In FL, apocalyptic politics are clouding the U.S. response to the Israel-Hamas conflict

End Times Christians keep looking for signs and portents

October 30, 2023 7:00 am

Last Judgment Fresco Cycle by Frederico Zuccaro and Giorgio Vasari, via Getty Images

Remember when a quarter of Americans thought Barack Obama might be the Antichrist?

They feared he’d impose a One World Government — as Dr. Peter Venkman says in Ghostbusters, “a disaster of biblical proportions, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together” — and trigger the apocalypse.

That didn’t happen, but End Times Christians keep looking for signs and portents, wars and rumors of wars, and, by God, the Israel-Hamas horror is right up their millenarianist alley.

Smoke rises from the Israeli raids on Oct. 8, 2023, in Gaza City, Gaza. After the attack launched by Hamas on Israel the day before, which surprised them, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked the Palestinians to leave Gaza and warned that the army would turn Hamas positions “into rubble.” (Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images)

Where many of us see the vicious killings by Hamas and the indiscriminate bombing by the Netanyahu government as atrocities fueled by 75 years of resentment, fear, rage, and oppression, as well as a radical Islamic refusal to accept the existence of Israel, evangelicals and the politicians beholden to them see the first quarter of the Second Coming.

Evangelicals subscribe to a self-serving vision of Israel, one in which Jews demonstrate the inerrant truth of the Bible just by living there. They believe they have to go through Jews, who must have a nation state with Jerusalem as its capital, to spark the return of Jesus.

When he was in office, Donald Trump and his MAGA maniacs were glad to play along, upending 70 years of U.S. policy, declaring Jerusalem Israel’s capital, moving the U.S. embassy there and boasting that he did it for the evangelicals who voted for him in huge numbers.

Getting to the End of Days requires Jews to rebuild Solomon’s temple on the ruins of the first two — the original, destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC, and the second version, wrecked by the Romans in 70 AD.

Holy offering

But before the bulldozers toll in, they need a red cow.

No cow, no temple; no temple, no Second Coming.

Purification of the red heifer. Print from the Phillip Medhurst Collection of Bible illustrations in the possession of Revd. Philip De Vere at St. George’s Court, Kidderminster, England. Via Wikimedia Commons

The End Times can’t kick off ’till a perfectly red heifer with not one white (or black or any other color in her fur) is brought to Jerusalem.

Then the poor critter will be slain by a priest, burned on a pyre made of cedar and hyssop with a piece of scarlet thread. Her ashes will be mixed with water and used to purify the Children of Israel.

It’s unclear how many American politicians accept the literal truth of this, but waiting for, even trying to jump start, Armageddon has animated the history of Protestant white folks ever since they landed on Plymouth Rock.

Doomsday is ironed into our culture.

The Puritans colonized the northeast corner of what became the United States expressly to build themselves a New Jerusalem and welcome the Second Coming, a catastrophe they felt certain would happen any minute now.

Doomsday sects have flourished throughout American history, from the Millerites of the 19th Century to the Branch Davidians to James Watt, Ronald Reagan’s notoriously pro-pollution, anti-environment Interior secretary.

Watt figured there was no reason to save the planet when the Lord was going to show up soon and deliver a new heaven and a new earth.

So why not drive that big car and crank up that AC?

Jonesing for the End Times

According to the Pew Center, 60 percent of evangelicals think we are living in the End Times. A Texas preacher, one of Donald Trump’s pet pastors, responded to the Hamas assault on Israel by praying, “The last days are coming and are here, when you will come again, for your church and for your people.”

This kind of thinking, plus Americans’ perennial Islamophobia, gives cover to the rightwing politicians hollering themselves hoarse about reducing Gaza to rubble and never mind the dead children.

The excitable senior senator from Florida, Marco Rubio, told CNN, “I don’t think there’s any way Israel can be expected to coexist or find some diplomatic off-ramp with these savages.”

Hamas must be “eradicated,” and if there are thousands upon thousands of civilian casualties, well, it’s their own fault for living in Gaza — not that Israel lets people leave Gaza.

