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March for Israel Speaker Pastor Hagee Once Said God “Sent Hitler to Help Jews Reach the Promised Land”

StoryNovember 15, 2023
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Speakers at Tuesday’s “March for Israel” on the National Mall included Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Christian fundamentalist House Speaker Mike Johnson and radical Christian Zionist pastor John Hagee, who once said God “sent Hitler to help Jews reach the Promised Land.” Sarah Posner, a reporter focused on the American Christian right, discusses Hagee and Johnson’s backgrounds and explains how Hagee and other extremist evangelical Christians and Jewish Zionists use each other to advance their own movements. Rabbis for Ceasefire’s Alissa Wise notes the “influence of Christian Zionism on U.S. foreign policy is way understated” and should be vigorously countered by white American Christians, just as white American Jews have mobilized a high-profile opposition to Israel’s genocide of Palestinians.

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AMY GOODMAN: We were going to bring in a second guest to join you, Rabbi Alissa Wise, and to talk more about the Christian Zionist pastor John Hagee, who once said God had, quote, “sent Hitler to help Jews reach the Promised Land.” This is part of what he said at Tuesday’s march in Washington.

JOHN HAGEE: Israel is the shining city on the hill. Israel said — God says of Israel, “Israel is my first-born son.”

CROWD: Yeah!

JOHN HAGEE: Jerusalem is the city of God. Jerusalem is the shoreline of eternity. Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel, today and forever.

AMY GOODMAN: Other high-profile speakers at Tuesday’s protest included Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and the new House Speaker Mike Johnson, who has ties to the Christian Zionist movement.

SPEAKER MIKE JOHNSON: As Prime Minister Netanyahu says so well, this is a fight between good and evil, between light and darkness, between civilization and barbarism.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re, in addition to Rabbi Alissa Wise, joined by Sarah Posner, who has long covered Christian Zionists and is the author of Unholy: How White Christian Nationalists Powered the Trump Presidency, and the Devastating Legacy They Left Behind. She’s an MSNBC columnist, her recent piece titled “The dispiriting truth about why many evangelical Christians support Israel.”

If you can talk about that, Sarah, and also specifically talk about John Hagee addressing these tens of thousands of people, and then the House speaker?

SARAH POSNER: So, Hagee has long walked this line between seeming like he — or, pretending to a Jewish audience like he’s really only interested in policy and what’s happening in the present. He walks this line, but then, when he goes into a church to preach about his theology, what he says is really quite different. He didn’t say on Tuesday that he expects, according to biblical prophecy, that one day Jesus will return and fight a very bloody battle, which, as the rabbi said, will result in Jews either converting or dying — and Muslims, too, by the way. He didn’t say that. He didn’t say that he believes that at the end of that, Jesus will rule the world from his throne on the Temple Mount. He didn’t say that everything is playing out according to biblical prophecy. And so he has basically hoodwinked many Jews into believing that he actually supports Israel, but what he really supports is his claim that Bible — Israel is just a pawn, really, in this Bible prophecy, which at the end of which — at the end of which Jesus will rule the world as basically a theocrat.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Sarah Posner, you’ve noted that, quote, “At the heart of Christian Zionism is not a love for Israel but rather Christian nationalism.” But what does Israel and its staunchest defenders get from this alliance?

SARAH POSNER: Well, what Israelis and American Jews who embrace Hagee’s support get is a huge movement, much larger than the number of Jewish Americans, that has the ear of the Republican Party, that is enmeshed in the Republican Party. And so, it’s much more than CUFI has juice — CUFI is Hagee’s organization, Christians United for Israel — has juice on Capitol Hill or in the White House, when a Republican is in the White House. It is more than that. It is so common among evangelicals, even if they’re not members of CUFI, to share these ideas about Israel and Bible prophecy and the return of Jesus. And so, what they do is they bring this huge constituency to Republicans, many of whom, like Speaker Johnson, believe all of this themselves.

And so they have morphed together this idea of supporting Israel with being a good American Christian. They believe that God has commanded America as a country, not just them as Americans, to, quote-unquote, “support Israel.” But in their minds, supporting Israel involves supporting the occupation, supporting the Israeli military, no matter what it does. It doesn’t mean supporting Israel from the standpoint that some day, perhaps, Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace. That’s not part of the equation.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to play another clip. In 2008, John McCain rejected Pastor John Hagee’s endorsements, after the pastor said God sent Hitler to help Jews get to Israel. This is a clip of Hagee’s sermon.

JOHN HAGEE: Then God sent a hunter. A hunter is someone who comes with a gun, and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter.

