Supporting Israel: Jews and U.S. evangelicals

U.S. evangelicals and Jews are powerful voices in support of the State of Israel, despite the chasm between their theological rationales for that support. Americans Jews are overwhelmingly Democrats and evangelical Christians are largely Republicans, making them natural political foes on most issues — except support for Israel. Due to this strong support, Israel has enjoyed an unparalleled relationship with the United States, including over $100 billion in foreign aid the United States has provided Israel.

Background

Evangelical Christians tend to support Israel because they believe that biblical prophecy links Israel’s survival with the second coming of Jesus. According to their reading of the Book of Revelation, when their Messiah returns, believers will be “raptured” to heaven, leaving Jews and others to choose between following Christ or eternal damnation. Jews obviously reject this theology, and some are wary of any Christian theological “ulterior motive” behind pro-Israel policies. But many Jews, perhaps even most, say they welcome the support of evangelical Christians because they believe Israel needs as many allies as possible at a time when Jews feel threatened by Muslim extremists and global anti-Semitism.

The theological motives also have political repercussions. Liberal Jewish leaders struggle with how to accept help and support Israel while disagreeing with most of the conservative Christian agenda. For example, in November 2005, Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said: “Make no mistake: We are facing an emerging Christian right leadership that intends to ‘Christianize’ all aspects of American life, from the halls of government to the libraries, to the movies, to recording studios, to the playing fields and locker rooms … from the military to SpongeBob SquarePants.”

Developments in the Middle East have sharply intensified the concerns of both communities, creating political uncertainties and tensions as the United States looks ahead. Evangelicals and American Jews, like most other Americans, are already on edge because of fears about terrorism and the increasingly aggressive language from the Iranian leadership over its nuclear ambitions.

While Israel is the nexus of the evangelical-Jewish alliance, the starkly different religious beliefs of these two communities create serious tensions that can shadow their partnership.

Evangelicals who form the heart of the conservative Christian movement see Israel as the Holy Land not just because of God’s covenant with the Jews, but because it is the place where Jesus lived, preached and was crucified after claiming to be the long-awaited Messiah, a foundational tenet of Christianity but one that Judaism rejects.

Also, more than most other Christians, evangelicals tend to base their support for Israel on the premise that the reconstitution of the Jewish state in 1948 was an omen of the Second Coming of the Messiah, that is, Jesus Christ. They believe that they have a special duty to convert Jews to Christianity to save their souls for eternity and to help usher in Judgment Day, when all those who have not become Christian will be condemned to perdition. The more Israel is threatened, they say, the closer is the fulfillment of biblical prophecies about the end times. Jews reject that theology, and many find it offensive.

Biblical bonds

Both Jews and conservative Christians who strongly support Israel cite many of the same scripture texts to support their position, usually from the Hebrew Bible, or what Christians call the Old Testament.

Among the frequently mentioned verses are Genesis 12:3, which recounts God’s promise to bless Israel’s friends and curse its enemies, Genesis 12:5-7 and 13:14-15, which state that God promised the land that is now Israel to Abraham and his descendants forever.

Yet they often interpret those passages differently, creating tensions. For example, evangelist Pat Robertson cited the Book of Joel and its predictions of divine sanction against those who would harm Israel as the reason for then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s stroke in 2006, saying that the prime minister’s withdrawal from the Occupied Territories was biblically unjustified. This biblical literalism can lead to a paradox by which many evangelicals take a harder line against the Palestinians than the Israeli government or many Jews.

Biblical breaks

Similarly, problems arise with the evangelical Christian interpretations of Old Testament prophecies, such as those in the books of Daniel and Ezekiel, which many conservative Christians believe foretell an imminent apocalypse that will usher in the reign of Jesus Christ. Evangelicals also tend toward a literal reading of the apocalyptic predictions in the Book of Revelation, the final book in the New Testament. There are many variations on how this end times scenario will unfold and how it will be ushered in. Popular scenarios generally hold that the Second Coming of Jesus, the Messiah foretold in the Hebrew Bible, will be preceded by a mass conversion of Jews and the annihilation of those who do not convert to Christianity. Hence the push among some Christian to convert Jews in order to hasten the Second Coming — a policy that can create great tensions with the Jewish community.

