American Evangelicals, Israeli Settlers, and a Skeptical Filmmaker

TEL AVIV – The bear hug between Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu and their governments was a partnership like none other the two countries had seen. For four years, Israel was Washington’s favorite foreign policy setting and Jerusalem its best friend, and America’s brash new approach to the Middle East dominated Israel’s national security discourse and policy.

Much less understood was one of the key foundations of that relationship: the intricate symbiosis between evangelical Christians in the United States and religious Jewish settlers in the West Bank. In a new documentary, “‘Til Kingdom Come,” Israeli filmmaker Maya Zinshtein delves into this “unholy alliance,” as she calls it, showing how the settlers garner enormous political support and raise money from evangelicals, who, according to her , directly and indirectly subsidizing the constant takeover of the West Bank settlers, which the Palestinians want for a future state. In return, evangelicals come closer to fulfilling the prophecy many adhere to that the second coming of Christ cannot happen without the return of Diaspora Jews to the Holy Land.

That vision doesn’t end well for the Jews: they must accept Jesus or be slaughtered and condemned to hell. But the film shows Christian Zionists and right-wing Israelis agreeing to disagree on the end of days while cooperating with, and even exploiting each other, here and now, and making it difficult to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

The film opens in the United States on Friday, but when it aired in Israel in the fall it sparked a wave of guilt and soul-searching, in part by revealing how families in an impoverished Kentucky community are cajoled by their pastor. in donating to an Israeli charity despite the country’s wealth, with a tech sector that routinely mints billionaires. But the movie likely teaches Christian and Jewish audiences in the United States a lot about topics they may have thought they already understood, including how American politics really works.

Zinshtein, 39, a Russian-born Israeli, said she was a classic immigrant, with an alien point of view and an ambition to make a mark in her adopted land. Below are edited excerpts from an interview he did with her at his home in Tel Aviv and over the phone.

He immersed himself in his project starting in mid-2017, months before President Trump. recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the first great demonstration of the power of relationship. What attracted you?

When you live in Israel, you have heard of evangelicals, but nothing else. People talk about “these Christians who love us.” But they don’t understand what that love means. It is this force below the surface that has an agenda, and people just don’t understand it. But I want to know who is influencing my life.

What were you hoping to witness?

It was clear that promises had been made to evangelicals during the 2016 campaign. But no one expected things to happen so quickly. I remember a meeting with an evangelical leader who told me: “Be patient, maybe in late 2019 or early 2020, Trump will recognize Jerusalem as the capital.” He did so three months later and moved the embassy six months later. In my plan, the embassy was supposed to be the third act! I was terrified: What do I do now?

What’s wrong with the collaboration according to disagreement between American evangelicals and Israeli settlers?

We have our democracy and the settlers are a percentage of the country. But they have a far greater influence than their share of the population. And when you have this enormous political power coming into our conversation, it changes the balance. Remember the number of Jews in the world and the number of Evangelicals.. It is not an equal relationship and we are not the strongest partner.

My brother is in the reserves. They will call him in the next war. And there will always be a war here, it’s when, not if. Evangelicals don’t want people to die, but they believe that war is a sign. In whose name will we fight these wars?

Also, these people have a very specific set of beliefs that drives them. In the movie, for example, you see them celebrating the ban on transgender people. [members of] the American Army. You are signing with your entire schedule. You cannot take only one part.

Much attention is paid in the film to the love of Christians for Israel. Do you accept that it is really a form of love?

When you start to question that, the Israelis say, “Wait a minute, Maya. Don’t we have enough people who hate us? Finally, someone loves us. Let’s take it. “But when someone loves you just for being Jewish, there will always be someone who will hate you just for being Jewish.

Someone told me: “When they say they love you, they mean they love Jesus. You are only part of the story. You are the key and you know what happens to the key after the door is open, right? You don’t need it anymore. “

Love is just another word of support, right?

But no one asked, what did this support really mean? It is not “support for Israel.” It is support for a right-wing agenda that many people here would not agree with.

Evangelicals are the only significant power outside of Israel that openly supports the settlements. Nobody else does. But the dangerous thing is that they are turning that into support for Israel. Pastor John Hagee, when he founded Christians United for Israel, had to do with the settlements. Today you won’t find him talking about the settlements at all. Just “Israel”.

The film shows a religious settler telling visiting Christians that they are the protagonists of a film in which Jews are the stars.

The amazing thing about this relationship is that each side thinks the other is stupid. Each side is trying to fool the other.

The access he got was extraordinary. Not only did you get an entire Kentucky church and its pastors to open up to you and your team. You filmed inside the mighty Republican Study Committee and in a gala of International fellowship of Christians and Jews, in Mar-a-Lago.

It was amazing. You saw all these rich Christians and Jews sitting together, you saw Christians bear witness to how “before I started donating to Israel, I had a little store in Cleveland and today I have a huge chain of stores, just because I started donating to Israel. “They think it helps them in their lives.

How did you get that access?

The fact that we were Israelis played a crucial role, because you can’t immediately put us in a certain box. If I were a Jew from New York, I would never have been able to make this movie. American Jews are recognized as the other side. We are not. We are part of this bond. The link is with Israel.

You follow the money, showing an elderly Israeli woman who survived a terrorist attack and now receives free food and shoes. If Israel is so rich, why does it need the help of foreigners to feed and clothe it?

It is shameful. But Israel invests heavily in settlements. Christian money is meeting the needs created by the settlements. Maybe instead of, I don’t know, building roads in the settlements, we need to take care of our poor. It raises a much bigger question of priorities.

Donors include people in one of the poorest counties in the United States.

I cried a lot. It is very cold, you are in a coat and you see children in a house without windows who go out without shoes. Children with rat bites on their legs. Some Israelis who saw the film asked if they could send money.

What would you like the takeout to be for evangelical viewers?

That [Israelis are] not just a Bible, we are people with a present and a near future. That Israelis and Palestinians want to live in peace. Just because their faith says that God told Abraham that all this land belongs to the Jewish people, they won’t suffer the consequences. We are the ones who will suffer the consequences, in real life, not just in the afterlife.

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