(Jerusalem, Israel) — In the wake of our national elections, I did a series of interviews yesterday with American media outlets discussing the results, including with John Jessup and Jenna Browder, hosts of the “Faith Nation” program on the CBN News Network.
We certainly discussed Israelis’ reaction to the results, and the possible impact on the peace process. But they also asked me an especially interesting and perceptive question: How do Israel’s Messianic Jews and Evangelicals perceive Israel’s Prime Minister, and do their perceptions differ with American Evangelicals?
Here is a transcript of our discussion. To watch the full interview, please click here. (Note: The segment begins at 11 minutes and 30 seconds into the program.)
JOHN JESSUP, CBN NEWS: What is the mood there as Israeli react to the news of another Netanyahu term?
ROSENBERG: Well, first, I think people are stunned — either stunned with excitement, there were very few people that were sure that he was going to win reelection; in fact, the polls showed that he was behind for most of the campaign. The polls certainly showed that he and the Likud Party were closing the gap in the final week, but even the exit polls did not indicate with any assurance that Netanyahu was essentially going to perform a magic trick. They call him a magician. He pulled a rabbit out of the hat, again. Most people didn’t see it. Even people who were for him went to being thinking, “I don’t know.” But there is also a whole swath of the country that is thinking, “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me. He’s here forever.” So, it’s a mixed view here right now.
JOHN JESSUP, CBN NEWS: Joel, what does Netanyahu’s reelection mean for the United States, and also for the Middle East peace process?
ROSENBERG: Great question. The first thing I would say is that with Prime Minister Netanyahu being reelected — and almost certain to be able to put together a coalition government; we’ll see that over the next few weeks — there will be continuity for the Trump team. President Trump knows Netanyahu well. Obviously, the Trump peace team — the architects like Jared Kushner and the rest — they know the Netanyahu team well. So, there will continuity and they’ll be very happy about that. They won’t have to change the game plan for Benny Gantz or the others who could have come in and been the new leaders here.
In terms of how it will actually affect the peace process, look, I’m of the view that the Palestinian leadership under Mahmoud Abbas has absolutely no intention of saying yes to any plan that President Trump puts forward. They will probably read the plan, but I wouldn’t even put it past them not to read it. I’m sure they will, but I’m just saying there’s no indication that Abbas and his team are even open at all. So, the question remains: Does the plan allow for the Gulf states’ Arab leaders to say, “Why would the Palestinians reject this plan? It’s not perfect, but it’s reasonable. It’s credible. It’s a serious plan. The Palestinians should sit down and negotiate.” And if the Palestinians don’t, then in theory it could open up an opportunity [for the Gulf states to move towards peace with Israel without waiting for the Palestinians.]
JENNA BROWDER, CBN NEWS: I want to talk to you about believers there in Israel. How do they perceive Netanyahu?
ROSENBERG: Well, there’s about 30,000 Messianic Jewish believers in Jesus here in Israel now. There’s another 4,000 to 5,000 Arab Evangelicals. And there are, you know, another 10,000 or more Christians of various other kinds, mostly Evangelicals, living, working, serving in the country in various capacities. It’s interesting, Jenna, I think there is quite a divide between how American Evangelicals perceive Netanyahu, and how believers see him here.
I think American Evangelicals see the best of Netanyahu — which is true about him, but he is a complicated man. American Evangelicals see him as a statesman, as a visionary, as a strategic thinker. [For example,] I don’t know who else could have stared down President Obama and taken on and resisted and refuted the Iran nuclear deal, and then gone on to persuade President Trump to scrap that nuclear deal and reimpose crippling economic sanctions on the Iranian regime. That was the right thing to do. Netanyahu resisted President Obama’s efforts almost to force Israel to relinquish strategic territory to Israel’s sworn enemies. So, Evangelicals see that in Netanyahu and they like that. Netanyahu is also opening diplomatic bridges to China, to Brazil, to India, to the Arab countries. And this is Netanyahu at his best.
But local followers of Jesus here see that, but they see other things, too. They see, for example, that he gives an awful lot of power and money to ultra-Orthodox religious parties that are hostile to Christians, and hostile to Messianic Jewish followers of Jesus — I mean, very hostile. They see that Netanyahu has said very unkind, very harsh things to Arabs here in Israel, Arabs citizens we’re talking about, even saying recently that a new law made it clear that only Jews were real citizens of Israel, and no one else really was.
I share that deep disappointment with Netanyahu on some of these matters, including the fact that Netanyahu brought into his political coalition in recent weeks — honestly, and I say this with deep disappointment because I worked for Netanyahu nineteen years ago — but he brought in a party called Otzma Yehudit, Jewish Power, that is a racist, bigoted, anti-Arab, anti-peace party, that was really associated with a violent, extremist party that was outlawed here 25 years ago. So, these are things that have caused Israeli Jewish believers and Evangelicals here mostly to vote for center and center-right parties, but not for Bibi. And I will tell you that I was one of them who struggled because I see both sides of Bibi, what he’s very, very good at, and the mistakes that he makes that are very disappointing. And I couldn’t bring myself to vote for him this time around, though I respect him. I pray for him. But I guess I’m becoming a little more Israeli than I was when I could only see him from a distance.
To watch the full story and interview, please click here. (Note: The segment begins at 11 minutes and 30 seconds into the program.)
This portion of the interview was reposted with permission from Joel C. Rosenberg’s blog.