For many conservative Christians, the reconstitution of the State of Israel in 1948 after nearly 2,000 years signaled the start of a series of events that presaged the apocalypse. Other signs include the various Middle East wars, including the War in Iraq, the oil crisis and a host of other permutations that continually change but which retain a hold on the popular imagination. The success of the Left Behind theological thrillers is evidence of that trend. But those thrillers also feature vivid scenes of unconverted Jews dying in a terrible conflagration.

While many in the Jewish community are disturbed by these theological views, they also see this “philo-Semitism,” a respect and appreciation of Jews by gentiles, as much preferable to the anti-Semitism that used to influence many Christians. And if philo-Semitism is repugnant to some Jews, it can also be politically helpful to the Jewish state.

Why it matters

The Middle East is the focal point of U.S. foreign policy and the key to the most critical geopolitical issues of the day: terrorism, oil, the so-called “clash of civilizations” and the prospects for the spread of peace, democracy, and human rights. At the center is the shared Abrahamic legacy of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, venerable religious communities which each stake claims to the moral high ground and to land considered sacred to each faith, each in a different way. American evangelicals, who trend strongly conservative, and American Jews, who trend more Democratic, are both prominent and powerful voices in American politics. Israel receives billions of dollars annually in direct U.S. economic and military aid, plus millions more in loan guarantees as well as huge private donations from the American Jewish community. Though the exact total of U.S. aid depends on how the figure is calculated, what is indisputable is that Israel enjoys an unparalleled relationship with the United States. That aid is considered vital to Israel’s security and any reduction or increase could recast the political balance in the region. The same could be said about U.S. aid to the Palestinians, which is far less quantitatively but equally perhaps vital to Palestinian survival.

Angles for reporters

Beyond political lobbying efforts, journalists can explore the relationship among Jews, Christians and Israel in these ways:

  • Evangelicals and Jews both aggressively promote tourism to Israel. How do tours shape their opinions and impressions? What do they learn on interfaith tours?
  • For some local evangelical congregations, their only point of connection with Jews is common support for Israel. How is that expressed in the congregation?
  • How do Jewish and evangelical leaders balance support for Israel with their disagreements on most other political issues?
  • Evangelical and mainline Protestants generally differ sharply in their relationships with Jews and Israel. Evangelical churches tend to shun interfaith dialogue but embrace support of Israel. Mainline Protestants generally embrace interfaith efforts but are more likely to express concern about Palestinians. How do Jewish-Christian relationships play out in your area?

Surveys and resources

  • U.S. Religious Landscape Survey

    The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey is an extensive survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life which details the religious makeup, beliefs and practices as well as social and political attitudes of the American public.

  • “U.S. foreign aid to Israel”

    April 11, 2013, report by the Congressional Research Service which provides an overview of the United States’ history of foreign assistance to Israel.

  • “Evangelical support for Israel”

    April 6, 2011, survey results presented by the Pew Research Center showing that nearly two-thirds of white evangelical Protestants (64 percent) say helping to protect Israel should be a very important policy goal for the U.S. in the Middle East, compared with 34 percent of white mainline Protestants and 36 percent of white Catholics.

  • Judaism 101

    Judaism 101 is a general clearinghouse of information about Judaism run by Tracey Rich, a Jewish layperson. It contains descriptions of the Jewish calendar, the Hebrew alphabet, holidays, life-cycle events, rituals, observances and much more.

  • Middle East Policy Council

    The Middle East Policy Council is a nonprofit organization based in Washington D.C. It works to educate Americans on the political, economic, and cultural issues in the Middle East relevant to the United States.

  • “Use With Care” handbook

    The International Press Institute has prepared a handbook for journalists, titled “Use With Care: A Reporter’s Glossary of Loaded Language in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” It’s available in print or PDF form (registration required) and includes suggested alternatives to problematic terms.

  • Arab American Institute

    The Arab American Institute (AAI) is a nonprofit organization committed to the civic and political empowerment of Americans of Arab descent through campaigns and elections as well as policy formulation and research.

    The institute tracks Arab, Arab-American and American opinion polls about issues of importance to Arab-Americans, including Israel and the Middle East peace process.