Republican and Democratic politicians are all trying to outdo each other in assuring their voters that they stand with Israel and condemning anyone who suggests that the Netanyahu government — bellicose at the best of times — should share a least a little of the blame for the death toll.

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) (Andrew Roth/Michigan Advance)

Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib admittedly jumped the gun in blaming Israel for bombing the hospital in Gaza, and practically everybody in Washington demanded she apologize.

Tlaib is a Palestinian American: Her take on Israeli’s treatment of Palestinians is bound to be different from her Christian and Jewish colleagues.

Right now, nobody’s inclined to accept alternate points of view. When Tlaib called for a ceasefire to allow food, water, and medical supplies into Gaza, and perhaps help get the hostages out, the reaction was, if anything, worse.

Along with Ilhan Omar, the only other Muslim woman in Congress, she and her family are now regularly being threatened with violence.

Outdoing each other

Trump, Republican presidential frontrunner and cult leader, is gleefully throwing gasoline on the fire. To make up for calling Hamas “smart,” he’s now promising that when he’s reelected he’ll restore his ridiculous Muslim ban, institute “ideological screening” for immigrants, and refuse to admit refugees from Gaza.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Cabinet meet in Jerusalem on May 29, 2019. From left to right: Attorney General Ashley Moody, Gov. DeSantis, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. Source: Governor’s office

Attempting to revive a campaign on life-support, Ron DeSantis is jumping up and down squawking “Me, too!”

Sen. Rick Scott, another towering intellect, is pitching a hissy fit over the administration’s $106 billion omnibus bill funding U.S. border security, Ukraine, Israel, and humanitarian aid for civilians in Gaza.

Scott, Trump, Rubio, and DeSantis all claim to love Jesus.

Non-wingnut Christians frown on collective punishment, guilt by association, and indiscriminate slaughter of non-combatants, but End Times folks are OK with all of that, interpreting the horrific conflict between Israel and Hamas as fulfilment of biblical prophecy about a last battle on the plain of Megiddo — the site of the coming Apocalypse and also a nice national park in northern Israel.

Wholesale destruction, vicious battles, lots of dead people — that’s all part of the End Times package. Prominent Baptist minister Robert Jeffress assures Evangelicals the war in Israel is “not a human struggle; it is a spiritual struggle against the forces of darkness.”

According to Jeffress, “Satan set his sights set on Israel from the very beginning.”

You might not hear quite such theological disaster-mongering from MAGA Republicans, though Marco Rubio keeps tweeting dire Old Testament verses, like this gem from the Prophet Joel: “The day of the LORD is coming! Yes, it approaches, a day of darkness & gloom, a day of thick clouds! Like dawn spreading over the mountains, a vast & mighty army!”

Clearly the New Testament is just a little too kumbaya for him.

One problem

But there’s a problem — if you’re Jewish, that is.

Evangelicals and other Republicans proclaim their love of Israel and Judaism and “God’s Chosen People,” but they don’t like to talk the end game of the End Times.

Once the fake messiah ruling the world from the rebuilt temple gets whipped by Jesus and his angel army, the Jews are going have to convert to Christianity.

If they don’t, it’s the Lake of Fire for them. Forever.

But for now, it looks like Israel’s authoritarian-leaning, strife-ridden governing coalition — not people likely to start haunting their local Methodist church — will accept their deal with the devil.

Make nice with the Christians, reap political benefits.

There’s no way most Democratic politicians will alienate the American Jewish vote: They need it.

There’s no way most Republicans want to piss off either the Jews who support them or, more importantly, the Evangelicals who own them.

If the apocalypse comes before Benjamin Netanyahu either gets voted out or convicted of corruption, well, he can probably try and cut a deal with Jehovah and move to a nice little suburb in Gehenna.

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Diane Roberts
Diane Roberts

Diane Roberts is an 8th-generation Floridian, born and bred in Tallahassee, which probably explains her unhealthy fascination with Florida politics. Educated at Florida State University and Oxford University in England, she has been writing for newspapers since 1983. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, and Flamingo.