Meet the best-selling Israeli author that few Israelis have heard of
Joel Rosenberg writes fast-paced, page-turning political thrillers that he hopes will sway U.S. foreign policy and prevent the next terror attack
Joel Rosenberg’s 17 novels have collectively sold close to 5 million copies worldwide. His fans include former U.S. presidents such as George W. Bush and Donald Trump, as well as top officials including former Vice President Mike Pence and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who, this week on Twitter, endorsed Rosenberg’s newest novel, The Libyan Diversion, which is already ranked No. 1 in its genre in Amazon’s Kindle store.
In the Middle East, Rosenberg has also experienced success, receiving invitations to the palaces of Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, both of whom had much to say about his wildly popular political thrillers that are often set in the region and inspired by — and sometimes even predict — real events.
Yet, despite being among Israel’s most successful writers, few in the country have heard of Rosenberg. The main reason? His readers are predominantly English-speaking evangelical Christians — such as Pence and Pompeo — not Hebrew-speaking Israeli Jews.
Since his first novel, The Last Jihad, was published two decades ago, the 55-year-old has focused his work, which also includes the news website All Israel News, on the English-speaking evangelical community, mainly in the U.S. — an audience of a mere 60 million people.
An evangelical Christian himself, Rosenberg, whose father was born Jewish, is one of some 35,000-40,000 evangelical citizens of Israel. He told Jewish Insider, “I’ve just never had a deal to translate the books into Hebrew, even though it would be fun. It is such a small market anyway, that we haven’t made it a priority.”
Official Israeli government statistics show that about 2% of the population describes themselves as Christians — an umbrella for, among others, Orthodox, Roman Catholic and evangelical streams. It’s a tiny community, especially when contrasted with the 2 billion or so Christians, including 600 million evangelicals, worldwide.
“In the context of the United States, we’re very sizable and prominent both culturally and politically,” said Rosenberg. “And when you’ve got a president who is listening to evangelical leaders, and very prominent evangelicals influencing policy, then evangelicalism becomes a major topic in the Middle East.”
According to Rosenberg, who also describes himself as a communications strategist and a nonprofit executive – he is the founder of an educational nonprofit called The Joshua Fund — the Middle East, and particularly Israel, is also a major topic for the U.S. He believes that it not only drives America’s foreign policy but also plays a major role in American politics.
Following a visit to Jerusalem last month by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to announce his presidential campaign next week, Rosenberg – one of the few journalists permitted to ask him a question during a press event — tweeted to some 50,000 followers: “The @GovRonDeSantis Jerusalem blitz proves ‘Israel is the new Iowa’ — no serious GOP presidential contender in 2024 can skip visiting the Jewish state. Both Evangelical and Jewish Republicans demand nominee has super-pro-Israel credentials.”
The centrality of events in the region and their resonance in the U.S. are very much issues that inspire Rosenberg’s novels, the author told JI. It is also the reason why many of his books involve intricate plots featuring Islamist terrorists attacking the U.S. or its allies, and brave American heroes who save the day.
For example, in The Libyan Diversion, the fifth book in what has become known as the ‘Marcus Ryker series,’ Rosenberg’s long-running character, a retired CIA agent, is called back into service to retrace his steps and make sure that arch-terrorist Abu Nakba – a man responsible for lethal attacks in Washington, D.C., London and Jerusalem – is really dead.
Just like in his previous works, Rosenberg unfurls a tale of good versus evil as he takes the reader on a page-turning journey through Russia, Iran and Turkey. At the same time, he raises what he sees as critical questions about U.S. national security, writing about what he sees as catastrophic weaknesses along the country’s U.S.-Mexico border and the current administration’s failure to “understand that a highly dangerous alliance is emerging between Moscow, Tehran and Ankara that could have chilling implications not just for the U.S. but for Israel and our Arab allies in the Middle East.”
“Where do I get my ideas? The simple answer is that I study evil people and evil organizations and I believe them, I believe what they say,” Rosenberg said. “I think, well, if they could really do all they want to do, what would that look like? How would that play out?”
Rosenberg said the idea for The Libyan Diversion was sparked by a conversation he had two years ago with Pompeo, who also served as CIA director under Trump.
“[Pompeo] said one of the things that he worries about is ungoverned spaces in northern Mexico,” recalled the author. “He said, ‘during the Trump administration, we tried to do everything we could to seal up that border, we made a lot of progress, but it’s not done and now Biden’s only unraveling that stuff. And that worries me.’”
While Pompeo was not specifically talking about terrorism, Rosenberg said he thought to himself, “what if radical Islamist terrorists, who can no longer easily hijack a plane and fly it into an American city, can just cross the border?”
“That got me a little freaked out and I couldn’t sleep,” he remembered. “I just kept thinking, ‘that’s a novel, that’s what I’m going to write about next.’”
On Monday, the day before his new novel was published, an Afghan national, whose name appears on the terror watch list, was arrested attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border near San Diego.
While Rosenberg convincingly depicts a CIA agent and an array of political and military characters in his writing, he acknowledges that he himself is no expert and has no direct experience on the subjects. A self-described failed political strategist who once worked with political leaders in Washington and in Jerusalem, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Rosenberg’s stories have struck a chord with world leaders.
“I could have never imagined being invited by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia to come and meet with him twice and spend more than four hours in total with him,” Rosenberg told JI. “He [Mohammed Bin Salman, also known as MBS] told me that his father [King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud] loves political thrillers and that he would put a copy on his nightstand.”
“Obviously this is not why I write the novels,” he continued. “I write them for the 5 million other people that buy my books, the regular people, but knowing that Pompeo, Pence, MBS, and King Abdullah are all reading these novels makes me sort of take my game up a few notches.”
Rosenberg continues to work as a journalist and regional analyst, reporting on events from Jerusalem to the Christian world. He regularly appears on U.S.-based outlets such as Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) and the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) and pens columns in The Jerusalem Post and for Fox News.
But he says it’s his fictional writing that has the most influence. “On one level, I’m a journalist that’s trying to cover the trend lines as well as the actual events that are happening here in Israel in the region, but the novel connects with people differently,” he noted. “Fiction has a way of capturing a person’s imagination in a way that an op-ed or a news story just doesn’t.”
“It triggers a different reaction in the brain,” Rosenberg added. “It’s triggering emotion because if I can grab a person’s attention by the cover, by the title, by the first page, by the first chapter, and hold them for 450 pages, I’m getting inside their head and they’re finally paying attention.”