  • Gallup

    Gallup provides polling and analysis on dozens of pressing topics in the United States, many of which involve religion.

    Gallup has conducted and analyzed numerous polls on Israel and the Middle East peace process.

  • Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life

    The Pew Forum on Religion Religion & Public Life is a project of the Pew Research Center. The Pew Forum seeks to promote a deeper understanding of issues at the intersection of religion and public affairs by conducting surveys, demographic analyses and other social science research on important aspects of religion and public life in the U.S. and around the world.

    Pew has conducted and analyzed numerous surveys on Americans’ views of Israel and the Middle East peace process.

Articles and pubilcations

National sources

  • John C. Green

    John C. Green is a senior research adviser at the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, specializing in religion and American politics, American evangelicals and politics, the Christian right, religion and elections, and religion and presidential politics. He also serves as director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics and Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University of Akron. He is the co-author of The Diminishing Divide: Religion’s Changing Role in American Politics. He can speak about Americans’ views on gun control, religious demographics and other political issues.

  • Barbara Rossing

    Barbara Rossing is a professor of New Testament at Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. She is the author of The Rapture Exposed (Basic Books, 2005), and The Choice Between Two Cities: Whore, Bride, and Empire in the Apocalypse (Trinity Press International, 1999).

  • Corwin E. Smidt

    Corwin E. Smidt is a research fellow at the Paul B. Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics and a professor of political science at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. He is author, editor or co-author of books on religion and public life, including In God We Trust? Religion and American Political Life; Pulpit and Politics: Clergy in American Politics at the Advent of the Millennium; and The Bully Pulpit: The Politics of Protestant Clergy.

    He is an expert in evangelicals and politics and has written on religious groups’ relationship to the Middle East.

  • Anna Greenberg

    Anna Greenberg is a senior vice president and leading pollster for the Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, based in Washington, D.C.

    Through Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, she has conducted research on U.S. evangelicals.

  • Michael Cromartie

    Michael Cromartie is vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., where he heads its Evangelicals in Civic Life program. He is also an expert on religious liberty and Christianity and politics. His books include, as editor, Religion and Politics in America: A Conversation.

    He is a prominent researcher on evangelical issues.

  • Barry Kosmin

    Barry Kosmin is Director at the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture and Research Professor in Public Policy & Law at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. He is co-author of Religion in a Free Market, Religious and Non-Religious Americans: Who, What, Why, and Where (Paramount Publishing, 2006) and Religion and Political Party Preference: New Findings from the American Religious Identification Survey.  He co-wrote The Next Generation: Jewish Children and Adolescents.

    He participated in a 2005 seminar titled “Uneasy Allies? Evangelical-Jewish Relations Today.”

  • Edith L. Blumhofer

    Edith L. Blumhofer is director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill. She has written extensively on Pentecostalism.

    She is a historian of evangelical Christianity in America, and she can speak to the history of evangelical focus on international issues, from missionary activity to interest in the Middle East.

  • Bruce David Forbes

    Bruce David Forbes is a professor of religious studies at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, specializing in religion in America and religion and popular culture. He is co-editor of Rapture, Revelation and the End Times: Exploring the ‘Left Behind’ Series. Forbes also co-edited the book Religion and Popular Culture in America.

    He writes frequently about American evangelicals and was a panelist at the 2005 seminar “Uneasy Allies? Evangelical-Jewish Relations Today.”

  • Richard A. Landes

    Richard A. Landes is an associate professor of history at Boston University, specializing in messianic and millennial movements. He was the director of the now inactive Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University.

    He names global jihad as the apocalyptic movement most threatening to world peace. He cites the year 2000, the date of the second Palestinian uprising, as a major turning point in Muslim apocalyptic thought because it was when the idea of the martyr — personified by Mohammed Al Dura, a 12-year-old who was shot during an Israeli-Palestinian exchange of gunfire — became the central icon of the struggle.

Jewish leaders

  • Abraham Foxman

    Abraham Foxman is the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, probably the best-known Jewish organization battling anti-Semitism. Based in New York, the ADL has state and regional chapters around the country.

    In November 2005, he delivered a speech decrying what he saw as the Christian right’s campaign to “Christianize” America and calling on the Jewish community to resist that effort.

