Ever curious about the eschatological implications of that Sarah Palin quote from her interview with Barbara Walters -- the one in which she said she believes that "more and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead" -- I called the executive director of the Pre-Trib Research Center at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., Dr. Thomas Ice. The Pre-Trib Center is one of the preeminent evangelical institutions in this country arguing for literal Bible prophecy, and especially for pre-millenial dispensationalism, a complicated belief system that concerns the conditions that must obtain on Earth before Jesus can return ("Pre-Trib" is short for "pre-tribulation.") One of the more famous conditions, of course, is the ingathering of the Jewish people in Israel. There are hundreds of variations of Protestant prophetic belief, but the Jewish role is generally crucial; very dramatic things will happen to the Jews in these prophetic belief systems, including their conversion to Christianity and their mass death in the battle of Armageddon.
I've been writing about these belief systems for a while, and an alarm bell went off in my head when I heard Palin talk about "days and weeks." It's quite one thing to say that Israel needs settlements to contain its growing population (a belief unsupported by the facts, but I'll deal with that another time), but it's something else entirely to predict that Jews in the Diaspora will imminently be flooding the Holy Land. I asked Dr. Ice if he thought that this statement by Palin, who has been exposed to this brand of evangelical thinking in her Alaska churches, was informed by these beliefs.
"I've read that Palin has been part of an apparently unique movement I've heard of -- that her pastor, when she was in the Assembly of God, believed based on some personal revelation he claims to have gotten from God, that the Jews would move to Alaska during the Tribulation. But nevertheless, my understanding from what I've seen is that she holds fairly typical Protestant Zionist beliefs, and one of those beliefs is the regathering of the Jews in Israel."
Ice told me he believes this sort of thinking is supported by the facts. "Over forty percent of the world's Jews now live in Israel. What Sarah Palin probably believes is that this is the first regathering," when the Jews all migrate to Israel. "This is a condition for the second regathering, the regathering in belief, when the Jewish nation is converted. Then there will be the battle of Armageddon, because remember, Satan wants to wipe out the Jews to prevent the Second Coming, but Jesus comes to rescue the beleaguered Jews. We believe that the Jews are going to be converted so that they can call on Jesus to rescue them from Satan."
I asked Ice if he, like Palin, believes that in the days and weeks and months ahead, American Jews -- who make up the only sizable Jewish community still existing outside of Israel -- might move there, in order to establish the conditions necessary for the Second Coming. "The historical reason Jews move to Israel is persecution, so when persecution heats up in a country, then the Jews come to Israel," he said. "She may just have a general geopolitical belief that the world is going to be increasingly anti-Semitic."
But what about America? I asked. "In case you haven't noticed, America is becoming less Christian, more secular, and it's our Puritan roots that have kept this country from being anti-Semitic. But now look at the secular left, it's very anti-Semitic. Look at the people who are surrounding Obama. They're very anti-Semitic. Things aren't as bad as they are in Europe, but it's getting much worse." The worse it gets for Jews in America, of course, the closer we are to the Second Coming.
How common are these beliefs? I asked. "Fifty to sixty million people probably hold these beliefs," he said.