- Monday, June 10, 2024

Despite anti-Israel protests surrounding the White House this past weekend, new research indicates that support for Israel remains solid among Americans – especially those identifying as Christians (evangelical, mainline Protestant and Catholic).

At the same time, the latest research does show a measurable generational divide, which could impact future U.S. policy in the Middle East as well as prevailing attitudes toward anti-Semitism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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Over the last six years we have conducted public opinion surveys among Christian movements within the United States to come to a better understanding of their attitudes toward Jews, Israel and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We have surveyed evangelicals, Catholics and mainline Christians, along with American Jews, in seven different surveys. Readers will likely not be surprised to learn that most American Christians support Israel over the Palestinians by a significant margin, nor surprised that the strongest support for Israel comes from American evangelicals.

In March 2024, amidst the war in Gaza, we conducted a new nationally representative survey among American Christians (evangelicals, Catholics, mainline), with more than 2,000 respondents. Despite the war, our data do not show dramatic changes in attitudes across these groups in comparison to the previous, pre-war surveys. Catholics’ opinions of the Jewish people and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remained largely stable, while evangelical views shifted only slightly, indicating entrenched attitudes.

However, our research finds significant dissonance between the leadership of mainline Protestant churches, like Presbyterians and Methodists, some of whom advocate for boycott and divestment against Israel, and the rank-and-file members of these churches, who remain very supportive of Israel. Overall, 47% of mainline respondents believe “the Jewish people today have the right to the land of Israel by virtue of the covenant God made with Abraham,” while only 15% disagree.

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Not only has mainline support remained strong despite international opinion and the prevailing anti-Israel media narrative, but 22% of these respondents said their support for Israel had increased as a result of the ongoing conflict, with 47% saying their support remained the same. In fact, 54% of this group blame “mostly Hamas” for the war in Gaza, a higher percentage than even evangelicals and Catholics. Half of mainline Protestants also said the Israeli response had been mostly justified, surprisingly 7% higher than what evangelicals said.

These numbers show that the congregants of this important Christian movement clearly support Israel over the Palestinians, as most Americans do, and see greater justification for the Israeli, rather than Palestinian, actions in the current war in Gaza.

Perhaps the most significant finding is that among the three surveyed groups, a large generational shift in attitudes toward the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is underway. Particularly stark differences on this issue are observed when comparing under-30 to over-50 respondents.

While respondents aged 50-64 show the strongest support for Israel, those under-30 are almost 50% less likely to express strong support for Israel than the 50+ generations. Among the under-30 Christians polled in the survey, 8% of evangelicals, 20% of mainline Protestants, and 24% of Catholics show “very strong support for Palestinians” or “support Palestinians.” By contrast, less than 1% of evangelicals and mainline Protestants, and less than 3% of Catholics among the 50-64-year-olds show support for Palestinians. Perhaps reflecting what we see today on college campuses, our seven different studies have consistently found generational effects in support for Israel.

Among evangelicals, particularly, the current conflict generates a negative view of Palestinians and Muslims. The comparative research shows a decrease in the image of Muslims, a decrease in support for an independent Palestinian state, and a larger blame for Palestinians than for Israel in the conflict. It is interesting to note that a large segment blamed both sides equally in the previous (2021) and current war in Gaza.

Another difference worth noting is that more evangelicals are saying they have some knowledge of the current conflict compared with that of 2021, likely due to more prevalent media coverage. While this hasn’t changed attitudes about Israel, it has perhaps increased awareness and concern about growing anti-Semitism – something both Catholics and evangelicals reported.

SEE ALSO: House Republican says hostage rescue would never have happened if cease-fire were in place

The scale of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does not seem to impact who respondents choose to support in this conflict. The May 2021 conflict was low intensity, the post-10/7 war is high intensity and high casualty, but support for Israel/Palestinians/neither numbers remain stable. This also indicates that for almost half of the respondents, sparks of violence in the IPC simply do not seem to matter in terms of their attitudes toward Israel or Palestinians.  It seems that once attitudes about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are fully formed, new information is not likely to significantly dislodge them.

Overall, American Christian support for Israel remains steadfast, rooted in theological, historical, and geopolitical factors. This, in a nutshell, represents the difference between Main Street and the streets surrounding the White House.

Yet it is that difference in support for Israel or the Jewish people, demarcated more by age than religious affiliation, which should cause America’s leaders, including those in government, civic and religious spheres, to consider the benefits of education rather than pacification, before the roots of anti-Semitism sink down deep.

Dr. Motti Inbari is a Jewish studies professor at UNC Pembroke, and Dr. Kirill Bumin is the Associate Dean of the Metropolitan College and the Director of the Summer Term at Boston University. They are the authors of the recently published Christian Zionism in the Twenty-First Century: American Evangelical Opinion on Israel.

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