By DANIEL K. EISENBUD (The Jerusalem Post)
Over 30 years ago, Dr. Mike Evans – a devout American-Christian Zionist leader, multiple New York Times best-selling author and renowned Middle East expert – struck an unlikely yet powerful and enduring friendship with then-prime minister Menachem Begin. That friendship transformed the relationship between Evangelical Christians and the State of Israel forever.
“He asked me why I came to Israel,” Evans says of his first meeting with Begin in 1979. “At first I couldn’t answer him. A couple days later, I knew the answer.”
Evans was in the country recently to announce the acquisition of the Christian Zionism Heritage Center’s new headquarters in the heart of Jerusalem, 32 years after Begin agreed to help him build a world center for Christian Zionism. Speaking to The Jerusalem Post at the David Citadel Hotel during his visit, he recalls being introduced to Begin through his first Israeli friend, University of Haifa founder Dr. Reuben Hecht, shortly after attending a Babylonian art exhibition Hecht had hosted in Haifa.
“At the exhibition I asked [Hecht] a political question: ‘If Israel is weakened, will not the terrorists come to the West?’ And he said, ‘This is a lecture on Babylonian art. I’ll talk to you later.’” When the exhibition concluded, Hecht invited Evans, who was unaware that the former was a senior adviser to Begin, to join him in his nearby office to continue the conversation. During that first meeting, Evans shared his haunting vision of a world with a weakened Israel, which he subsequently articulated in his book Israel: America’s Key to Survival.
Following that meeting, Evans says, Hecht quickly became his dearest friend and mentor and opened uncommon channels of power to him, including the ear and friendship of Begin, former Mossad director Isser Harel and a young Binyamin Netanyahu.
Recounting a story he told in a Post op-ed last year, Evans, who is well over six-feet tall and speaks in a calm, measured tone, recalls how the day following his first meeting with Begin, he was moved to visit the Netanyahu family after reading about Yonatan Netanyahu’s heroic death in Uganda during the Entebbe rescue mission. To his surprise, he says, they invited him in for tea, and he encountered “a very depressed young man, who turned out to be Bibi.”
Evans claims he asked Binyamin whether he could pray for him, and following his reluctant agreement, took Netanyahu’s hands and declared in tears, “Jonathan in the Bible loved David. You loved Jonathan. Out of the ashes of your despair will come strength from God, and you will be the prime minister twice” – a pronouncement that, he says, left Netanyahu and his father perplexed, if not aggravated.
Still, shortly after that prayer, Evans says he had an epiphany, and politely excused himself from the Netanyahu home to answer Begin’s initial question about his motivation for coming to Israel.
“I made a call to Reuben to ask if I could meet with Begin again the next day because I knew why I came. Begin took the meeting, and this time when he asked me, ‘Why did you come?’ I said, ‘To build a bridge.’” He says Begin initially laughed, saying sarcastically, “You want to build the Brooklyn Bridge?” Evans replied, “No, to build a bridge between Christian Zionists who believe in the Bible and the Jewish people. A bridge of light.”
“Lovely,” Begin said. “I get it. Let’s build a bridge together.”
“That was how we began,” says Evans. “He was the bridge-builder and I was his assistant. That’s how modern Christian Zionism was birthed – through Menachem Begin. He is father of the modern Christian Zionist movement.”
At the end of that groundbreaking meeting, Evans says he also told Begin about his vision of Binyamin Netanyahu one day becoming prime minister.
Evans says Begin then turned seriously to Hecht, who was also in the meeting, and asked him what he thought of the prediction. Hecht, who knew of Netanyahu, replied, “He’s a good young man.”
Begin then told Hecht to have dinner with Netanyahu.
“If you feel he is good, then give him a position,” the prime minister said.
Hecht indeed had dinner with Netanyahu soon after, and subsequently gave him a position under Moshe Arens, then Israel’s ambassador at the US Embassy in Washington, DC. And despite the unusual nature of their first encounter, Evans and Netanyahu went on to become good friends.
“I never told Bibi, for over 20 years, that I asked [for his appointment],” says Evans. “Then one day while he was in Chicago at the Omni Hotel, he called me up and said, ‘I want you to come have lunch with me in my suite. Ask for Mr. Black.’ “I came, and he said: ‘Mike, don’t lie to me. Did you ask Begin to give me a position in the government?’ “I said yes. And he said: ‘I don’t know if I should kiss you, or kick you in the rear.’” Netanyahu could not be reached for comment to confirm or deny Evans’ version of events. However, it is easy to assume from photos that the two have indeed had a close relationship over the past 30 years.
IF EVANS’S foray into Israeli politics was unlikely, his introduction, and ultimate embracement, as one of the world’s most respected Christian Zionist leaders was even more improbable.
Michael David Evans was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, on June 30, 1947, to a non-practicing Jewish mother, Jeana Levin, whose parents had emigrated from the former Soviet Union, and a verbally and physically abusive, anti-Semitic and alcoholic Christian father, Robert.
