The English scientist Michael Faraday is worth quoting as Gospel while taking in “‘Til Kingdom Come,” a new Israeli-made documentary.
“There’s nothing quite as frightening as someone who knows they are right.”
The film is about the unsettling alliance between that country’s far right, its West Bank “settler” movement and their dear leader, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, and American evangelical Christians –conservative, mostly-rural, largely Southern “fundamentalists.”
As director/interviewer Maya Zinshtein travels and talks with pastors, lobbyists, Trump “evangelical advisory board” folk and assorted right wing Israelis lobbying Washington or fund-raising for The Fellowship of Christians and Jews, you never heard so many dead-certain-they-are-right zealots in all your life.
When Pastor Boyd Bingham IV sits down with a Palestinian Christian Pastor Naim Khoury of First Baptist Church in Bethlehem, he hears concerns like “When evangelicals look at the West Bank, they look at the land as ’empty.’ They simply ignore the continuing occupation of the Palestinian people.”
After leaving Pastor Khoury’s church Bingham — in line to inherit the family business the way his daddy inherited Binghamton Baptist from his daddy — spits out “There’s no such thing as a ‘Palestinian.'”
He’s sure of it. Biblically sure. We’ve already seen him out in the woods, taking target practice with his assault rifle. We’ve heard that “Trump spoke to people like me,” rural people who “felt looked down on” by America at large. And we’ve listened in during his “indoctrination (his word)” of Sunday school kids at his daddy’s church, where they learn of Israel’s importance and that “Their people, the Jews, are better than all of us. And you need to accept that.”
And at that moment, with an Evangelical pastor of a Baptist church in the city where Jesus was born, reaching out and trying to turn a heart towards tolerance and light, we see the scale of the problem Zinshtein is pointing out.
Armed New Testament literalists have allied themselves with the most fascist government in Israel’s history, and are spending money they don’t have — judging by the intense poverty of Middlesboro and Bell County, Kentucky — to support that government and its increasingly belligerent policies. They’re doing this by donating to the The Fellowship of Christians and Jews, another quasi-religious/totally political “family business” recently passed down from its founder, Rabbi Yehiel Eckstein, to his daughter Yael.
Zinshtein takes us from Middlesboro to Jerusalem, the Dead Sea to D.C. and a Beverly Hills gala for the Friends of Israel Defense Forces, one of the beneficiaries of this “fellowship” between right wing Christians and Israelis willing to take their money and use their political clout.
We see the endless parade of Fellowship of Christians and Jews commercials, and a TV sampling of sometimes-incendiary “end times” and “Rapture” rhetoric from Southern pulpits, especially that of Texas Pastor John Hagee. We sit in on Trump era lobbying efforts by displace-the-Palestinians-with-more-‘Settlements activists like Yossi Dagan.
Pat Robertson happily sits down for a chat about his role in providing the seed money for The Fellowship of Christians and Jews via his televised “700 Club” in the 1980s, because despite asking sometimes tough questions about “hypocrisy” in this alliance, Zinshtein is unfailingly polite.
And in occasional candid moments, Yael Eckstein admits being conflicted by aligning Israel with people who, as we see repeatedly, are watching world news to “translate geopolitical reality through the lens of prophecy,” and sound eager for the End Times to arrive.
“God is watching every missile!” as one Hellfire and brimstone preacher bellows.
“Is there an elephant in the room?” Eckstein wonders. “Yeah.”
If Jews are in for “seven years of torment” and slaughter according to fundamentalist interpretations of The Book of Revelations, and evangelicals are hellbent on bringing that about, maybe pushing to get Trump to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem won’t just lead to Palestinians deaths (58 in the days right after that embassy opened in 2018).
If a corner of Christianity that only recently shed open, braying anti-Semitism says it’s your friend, coopts your menorah and Star of David and insists it knows what’s best for you, perhaps taking a step back from the brink is the smart play.
There’s too little push-back provided here, a few Palestinians, former U.S. official Lara Friedman of the Foundation for Middle East Peace saying “I don’t think Israelis appreciate the bargain they’ve made.”
But Zinshtein covers enough of the bases and gives all those she interviews the screen time to speak their truth. And if they’re a gun nut, grievance-wielding pastor who is sure he’s not the crackpot he comes off as here, merely “right,” we all ought to be worried. Dogmatic cranks shouldn’t be setting dark, confrontational policies when their fondest hope is that they’re self-fulfilling.
Cast: Yael Eckstein, Pat Robertson, Pastor John Hagee, Lara Friedman, Rev. Johnnie Moore, Yossi Dagan, Pastor Boyd Bingham IV
Credits: Directed by Maya Zinshtein, script by Mark Monroe. An Abramorama release.
Running time: 1:17