Three years ago a poll showed that American Jews looked more favorably on American Muslims than Christian evangelicals by a margin of more than 2-to-1. The results were a shock to most people then because most evangelicals have been quite vocal and active in their support for Israel.
Advocates for improved relations between Jews and Christian evangelicals had hoped that years of working together to support Israel had built bridges between the two otherwise distant communities. But the 2012 poll indicated that mistrust and suspicion still run deep on the Jewish side. Only one in five Jewish Americans holds a favorable view of those aligned with the Christian right, a category that includes most of Israel's evangelical supporters.
The survey, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and published April 3, 2012 asked Jewish respondents to rate the favorability of several religious groups. Mormons received a 47 percent favorability rating, and Muslims 41.4 percent. But the group described as "Christian Right" was viewed in favorable terms by only 21 percent of Jewish Americans.
In contrast, the general American population, as shown by other polling data, views evangelicals more favorably than Muslims and Mormons. A 2007 poll by the Pew Forum asked Americans if they had a favorable or unfavorable view of different religious groups.
The poll found that 76 percent of Americans had a favorable view of Jews and Catholics, 60 percent had a favorable view of evangelical Christians, 53 percent had a favorable view of Mormons and American Muslims, while 43 percent had a favorable view of Muslims in general and only 35 percent had a favorable view of atheists.
The 2012 survey also found that American Jews distinguish between Muslims in general and American Muslims, finding American Muslims to be a minority religious groups trying to find its way within American society just like Jews.
Sixty-six percent of American Jews told the survey they view American Muslims as an important part of the religious community in the United States. And 76 percent rejected the idea that American Muslims are striving to make Sharia law the law of the land in the United States.
Asked if "American Muslims are an important part of the religious community in the United States," 55 percent of white evangelicals said no. 45 percent of white members of mainline churches said no, 42 percent of Catholics said no, 40 percent of black Protestants said no, 34 percent of those with no religious affiliation said no, while just 32 percent of Jews said no.
Since it is from evangelicals that most attacks on Islam and fears of Sharia law arise; it is not surprising that evangelicals are twice as likely as Jews to agree with the statement: "American Muslims ultimately want to establish Sharia or Islamic law as the law of the land in the United States,".
Thus, 46 percent of white evangelicals agreed, 35 percent of black Protestants agreed, 33 percent of white members of mainline Christian churches agreed, while only 23 percent of Catholics, 22 percent of Jews and 21 percent of the unaffiliated agreed.
Marshall Breger, a professor at the Catholic University of America's School of Law told The Forward, a leading Jewish weekly. "To the extent to which the bulk of Jews are liberal, both politically and culturally, they'll have negative views of the Christian right."
All research points to the sharp contrast between Jews and Christian conservative views on abortions, women's rights, gay and lesbian rights, and the separation of religion and state as the key factor distancing the two communities.
But David Brog, executive director of Christians United for Israel, America's largest evangelical pro-Israel organization, sees these issues as an excuse. "On the social issues, there is more-or-less unanimity between Christian Conservatives, Mormons, Muslims and Orthodox Jews," Brog argued.
Rabbi David Saperstein, head of the Reform movement's Religious Action Center, told The Forward it is not the Christian right's beliefs on social issues that pose a problem to the Jewish community - it is their attempt to use those beliefs to control public policy and governmental activity. "The Christian right has a clear agenda for America that it is trying to advance in all levels of American politics," Saperstein said.
In contrast, Mormons, Muslims, and Orthodox Jews, have not taken their conservative beliefs beyond their own communities, and tried to impose them on all Americans.
But the fundamental reason that Jews are cool to evangelicals is because evangelicals, in their hearts and minds, always want to convert all Jews to Christianity. Evangelicals spend millions of dollars every year supporting missionaries who seek to convert Jews to Christianity.
In the not to distant future, Muslims can expect to receive the same attention from missionaries, so Muslims and Jews are likely to draw even closer together.
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