“My mother came from an Orthodox background, and my father was an anti-Semite. My father hated Jews,” says Evans.
Of their marriage, he explains: “She was young, he was handsome. She was a waitress, they fell in love and got married and began having children. Eventually she woke up, to her horror, to realize that she had married a Jew-hater. He despised Jews and couldn’t say enough bad things about them. And he was obsessed that my mother had an affair with a Jewish man.”
Indeed, after seven children, Evans says, his father’s vitriol toward Jews peaked when he became convinced that Mike, the eldest, had been conceived through an affair with a Jewish man.
“On Friday nights he would come home drunk from the Twilight Café, and he was an angry drunk,” he says of his father. “He would sit her in a chair and beat her up, and say: ‘Tell me about this affair you’re having with this Jewish man! And about that bastard upstairs!’ “He thought that I wasn’t his son. So I would sit on top of the stairs crying, watching my mother get hit in the face because of me. She wore sunglasses most of my life because of the black eyes.”
Despite the intolerable abuse, Evans says his mother refused to leave his father, most likely because of her children and having no source of income. Meanwhile, his father attended church every Sunday, carried a Bible and even printed the Ten Commandments on the back of his business cards.
As a result, Jeana taught her son to distrust Christians.
“She didn’t like Christians. The first time I heard about Jesus, I was watching cartoons and Billy Graham came on and my mother ran over and said, ‘Don’t ever watch this! Christians hate Jews. Christians kill Jews. Jesus died, don’t dig him up.’” To Evans’s shock, his mother later conveyed to him that his grandfather had been a rabbi in Minsk who was nearly murdered when a group of Christians attempted to burn down his synagogue as they accused him and his congregants of being “Christ killers.”
His maternal relatives went on to escape to Germany, but ended up in Auschwitz, says Evans.
Further exacerbating his abusive home life – and profound confusion about his identity – were incessant taunts and attacks by anti-Semitic members of his largely Catholic Springfield community.
“My mother didn’t drive, and I was the oldest son, so I pushed her grocery cart every Friday night to the local A&P. And when we’d go up the hill, people would drive by on bicycles and cars and throw eggs and tomatoes at her, calling her a ‘Jew witch.’ Our home was spray-painted several times with the words ‘Jew witch’ and ‘kike.’ I remember the first time I got beat up in school for being a ‘kike,’ and when I came home I asked my mother, ‘Why did they beat me up? I don’t even have a kite.’” He says the ongoing abuse conditioned him to dislike, and distrust, Christianity as well as Christians.
“I understood my mother, and I didn’t have any respect for Christianity because I saw my mother’s perspective, and I saw my father’s unspeakable hatred. So this put me in a very difficult position as a human being,” he says.
At the age of 11, following the most brutal beating he had ever received at his father’s hands, he says he finally found the faith that has since sustained him emotionally and spiritually.
Upon attempting to protect his mother during one of his father’s violent drunken rages, Evans says his father lifted him above his head and strangled him, nearly choking him to death. He recalls losing consciousness and waking up in a pool of his own dried vomit.
“Here I was in a dark room covered in my own vomit in the fetal position after I woke up from my father’s attempt to strangle me. I could see death – I could see the hatred when my feet were way off the ground. He wasn’t just strangling a child, he was strangling a Jew.”
When he regained consciousness, Evans says, he made his first prayer.
“I cried, and it wasn’t holy,” he says of the prayer. “I didn’t believe in God. I certainly didn’t believe in Christianity. My father was the only Christian I knew, and I had no respect for any of that stuff.”
Believing he was the cause of his father’s beating him and his mother, Evans says, he asked God why he had been born.
“I didn’t see a purpose for my life,” he recalls.
But shortly after that prayer, Evans claims he had a vision and saw the incarnation of Jesus Christ standing before him.
“It was so bright that I couldn’t see.
And I put my hands over my eyes, and all of a sudden I peeked. The first thing I thought was that I saw my father – that he must have a spotlight and he’s going to finish the job. So I was getting ready to dive under the bed to protect myself when I saw two hands stretching forth towards me with nail scars in them. And this was the last thing I expected to see.
“The first word he said was ‘Son.’ I had never heard anyone call me son. My mother loved me, but she didn’t call me son. Then he said, ‘I love you.’ I had never heard the words ‘I love you.’ And the third thing he said was, ‘I have a great plan for your life.’… It was like a lifeline for a drowning boy.”
While the vision could have been the result of his near-death experience at his father’s hands, the outcome of it cannot be refuted: his unwavering love and support for Israel for nearly 40 years.
Indeed, he says his life was forever changed after this experience, adding that the awakening of his faith propelled him to believe in the Scriptures – and to think of Israel as a metaphor for his mother, whom he could not protect as a boy.
“The reason I eventually went to Israel is because I could never defend my mother,” he explains. “My father was too big and strong. I could never defend her, and the day I tried to was the day he strangled me. So I never realized what was driving me to want to defend Israel. Israel became my mother.”
