Praising Israel-UAE deal, Trump points to influence of evangelicals

Trump’s focus on the domestic implications of the Israel-United Arab Emirates deal points up the importance of religious conservatives to his strategy in the general election campaign.

President Donald Trump, accompanied by, from left, U.S. special envoy for Iran Brian Hook; Avraham Berkowitz, assistant to the president and special representative for international negotiations; U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman; President Donald Trump’s White House senior adviser Jared Kushner; and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, smiles in the Oval Office at the White House on Aug. 12, 2020, in Washington. Trump said on Thursday that the United Arab Emirates and Israel have agreed to establish full diplomatic ties as part of a deal to halt the annexation of occupied land sought by the Palestinians for their future state. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (RNS) — The recent U.S.-brokered agreement to normalize relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates has been lauded by some of President Donald Trump’s detractors as a breakthrough that could reconfigure relations in the Middle East and redeem three years of diplomatic efforts of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

But Monday morning (Aug. 17), Trump himself appeared to be concerned with acknowledging the influence of some of his greatest supporters: American evangelical Christians.

“It’s an incredible thing for Israel, (and) it’s incredible for the evangelicals, by the way,” Trump told “Fox and Friends.” “The evangelicals love Israel. Love Israel.”

Trump’s focus on the domestic implications of the Israel-United Arab Emirates deal signals the importance of religious conservatives to his general election strategy as the Democratic and Republican conventions convene over the next two weeks. 

RELATED: How the White House is courting evangelicals on its Israeli-Palestinian peace plan

At a rally in Mankato, Minnesota, later on Monday, he again invoked religion, framing the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as a test from God.

“You know what that is?” Trump said, referring to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. “That’s right. That’s God testing me. He said, ‘You know, you did it once.’ And I said, ‘Did I do a great job, God? I’m the only one that could do it.’ He said, ‘That, you shouldn’t say. Now we’re going to have you do it again.’”

Tel Aviv City Hall is lit up with the flag of the United Arab Emirates as the United Arab Emirates and Israel announced Aug. 13, 2020, in Tev Aviv, Israel, that they would be establishing full diplomatic ties. In a nationally broadcast statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the “full and official peace” with the United Arab Emirates would lead to cooperation in many spheres between the countries and a “wonderful future” for citizens of both countries. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Many evangelical Christians were quick to celebrate the agreement as the deal was announced over the weekend.

Johnnie Moore, a de facto spokesman for Trump’s informal band of evangelical advisers, praised the “Abraham Accords” — a  reference to the shared association with the religious figure Abraham in Jewish, Muslim and Christian traditions.

“Evangelicals are elated,” Moore, who also serves as a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said in a statement. “For years, our community has worked and prayed for peace between the United Arab Emirates, its neighbors and Israel.”

Moore called the deal a “once-in-a-generation diplomatic achievement” that thrilled his fellow faithful.

The Rev. Franklin Graham, a longtime Trump supporter and a son of famous evangelist the Rev. Billy Graham, tweeted that he was “grateful (Trump) knows the importance of working for peace.”

“The Bible tells us to strive for peace, to pray for peace, and to ‘… Seek peace and pursue it,’” he said.

According to a 2019 Pew Research survey, evangelical Protestants are far more likely (at 72%) than U.S. Jews (47%) to say that Trump is striking the “right balance” between the Israelis and Palestinians. Conversely, U.S. Jews are more likely than any other major religious group polled other than the religiously unaffiliated to say that Trump is favoring the Israelis “too much” (42%), compared with only 15% of evangelicals who say the same.

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