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March 24, 2021 5:25 pm

Did a Documentary Skewering Evangelical Support for Israel Manipulate a Presidential Speech?

avatar by Dexter Van Zile

Opinion

A worker on a crane hangs a US flag next to an Israeli flag near the site of the US Embassy in Jerusalem. Photo: Reuters / Ronen Zvulun.

On March 29, the second day of Passover and the first Monday of Holy Week for many Christians, PBS stations throughout the United States will showcase a well-received documentary produced and directed by Israeli filmmaker Maya Zinshtein.

The documentary clearly appears to include a false quote attributed to former President Donald Trump. The right thing for PBS to do would be, at the very least, to postpone the documentary, insist on the removal of the quote, and vet the rest of the film to make sure it does not include any other fabrications.

But will PBS do the right thing? The film skewers Israel, settlers in the West Bank, and Evangelical Protestants in the US — popular targets for the documentary’s supporters.

The film is titled “‘Til Kingdcom Come.” It’s a purported exposé about what Zinshtein has called an “unholy alliance” between Evangelical Christians in the United States and Jews living in the West Bank, AKA, “settlers.” By Zinshtein’s account, Evangelicals in the United States support Israel because of their commitment to dangerous end-time scenarios. As an Israeli, Zinshtein is bothered by these scenarios, and does not want her brother serving in the IDF fighting on behalf of people who believe in these scenarios.

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Zinshtein also believes that, acting in part to appeal to Evangelicals, the White House enacted dangerous policies such as moving the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, and by promoting an Israeli takeover of the West Bank. As it turns out, the embassy move was not the cataclysmic event that Palestinians and the anti-Israel press said it would be.

Still, that leaves the issue of the West Bank, which Zinshtein clearly believes was subjected to a possible Israeli takeover with the support of the administration. In an interview about the film that took place in early December of last year, Zinshtein stated that American Evangelicals and settlers thought they could achieve something political by working together, namely “having all the West Bank being kept […] in Israeli hands.”

The White House peace plan explicitly called for the establishment of a Palestinian state in all of Gaza and most of the West Bank, and even in parts of what is now considered Israel. And, of course, the administration used a freeze of possible Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank to secure the Abraham Accords.

The deception in question takes place more than an hour into the film, when it shows the former president speaking at a joint press conference in January 2020 with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In the film, the president is seen and heard saying, “The United States will recognize Israeli sovereignty over the territory that my vision provides to be part of the State of Israel, including the West Bank described so vividly in the Bible.”

A publicly available YouTube video of the press conference in question shows that he said something else entirely: “The United States will recognize Israeli sovereignty over the territory that my vision provides to be part of the State of Israel.”

In the president’s actual statement, there is nothing whatsoever about handing “the West Bank described so vividly in the Bible” over to Israel, although he did say some of these words in later in the press conference when he declared, “There are many Muslims who never visited Al Aqsa [Mosque] and many Christians and Jews who never visited the holy sites in the West Bank described so vividly in the Bible. My vision will change that. Our majestic biblical heritage will be able to live breathe and flourish in modern times. All humanity should be able to enjoy the glories of the Holy Land.”

In neither one of these phrases did the former president use the word “including.” This word seems to have come from another section of the press conference when he did use that word.

In an apparent effort to obscure the alteration, the film shows the president saying the first part of the quote, jumps away to show the audience reaction during the middle part of his statement, and then goes back to show him speaking the last section of the fabricated quote. In an era where computer technology can be used to create “deep fakes” that put words into the mouths of public figures, such behavior is a reprehensible breach of trust.

This fabrication serves Zinshtein’s a political agenda – proving that American Evangelicals, Israeli settlers and the White House supported dangerous policies in the Holy Land, that they are spoilers to the peace process. But the fact is, when it came time to tell her audience what one of those dangerous policies was, Zinshtein’s film misinformed her audience. There was no intent to hand all of the West Bank over to Israel.

There are other egregious problems with the film. It allows Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac, a Palestinian Christian, to posit a false equivalence between Christian and Jewish support for Israel with jihadism.

When it comes to confronting dangerous end-time scenarios, Zinshtein needs to look in the mirror. The embassy was moved to Jerusalem and the world did not end. And the belief that there was a policy to hand the West Bank over to the Israelis was a chimera that needed a falsified quote to “prove” its veracity.

PBS needs to go over this documentary with a fine-toothed comb before broadcasting it, and maybe should cancel it altogether. Just because it says all the “right” things about Israel, Evangelicals and settlers doesn’t mean it tells the truth.

Update, March 25, 2021, 10:58 pm: Following direct contact from CAMERA, PBS has stated the fabricated quote has been corrected in the documentary.

“We are glad to see the doctored quote addressed but concerned the remainder hasn’t been thoroughly reviewed,” said Andrea Levin, CAMERA’s executive director. “If the producers would go to such extreme lengths to falsify their film in service to the message what else have they done?”

Second update, March 26, 2021, 3:14 pm: In response to communication from CAMERA, PBS notified our senior staff on March 26 that it will postpone PBS’s broadcast of “’Til Kingdom Come” while an independent review of the documentary is conducted. CAMERA commends PBS for taking seriously concerns about the film’s editorial integrity.

Dexter Van Zile is Shillman Research Fellow for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. His opinions are his own.

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