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US policy towards Israel is shaped by Mike Pence's Sermon on the Mount

A speech so frum it made the Strictly Orthodox look like relaxed liberals

    US Vice President Mike Pence addresses the Knesset on Monday
    US Vice President Mike Pence addresses the Knesset on Monday (Picture: Flash90)

    Mike Pence’s Knesset speech was so frum that it made the Strictly Orthodox politicians who regularly address the chamber seem like chilled-out liberals.

    It was as much homily as speech; if White House staffers had remembered the Knesset is on a hill, they could have billed it Pence’s Sermon on the Mount.

    The address was infused with scripture and featured two blessings, one of them in Hebrew. Mr Pence said that “every day, the Jewish state of Israel, and all the Jewish people, bear witness to God’s faithfulness.”

    This is not a man who came to Israel and, as many politicians do, felt the need to throw in some Biblical references. These were the words of a man whose entire worldview is shaped by a particular strain of Christian theology.

    He prefers to introduce himself as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican — in that order”. His Christianity is evangelical and intensely Zionist. His religious ilk believes that Israel’s establishment and its victory in the Six Day War are fulfilments of Biblical prophecies — and that Christians can be partners in fulfilling them.

    It is clear that God was a focus of Mr Pence’s speech far beyond the five explicit God references and more than a dozen mentions of faith. When he stressed that Israel’s birth and survival have been “unlikely” and its thriving “confounding, and against the odds,” he was not praising Israeli military savvy but elaborating his theology that it was God’s will.

    Christian Zionism is nothing new; it has massive support in America. But it has never had such a central place in the administration. Presidents and Vice Presidents in the past used Biblical phrases to talk about Israel but did not laud the evangelical Christian Zionist outlook. Yet for Mr Pence’s boss, Donald Trump, it is a gift — it not only connects him with conservative voters, it casts him, theologically speaking, as an agent of God in a prophetic plan.

    The Vice President did not grow up with evangelical Zionism. He was an altar boy from a devout Catholic family that voted Democrat and revered the Vatican, which today recognises Palestinian statehood and can take a very critical line towards Israel.

    But Mr Pence took a different path from his family, becoming Israel’s evangelical champion and an important voice urging Mr Trump to defy State Department advice to recognise Jerusalem as its capital.

    This Catholic-raised student’s desire in the 1970s to build a more personal relationship with Jesus Christ has a greater sway on US policy towards Israel than most people realise.

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