A varied group of American evangelicals welcomed Naftali Bennett on his election as Israel new prime minister and the formation of a coalition government, assuring Israelis worried about Christian backing after Benjamin Netanyahu’s resignation.
“We pray that God gives you wisdom and strength as you make difficult decisions that will affect the lives of millions, and we trust that He will answer those prayers,” wrote more than 80 religious leaders in a letter organized by the Philos Project, a group dedicated to promoting “positive Christian engagement” with Israel and Middle East pluralism.
The letter expressed gratitude for Netanyahu and everything he achieved during his 12 years as Prime Minister to “strengthen Israel and its alliances.” It also applauded the shift brought about by Bennett, a devout Jew and former Netanyahu disciple who established a coalition with a variety of political parties to depose Netanyahu.
“We want to thank you in advance for defending our shared values as they apply to Israel’s citizens, whether Jews, Christians, Muslims, or Druze; for guarding the holy sites and welcoming religious pilgrims from around the world to discover the birthplace of their faith; and for continuing to work toward peace with Israel’s neighbors,” the letter said. “In exchange, we promise to strengthen our bonds with your country and its lovely people.”
Evangelical backing for the new government has been a source of concern for several Israeli political commentators. Former Israeli ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer argued in the run-up to the election that Israel should be concerned about losing evangelical support in the United States.
Mike Evans, the founder of the Jerusalem-based Friends of Zion Heritage Center and the Jerusalem Prayer Team, attacked Bennett in an open letter, confirming such suspicions.
Before it was taken down in May, the Jerusalem Prayer Team’s Facebook page had 77 million followers, and Evans is frequently referred to in Israeli media as a significant American evangelical leader, even the “world’s largest evangelical leader.”
“You are a disgrace, a disgrace, a disgrace. Never refer to oneself as a Zion defender. Evans wrote to Bennett in early June, as Bennett was forming a coalition government.
“I’ll fight you every step of the way,” says the narrator. “You have completely lost evangelical support,” Evans remarked. “Under Donald Trump, we gave you four years of marvels. It was presented by evangelicals. You didn’t deliver anything. What kind of gratitude do you have for us? You s— right in front of our eyes.”
Evans eventually apologized for his obnoxious language, but he reiterated his opposition to Bennett and any other political leaders who would seek to succeed Netanyahu.
“You’re going to hoist a white flag of surrender—not a blue and white flag—because you’re so blinded by your hatred, petty politics, and power obsessions that you can’t see the forest for the trees,” he continued.
In his press conference, Evans also maintained his claim to represent American evangelicals, referring to “my 77 million evangelicals.”
Other American evangelicals who have a history of strong support for Israel chimed in to stress that Evans’ feelings were not shared by everyone.
“While Evangelicals admire and appreciate Netanyahu, their passion for Israel is not bound to one man,” stated Joel Rosenberg, the creator of All Israel News and a Christian fiction author. “Christians understand that Netanyahu will eventually step down, but they really want to bless and strengthen Israel for the long term, regardless of who is in power.”
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The Philos Project letter was signed by dozens of leaders, including Rosenberg.
Pastors from Methodist, Pentecostal, Southern Baptist, and Missionary Baptist churches, as well as bishops from the Anglican Church in North America and the International Pentecostal Holiness Church, and representatives from the National Day of Prayer Task Force, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, National Religious Broadcasters, Pastors Wives of America, and Promise Keepers, signed the petition.
Professors from The King’s College, Grove City College, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dickerson-Green Theological Seminary, and Beeson Divinity School, as well as evangelical counselors Tony Suarez and Johnnie Moore, signed on.
The Philos Project’s president, Robert Nicholson, said in a statement that the letter was sent to express widespread support.
“This list represents tens of millions of Christians from various denominations,” he said, “who disagree on a lot of things but agree on the need of Christian friendship with Israel based on shared biblical values.”
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