Israel should spend more of its energy reaching out to “passionate” American evangelicals than Jews, who are “disproportionately among our critics,” former Israeli ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer said on Sunday.
Speaking to Israeli journalist Amit Segal onstage at a conference sponsored by the right-wing Makor Rishon newspaper, Dermer, who is a longtime confidante of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, called evangelicals “the backbone of Israel’s support in the United States,” and said that deciding to focus on strengthening that relationship at the expense of the Jewish community was a numbers game.
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“Look at the numbers. About 25 percent, some people think more, of Americans are evangelical Christians. Less than 2 percent of Americans are Jews,” he declared.
“So if you look just at numbers, you should be spending a lot more time doing outreach to evangelical Christians than you would do to Jews. But also look at the passionate support. For most evangelicals in the United States, certainly for many of them, Israel is one of the most important issues to them. For some it’s number one. For others, it’s maybe number two or number three.”
It is “very rare to hear evangelicals criticize Israel,” he said.
According to a 2019 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, 42 percent of American Jews agreed with the statement that then-President Donald Trump was “favoring the Israelis too much,” significantly more than the 15 percent of evangelical Protestants who expressed such sentiments.
These attitudes are closely related to both political affiliation, as American Jews skew heavily Democratic, and religious ideology. According to a 2017 poll conducted by LifeWay Research, 80 percent of American evangelicals see the establishment of the state of Israel and the return of Diaspora Jews to the country as “fulfillment of Bible prophecy that show we are getting closer to the return of Jesus Christ.”
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Despite his comments, Dermer stressed that Israel has a duty to invest in its relationship with Jewish communities abroad.
“The raison d’être of the Jewish state is to build these connections with Jews throughout the Diaspora and certainly with American Jews as well,” he said. “We have an obligation and a duty to strengthen that connection and we do."
Beyond finding fault with American Jewish criticism of Israel, Dermer also lashed out at domestic opponents of the prime minister, calling Israelis “particularly ungrateful” and describing Netanyahu as “something of a Gulliver in Israel” under attack by “Lilliputians doing their best to tie (him) down.”