement I love,” Feucht responded. “He says, ‘When a courageous man takes the stand, the spines of everyone else are stiff.’ So that’s my prayer, is that people’s spines will be stiffened tonight as they say, ‘No, we’re not going to tolerate this. Not in America. Not on our university campuses.’”

Graham was a powerful evangelical pastor and Christian Zionist who counseled many U.S. presidents. That Feucht would invoke him at a rally purportedly against antisemitism is interesting, considering Graham’s well-documented bigotry toward Jews, namely when he served as an adviser to President Richard Nixon.

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“A lot of Jews are great friends of mine,” Graham told Nixon during a 1972 discussion in the Oval Office, according to a recording released 50 years later. “They swarm around me and are friendly to me. Because they know that I am friendly to Israel and so forth. But they don’t know how I really feel about what they’re doing to this country, and I have no power and no way to handle them.”

Evangelical Christians Are Supporting Israel — But There’s A ‘Disturbing’ Agenda Behind It (3)

Bettmann via Getty Images

Graham also lamented the Jewish “stranglehold” on the media, which he said “has got to be broken or this country’s going down the drain.” At another point in the conversation, Nixon asserted that “the best Jews are actually the Israeli Jews.”

“That’s right,” Graham replied.

The diaries of H.R. Haldeman, a top aide to Nixon, noted that Graham had “the strong feeling that the Bible says there are satanic Jews and there’s where our problem arises.” Although no such comments can be heard in the recordings from Nixon’s Oval Office, the tapes of his conversations with Graham contain several long deletions.

Graham apologized for his antisemitic remarks in 2002. He died in 2018. Feucht claimed to binge-watch videos of Graham’s sermons the night after his death, inspiring him to write a song called “Power of Blood.”

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An American Apostle In Jerusalem

Carter, the Fox News contributor who interviewed Feucht, was part of the small delegation that traveled to Israel this past March to meet with Netanyahu.

The group, led by Bramnick, also included Tony Perkins, the anti-LGTBQ+ preacher who heads up the Family Research Council; Ellie Cohanim, who served as deputy special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism during the Trump administration; Danielle Mor, the director of global philanthropy for Christian Friends of the Jewish Agency for Israel; and Donna Jollay, the Christian relations director at Israel365, an Orthodox Jewish group that does interfaith work with evangelical Christians.

The group arrived in Israel angry that President Joe Biden had started to mildly criticize Israel’s siege of Gaza. In a hot-mic moment, Biden expressed frustration with Netanyahu, saying he and the Israeli prime minister needed to have a “come to Jesus” moment. Biden, while advocating a two-state solution for Palestine and Israel, was still refusing calls from his left to cut military aid to Israel over the staggering death toll in Gaza. But for Bramnick and his delegation, any criticism of Netanyahu amounted to heresy.

Evangelical Christians Are Supporting Israel — But There’s A ‘Disturbing’ Agenda Behind It (4)

GPO, State of Israel

“What our administration is doing in pressuring Israel into a unilateral two-state solution … is absolutely outrageous,” Bramnick told the Jewish News Service during the trip. A Palestinian state, he added, would be a “reward for genocide,” referring to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack.

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Bramnick, who leads a 300-person congregation at New Wine Ministries in Cooper City, Florida, emerged as a prominent evangelical advocate for Israel during the Trump administration, as the NAR grew in popularity. Its apostles and prophets frequently describe the former president as “Cyrus-anointed,” a reference to the biblical figure of King Cyrus.

“Cyrus, the emperor of the Persians, was the one who sent the Jews back from exile to rebuild Jerusalem,” said Matthew Taylor, a senior scholar at the Institute for Christian, Islamic and Jewish Studies, and author of the forthcoming book “The Violent Take It By Force.”

“He is anointed like Cyrus as a secular leader, not a good Christian, but a secular leader who has an instrument in the hands of God to fulfill a particular purpose, to bless Israel and to redeem conservative Christians from cultural exile in America,” Taylor explained.

The NAR’s zeal for Trump is also tied up in a theology of dominionism, Taylor said. Adherents believe it’s their duty to conquer the “seven mountains” of societal influence — family, religion, education, media, entertainment, business and government — and reshape them according to a fundamentalist Christian worldview. It’s an anti-democratic theology that was central to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, where many of the rioters, who sought to overturn the results of the election, believed Trump was prophesied to be president.

Bramnick served on the Latino advisory board for Trump’s 2020 campaign, and before that was named a special envoy for the Trump White House’s Faith and Opportunity Initiative. In that role, Bramnick claims to have met with eight heads of state to convince them to move their countries’ embassies in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a move widely regarded as an anti-Palestinian provocation.