  • A. James Rudin

    Rabbi A. James Rudin was the senior interreligious adviser for the American Jewish Committee and a longtime veteran of Catholic-Jewish dialogue. He met with Pope John Paul II many times and participated in high-level talks at the Vatican between Catholic and Jewish leaders. He has also consulted frequently with Christian churches and groups that want to present Passion plays and Easter dramas. Rudin is currently affiliated with Saint Leo University in Florida and works at the university’s Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies.

    He is author of The Baptizing of America: The Religious Right’s Plans for the Rest of Us.

  • Yechiel Z. Eckstein

    Rabbi Yechiel Z. Eckstein is founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. In 2005, Eckstein was appointed Goodwill Ambassador to the State of Israel. Contact through Tönya Derrickson.

    He is recognized as the world’s leading Jewish authority on evangelicals and is a leading proponent of stronger ties between Jews and evangelicals, especially on the issue of support for Israel.

  • Alan Mittleman

    Alan Mittleman is a professor of Jewish thought at the Jewish Theological Seminary in Manhattan as well as the director of JTS’ Tikvah Institute for Jewish Thought.

    He has written and taught widely on Judaism in the public square and interfaith relations and helped organized the 2005 seminar “Uneasy Allies? Evangelical-Jewish Relations Today.”

  • David Klinghoffer

    David Klinghoffer is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Views.

    Klinghoffer is a vocal proponent of closer Jewish ties with evangelicals and has taken issue with Jewish leaders who have sharply criticized Christian conservatives, and explained why Jews should form an alliance with evangelicals who support Israel.

  • Eric Yoffie

    Rabbi Eric Yoffie is the president emeritus of the Union for Reform Judaism.

    He has spoken out against the religious right.

Christian leaders

  • Tony Campolo

    Tony Campolo is a leading evangelical pastor who has long been critical of evangelicals and money. He is the author of Speaking My Mind: The Radical Evangelical Prophet Tackles the Tough Issues Christians Are Afraid to Face (W Publishing Group, 2004). One of the tough issues is the compatibility of affluence with faith. He is a professor emeritus at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pa. Contact through executive assistant James Warren.

    He is an outspoken critic of many of the positions of politically and theologically conservative Christians. He has rejected much of the Rapture theology of many fellow evangelicals and has wanted Christians to support Palestinians as much as Israelis.

  • George Mano

    George Mamo is the executive vice president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews and executive director of Stand for Israel, an IFCJ project.

    He has spoken frequently on behalf of closer ties between evangelicals and Israel.

  • Richard Cizik

    The Rev. Richard Cizik is president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. He has said he promotes a political agenda that supports the values of a free and open society.

    He was a panelist at the 2005 seminar “Uneasy Allies? Evangelical-Jewish Relations Today.”

  • John C. Hagee

    Pastor John C. Hagee is the founder and senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, and the founder and president of John Hagee Ministries.

    He is among the leading Christian Zionists, as they are known. Hagee hosts annual “Night to Honor Israel” fundraising events in major American cities that bring together conservative Christians and Jewish leaders who have starkly different theologies yet share a firm support for Israel. These events raise money for Christians United for Israel, a national grassroots organization founded by Hagee. Hagee has written numerous books about the imminent return of Jesus and the conversion of the Jews, and the events have frequently prompted critical reactions. His website has a section explaining why Christians should support Israel.

    Contact: 800-854-9899.

Regional sources

In the Northeast

  • Andrew J. Bacevich

    Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor of international relations and history at Boston University.

    He co-wrote an article in Orbis magazine, “God Is Not Neutral: Religion and U.S. Foreign Policy after 9/11,” in 2004 with Elizabeth H. Prodromou.

  • Elizabeth H. Prodromou

    Dr. Elizabeth H. Prodromou is a retired U.S. diplomat and the co-chair of the Southeastern Europe Study Group at the Center for European Studies at Harvard University. Previously, she taught international relations and directed the M.A. Program in International Relations & Religion at Boston University. She has written several articles on Orthodox Christianity.

    She co-wrote an article in Orbis magazine, “God Is Not Neutral: Religion and U.S. Foreign Policy after 9/11,” in 2004 with Andrew J. Bacevich.

