On Sunday, former president Donald Trump used his Truth Social account to assure his audience that he would not be outdone in the current alarming escalation in antisemitic rhetoric on the American right. “No President has done more for Israel than I have,” Trump wrote, his use of present tense falsely suggesting he retains power. “Somewhat surprisingly, however, our wonderful Evangelicals are far more appreciative of this than the people of the Jewish faith, especially those living in the U.S.” These Jews, Trump went on, even more menacingly, “have to get their act together and appreciate what they have in Israel – Before it is too late!”
It is impossible not to read “have to get their act together” as a threat, particularly with his addition of the phrase “Before it is too late!” at the end. The threat is susceptible to multiple meanings — probably intentionally — and none of them are good.
One interpretation is theological, a topic on which Trump is notoriously illiterate, although he’s likely spent enough time around evangelicals to know they believe they have an imperative to convert Jews to Christianity. They seek converts now, because you never know when Jesus is actually coming back, and you want to be saved already when it happens. The evangelicals who await Jesus’s return at the battle of Armageddon envision it as an event during which Jews will be forced to accept Christ, or perish in a lake of brimstone. “Before it is too late!” has a very particular meaning here.
Another interpretation is purely political. Trump demands loyalty, and he gets it from an overwhelming majority of white evangelicals, but only a tiny minority of Jews. In this interpretation, Trump is angry not to see Jews at bended knee. Jews’ supposed failure to “appreciate what they have in Israel” is actually a failure to appreciate that Trump has done heroic things for Israel. Those things, which include tearing up the Iran nuclear deal and moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, are valued by evangelicals, but not so much by American Jews. Trump, then, rather than seeking Jewish support through other means or gestures, uses it as a bludgeon against them — which is itself antisemitic. As the historian Federico Finchelstein noted on Twitter about Trump’s post, “This is an old concern in the history of antisemitism. For antisemites, Jews do not appreciate the leader’s power/refuse to believe in the leader’s cult, etc & thus undermine him.”
A third interpretation combines these theological and political factors — and is perhaps even more disturbing. Without evangelical support, Trump would not have won the presidency in 2016. He would not have remained in power throughout multiple scandals and impeachment without their unbreakable dedication to protecting him. One might think this was transactional: that Trump fulfilled promises, such as the embassy move, that evangelicals had long sought, and they supported him in return. But it’s more than that, and more tightly intertwined with their view of Trump as a divinely anointed leader.
Christian Zionists believe that policy steps should be taken to ensure that what they consider to be all of Israel — including the illegally occupied West Bank, which they refer to as Judea and Samaria — is in Jewish hands as a precondition for Jesus’s return. Christian Zionists insist that God granted this land to the Jews (who will nonetheless have to convert or die), and that U.S. law should reflect this biblical imperative, regardless of the illegality of the annexation and occupation of Palestinian land under international law. John Hagee, founder of Christians United for Israel — who was famously sidelined in 2008 by then-GOP presidential nominee John McCain over antisemitic remarks — was close to the Trump administration. Hagee has long preached that the decisive battle at Armageddon will unfold on God’s time, but that God will punish America if it fails to “bless” Israel as, he claims, is required in the Book of Genesis.
Hagee boasted on his website that he had helped convince Trump to make the embassy move, telling him at a White House dinner that Jerusalem is where Christ will return to “set up His throne on the Temple Mount where He will sit and rule for a thousand years of perfect peace.” Hagee gave the benediction at Trump’s 2018 dedication of the new embassy, calling it “nothing short of a divine miracle!” This conflation of Trump’s role (the miracle of the embassy move) in what Christian Zionists believe is a fulfillment of divine prophecy (Christ’s return) places Trump in a rarefied space that no other president has occupied. To his evangelical supporters, Trump is deified not because of what he has done “for Israel” but actually for the evangelical vision of what Israel represents — the location of Jesus’s return, and of his envisioned global thousand-year reign.
Trump has a long history of making antisemitic remarks, embracing the support of neo-Nazis and white supremacists, peddling antisemitic stereotypes, and accusing Jews of disloyalty to him. He claims to be a great supporter of Jews and Israel, yet, for example, he has never commented on how one of the insurrectionists he incited to the Capitol on January 6 wore a sweatshirt with “Camp Auschwitz” on the front and “staff” on the back. Underneath, he wore a t-shirt celebrating Hitler’s paramilitary, the SS. In the current climate in which Kanye West is engaging in scapegoating rants, GOP candidates are promoting antisemitic conspiracy theories, and others are emboldened to adopt a full-throated Christian supremacy, Trump’s post — and the complete silence from GOP leaders about it — is more ominous than ever.