August 10, 2016
Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, I didn’t ask friends if they were pro-Israel. It was a given. Nearly every American who valued life, liberty, and freedom stood with Israel. Why? It was simple: because Israel is America’s greatest ally, and the only country in the Middle East that stands for the principles of democracy and justice that are all-too-rare in the region.
But the times have changed. The world has gotten more complicated. And more confused.
When I was growing up, the world still remembered that Israel gave citizenship to Arabs who stayed in the country during the 1967 war, despite the calls from so many Arab leaders to evacuate, then return when Israel had been destroyed.
When I was young, citizens across America recognized that Israel had won difficult wars through strategy and miracles, never emulating our enemies’ despicable tactics of mass killings, random attacks against innocent civilians, or widespread campaigns of lies.
In the America I was raised in, Israel was a shining light unto the nations, confirmation to the world that “the good guys” ultimately win. The State of Israel was a stark reminder that God is very much alive in this crazy and unpredictable world, and that His promise to Israel made so many years ago in biblical times still stands.
Yet visiting America for six weeks this summer, it became clear to me that the America I remember has undergone a face lift.
On a Tuesday afternoon, I turned on my TV to see Israeli flags being burned outside of the Democratic National Convention.
On my way to work I heard former KKK leader David Duke speak about running for the U.S. Senate on the platform of “returning America to its European roots,” and clarifying that Jews are from the Middle East.
The daily news headlines show once unimaginable quotes of politicians debating “the Israel issue.” Recently, Jill Stein – the Green Party’s nominee for President of the United States – stated that she would end military aid to “apartheid” Israel.
The truth is, it’s terrifying and nauseating. Anti-Israel rhetoric became a legitimate mainstream position just recently, and as experts have warned, that has led the way to blatant anti-Semitism being tolerated.
But this can’t be true in the Jewish community, right? Shockingly, as I saw firsthand: wrong.
I landed in South Carolina in a small plane, ready to start my marathon day of meetings. First I headed to an African-American Baptist church. I sat with the pastor for hours, as he pledged to me that “As long as I am the pastor of this church, we stand with Israel. If that means losing some congregants – so be it!”
With excitement, he told me his feelings on every one of Israel’s Prime Ministers since 1948, and what he appreciated in each of them. He proudly showed me photos from the hundreds of talks, sermons, and drives he has done for Israel. “My passion in life is Israel, and it is my greatest honor,” he said. Together, we formulated more ways he can get involved in supporting the Holy Land.
Inspired and motivated to continue the momentum, I headed to meetings with Jewish pro-Israel leaders and a local rabbi.
“This can be awesome,” I told them, as I laid out my vision for uniting local Jews and Christians to rally and openly stand with Israel. But their faces remained neutral.
“The Jewish community is extremely wary of publicly standing with Israel,” the rabbi sadly said. Shocked, my smile faded too. “Why?” I asked him.
Unable to hide his embarrassment, he answered, “Too controversial.”
I asked the rabbi if the pastor I met represented most Christians in his state, and he answered immediately. “Yes! They are our strongest friends.” He also confirmed that the Jewish position to “not deal with Israel” is gaining terrifying traction.
It took a few minutes to collect my thoughts. A black Christian pastor is educated and unapologetically supportive of Israel, while many American Jews won’t educate their young or even discuss Israel – their very own homeland. How sad and disturbing.
A 2013 Pew research study showed that a higher percentage of Christians than Jews in America believe that God gave Israel to the Jewish people. The same percentage of Jews and Christians believe that America is not supportive enough of Israel (a whopping 30%).
As Bob Dylan once said, “The times, they are a changin’.”
When I was young, I never heard of a Jew embarrassed to support Israel. Whether I visited friends in Conservative or Reform Temples, or went to services in my Orthodox shul, Israel was our pride and joy. It was the issue that unified us all.
As I return to Israel, I realize that the America I knew is not the America that I now know. Everything has been turned upside down. Jewish support for Israel is waning, and Christian support is growing.
So much is uncertain.
But one thing is crystal clear: The Jewish and Christian pro-Israel communities must stand unified in our love and support for Israel and pledge to unashamedly educate the next generation to do so as well. Because if our religious leaders are staying silent on “the Israel issue,” the only other place our children and grandchildren will learn about it is in the news.