  • Jim Wallis

    The Rev. Jim Wallis is an evangelical author and commentator and the founder of Sojourners magazine, a periodical that tries to promote social change through Christian values. He has served on the White House Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and can comment on public policy issues.

    He frequently comments on evangelical foreign policy concerns, though often in opposition to traditional conservative evangelicals.

In the South

  • Julie Galambush

    Julie Galambush is an associate professor of religious studies at The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. Galambush was an ordained American Baptist minister who converted to Judaism and is a member of Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, Va. She is the author of The Reluctant Parting: How the New Testament’s Jewish Writers Created a Christian Book (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005) and can comment on the relationship between evangelicals and Jews.

  • Amy-Jill Levine

    Amy-Jill Levine of Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School is a professor of New Testament studies and of Jewish studies and director of the Carpenter Program in Religion, Gender and Sexuality. She can comment on Christian-Jewish dynamics and representations of Jews by Christians throughout the centuries. She was co-editor of A Feminist Companion to Mariology. She is an expert on sexuality and the bible, religion and gender, Jewish-Christian relations and the historical Jesus.

  • Ben Witherington III

    Ben Witherington III is a professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. A prolific author and an ordained minister, Witherington can talk about the historical tensions between Christians and Jews and current cultural manifestations of those tensions. He is the author of Jesus and Money: A Guide for Times of Financial Crisis, an examination, in the wake of the recession, of “what Jesus has to say (and doesn’t say) concerning wealth and poverty, money and spending, debt and sacrificial giving.”

  • Kenneth J. Collins

    Kenneth J. Collins studies American Christianity at the Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. He can comment on the evolution of evangelicalism in the United States.

    Contact: 859-858-3581 ext. 2368.
  • Jim Sibley

    Jim Sibley is director and co-founder of the Pasche Institute of Jewish Studies at Criswell College in Dallas. He served as National Coordinator of Jewish Ministry on the Interfaith Evangelism Team of the North American Mission Board for 10 years.  Prior to that assignment, Jim and his wife, Kathy, served as missionaries of what is now the International Mission Board, in Israel, for almost 14 years.  He has taught courses related to Judaism and Jewish Evangelism as a guest professor at Southern Baptist seminaries and Bible colleges across North America.

  • Mark Bailey

    Mark Bailey is president of the Dallas Theological Seminary and a noted expert on Christian End Times scenarios. He is the author of essays in the books Countdown to Armageddon (Harvest House, 1999) and The Road to Armageddon (Word, 1999).

    Contact: 214-841-3676.
  • James Davison Hunter

    James Davison Hunter is Labrosse-Levinson Distinguished Professor of Religion, Culture and Social Theory at the University of Virginia and executive director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. He is a frequent writer and commentator on the culture wars dividing America, especially as regards homosexuality. Contact Hunter through his assistant.

    He is the author of Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation.

  • William Martin

    William Martin is the Harry and Hazel Chavanne Senior Fellow in Religion and Public Policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy in Houston. His interests include the impact of religious fundamentalism on politics, and he is the author of With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America.

    He wrote the article “With God on Their Side” for the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs (winter/spring 2000), which looked at the impact of religion on American foreign policy.

In the Midwest

  • Mark Noll

    Mark Noll is Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame and one of the most cited authorities today on evangelicalism in America. He co-founded the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College, where he taught for many years. Noll’s many books include America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln.

  • Asma Afsaruddin

    Asma Afsaruddin is chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at the University of Indiana.

    She has commented on the efforts of Muslims to forge connections with evangelicals.

  • Joel A. Carpenter

    Joel A. Carpenter is a professor of history at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., where he also directs the Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity. He also is the former religion officer for the Pew Charitable Trusts and former director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicalism.

    He has written numerous articles dealing with the history of fundamentalism and contemporary evangelicalism.

In the West

  • Donald A. Hagner

    Donald A. Hagner is a professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., and an expert on Jewish-Christian relations and the history of the two communities.

  • Richard J. Mouw

    Richard J. Mouw is a well-known writer and commentator on evangelical Christianity and the president of the Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., a leading evangelical institution. Contact Mouw through Fred Messick, Fuller’s associate vice president for public affairs.

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