Young Evangelical support for Israel plummets

Support for Israel among young Evangelicals has plummeted by over 50% in just three years, posing a potential threat to American backing for the Jewish State.

“This should be a wake-up call for Israeli policymakers,” said Dr. Yoav Fromer, head of The Center for the Study of the United States (CSUS) at Tel Aviv University. “For decades, consecutive Israeli governments – especially under Benjamin Netanyahu – have taken for granted the Evangelical support and neglected other groups within American society, including Jewish Americans.

“Now, as younger generations of Evangelicals appear to be turning away, Israel must seek to cultivate new sources of popular support among some of the fastest-growing demographic groups in America – like Hispanics and Asian Americans. If they don’t do this, and fast, in 10-20 years when Israel finds itself in need of emergency American aid, there might not be anyone there to offer it.”

Prof. Motti Inbari of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke and Dr. Kirill Bumin of Boston University will present their significant findings about the changing nature of Evangelical support for Israel on Tuesday during a virtual conference organized by CSUS. The data are part of their new book, Christian Zionism in the Twenty-First Century: American Evangelical Opinion on Israel, published by Oxford University Press last week.

Other findings: As of late 2021, only 33.6% of young Evangelicals under 30 support Israel, compared to 67.9% in 2018. At the same time, in 2021, 24.3% of young Evangelicals said they support the Palestinians, compared to only 5% three years before.

THOUSANDS OF Christian pilgrims and Israelis take part in the Feast of Tabernacles march in Jerusalem, last year. Many Israelis have come to trust Evangelical support, according to the writer. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Moreover, nearly half (42.4%) of young American Evangelicals under 30 said they supported neither Israel nor the Palestinians in 2021, compared to 25% in 2018.

“What we are seeing in the last five years is a huge shift taking place in popular support for the US-Israel relationship,” Fromer said.

He noted that influential figures from the older generation of Israel supporters, such as Pastor John Hagee of Christians United for Israel, Gordon Robertson, president of the Christian Broadcasting Network and son of the late Pat Robertson, and former vice president Mike Pence, continue to hold their support. 

Fromer also stated that the upcoming 2024 election wouldn’t be affected by this change, as young Evangelicals are expected to maintain their Republican voting patterns. However, he highlighted the possibility of a strategic shift in the next 10 to 20 years – or possibly even sooner.

“In three years, Israel will need to start renegotiating another 10-year MOU on military aid the country receives from the US. [former president Barack] Obama gave us a great deal. A much different demographic may not have the same willingness to continue to support Israel in such a way,” Fromer said. “This has real practical ramifications.”

He stressed that the data do not show that young Evangelicals are abandoning Israel or becoming anti-Israeli, but that they are prioritizing Israel much lower than before. He said, “They do not share the same passion and enthusiasm as their parents and grandparents, and that matters.”

Why is this happening? 

Part of it is that the “young generation of Americans grew up in a very different information environment than their parents and grandparents,” explained Inbari. “While the older generations have witnessed Israel’s struggles existing in a hostile Middle East, for the younger generation, Israel is portrayed as the aggressor while the Palestinians are victims.”

Furthermore, instead of tuning into Christian news stations like the Christian Broadcasting Network or relying on traditional media outlets, young Evangelicals, like many of their peers, turn to social media for their news and information.

“These factors have created a ‘perfect storm’ where the different generations of Evangelicals hold different views on many social and political matters, including Israel,” Inbari said.

The younger generation of Evangelicals is also undergoing shifts in their theological beliefs. While their parents and grandparents viewed Jews and Israel as crucial for redemption, this perception seems to be evolving among the current generation.

“Almost seven out of 10 Evangelical and born-again young Evangelicals that we surveyed in Spring 2021 adhere to the postmillennial and amillennial theological views, which see the Jewish people and the state of Israel as no longer necessary in the fulfillment of God’s plan for the second coming of Jesus Christ and the End Times,” Bumin said.

“Our survey shows that pastors who adhere to the most pro-Israel theology, called premillennialism, are older and less diverse than pastors who adhere to the amillennial and postmillennial theological views, which see the Jewish people and the State of Israel as no longer important for God’s plan for the second coming of Christ and the End Times.

“Many young Evangelicals probably seek out pastors that are younger, more ‘hip,’ more like them, and, as a result, it is quite likely that under-30 Evangelicals are exposed to both inhospitable media environment, which paints Israel as the aggressor, and eschatological traditions that assign little theological importance to the contemporary Jewish people or the State of Israel,” Bumin said.

However, Inbari cautioned that the situation could change as these young Evangelicals age.

“What we see with young Evangelicals might reflect a sort of youthful rebellion,” Inbari said. “Only time will tell if these trends will become mainstream Evangelical opinions.”

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