Inside Israel’s Unholy Alliance With Right-Wing Evangelicals
The new documentary “’Til Kingdom Come” examines the deeply cynical Israel-Christian Evangelical partnership—one exacerbated by the Trump administration. Plus: an exclusive scene.
Historically, American Jews have leaned more liberal than conservative, especially given the anti-Semitic white nationalists and neo-Nazis that comfortably reside on the right. So what are we to make of the fact that today, the largest block of supporters of Israel are American Republicans and, in particular, Evangelical Christians? ’Til Kingdom Come investigates that seemingly illogical alliance, unearthing a union born from a combination of extreme religious faith and strategic practicality. And while Maya Zinshtein’s non-fiction exposé doesn’t quite get to the bottom of this increasingly thorny issue, it remains an eye-opening examination of a relationship that both sides believe is ordained by God, even if it involves making a deal with the devil.
Premiering in virtual cinemas on Feb. 26, ’Til Kingdom Come takes a sober look at Israelis’ and Evangelicals’ spiritual-political pact, which spans the dirt-poor backwaters of America to the halls of Jerusalem power. That survey begins in Middlesboro, Kentucky, where Binghamtown Baptist Church Pastor Boyd Bingham IV goes target-shooting in his Breitbart T-shirt while speaking about the tough times Evangelicals endured under President Obama. “We are the people that brought Donald Trump to power,” he says. “And he pushes our agenda”—by which he means not only pro-life and pro-gun stances, but fervent support of Israel, which Boyd, like his pastor-grandfather and father before him, believes was bequeathed by God to the Israelis.
Watch This Exclusive Clip From ’Til Kingdom Come:
Until, that is, Armageddon, at which point two-thirds of all Jews will perish during the seven-year Tribulations, and the remaining third will be converted to Christianity. Devout Christians will be spared this hellish conflict by the Rapture, and then, following Jesus’ return to Earth, they will claim Jerusalem for themselves.
That doesn’t sound like a very pro-Jewish position, and yet Evangelicals have nonetheless fostered strong bonds with Israel (and its supporters) over the past few decades. Much of that is thanks to the work of The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, an organization founded in the early 1980s by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, and now run—following his February 2019 death—by his daughter Yael Eckstein. The Fellowship receives upwards of $129 million annually in donations from Evangelicals, including from the likes of Boyd and his economically ravaged congregation, who in a late ’Til Kingdom Come scene fork over $25,000 to Yael in a ceremony that’s as strange as it is, apparently, now commonplace. Across America and Israel, the Fellowship and its base court and attain financial and political support for the cause of Israel defense and sovereignty—which also includes the settler movement that, the film contends, is driven by the theological conviction that Israel is central to God’s divine plan.
Through candid interviews with Yael, Boyd and Boyd’s father William Bingham III, ’Til Kingdom Come reveals—and, at times, directly addresses, via Zinshtein’s on-camera queries—the hypocrisy of Jews getting into bed with Evangelicals who back them only because they’re part of a prophesy that ends with their destruction. Unspoken but largely understood is the related fact that most Israelis (and American Jews) probably don’t agree with Evangelicals’—and former President Trump’s—opinions and policies on abortion and the Second Amendment, among others. Director Zinshtein makes clear that this is a strategic marriage of convenience for both conservative Israelis and Republicans, with the former getting enormous financial and political aid, and the latter securing a foothold in the Holy Land for the End Times.
’Til Kingdom Come details how that bond was strengthened by Trump’s 2018 decision to relocate the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, as well as his 2020 backing of Netanyahu’s claim of Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank. At the same time, conversations with Palestinian Christian Reverend Dr. Munther Isaac underscore how Palestinians don’t really factor into this equation—a scenario which Boyd explains, after chatting with Isaac in person, is due to the fact that the Bible says what it says. Yael, meanwhile, confesses that pondering the glaring contradictions of this Israel-Evangelical coalition can quickly get messy and troubling, which is why she basically doesn’t allow herself to do so, even as she goes on Pat Robertson’s The 700 Club and hobnobs with Evangelicals (and Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban) at the Friends of Israeli Defense Forces Annual Gala.
Zinshtein lays out these present-day circumstances with clarity, if also a modicum of sly editorializing (via sound-image juxtapositions). What’s missing, however, are various key facets of this complicated topic: what everyday Israelis think about this accord with Evangelicals; the way in which the Democratic Party’s positions have escalated this development by pushing many pro-Israel American Jews to the right; and how American Jews reconcile their happiness over Trump’s staunch Israel actions with his simultaneous embrace and encouragement of the very hate groups that champion their destruction. At a mere 76 minutes, ’Til Kingdom Come just skims the surface of a thoroughly knotted dynamic.
An even more glaring omission has to do with the religious underpinnings of this Israel-Evangelical partnership. Zinshtein suggests that this alliance is dangerous because Evangelicals can’t be trusted by Israelis, since they’re apt to push Israel into conflict with their Arab neighbors in order to instigate the End Times battle—an issue the film barely digs into—and, also, because Evangelicals imagine this scenario playing out with Jews’ eradication. Yet what goes unaddressed by ’Til Kingdom Come is the fact that pious Jews are OK with this, because they figure God will side with them in the final reckoning, and many secular Jews are willing to stomach Evangelicals because they don’t believe their apocalyptic fantasies will ever come true; all they care about is practical present realities. In other words, the tangible benefits are all that matters, because the downside—gory suffering and subjugation during Armageddon—is, for all intents and purposes, never going to happen.
’Til Kingdom Come’s limited purview stymies a fuller exploration of this state of affairs, and thus neuters a good deal of its impact. It’s merely one important piece of an expansive, complicated, often ugly puzzle, valuable for the insights its provides, but incapable of tackling the myriad factors—historical and contemporary, domestic and international—that are at play.