Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a pointedly religious speech Monday that sounded like he was rallying fellow Pro-Israel Christians around the inevitably of a U.S. confrontation with Iran.
Pompeo delivered his 2,000-plus word speech, titled “The U.S. and Israel: a Friendship for Freedom,” before a 5,000-plus gathering of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) in Washington, D.C. Led by founder and chairman John Hagee, the annual event also boasted speeches from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Vice President Pence, and National Security Advisor Ambassador John Bolton.
In other words, every member of Trump’s inner circle who has spent the last several weeks of escalating tensions banging the drums of war against Iran.
Members of CUFI, which calls itself the largest pro-Israel organization in the U.S., have been spending the early part of the week lobbying lawmakers on Capitol Hill. “Fourteen years ago, I invited 400 of America’s leading evangelicals to come to Cornerstone Church in San Antonio to give birth to CUFI. Today, by the grace of God, we are seven million-plus standing united in defense of Israel and the Jewish people,” Hagee told the crowd assembled in the cavernous Washington Convention Center.
Pompeo was clearly taking his case against Iran to Hagee’s faithful in his own remarks Monday, beginning with a brief history lesson on the modern state of Israel, and then asking the audience to “compare Israel’s reverence for liberty with the restrictions on religious freedom facing Christians and people of all faiths throughout the rest of the Middle East,” where “if a Muslim leaves Islam it is considered an apostasy, and it is punishable indeed by death.”
From lines like “can I get an amen?” to “this is what it must have looked like to be part of the crowd for the fishes and loaves,” Pompeo’s address was filled with religious metaphors that were right on cue for the massive Evangelical convocation.
“Christian support in America for Zion—for a Jewish homeland—runs back to the early Puritan settlers, and it has endured for centuries,” said Pompeo. “Indeed, our second president, a couple years back, said… ‘I really wish the Jews again in Judea an independent nation.'”
The speech was posted on the State Department website and emailed to all subscribers. With “Christians United for Israel” emblazoned behind him, Pompeo spoke in biblical language, invoking President Harry Truman’s support for the creation of the modern state of Israel after World War II:
No one—no one was more grateful for Truman’s brave decision than the Jewish people themselves. In 1949, Israel’s Chief Rabbi came to see President Truman. He told him, he said, ‘God put you in your mother’s womb so that you could be the instrument to bring about the rebirth of Israel after two thousand years.’ And as the story goes, tears filled the president’s eyes.
The Rabbi then opened the Bible and read the words of King Cyrus – a real friend to Israel. It was from the Book of Ezra. He read that ‘The Lord God of Heaven hath given me all the kindness of the earth; and he hath charged me to build Him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.’
It fills me with unending pride to know that American hands helped build the modern house of Israel.
Pompeo then pivots.
In Iraq, Syria, and other countries in the region, the last remnants of ancient Christian communities are at near-extinction because of persecution from ISIS and other malign actors. And just one example: before 2003, there were an estimated 1.5 million Christians living in Iraq. Today, sadly, almost a quarter of a million.
Pompeo doesn’t mention that the U.S. intervention in Iraq was the catalyst for the destruction of that country’s religious minorities.
Pledging that the Trump administration will ensure that “the flame of existence of Christians must not be snuffed out,” Pompeo then turns to religious persecution inside Iran. Not surprisingly, he makes no mention of the religious persecution taking place in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both U.S. allies and notorious human rights violators.
Persecution of the faithful is especially intense inside the Islamic Republic of Iran. The regime’s militant adherence to the noxious tenets of the Islamic Revolution dictates all elements of life – and especially the suppression of other faiths.
In Iran, if Muslims try to convert non-Muslims, the penal code calls for a death sentence.
The government does not recognize converts to Christianity. It levies beatings and solitary confinement on Christians caught worshiping in violation of government dictates.
Pompeo then mentions the 10-year prison sentences that were upheld last year against “four Iranian Christians who were ‘acting against national security’ by… ‘promoting Zionist Christianity’… and running house churches.”
“This is something we know in America,” said Pompeo, who added that authorities “raided their homes, beat them, and used electroshock weapons on them. They then threw them into Evin Prison – a regime dungeon inside of Tehran.”
It is nothing new that Iran has imprisoned Christians for years; but what does all this have to do with Israel?
Here’s where Pompeo stitches it all together:
A lot of people get spun up with the wrong ideas that American evangelicals want to impose a theocracy on America. I wish they would be concerned about the real theocratic takeover that has been happening in Iran for the last four decades. The ayatollahs have grievously deprived the Iranian people of that most basic, simple, fundamental right, their right to worship.
That same twisted, intolerant doctrine that fuels persecution inside Iran has also led the ayatollah and his cronies to cry out, quote, “death to Israel” for four decades now. This is similar to a cry that came out of Iran – then called Persia ‒ many, many years ago.
Pompeo then cites the Biblical book of Esther because it “teaches us about this.”
It was in the 5th century B.C. There was a wicked advisor named King Xerxes. A fellow named Haman hatched a plot to kill all the Jews in the Persian Empire. He secretly wrote letters with the king’s seal to all the provincial governors, ordering the people to rise up and attack the Jews. This edict, once issued, could not be revoked. But thanks to the courageous intervention of Queen Esther, who begged the king to show mercy to her people, Haman’s plot was exposed and the Jews were ultimately spared. Today this marks the Jewish holiday of Purim and it commemorates this amazing miracle.
There’s just one problem: Purim was celebrated on March 21, almost four months before Pompeo gave this speech to the Christians United for Israel. More so, Pompeo was actually with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the 2019 Purim holiday. In fact, the actual content of Netanyahu’s March speech is not much different from Pompeo’s July transcript. Netanyahu connects the Purim holiday and the persecution of Jews by the Persian Haman to “today, 2,500 years later, again Persians, led by Khamenei, are trying to destroy the Jewish people and the Jewish state. They are going to fail again.”
Similarly, Pompeo says that he “wanted to tell” the story of Esther for a few reasons, namely that “the Jews have had a target on their back in every era of history. And as the Book of Ecclesiastes says, ‘There is [indeed] nothing new under the sun.’ …We’ve cut off billions in funds that the Islamic Republic of Iran’s leadership would have used for various nefarious purposes, not the least of which would have been their efforts to destroy the state of Israel… under President Trump, the Israel haters such as Hamas and Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad receive far less blood money from Iran to pursue their terrorism than ever in recent history. President Trump has, too, maintained the $4 billion annual security assistance to Israel.”
“Our country is intended to do all it can, in cooperating with other nations, to help create peace and preserve peace [throughout] the world,” Pompeo concluded. “It is given to defend the spiritual values – the moral code – against the vast forces of evil that seek to destroy them.”
Barbara Boland is The American Conservative’s Foreign Policy and National Security Reporter. Follow her on Twitter @BBatDC