AMY GOODMAN: Sarah Posner?

SARAH POSNER: So, this is part of Hagee’s overriding theology, that all of history can be sandwiched into his view of what the Bible prophecy is about: the return of Jesus. So, basically, what he’s saying is — what he’s saying there, and what he’s essentially saying in other much more recent statements than that, is that God has punished or disciplined the Jews throughout history as part of his plan to get them to return to Israel, which is a precondition of Jesus’s return. So he’s not trying to make it happen on a faster timetable. He will say that it’s all going to happen on God’s timing. But what he’s saying is any world event that’s occurring now or has occurred in the past is part of what has been prophesied in the Bible, and God is directing traffic here. And one of God’s intentions is to get Jews to return to Israel, because that is a precondition of Jesus’s return. He says that — he claims this is all laid out in the Bible, and this is just Bible prophecy playing out.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’d like to bring Rabbi Alissa Wise back into the conversation. Your response to this whole issue of the extreme Christian right in the United States lining up in support of Israel for its own religious purposes?

RABBI ALISSA WISE: Yeah. As Sarah mentioned, you know, CUFI boasts more members — 10 million, they claim, which surpasses the total number of Jews in the United States. So one thing that’s really critical is that white Christians need to be mobilizing just as American Jews are. American Jews are getting arrested by the hundreds, as you mentioned. Christians who oppose this vision that Christianity — that Hagee is proliferating need to, likewise, be stepping out. The influence of Christian Zionism on U.S. foreign policy is way understated. The Jewish pro-Israel lobby is dwarfed in comparison to what the Christian Zionist lobby is doing to promote U.S. foreign policy.

But I think the most important piece here is that all of this is making Jews less safe in the world. Israel’s actions in Gaza, but also not just now but for generations — when Palestinians are not free, Jews are less safe in the world. And that is the crux of the matter. There is no way for Jewish safety to be found when others are being oppressed. That’s just the simple truth of it. And organizations that seek to distract from those of us that are trying to realize freedom, democracy, equal rights — it’s simple. It’s equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis. Those people claim that we are antisemitic, when, in fact, their actions at aiding and abetting genocidal violence in Gaza now, but apartheid and occupation for generations, that is what is making Jews less safe in the world.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to put this question to Sarah Posner, author of Unholy. You have written about Mike Johnson, the new House speaker’s Christian nationalist track record. Can you talk about his views and when you first encountered him in 2007 working on a story about the Alliance Defense Fund’s ambitions to gut the separation of church and state? Explain what that all this.

SARAH POSNER: So, the organization is now called Alliance Defending Freedom. It’s a major Christian right legal organization that sees itself as a Christian counterweight to the ACLU. It is behind many Supreme Court cases, including Dobbs, which overturned Roe v. Wade; Masterpiece Cakeshop, involving the anti-gay baker. And Johnson was working for them at the time that I interviewed him.

And he laid out for me the organization’s ambition to eviscerate the separation of church and state at the Supreme Court and to create a legal framework in which conservative Christians could object to things like LGBTQ rights in the name of religious freedom. Everything he said to me back in 2007, ADF has pretty much done and accomplished or is well on its way to accomplishing — undermining church-state separation, elevating the religious freedom of conservative Christians who oppose LGBTQ and reproductive rights. And that is the framework and the ideology that he brings to Congress.

He also believes that God created civil government and that the government should be run from what Christian nationalists would call a biblical worldview. So, his entire ideology and framework and way of looking at the world and way of looking at government, in particular, is very classic, to the T of the Christian right, of Christian nationalists, whatever you want to call it, believing that their biblical worldview is what should dictate law and policy in the United States.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’m wondering: Is this phenomena of the Christian Zionism largely centered in the United States, or have you seen similar movements in other advanced industrial countries, especially in Europe, as well?

SARAH POSNER: Sure. It’s worldwide. There are organizations that bring together Christian Zionists from different countries, that, in particular, bring together Christian Zionist legislators from different countries. So it’s definitely a worldwide movement. But Hagee is probably the world’s foremost and most well-known Christian Zionist, in part because of his decadeslong preaching on the question, but also because of his founding of CUFI in 2006.

AMY GOODMAN: Sarah Posner, we want to thank you for being with us, author of Unholy: How White Christian Nationalists Powered the Trump Presidency, and the Devastating Legacy They Left Behind. And thank you to Rabbi Alissa Wise of Rabbis for Ceasefire and former co-executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace.

That does it for our show. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, for another edition of Democracy Now!

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