Exclusive'Israel is developing a PR problem with younger Americans'

Support for Israel among young US evangelical Christians drops sharply — survey

Since 2018, backing for Israel dropped from 75% to 33%; nearly half of evangelicals aged 18-29 say they favor establishment of Palestinian state, voted for Biden over Trump

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Evangelical Christian movement and a mission of approximately 800 members of Pastor John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel (CUFI) organization, in Jerusalem on March 18 2012. (Amos Ben Gershom/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Evangelical Christian movement and a mission of approximately 800 members of Pastor John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel (CUFI) organization, in Jerusalem on March 18 2012. (Amos Ben Gershom/Flash90)

NEW YORK — A new survey points to a growing divide in the US between young evangelical Christians and their elders, particularly in their views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, indicating Israel could see a significant drop in support in coming years.

While the religious group has long been a bulwark of support for Israel in the US, the Barna Group-administered poll commissioned by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke indicates a sharp drop in support for the Jewish state and raises concerns that Israel could lose a key ally going forward, its authors told The Times of Israel on Monday.

The poll was commissioned as part of their research for an upcoming book on the issue.

In a poll of over 700 evangelical Christians between the ages of 18 and 29 that was conducted between March and April, respondents were asked where they place their support in the “Israeli-Palestinian dispute.” Just 33.6 percent said with Israel, 24.3% said with the Palestinians and 42.2 percent said with neither side.

This marked a significant shift from 2018, when 69% young evangelicals — responding to another survey conducted by UNCP professors, Motti Inbari and Kirill Bumin — said they side with Israel, 5.6% said they sided with the Palestinians and 25.7% said they didn’t take either side.

That 2018 survey also polled evangelicals of all ages, and already then, gaps were widening between younger and older members of the religious group.  Seventy-five percent of all 1000 respondents sided with Israel over the Palestinians,  2.8% expressed some degree of support for the Palestinians and 22% preferred not to take a side in the dispute.

Illustrative: Evangelical Christians from various countries wave flags as they march to show their support for Israel in Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, File)

Almost 45% of respondents now support the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, 35.1% said they are neutral on the issue, and only 20.5% oppose the idea of Palestinian statehood, according to the 2021 poll, whose results were shared with The Times of Israel. In 2018, the question on the topic was slightly different, but 29% percent of respondents said they opposed territorial concessions by Israel for peace with the Palestinians.

Over 22% responded that Israel does not treat Palestinians fairly, 35.7% were neutral on the issue, while a plurality (41.5%) responded that Israel treats Palestinians fairly, the latest poll found.

The online UNCP survey of young evangelicals had a 3.7 percentage point margin of error with a 95% level of confidence.

Contextualizing their findings, Inbari and Bumin noted in a statement that evangelicals have historically supported Israel based on their End Times theology, which connects the creation of the State of Israel with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

PM Netanyahu addresses a summit of Christians United for Israel in Washington, DC, July 23, 2018. (Twitter)

The professors, therefore, chose to ask young evangelicals if their views regarding Israel are based on their religious beliefs.

Notably, over 44% of respondents said that their religious beliefs do not influence their assessment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Over 38% said their religious beliefs lead them to view Israel more favorably, and 17.4% said that their religious beliefs lead them to be more supportive of the Palestinians.

When it comes to the issue of Jerusalem, only 28.4% of respondents said that East Jerusalem should be the capital of a future Palestinian state, while 71.6% said that the city in its entirety should forever remain Israel’s capital.

Evangelical pressure was key in getting former US president Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy to the city.

In this Monday, May 14, 2018 photo, American pastor Robert Jeffress shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following Jeffress’ speech during the opening ceremony of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Asked to explain the discrepancy between younger and older Evangelicals, 34% of respondents said it had to do with “generational difference,” 22.5% said it had to do with younger evangelicals being less knowledgeable about the conflict than the older generations, and 29.8% said they did not know.

Nearly half of respondents admitted to having very limited or no knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

While Israel is often deemed a top issue for evangelical voters, 65% of the young respondents said they seldom or never hear about the importance of supporting the Jewish state, with just 12% saying they hear it every week.

Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer addresses a Hanukkah reception at the Washington D.C. residence of Poland’s Ambassador the US Piotr Wilczek, December 3, 2018 (screen shoot: facebook.com/ambdermer)

The survey was publicized two weeks after former Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer suggested that Israel should prioritize the “passionate and unequivocal” support of evangelical Christians over that of American Jews, who he said are “disproportionately among our critics.”

“People have to understand that the backbone of Israel’s support in the United States is the evangelical Christians. It’s true because of numbers and also because of their passionate and unequivocal support for Israel,” Dermer said in an onstage interview at a conference organized by Makor Rishon, a news outlet affiliated with Israel’s right-wing national religious community.

“About 25% [of Americans] — some people think more — are evangelical Christians. Less than two percent of Americans are Jews,” he said. “So if you look just at numbers, you should be spending a lot more time doing outreach to evangelical Christians than you would do to Jews.”

He highlighted the “passion and support” for Israel among evangelicals, claiming that Israel is one of the most important, if not the most important, issue for many of them, contrasting the religious group to American Jews who he said vote on other issues.

However, the results of the UNCP survey indicated starkly different feelings among young evangelical Christians.

In a conversation with The Times of Israel, Inbari encouraged the Israeli government to pay attention to shifting opinions among evangelicals, as “it’s not a unified movement with one opinion. There are mixed opinions on Israel.”

“It’s become evident that Israel is developing a public relations problem with younger Americans. We see it with evangelicals as with American Jews and other groups,” he added.

More moderate, not fans of Trump

The UNCP professors also surveyed young evangelical Christians’ views more broadly.

According to their study, 46% of respondents voted for Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election, compared to only 26% for Trump.

Additionally, 20% said that they did not vote at all and 48.5% said that they are Democrats or lean in favor of the Democratic Party. Roughly 40% said they affiliate with or lean toward the Republican Party.

Young evangelicals are more likely to consider themselves centrist or moderate (37.5%), rather than conservative (31%) or liberal (31.5%), according to the survey.

Pastors from the Las Vegas area pray with then Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a visit to the International Church of Las Vegas and International Christian Academy on Oct. 5, 2016, in Las Vegas, Nevada. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The Associated Press VoteCast survey after the elections showed that 81% of all White evangelical voters backed Trump, compared with 18% who voted for Biden.

The 2021 UNCP survey found that among Republican and Republican-leaning respondents, 66.1% identified as white while among Democrats and Democrat-leaning respondents, only 29.2% identified as white.

A comparison of the 2018 and 2021 surveys also showed a shift in the views of young evangelicals on Muslims, with 41.7% of respondents now expressing a positive view, compared to 29% three years ago.

“What still remains unclear is whether these attitudes will change as this age group grows older, becoming similar to the views of previous generations (and thus more favorable toward Israel), or whether their attitudes will remain critical of Israel even as young evangelicals age,” Inbari and Bumin said in a statement.

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