Evangelical Christians are the largest humanitarian supporters of Israel, donating $129 million annually via the nonprofit International Fellowship of Christians and Jews to aid programs for the poor, elderly, new immigrants and others in need. But as the new documentary “’Til Kingdom Come” reveals, there’s an ulterior motive to this philanthropy. Evangelicals believe they have an obligation to support Israel because their faith dictates it must endure until the End Times: Armageddon, the Second Coming of Christ, and the Rapture of the faithful. There’s no room for Jews in this scenario. All non-believers will be destroyed.
Emmy Award-winning Israeli documentary filmmaker Maya Zinshtein (“Forever Pure”) turns her lens on this unholy alliance, showing how this symbiotic mutual exploitation shapes the destiny of millions of people by interviewing Evangelicals and Israeli leaders, Jewish settlers and the IFCJ’s Yael Eckstein, who chooses to ignore the ulterior motives of her biggest contributors for the financial and political benefits.
“I came across the story of the Evangelical influence on Israel after being asked to advise on another project where the Evangelicals were a small part of it. It drove me to start looking in this direction,” Zinshtein said. “I was stunned by the fact that this story was still very much unknown in Israel and at the same time it was very clear that the Jewish–Christian bond has a great influence on my daily life. It was summer 2017, the United States had a brand-new President–Trump–who was heavily backed by this community. It was clear that promises had been made during the campaign. I understood that the upcoming years. would be very interesting to follow and see how it evolves on the political level.
“I found the Christian-Jewish bond and its influence on our lives fascinating. I think this story was unexplored on the level of documentary filmmaking. This bond has direct implications on Israel and on the policy of the U.S. in the Middle East and I thought it would be crucial to bring it to light to be part of public discourse,” Zinshtein added. “In a more general perspective, the questions of church and state, the involvement of religion in today’s politics alongside my interest to understand the role that faith plays in people’s lives are the themes that are explored in the film.”
Asked whether she believes Evangelicals are anti-Semitic (and possibly white supremacists) beneath their professed love of Israel and whether Jews like Eckstein are making a deal with the devil in aligning with right-wing Christians whose stances on Black, LGBTQI and abortion rights leave a lot to be desired, Zinshtein had two points to convey.
“Firstly, there is danger in stereotyping an entire community, roughly a quarter of the U.S. population, with blanket statements such as white supremacists, or stances on Black rights. Evangelicals are not a monolith and there are nuances to political, sociological and theological aspects that are unique to each Evangelical community,” she said.
“Secondly, there is a common thread amongst most of the political movement of Evangelicals in the U.S. which is pro-life and has pushed against LGBTQI legislation in years past. The impact of this on Israel may not always be direct. But it is crucial for Jews working with Evangelicals to be aware of this aspect of their partnership and the real human values and rights where there can be conflict between the two ideologies,” she said. “When you are working with the Evangelical political movement you are ultimately signing on to their whole agenda.”
“When you are working with the Evangelical political movement you are ultimately signing on to their whole agenda”—Maya Zinshtein
As for Eckstein, “I don’t want to speak on her behalf but she is definitely aware of the core differences between the two faiths and clearly decided to put these core differences aside,” Zinshtein said. “For me personally, I would find these differences difficult to reconcile.”
Filming on “’Til Kingdom Come” began in March 2018 at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago at the annual Gala of the Fellowship of Christians and Jews. “The filming process took much longer than expected as the events on the political level kept evolving,” Zinshstein said. “Our last filming day was at the White House, in January 2020–just shy of two years from when started-at the announcement of the Deal of the Century,” Trump’s Middle East peace plan. Having met influential pastors and Jewish leaders at the gala, “It was very clear for us that this event was the exclamation mark for our journey and for the story that we were trying to tell.”
One of her biggest challenges was getting access to events, meetings and key players. “It was important for me to show their work rather than talk about it, to let them tell first-hand their own views and perspectives,” Zinshtein said. “As an outcome of this creative approach we also had great challenges at the editing process: to be able to tell a comprehensive narrative without voice-over narration. I was very lucky to have the strongest editing team as writer Mark Monroe, the editor Elan Golod and the supervising editor Geoffrey Richman put their combined efforts to bring this vision to life.”
Zinshtein, whose family emigrated from Russia to Israel when she was 10, felt like an outsider as a Jew in her former country, “even though we were a secular family,” she recalled. “I grew up in kibbutz Beit Hashita and Israel became my home that I love and care deeply about. As a child, my dream was to become an investigative journalist. I served in the IDF as an officer in the IDF spokesperson unit and then became a journalist. I discovered documentary filmmaking first as a producer and later as a director and decided that this is the way I want to tell meaningful stories that hopefully can bring a change.”
Her previous documentary “Forever Pure,” which followed the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team in the aftermath of acquiring two Muslim players, “succeeded to drive a real change at the club. For me, this is the reason why I want to keep telling stories.” She’s currently in early development on her next project, on which she’ll again collaborate with “’Til Kingdom Come” colleagues Abie Troen, John Battsek and Sarah Thomson. “We still can’t go public on the subject but it’s going to be a very timely project that we think will evolve in the upcoming years,” she said.
Reflecting on the future of the Evangelical-Israeli relationship, “I think this bond is here to stay,” Zinshtein said. “I’m sure that in the upcoming years it would be probably less effective on the political level, but elections happen in the U.S. every four years. I think this is exactly the time when this bond should be discussed and maybe some lessons will be learned. I hope the different communities that are affected of this story would start to have a conversation about the outcomes of the Christian-Jewish bond,” she added. “I hope this film will initiate a conversation within the Jewish community in the U.S. as I believe it has a major impact on the relationship between the American Jews and the state of Israel.”
“’Til Kingdom Come” opens Feb.26 at Laemmle Virtual Cinema.