In an attempt to defend Trump from complicity in the shooting rampage of an anti-Semite on Saturday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted that the president is “an unapologetic defender of the Jewish community and state of Israel.”
Of course, none of that negates all of the anti-Semitic dog whistles Trump sent out over the course of his campaign and presidency. For example, there was the fact that he tweeted this about Hillary Clinton:
There was also Trump’s closing campaign ad that warned Americans about “a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities,” over images of Janet Yellen, George Soros, and Lloyd Blankfein, all of whom happen to be Jewish.
There was also that time when he referred to neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville to anti-Semitic chants as “very fine people.” I could go on, but perhaps you get the point.
But Sanders is not wrong. Donald Trump has been a great defender of the state of Israel. Some of that may be related to the fact that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a lot in common with the kind of authoritarian leaders this president admires.
However, it is important keep the audience Trump is playing to in mind on this issue. The most obvious gesture he’s made towards Israel since he became president was to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. That was targeted at his base of support among white evangelicals, and it isn’t because they have so much affection for Jews. Here is what theologian Diana Butler Bass wrote at the time:
For decades, conservative evangelicals have been longing for this recognition. They believe it is necessary in order to regain control of the Temple mount. That is important because rebuilding the Temple is the event that will spark the events of the Book of Revelation and the End Times…They’ve been waiting for this, praying for this. They want war in the Middle East. The Battle of Armageddon, at which time Jesus Christ will return to the Earth and vanquish all God’s enemies. For certain evangelicals, this is the climax of history. And Trump is taking them there. To the promised judgment, to their sure victory. The righteous will be ushered to heaven; the reprobate will be banished to hellfire.
That is why anti-Semitism and support for the state of Israel can be co-mingled in the convoluted approach many white evangelicals take to Jews. They are not a people to be admired or respected, but a means to an end—more particularly, to the End Times. The most well-known example of that approach was evangelist Billy Graham, who made quite a show of public support for the state of Israel.
Over the next decade, Graham became an outspoken Christian Zionist. In 1967, after the Six Day War, he told the Anti-Defamation League that he envisioned Jerusalem as an undivided Jewish city, and called for Evangelical-Jewish dialogue. “The Jews are God’s chosen people,” he said. “We cannot place ourselves in opposition without detriment to ourselves.”
The Graham organization produced a film, “His Land” (“His” referred to Jesus, not Graham). It starred Cliff Richards, the British Elvis, in a journey through the holy land, ancient and modern. The movie presented Israel in a glowing light and won rave reviews from American Jewish leaders who were still a little leery of Graham. It also helped put Israel on the map of Evangelical tourism.
However, during a meeting with Richard Nixon in the White House, Graham joined with the president’s expression of anti-semitism.
…in 2002, the National Archive released a taped conversation between Nixon and Graham. Their discussion took place in the Oval office on Feb. 1, 1972, following the National Prayer Breakfast. Nixon began ranting against the pernicious Jewish media cabal and Graham fell right into step.
“The Jewish stranglehold has got to be broken or the country’s going down the drain,” Graham told Nixon, adding that Jews were flooding the country with pornography. He suggested that Nixon’s second term would be a good time for action, and that he would be ready to stand alongside the president.
Graham went on to apologize for those remarks, but they demonstrate that being an anti-Semitic Christian Zionist is very possible.
As I’ve said before, I believe that Donald Trump is completely lacking when it comes to having a moral compass. His views are tied to whatever works for him in the moment. Right now, pandering to an anti-Semitic evangelical base that exploits the state of Israel to justify their own view of the end times is in his own self-interest.