American Jews and African Americans often worked side by side during the civil rights movement, including when rabbis walked with Martin Luther King Jr. in the march to Selma in 1965.
In more recent years, however, the relationship has become more complicated due to conflicts between the nation of Israel and Palestinians and the resulting political responses from groups like Black Lives Matter.
A new study from LifeWay Research explored African Americans’ thoughts about Israel, Jews, religious identification, news consumption and other issues. On many of the issues related directly to Israel, African Americans frequently say they’re unsure what to think.
“Needed social reforms in the U.S. may have distracted African Americans’ attention from following challenges in Israel,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “That hasn’t turned many African Americans against Israel but leaves many with honestly no opinion on matters of support, conflicts and even history.”
Thoughts on Israel
The study, sponsored by the Philos Project, found African Americans are more likely to say they carefully follow domestic policy (68 percent) than say the same about foreign policy (59 percent).
With Israel specifically, 42 percent of African Americans have a positive perception of the country. More than a quarter (27 percent) have a negative opinion. A third (32 percent) aren’t sure.
Three in 5 (61 percent) say a political candidate having pro-Israel policies would make them neither more nor less likely to vote for that candidate.
African Americans are divided on the amount of help the U.S. offers to Israel. While 3 in 10 say the U.S. is doing the right amount, 23 percent say it’s too much, 12 percent say it’s not enough, and 35 percent aren’t sure.
Half (52 percent) say they support Israel’s statehood, while 18 percent disagree. Three in 10 say they’re not sure.
Two in 5 African Americans (39 percent) say the international community denies basic recognition as a nation to Israel. A quarter disagree and 36 percent aren’t sure.
Among those who support Israel’s statehood, 71 percent say a reason they do so is because every nation has a right to exist, and 30 percent say it’s because Israel is the historic Jewish homeland.
Some African Americans point to religious reasons for their support: 28 percent say it’s because Jesus was a Jew, 25 percent say they support Israel’s statehood because it is important for fulfilling biblical prophecy, and 24 percent say the Bible says Christians should support Israel.
Another 24 percent say their support is influenced by Israel being the United States’ closest ally in an unstable region.
Still, other African Americans speak of Israel being a needed refuge for Jews after the Holocaust (15 percent) or the safest place for religious minorities in the Middle East (11 percent).
Many African Americans see historic connections between themselves and Jews during the civil rights movement. A significant number of African Americans also draw comparisons to their overcoming struggles as a people and that of the ancient Israelites.
Half of African Americans (49 percent) say Martin Luther King Jr. was a strong supporter of the Jewish people. Slightly fewer (42 percent) believe he was a strong supporter of Israel.
More than 2 in 5 (43 percent) say Jewish people in America were instrumental in the civil rights movement, while a quarter (23 percent) disagree.
Many African Americans say they think more positively about the nation of Israel because of the historic connections between the journey of their ethnicity and the journey of the Jews.
Around a quarter say their opinion of Israel has been positively influenced due to the historic parallels between the enslavement of Jews in ancient Egypt and blacks in America (27 percent) and due to the similarities between the two groups overcoming oppression: Jewish people in pursuing the promised land and African Americans pursing civil rights (26 percent).
Most (62 percent) say they are not familiar with the teachings of Black Hebrew Israelites, a group that contends black Americans are the physical descendants of the ancient Israelites. Few (4 percent) consider themselves to be a Black Hebrew Israelite.
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Source: Baptist Press