Why We Should Care about Israel’s New Law Restricting the Power of the Supreme Court
Evangelical motives are not always pure, but they are almost never hidden. Bottom line: Evangelicals love and support Israel because they believe this hastens the return of Jesus and the advent of the apocalypse. The entire fantasy and illusion of rapture theory comes into play whenever there is political trouble in Israel. Rapturists, doublechecking the Rapture Index every morning, see each change as a day closer to the Rapture.
The vote in Israel to restrict the power of the Supreme Court has implications for the state of democracy in the USA. The Israeli parliament has passed a law restricting the power of the Supreme Court. Power in Israel has been ceded to the legislature. The idea of a president with unlimited power backed by a majority Congress fulfills all evangelical dreams. For example, “president for life” appeals to Trump and his followers. He has alluded to such dreams in various speeches. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now provides Trump with a blueprint for his awful dreams.
Such a nightmare scenario might have already come to America if the Republicans had been able to overturn the 2020 election and put Trump back in the White House. Israel is doing by democratic vote what our own insurrectionists attempted to do. We are right to be concerned.
How can Trump and Republicans not be overjoyed? They have spent the entirety of Biden’s administration attempting to correct what they perceive as government overreach. They have worked to restrict voting rights, civil rights, and immigrant rights. This is a road to political dominance by the minority party, the Republicans.
End-time Beliefs Nurture Populist Ideology
I argue that it is related to evangelical beliefs about the rapture and the role of Israel in their end-time ideology. A LifeWay Research poll conducted in September 2017 found that 80% of evangelicals believe that the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948 and migration of Jews there “were fulfillments of Bible prophecy that show we are getting closer to the return of Jesus Christ.”
For example, when then President Trump moved the U. S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the evangelical crowd swooned. This may mean more to the evangelicals than the end of Roe vs. Wade. Rev. John Hagee told Trump that “the moment you move [our embassy to Jerusalem] the moment that you do that, I believe that you will step into political immortality.”
And Rev. Robert Jeffress also prayed at the ceremony: “And I believe I speak for everyone of us when I say I thank you every day that you have given us a President who boldly stands on the right side of history but more importantly stands on the right side of you, O God, when it comes to Israel.
When you have America’s most powerful Christian Zionist and America’s most dedicated rapture believer offering the invocation and the benediction at the dedication of the U. S. Embassy in Jerusalem, know that all evangelical eyes are on Israel.
A thorny question arises: How do evangelicals feel about Benjamin Netanyahu moving to turn Israeli government into a dictatorship by reducing the power of the Supreme Court? Netanyahu the populist politician has aligned himself with all the far-right parties in Israel. The shadows of Putin, Erdogan, Orbán, and Trump hang over Israel.
Populism in Israel and the USA
Populism stands on two strong legs: The “people” and “enemies.” The “people” are rendered as ordinary, simple, honest, hard-working, God-fearing, righteous, and true Israelis. The “enemies” are variously described as anyone attempting to destroy the “people” and their vision of the nation. People and enemies are required for a populist demagogue to rule without impediment. Populism breeds demagogues.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s populist ideology, anchored in the notion that he embodies the genuine and morally upright voice of the Jewish people in Israel, fuels his resolve to confront institutions that hinder his government’s agenda. From his perspective, entities such as the judiciary that intervene and obstruct the realization of the people’s will become subjects of his critique and endeavors to undermine their autonomy.
Netanyahu’s populism is a gendered performance with close kinship with Putin, Erdogan, Orbán, and Trump. He projects a right-wing populism that hides much of its political program in an ostentatious masculine posturing that has the virtue of being relatively malleable. Like Trump, he projects a strong man mentality that suggests that he is the only person who can be trusted with his nation’s future.
Danger Anywhere Is Danger Everywhere
We should care about what is happening in the politics of Israel because right-wing populism anywhere is dangerous everywhere. Our own ex-president attacks the basic institutions of democracy in every Truth Social post and speech. He demeans the press as “fake” instead of “free.” He attacks the Justice Department, the presidency, the courts, and the judges. His allies attack our schools. Trump attacks the heart and soul of American capitalism: “Big Tech.” In his January 6, 2020 incendiary speech at the Capitol, Trump said, “The media is the biggest problem we have as far as I’m concerned, single biggest problem. The fake news and the Big tech.”
The Trump-era Republican Party shares a temperamental and ideological outlook that mirrors Netanyahu’s strongman brand of conservatism. And the GOP empathizes with harder line policies toward voting rights. Republicans in Congress have made efforts to take the final decisions in elections and put the power in the hands of Congress. They make repeated laws to dictate what can’t be taught in public schools by banning books and screaming “Wokeness.”
Watching Netanyahu in action is like watching Trump. The Israeli leader strongarms his own response to his legal problems. With control of the legislature and the Supreme Court, Netanyahu can make all his legal problems disappear. Our own scandal-prone former US president would love this kind of undiluted power.
Our concern should move to the next level because Christian Zionists in Israel support judicial overhaul. A Christian Zionist prayer makes clear the aim: “Pray for strength and unity among those who fear God in Israel to enact new laws that can limit the undemocratic influence of the Supreme Court.” John Enarson, in “Christian Zionists Have Long Supported Judicial Reform in Israel,” says “Christian Zionists have long been critics of the Israeli Supreme court and supporters of judicial reform in Israel.” These biblical literalists who desire the biblical restoration of Israel (including the laws of Leviticus), have a verse for their desire: “ou shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements that Hashem your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice.”
How Dangerous Is Israel’s New Law to the USA?
Tom Friedman has gone so far as to publish an open letter in the New York Times to President Biden: “If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues trying to ram through a bill that would strip Israel’s Supreme Court of its most important legal authority — to check extreme appointments or decisions of Israel’s political echelon — and do so without a semblance of national consensus, it will fracture Israel’s military and undermine not only shared values between the U.S. and Israel but also vital U.S. interests.”
Of course, evangelicals cheer the developments in Israel. The vision of President Trump becoming president for life and ruling as an autocrat fills their hearts with sheer joy.
The rest of us are filled with sheer determination not to allow the undermining of the foundations of democracy. The danger of Trump copying Netanyahu’s populist power grab should not be ignored. The not-so-subtle evangelicals supporting Trump talk out of one side of the mouth about the “rapture” as the end of the world. Out of the other side, they are whispering power, autocratic control, fascism. People who say they love Jews but pray for the rapture are dangerous politicians. They embrace the novel idea of evangelicals saying they “love” gays while attempting to destroy gay rights to life. Danger! Danger! Danger everywhere!