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Who really wants Trump to recognize Jerusalem? His evangelical supporters at home

Noah Bierman, Tribune Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

John Hagee, a prominent evangelical pastor and leader of Christians United for Israel, said in an email Wednesday that he has met with Pence and Trump several times, bringing up Jerusalem on each occasion. In July, Pence delivered the keynote at the Christians United for Israel's annual summit, drawing his most sustained ovation when he vowed that moving the embassy "is not a question of if, it is only when."

"The Christian Zionist community will not forget the president's bold actions," Hagee said. "President Trump will be honored and memorialized by Jews and Christians for all time."

Presidential candidates in both parties have vowed to move the embassy since at least the 1990s, never feeling obliged to follow through. Their ability to have things both ways on the issue stemmed from the fact that Israeli opinion is ambivalent on the subject, and American national security experts fear the risks to regional stability, security and strategy far outweigh the gains -- which they view as mostly symbolic.

Even President George W. Bush, who identified closely with the evangelical movement, signed waivers to allow the embassy to remain in Tel Aviv.

"It's a promise that trades at a huge discount rate," said Ari Fleischer, who served as press secretary for Bush and is also on the board of the Republican Jewish Coalition, a conservative advocacy group funded by Adelson. "There's little to no expectation that anybody will ever do it."

Fleischer, who said he is ambivalent about the move given its potential to upset any possible breakthrough in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, predicted that even many supporters of the decision would greet it with a combination of shock and held breath.

 

But the move is the kind of tangible, action-oriented promise that appeals to Trump.

"It just sounds really pro-Israel," said Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, an American political group that lobbies on Israel from a liberal Jewish perspective and opposes Trump's decision.

Ben-Ami credits Adelson and other conservative Jewish donors, banded with evangelicals, for forcing the issue to the center of Republican politics.

The evangelical connection to Israel has many roots, including some linked to end-times prophecies that include Jewish control of Israel and Jerusalem, a war of civilizations, and a choice for Jews to either convert to Christianity or die.

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