Israel may have become a punching bag for much of the world, but 50 million Americans back the Jewish state 100 percent, no ifs, buts or maybes.
As portrayed in the striking documentary “Waiting for Armageddon,” these supporters are Christian Evangelicals who are neither rural hicks nor ranting fanatics.
What they hold in common is an unshakeable faith that every inch of Israel/Palestine belongs to the Jews. “They want the Muslims to be evicted by the Jews, the Jews to rebuild the Temple of Solomon and then Christ to return and trump everyone,” one analyst explains in the film.
The action-backed beliefs of the Evangelicals confront most American Jews with a dilemma. They applaud the unstinting financial support to Israel from the Evangelical community, about $75 million annually, and even more its political clout and lobbying on behalf of the Jewish state.
But, the support comes with a theological price tag. At the end of days, after the final battle between good and evil on the plains of Megiddo in northern Israel, they believe, the Jews will either see the light and accept Jesus Christ, or die.
“When we first discussed the film, we agreed that we didn’t want a Michael Moore diatribe,” said David Heilbroner. “We embarked on this as an open-minded journey, without preconceptions.”
Heilbroner joined forces with two other documentary filmmakers, Kate Davis and Franco Sacchi, in directing, producing and shooting “Armageddon,” after they discovered that each had planned independently to deal with the topic.
As the filmmakers started in-depth interviews with Evangelical leaders and families and joined them on a pilgrimage to Israel, a clearer picture emerged, which is revealed in the final product.
“We found the Evangelicals to be well-educated and intelligent people, not the anti-science fanatics often portrayed,” said Heilbroner, son of a Jewish father and Christian mother.
On the other side, he noted that many Israelis and Diaspora Jews are not fully aware of the ultimate theological price attached to Evangelicals’ unswerving support of Israel.
Nothing in the film is as startling as the utter calmness and precision with which Laura Bagg, who with her husband James works as an engineer at a Connecticut jet propulsion facility, lays out the scenario.
First comes the Rapture, in which all who believe in Christ will be snatched up to heaven in one sixty-fourth of a second. Exactly 144,000 Jews will save themselves on the spot by accepting Christ, but the rest will perish, she says.
The Rapture may occur at any moment, a prospect anticipated with joy by Tony and Devonna Edwards of Oklahoma, but less so by their teenage daughter, Kristin.
Moving up suddenly beyond the clouds seems OK for her grandparents, but Kristin had hoped to be married and have children, she explained somewhat plaintively.
Next come seven years of Tribulations, with catastrophes and horrors to make all previous wars and natural disasters pale in comparison.
Ultimately, all the world’s armies converge at Armageddon, and “blood will rise as high as a horse’s bridle,” Laura Bagg notes quietly, culminating in the reign of Christ and 1,000 years of peace and harmony.
However, the forerunner for all these pre-ordained events is the return of the Jews to their homeland. To that end, Evangelicals celebrated the victories of 1948 and 1967 as joyously as any Jews, foreseeing destruction of the Dome of the Rock and other Muslim holy places, the building of the Third Temple and continuing turmoil in the Middle East.
“You see, it’s all God’s plan, and it all centers around Israel,” James Bagg declares.
From the modern Jewish perspective, the case is summarized by Israeli historian Gershom Gorenberg, who observes, “Our Christian friends say to the Jews, ‘We love you, but you must cease being Jews, you must give up what is most central to you.’”
In pre-screenings, “Armageddon” encountered warm receptions by Evangelical audiences.
Jewish viewers were more contentious, reflecting a continuing split in the community’s attitudes toward Evangelicals, with “pragmatists,” including most Israeli leaders, arguing that powerful Christian support is needed now, and let the ultimate future take care of itself.
Many other Jews, however, view the prospect of being loved to the point of extinction with considerable foreboding.
“Waiting for Armageddon” opens Feb. 10 at the Downtown Independent Theater, 251 S. Main St., Los Angeles. (213) 617-1033.