Evangelical Christians make up about 25 percent of America’s population of 328 million. But, despite their relatively small numbers, evangelicals have made themselves the “voice” of the American Christian community, which totals more than 65 percent of the population.
Evangelical extremists are the driving force behind the false perception that all American Christians support Israel — a Jewish state whose government embraces more than 60 laws that discriminate against non-Jews, especially Christian and Muslim Palestinians. In America, perception (what people believe, rightly or wrongly, is the reality) trumps truth (what is accurate and verifiable by facts).
If the Palestinians could connect with the larger base of Christian Americans, they could re-engineer America’s blind support for Israel and undermine its right-leaning governmental policies. And there is reason to believe that is possible. A Pew Research Center study from last year showed that, while a majority of Christian Americans “like” Israel, a similar number also “like” the Palestinians. This shows that the war for the hearts and minds of Christian Americans is far from won by Israel.
The truth is that Israel enjoys more vocal support from Christian activists, especially from among the radical evangelicals, than the Palestinians. But the Pew report also shows that a third of US evangelicals support the Palestinians as much as they support the Israelis.
Israel sees American evangelicals as a double-edged sword. While it welcomes their support, it abhors the fundamental message that evangelicals promote about why they support Israel. Evangelicals do so because their fundamental hard-core religious tenets say that salvation and Jesus Christ cannot return to mankind until the Kingdom of Israel has been re-established. However, Jews don’t believe this, so what does it cost them to accept evangelical support? Nothing — for them it is a marriage of convenience.
The real problem is the deep disconnect that exists between Christians in the West and the Christians in the Arab world. Christian Americans simply have no affinity with their Arab brethren and therefore don’t really demand answers to questions like: “Why does Israel steal the land of Christians and discriminate against them so violently when Christians do so much to support Israel?”
Christian Arabs don’t tend to exist in the mind of US Christians, so there is no conflict undermining their support of Israel. That needs to change, but it won’t. When I was serving as national president of the Palestinian American Congress, resistance to my leadership came from both Muslims who supported Hamas and moderate Muslims who argued “there is no difference between Christians and Muslims. We are all the same.” I wasn’t allowed to tackle the concerns of Christian Palestinians or Arabs alone without incurring the wrath of all sides.
As a national board member of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, I was targeted by extremist activists because I was a Christian Palestinian with a Jewish wife. That was the “ultimate betrayal” that they sought to avoid discussing.
My frustration in dealing with these issues was made worse by the fact that the mainstream Arab and Palestinian populations in the US sought to avoid any involvement in Christian-Muslim issues. They saw it as a distraction among their small population’s political beliefs, rather than viewing Christian Arabs as a way into the larger Christian American psyche.
Some Christian groups have been very courageous in standing up to Israel, despite these challenges. In July 2017, a coalition of 17 Christian churches endorsed a BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) boycott of Hewlett-Packard because of the technology giant’s support of Israeli human rights abuses. They included the United Church of Christ (which has more than 800,000 members), Unitarian Universalists (200,000), the Presbyterian Church (1.3 million), the Alliance of Baptists (65,000), Quaker Friends Fiduciary (90,000), and the Mennonite Church USA (70,000).
The war for the hearts and minds of Christian Americans is far from won by Israel.
America’s Christians, who have the power to change the country’s blind support of Israel and open the eyes of the world to Israel’s atrocities against civilians, do not act because no one is out there educating them on these issues. The Arab world avoids the topic completely. Many pro-Palestinian activists hate the politics of moderate Christian Palestinians as much as they hate the politics of Israel. The majority of Arab-Americans prefer to avoid the topic completely.
Ultimately, the support of Christian Americans is something Israel thinks about, while the Arabs do not. And that is tragic considering that America’s foreign policy is the most influential force protecting Israel from the international rule of law and that the US is still a majority-Christian nation.
If you really wanted to bring about a genuine change to America’s policies on Israel and Palestine, the way to do it would be through the hearts and minds of the country’s Christians.