Last week, the Pew Research Center released the largely predictable findings of a survey measuring how Americans feel about the nation’s various religious faiths. While adherents unsurprisingly gave their co-religionists high marks, one factoid stood out. White evangelical Protestants love the Jews, giving them an impressive 69 on Pew’s 100 degree thermometer. Alas, that love goes unrequited: “Despite evangelicals’ warm feelings toward Jews, Jews tend to give evangelicals a much cooler rating (34 on average).”
If you’re looking for answers why, this week's Christians United for Israel (CUFI) summit in Washington is a good place to start. There, religious right extremists whose domestic policies Jewish Americans overwhelmingly oppose rallied in support of the proposition that God gave all of the land of Israel to the Jews, a position that a majority of Jewish Americans don't accept.
Founded by Pastor John Hagee, CUFI for years has featured American politicians, leaders of major American Jewish organizations and Israeli ambassadors only too eager to mobilize evangelical’s backing and cash for Eretz Israel. Their mission? According to the organization’s “Israel Pledge:”
We believe that the Jewish people have a right to live in their ancient land of Israel, and that the modern State of Israel is the fulfillment of this historic right.
That historic right was God’s gift to the Jews, His Chosen people.
Unfortunately for John Hagee, Gary Bauer, Senator Lindsey Graham, Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer and the rest of the crowd that gathered in Washington this week, most Jewish Americans do not share that belief.
After all, surveys show that while 44 percent of Americans—and only 40 percent of American Jews—believe Israel was given by God to the Jewish people, among Israeli Jews the share identifying themselves as God's Chosen People reaches 70 percent. As it turns out, far and away the group most dedicated to the proposition that God gave the Land of Israel to the Jewish people is American white evangelical Protestants. And their End Times story doesn't end well for Jews anywhere.
In its October 2013 analysis, the Pew Research Center reported that at a whopping 82 percent, "A majority of white evangelicals believe God gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people, compared with 40 percent of American Jews who believe the same." But just as jaw-dropping as the fact that white evangelical are twice as likely as American Jews (40 percent), and five times more like than "Jews of no religion" (16 percent) are the implication for U.S. policy:
White evangelical Protestants also are more likely than Jews to favor stronger U.S. support of Israel. Among Jews, 54% say American support of the Jewish state is "about right," while 31% say the U.S. is not supportive enough. By contrast, more white evangelical Protestants say the U.S. is not supportive enough of Israel (46%) than say support is about right (31%).
White evangelical Protestants are less optimistic than Jews about the prospects for a peaceful two-state solution to conflict in the region. When asked if there is a way for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully, six-in-ten American Jews (61%) say yes, while one-third say no. Among white evangelical Protestants, 42% say Israel and an independent Palestinian state can coexist peacefully, while 50% say this is not possible.
Not possible and for many evangelicals, not desirable. After all, in their eschatology, the conversion of some Jews—and the slaughter of the rest—at Armageddon is part and parcel to the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and the Second Coming of Christ.
For Christian Zionists like Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) ("Support for Israel is handed down by God and if the United States pulls back its support, America will cease to exist"), Gov. Rick Perry ("As a Christian I have a clear directive to support Israel") and Mike Huckabee ("no such thing as a Palestinian"), Israel serves merely as a means to an end. In that telling, it is a divinely required stepping-stone to the End Times conversion (and much larger slaughter) of the Jews that will accompany the Second Coming of Christ. And that has a real impact on foreign policy. As the controversial head of the Christians United for Israel, Pastor John Hagee, explained in 2006:
"The United States must join Israel in a pre-emptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God's plan for both Israel and the West ... a biblically prophesied end-time confrontation with Iran, which will lead to the Rapture, Tribulation, and Second Coming of Christ."
With friends like that, Israel doesn't need enemies. And with Republicans like that, it's no wonder American Jews continue to overwhelmingly vote Democratic.
Other recent surveys of American Jews confirm what the exit polls tell us every four years: the Jewish electorate that is perhaps the single most liberal voting bloc in the United States. A poll conducted two years ago by the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at New York University revealed why the Jewish community continues to reliably vote for Democrats, "election cycle after election cycle":
The poll, which has a four percent margin of error, also found high support among Jews not just for social causes they have long championed including gay marriage (68 percent support) and access to legal abortion (63 percent favor), but on economic issues such as taxation. Sixty-five percent said they support raising income tax for those who earn above $200,000 a year and 62 percent said they thought the power of financial institutions pose a threat to the United States.
The survey also found that 73 percent of those polled favored the government requiring private health insurance to cover birth control.
As Haaretz noted in reporting on the survey, "Israel related issues seem to have little effect on Jewish voters' decision in choosing between Obama and Romney." That finding echoed the results of an April 2012 poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, a not-for-profit, nonpartisan organization:
A majority of 51% pointed to the economy as the issue most important to their vote, followed by gaps between rich and poor (15%), health care (10%) and the federal deficit (7%). Only 4% of Jewish voters said Israel was the most important issue for them when deciding who should get their vote. Even when asked to name their second-most-important issue, Jewish voters gave the issue of Israel only marginal importance.
The data would suggest that the Republicans' focus on attacking both Obama's record on Israel and his troubled relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was having little, if any, traction.
Which turned out to be exactly right. In 2012, Mitt Romney as predicted won evangelicals by a staggering 59 points. Yet despite the campaign of right-wing demagoguery, Barack Obama crushed Romney by 69 to 30 percent among Jewish voters. (Four years earlier, Obama swamped McCain by 78 to 21.) Even with President Obama’s slumping poll numbers, 55 percent of Jewish Americans approve of his performance, a figure virtually unchanged since 2010. And with the recent primary defeat of Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia, this fall’s midterm elections could bring the number of Jewish Republicans in the House to—wait for it—zero.
That dismal reality has led some of the GOP faithful to lash out. Breitbart columnist Ben Shapiro called the Obama administration “obviously anti-Israel” and, despite its large number of Jewish staff and advisors, “borderline Jew-hating.” In March, Michele Bachmann lamented to Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council that the American Jewish community “sold out Israel.”
Of course, Jewish voters did no such thing. Looking at the likes of Michele Bachmann and Christians United for Israel, they couldn’t help be reminded that with friends like these, American Jews don’t need enemies.