What does the largest and fastest growing minority group in America think of Israel as a nation in 2017, and of the American policies toward Israel? How do both the media and Biblical teachings shape those perceptions? Are there important trends that matter going forward?
Hispanic peoples constitute the largest ethnic minority population of the USA with 17.8% in 2016 – according to the United States Census Bureau. This is a dramatic recent increase of more than 9% as a proportion of the whole population – rising quickly from 16.3% in 2010!
How does this large and diverse group of Americans think and act on numerous issues related to Israel and American policies on the Middle East? Moreover, how does the significant size and present dramatic growth of Hispanic participation in the USA affect the broad orientations of the Church and the American government on a variety of issues related to Israel?
These strategic questions united the Philos Project (www.PhilosProject.org), and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (www.nhclc.org) to commission LifeWay Research to conduct a remarkably nuanced survey of 1,038 randomly selected, statistically balanced, Hispanic-American adults who self-identified as Christians – proportionally Protestant (34%) or Roman Catholic (66%) – on January 11-23, 2017. The fascinating results were just released on June 22.
Broadly, 45% of all Christian Hispanic-Americans express at least somewhat positive support for Israel. That support is stronger among those who attend church at least once a month (52%), and it is even stronger among self-identified Evangelical Hispanics (59%). Strong Biblical belief and active Christian practice both strengthen people's positive attitudes toward Israel. Curiously, men are even more likely to be positive toward Israel than women, and Christian Hispanic men and women who have earned masters or doctors degrees are especially positive toward Israel (77%).
What about the rest of the Hispanic-American Christian community? A significant 26% perceive Israel at least somewhat negatively, and an especially important 28% are "not sure" about being positive or negative toward Israel. This relatively high level of uncertainty is a significant factor in other dimensions of Hispanic Christian attitudes toward Israel, including even Israel's right to exist as an independent nation and continuing American aid to Israel. On these intensely significant questions, consistently about one-third of Hispanic Christians are "not sure." This is a ripe opportunity for leaders to provide informed guidance.
An affinity for Israel and for the plights of the Jewish people in our time may be partially rooted in some of the Hispanic-American experiences of immigration from dangerous circumstances into new and complex settings, coping with rejection, looking out for one another, proving themselves to new neighbors who might not understand them, and having to speak up for their own justice. In addition, both Hispanic and Jewish cultures help nourish deep family ties, regular rousing festivals with great food, and other well-celebrated traditional ways.
Nevertheless, Hispanic-American Christians have to cope with the hostile scrutiny of Israel in much of the media and in the United Nations. In its 11 years of service since its formation in 2006, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has condemned Israel 70 times. This is 10 times the number of resolutions against either North Korea or Iran – both of which are state sponsors of terrorism and where all religious minorities are persecuted! All the while, no UNHRC resolutions have been made against China, or Cuba, or Pakistan, or Russia, or Saudi Arabia, or Somalia, or Turkey – even though freedom of speech and the press and freedom of religion are severely limited in each of them. In Israel, by stark contrast, speech and the press are free, and religious liberty is carefully protected. Of all the Middle East, the press is the most free in Israel – but this does not give Israel any advantage or even a free pass from irresponsible media biases.
What influences Hispanic-American Christians in their opinions of contemporary Israel? They identify numerous sources, especially the media (44%) – followed by the Bible (24%), their friends and family (16%), and their church (12%). As for most Americans, their media news sources are quite diverse, including television (85%), social media like Facebook and Twitter (55%), news websites (47%), radio (37%), and printed newspapers and magazines (29%).
Wisely, our Hispanic Christian population sustains a healthy skepticism about the neutrality of their diverse news sources. Only 24% believe that their media sources are objective in their reporting on Israel. Moreover, a huge 44% are not sure if their media news sources are biased or objective toward Israel. It would be reassuring if the rest of the American population had such healthy skepticism.
Hispanic-American Christian concerns for Israel and the Palestinian people especially focused on compassion for people. And while some sympathize more with the hardships Israelis face (27%) and others with the hardships of Palestinians (7%), the vast majority sympathize equally with the hardships of both Israelis and Palestinians (66%). In the survey there was no opportunity to share an opinion of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority – political authorities who refuse to hold democratic elections among their Palestinian citizens and who pay big bonus checks to families of those who commit terrorist violence against Israelis. The Gospel teaches us to have compassion for everyone, even while we may hate their oppressive governments. This broad Hispanic compassion for Israelis and Palestinians is both praiseworthy and inspiring.
That Hispanic Christian compassion is also sincerely expressed toward Christians who live in areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority. In general, Hispanic Christians agree to concern (72%) for these harassed and persecuted Palestinian Christians – viciously persecuted by their fellow Palestinians! That commendable concern rises to 83% among all those who attend church about once a week. Self-identified Evangelicals, regardless of how often they attend church, express that same high-level concern for persecuted Palestinians (83%). In a time of dramatic targeted abuse of Christians by their fellow Palestinians, this is a sign of hope.
In all of the Middle East, only in Israel are religious minorities, including Christians, free to worship. Only in Israel is the Church free to grow publically. Soon we in the United States will celebrate God's hand in the core Biblical social values and remarkable 241-year history of our country. There is perhaps only one other country, Israel, whose similar core Judeo-Christian social values and remarkable history are such testimony to the truth of Biblical wisdom.
For good reason, the radical Islamist (see "The Strange Harmony Between Secular Left and Radical Islam"), terror-supporting, human-rights-abusing, Bible-hating regime in Iran considers Israel the "Little Satan" because of a supportive relationship with the "Big Satan," USA – and it considers the USA the "Big Satan" because of our unshakable friendship with the "Little Satan" Israel. For these reasons, weekly the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei endorses masses of people chanting both "Death to America" and also "Death to Israel." No other countries beside Israel and the USA receive such Islamist honors!
In the USA we have the irresponsible boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) movement, even within some Christian denominations, that seeks to punish corporations who do business with Israelis or in Israel, the only democracy and the only religiously free country in the Middle East. BDS represents such a confusion of values. May God help us!
Around the world and in the USA, numerous people hate Israel and frequently attack Israel unjustly. Thank you Philos Project (www.PhilosProject.org) and thank you National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (www.nhclc.org) for uncovering and reporting to us these documented signs of redemptive hope within the Hispanic-American Christian community. We are grateful!