His wife of 42 years, Carolyn, whom he describes as a “typical Evangelical Christian who grew up in Sunday school,” was “the first person who believed in me on Earth, and she still does,” he says.
The couple went on to raise four children in Evans’s adopted home state of Texas, who have gone on to have eight children of their own.
Asked whether he considers himself Jewish or Christian, he says he was initially conflicted about the answer, as he considers himself a Jew who believes in Jesus. He says he was embarrassed to tell Begin about his mixed faith.
“I was a little fearful of [telling my religious beliefs to] Menachem Begin, because I thought, he’s probably going to be embarrassed by me. But he said to me, ‘Don’t be embarrassed. You are a Jew.’ “I said, ‘But this could be a problem for you. I also believe in Jesus.’ “He replied, ‘Look, I believe in the Messiah, too. The only difference is that you know his name and I don’t. Why is it such a big difference between us?’” Evans recalls with a laugh.
In 1979, when Begin said he wanted to endorse Israel: America’s Key to Survival, Evans says he initially refused.
“I said, ‘No! Don’t do it!’ “Begin said, ‘Why not?’ [I said,] because people will criticize you because I believe in Jesus. And besides, there may be things in the book that may embarrass you.”
To this, Evans says Begin responded, “Don’t worry about it. I’m a short prime minister. If I stand on top of newspapers it makes me taller. Besides, today’s news is wrapped in tomorrow’s fish.”
The prime minister went on to endorse the book.
Of his one-time insecurity about his faith, Evans says, “Menachem Begin is the first person who encouraged me to stop apologizing for being a Jew and a Christian. He’d say, ‘You’re a Jew, but you’re a Christian.’ So it’s fine.”
He says he is now at peace with the dichotomy.
“I’m very, very honored and privileged to have a Jewish mother. And everybody that’s a friend of mine in Israel – and I have hundreds of friends here – considers me to be a Jew. So I say that I’m a Christian, because that’s my faith.”
WITH OVER 23 million copies of his books defending Israel in print, 72 visits to the country he loves, and countless senior advisory positions to leading Israeli and Middle Eastern politicians, Evans has gone on to become one of the world’s most formidable Christian Zionists and Middle East experts.
“I have met all the cabinet ministers during the Shah’s reign, and the vast majority of the present leaders many times,” he says. “I am the only Zionist and Jew to sit in a room with [Iranian President] Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I’ve interviewed him. I have arranged an exclusive interview with the Fox News network with him. Four years in a row, I have met with virtually every Iranian leader in New York City, including the [Iranian] foreign minister. They know I’m a Jew and a Zionist, and yet they would meet with me because all my fear is gone.”
Indeed, despite numerous death threats against himself and his family from Aryan organizations and other groups around the world who deplore his support of Israel, Evans remains among the world’s most vocal and impassioned advocates for the country – going so far as challenging former PLO leader Yasser Arafat in person to denounce terrorism in 1988 at the 43rd UN General Assembly.
During a press conference with Arafat at the time of the General Assembly, Evans famously stood holding a copy of the PLO Covenant and said to Arafat: “If you denounce terrorism, then denounce this. This document calls for the destruction of the Jewish people.”
To this, Arafat replied, “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! What do I have to do to make you shut up? Do a strip tease for you?” Evans recalls with a smile.
In spite of the threats against his safety, Evans says he will never stop fighting for this country.
“It has been my life defending this nation for 40 years,” he says.
WITH THE recent release of his 37th book, a novel titled The Candidate, he imagines the realization of a modern-day Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Asked the secret behind the success of his writing, Evans, who wrote the best-seller Beyond Iraq: The Final Move in 2007 in just seven days, claims he envisions each book before writing a single word.
“Before I wrote, I could see the entire book inside of me,” he says. “I was pregnant with the books. It was almost as if it had already been written and I could see it all in my mind. And I found out that that’s how books are with me.”
Despite authoring dozens of acclaimed books – and donating all the proceeds to groups defending Israel – Evans says his proudest achievement is the recent acquisition and opening of The Christian Zionism Heritage Center’s new headquarters in the heart of Jerusalem, to honor righteous gentiles. The sprawling, multi-million-dollar complex is completely renovated and stands on some of the capital’s most prime real estate.
“I truly believe that its opening is the day that God has been preparing me for almost 40 years,” he says. “It’s the biggest step of faith I’ve ever taken, but I’m delighted to do it. I believe the center will leave God’s footprints here long after I’m gone.
“Christians have been embarrassed over the evil done to Jews through history. Now they can have something to be proud of,” he adds. “I think Israel’s best days are to come. Israel is in an amazing and unique position. When I began, it was Israel that was the only deterrent to communism in the Middle East. It is still so. The future days are extremely bright for this great country.”
Coming full circle, he cites his friendship with Begin as the foundation for strengthening him and the other 52 million American Evangelical Christians in continuing to empower Israel in its ongoing struggle.
“It is my greatest hope that the bridge I began building with Menachem Begin over 40 years ago only grows stronger,” he says.