March 27, 2019
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said something last week timed to the Jewish holiday Purim that made a lot of people snicker. When asked by an interviewer by the Christian Broadcasting Network if U.S. President Donald Trump had been "raised for such a time as this, just like Queen Esther to help save the Jewish people from the Iranian menace?"
Pompeo's response went directly to the point: "As a Christian, I certainly believe that is possible." He went on to say that he is confident that the Lord is at work here," when he surveyed "the work our administration has done to make sure this democracy in the Middle East, that this Jewish state, remains."
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on March 20, 2019. (Credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Many heard this and mocked (with good reason) the notion that Trump could possibly be compared to the heroine of the Purim story.
But so deep runs the contempt for Christian conservatives among some sectors of the chattering classes, as well as the foreign-policy establishment, that Pompeo's willingness to speak of "the Lord" was enough to set eyes rolling.
Others, like Rabbi Jonah Pesner, the head of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, deplored the introduction of theology — even one that is favorable to Zionism and the Jewish people — into any discussion of foreign policy.
That was an opinion echoed in The New Republic. It published a scathing attack on Trump and Pompeo for seeking to carry out a "Christianization of U.S. foreign policy." The magazine blasted the administration's policies on Pompeo's own evangelical faith. TNR and other voices on the left have often blamed Trump's tilt towards Israel on a desire to curry favor with evangelicals.
As with every discussion of Christian support for Israel, Pompeo's comments prompted some to regurgitate the familiar claims from some on the left that avowed Christian Zionists, like the secretary of state, are only supporting Israel because they wish to set off an apocalyptic scenario that would generate the return of the Christian messiah.
The support of evangelicals like Pompeo is sincere and rooted in a genuine concern for Israel's well-being that is rooted firmly in biblical texts, not eschatological scenarios. The notion that Jews should be wary of Christians because of their theology is also absurd. Even if all of them were focused on what would happen after Jesus' return, the idea that Jews, who don't believe in such a possibility, should worry about what would happen then is ridiculous.
But the more important question to be asked is how Jews — the vast majority of whom, purport to care about Israel and its safety — can dismiss Trump's record on this issue as being of either negligible importance or assert that his policies are actually bad for the Jewish state?
After this week's signing by Trump of a proclamation recognizing Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights, the debate about his attitude towards Israel should be over. The timing of the declaration was almost certainly aimed at aiding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's re-election campaign. But the recognition of Israel's hold on the Golan sent a stronger message to Iran, whose forces and Hezbollah auxiliaries are occupying Syrian territory, than it did to Israel's voters. It at least partially offset Trump's ill-advised desire to pull U.S. troops out of eastern Syria and reinforced the administration's tough stance against the Islamist republic.
Moreover, when placed in the context of Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, his unwillingness to accept — as did previous presidents — the Palestinian Authority's intransigence and financial support for terrorism, and his pulling out of the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal with Iran brokered by his predecessor, there's no longer any room to deny the depth of the support of this administration for the Jewish state.
This isn't to argue that this one aspect of his administration must cancel out any other consideration when thinking about 2020. But it does mean that an honest discussion about Trump's policy when it comes to Israel requires us to discard our partisan lens and understand that whatever his true motivation or how he arrived at his conclusions, what he has done has greatly strengthened Israel's strategic position.
Some have argued that Trump's "America First" beliefs will undermine America's position in the world and ultimately weaken Israel. But while that was a reasonable argument to make in 2016, before we knew how he would govern, it no longer makes sense in light of Trump's strong stance on Iran or his desire to persuade NATO allies to strengthen their defenses. Indeed, with France and Germany — whose leaders are supposedly the epitome of true Western values — bent on appeasing Iran, that argument now falls flat.
Nor has his inconsistent policy towards Russia — a combination of weak talk and strong policies that are much tougher than those of our European allies — endangered Israel, given that it was Barack Obama who punted Syria to Moscow, not Trump.
Trump has done more than merely reverse Obama's goal of creating more "daylight" between the United States and Israel. He has promoted policies that have discarded decades of foolish conventional wisdom about the Middle East and replaced it with stances on the conflict that are rooted in realpolitik and recognition of Israel's rights and security needs.
That doesn't mean Trump is perfect and, as whoever wins the April elections in Israel may find out, his peace plan may cause more harm than good. But it's past time that his critics acknowledge that what he's done with respect to Israel places him above any other American president with respect to friendship for the Jewish state, including Harry Truman (whom many Jewish admirers also spoke of in religious terms), Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush.
That doesn't make Trump Queen Esther. But whether or not you intend to vote for him next year, it is past time to stop pretending that this administration's policies towards Israel can be depicted as anything but a historic breakthrough that should be properly noted and applauded.