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American Conservatives Find Common Cause with Israel

The much-publicized episode in which Republican Senator Ted Cruz was booed and walked off the stage of a gathering of Middle Eastern Christians tells us that Middle East Christians remain anti-Israel while conservative Republicans are more pro-Israel than ever. For Israel this trade-off is scarcely bad news.

Christians in Arab countries have long been mostly hostile to Israel. Although second-class citizens, they are Arabs as well as Christians, and they often share in the antipathy toward Israel of their countrymen. For decades the most violent Palestinian terror organizations were the Marxist-oriented Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and various split-offs from it, all of them led by Christians. Lebanese Maronite Christians, who apparently played a large role in the Cruz meeting, are divided by clan, and one major section of them follows Michel Aoun, who years ago threw in with Hezbollah in his quest for the presidency of that country.

Other Christians are secretly more sympathetic to Israel, recognizing that the survival of one of the region’s minority groups against the tide of Islamic militancy may make it easier for others. But, already marginalized for their faith, they are loath to assume the onus of defending the accursed “Zionist enemy.”

The new news is that support for Israel has become something of a litmus test for Republicans seeking national office. The Pew organization recently announced that its polling had revealed the largest disparity between the two parties in the history of polling with respect to support for Israel. While 44 percent of Democrats favored Israel over the Palestinians, a whopping 73 percent of Republicans did so.

All political groups gave more support to Israel than the Palestinians, but the margins were quite different. The smallest margin in Israel’s favor was among liberal Democrats (less than 2 to 1), while the largest was among conservative Republicans (nearly 20 to 1). The latter number reflects the influence of Evangelical Protestants, but the level of support for Israel among conservative Republicans as a group was even greater than among Evangelicals. In other words, conservative Republicans who do not call themselves Evangelicals are even more likely to support Israel than Evangelicals. This suggests that what is at work is more ideology than theology. In other words, support for Israel has become a core tenet of American conservatism.

What explains this if not theology? The Pew survey provides no answer but we can hazard an informed guess. Conservatives are fearful of the assault on Western civilization by radical Islam just as they once feared the assault by Communism. Israel, they can see, is confronting the spearhead attacks of this assault. Ergo, they are rallying to its defense just as they once rallied to the cause of a miscellany of political movements in Asia, Africa, and Latin America when those movements happened to be on the front lines of the Cold War, although they enjoyed much less cultural affinity with those groups than they do today with Israel.

Although their numbers are falling, there are still many more Christians in the Middle East than Jews. But the outlook for Christians in the Arab countries, caught between a rock and a hard place, is poor, while the outlook for the Jewish state, bolstered by burgeoning support from Republicans and conservatives, looks far more promising.

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