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In 2019, a coalition of investigative journalists, spearheaded by the Latin American Center for Investigative Journalism and Columbia Journalism Investigations, asked Bramnick about his travels for the Trump White House — including to Brazil, where he prayed over far-right former President Jair Bolsonaro. In response, Bramnick stated plainly that he was a Christian fundamentalist and that Jews had the divine right to the land of Israel.

“The Bible says that whoever blesses Israel will be blessed and whoever curses Israel will be cursed, and we read the Bible literally,” he said. “The Bible says Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel and that God gave this land to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” (Bramnick did not respond to a request for comment for this story.)

During the March trip to Israel, Bramnick led the delegation as its members met with a slew of far-right Israeli political figures, including Yossi Fuchs, Netanyahu’s chief Cabinet secretary; Yossi Dagan, an influential activist who leads a settler community in occupied territory; Ohad Tal, an Israeli parliamentarian; and Rabbi Yehudah Glick, a former Knesset member who once fondly memorialized Rabbi Meir Kahane, the extremist founder of the Kach political party in Israel, which both the U.S. and Israel later designated a violent terrorist organization. (Kahane believed in ethnically cleansing Arabs from Israel and the occupied territories and was convicted in the U.S. for making a bomb.)

“It has been an extraordinary visit to Israel,” Carter, the Fox News contributor, tweeted during the trip. “Our delegation has traveled throughout the country in an effort to show our solidarity with our greatest ally in the Middle East: Israel. Our nations face the same common enemy — one that is born out of hate and extremism bent on destroying the Western world.”

The main event of the delegation’s trip came on March 11, when members met Netanyahu himself. Perkins recounted the meeting in an episode of his YouTube show “Washington Watch,” which he filmed from Jerusalem. He said he personally emphasized to the prime minister that Hamas’ attack wasn’t just the work of a “terrorist group,” but was “demonic” and had “spiritual” significance.

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At the end of the meeting, Perkins said he asked if he could pray for Netanyahu. The prime minister obliged, with Perkins closing his eyes and praying for him, as well as for the success of Israel and the U.S. He ended the prayer with “in Jesus’ name.”

Perkins said there was a moment of levity after the prayer.

“Netanyahu said, ‘You know what? I heard President Biden said I’d have a come-to-Jesus moment. Maybe this was it.’”

Palestinian Lives, Fodder For The End Times

Evangelical Christians Are Supporting Israel — But There’s A ‘Disturbing’ Agenda Behind It (5)

Ali Jadallah/Anadolu via Getty Images

Lorber, the senior researcher at Political Research Associates, told HuffPost he fears Christian Zionist certainty in End Times prophecies will only lead to more misery and death for Palestinians.

“Their basic view of Palestinians is that they don’t have a view of Palestinians,” Lorber said. “Their view is very much in line with the settler colonial idea that animated Zionism — not to mention the settler colonial idea that animated the U.S. — where they see the indigenous population of the land as basically an impediment and obstacle, you know, to the fulfillment of their desire to support the settlement of the land.”

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Taylor agrees. He argued the evangelical vision for Palestinians is either a greater Israel in which they have no rights, or one in which they’re altogether expelled, ethnically cleansed from the land their families have lived on for generations.

“Because it’s not about the people and their rights,” he told HuffPost. “It’s about fulfilling prophecy … And who cares about human rights if you’re trying to fulfill prophecy? Who cares about rights if you see Israel as a linchpin in inaugurating a global revival?”

For some Christian Zionists, Israel’s siege of Gaza is a sign that the End Times might come sooner than later.

In his “Washington Watch” episode recorded in Jerusalem, Perkins interviewed Amir Tsarfati, a former major in the Israel Defense Forces and a fundamentalist Christian author who often leads American church groups on tours of Jerusalem. The pair discussed the end of the world.

“Where are we on God’s timetable?” Perkins asked Tsarfati.

“I believe we are right before the Great War of Ezekiel,” Tsarfati said, referring to a part of the Bible that many evangelicals believe prophesizes a large battle between Israel and its enemies before the rapture, when all Christians will ascend to heaven.

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“And I believe that the Great War of Ezekiel will eventually lead to the rise of the Antichrist, which means, as far I’m concerned, we’re out of here before that,” Tsarfati said.

Evangelical Christians Are Supporting Israel — But There’s A ‘Disturbing’ Agenda Behind It (2024)
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