Why Evangelical Support for Israel is a Good Thing
By Abraham H. Foxman
National Director of the Anti-Defamation League
It has been said time and again that Israel is today facing the greatest crisis in years. It has also been noted that a key factor that makes Israel's situation less desperate than it might be is the fact that the United States, the world's superpower, stands up -- many times alone -- on behalf of an embattled Israel.
These realities should make American Jews highly appreciative of the incredible support that the State of Israel gets from a significant group of Americans -- the Evangelical Christian Right. In many ways, the Christian Right stands out as the most consistently supportive group of Israel in America.
In the Congress, support for Israel is strong on both sides of the aisle, among liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans. Most importantly, the issue has not been seen as one reflecting the views of a parochial lobbying group provoking significant support but also significant opposition. Rather, it is seen as above partisan politics.
Having said that, there is no doubt that Evangelical members are notably aggressive in their support, proposing resolutions and speaking out forcefully. This is especially noteworthy during the current Administration, as they are conveying their sentiments to a President who shares many of their religious and social perspectives.
Similarly, polls of American public opinion reveal, in marked contrast to similar polls in Europe, that the American people support Israel over the Palestinians by a significant margin. A key element in these consistent findings in many polls ever since the violence broke out almost 2 years ago -- is the overwhelming support for Israel among individuals calling themselves Evangelical.
On many public occasions, including at rallies and meetings, on TV and radio appearances, Evangelicals have become regulars, a pro-Israel presence alongside the Jewish community. While such support is evident from other significant parts of the body politic, support from Evangelicals is especially consistent and unreserved.
Still, there continues to be a reluctance in certain sections of the American Jewish community to welcome or encourage Evangelical support. Several factors come into play. Many mainstream American Jewish organizations have major disagreements with Evangelicals on many domestic issues -- Church - State separation, abortion, and attitudes towards gays.
ADL and other Jewish organizations have made clear in its dealings with Evangelicals that we will continue to be forceful advocates for our very different perspective on these issues before the American people, despite Evangelical support for Israel. Importantly, at no point have we heard them place any conditions on their support. There is no quid pro quo. At no point have we had to choose between our fundamental principals concerning the role of religion in America and our appreciation for their standing with Israel.
Some say that Evangelicals are behind Israel for the wrong reasons: they see Israel's existence as a necessary precursor for Armageddon and the second coming of Christ, visions which do not include a place for Jews. These religious beliefs, however, speak to an unknown future (indeed one that Jews do not envision). Meanwhile, the very real present is one in which Evangelical leaders are educating their publics about the importance of Israel's existence, security and well-being, that no amount of public relations and advertising budgets could buy.
Finally, it is said that Evangelicals have a high degree of anti-Semitism in their communities. There is no doubt that there is a history of anti-Semitism among Evangelicals, based on an old theology that Jews deserve punishment because they rejected Jesus. Today, that perspective has been superceded by the new special role of the Jews in the modern State of Israel. Indeed, Evangelical leaders such as Ralph Reed have apologized for anti-Semitism in the past and have eloquently spoken to their communities about rejecting any element of anti-Semitism.
ADL polls on anti-Semitism in America show no greater inclination of Evangelical Christians to harbor hateful views of Jews than other groups in American society. As to the one area of legitimate concern -- efforts to proselytize Jews that continues among some Evangelical ministers -- ADL and others have vigorously denounced such efforts whenever they surface.
In sum, American Jews should not be apologetic or defensive about cultivating Evangelical support for Israel. The need for support by an Israel under siege is great. Fortunately, Evangelical support is overwhelming, consistent, and unconditional. And the fears that such support will undermine our impact on other concerns that American Jews have are overblown, since we will continue, to articulate in forceful ways our significant disagreements on social issues.
This article appeared on JTA.org, 07/16/02