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Christopher Walton

Chris is a graduate of Le Moyne College, Syracuse, New York where he earned a B.A. in Political Science and a minor in Secondary Education. He also holds a Masters of Arts Degree from Fordham University, Bronx, New York in American History and a Masters of Arts Degree from Fordham University, Bronx,... read more

Are American Evangelicals and American Jews United?

Christopher Walton on 06/10/2013

U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel

U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel

I was awestruck by Senator Lindsey Graham’s outspoken support for Israel during the Chuck Hagel Senatorial confirmation hearings earlier this month. I was not confused by the concept of a leading Republican looking for a chance to drub an Obama nominee, nor was I unused to the Republicans playing their one-upmanship game over the Democrats of who supports Israel more. What took me by surprise was seeing Graham’s visceral support (or was it theatrical support) rather than simply reading about it in print. I ask that you view this entire clip to begin this discussion before reading on.

The purpose of this blog is to identify and evaluate the relationship between American Christian Evangelicals and American Jews in their support for Israel. I do not suggest that this is an unholy alliance. Rather, the degree of loyalty that these two seemingly opposing cultural, religious, demographic, class, political and regional beliefs have, to me, made for very strange political bedfellows.

For this blog, I turned to nationally known historian Professor Bernard Wasserstein, who holds the prestigious title of the Harriet & Ulrich E. Meyer Professor of Modern European Jewish History for the University of Chicago’s Department of History.

C.W.: Why is there such an allegiance between American Evangelicals and American Jews over the support of Israel? How do American Jews and Israelis find this support toward a common mission?

B.W.:
It’s a curious alliance, because American Jews vote overwhelmingly Democratic unlike the majority of Evangelical Christians.  American Jews are overwhelmingly socially liberal unlike most Evangelical Christians. American Jews mainly live in large cities, whereas Evangelical Christians are spread out more evenly over the population including small towns and rural population. So, it is a strange alliance; of course it is an alliance which isn’t across the board, it is restricted to the issues that relate to Israel. American Jews are, of course, divided in their attitudes toward Israeli politics. On the one hand the great majority of them support the existence and the right to existence of the state of Israel on the other hand a large minority of them are rather critical of some of the policies of the Israeli government.

Professor Bernard wasserstein

Professor Bernard Wasserstein

The Evangelical Christians, of course, have their own agenda and many American Jews and some Israelis are rather suspicious of that agenda, in particular, because they suspect Evangelical Christians of having evangelizing motives, proselytizing motives, and in Israel there is strong hostility to Christian missionaries, and Christian missionizing, particularly on the part of the Orthodox Jewish population…This is a somewhat strange and uneasy relationship, I would say.

C.W.: Is there a concerted organized agreement or formal negotiated alliance between the American Evangelicals and American Jews toward support for Israel?

There is an alliance of convenience between certain American Jewish groups, particularly neoconservatives in the United States and Evangelical Christians and we saw that alliance played out in the opposition to the Hagel nomination. The Israeli government, of course, takes help and support from wherever it can get it, especially as it is a relatively unpopular government in many parts of the world. As far as Evangelical Christians offering their support it wouldn’t be spurned by the Israeli government. That support can be politically helpful in Congress where Israel depends so very heavily on support for not just economic aid but more importantly, military aid and, of course, diplomatic support. So I think the Israeli government, most Israelis and American Jews don’t feel a particular kinship with Evangelical Christians in the United States but some of them see this as a useful alliance of convenience.

I completely agree with Professor Wasserstein’s viewpoint on this topic. Please note that his viewpoint does not necessarily agree with my private opinion for this blog.  As one who grew up Catholic in New York and saw such a great degree of anti-Semitism and distrust between Catholics and Jews I am still quite curious and suspicious of the allegiance that Evangelical Christians, Republicans like Senator Graham, and the Tea Party have toward Israel.

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