President Obama’s nominee for Defense Secretary, former Republican senator and Vietnam vet Chuck Hagel, was supposed to face some serious opposition from Israel’s Jewish supporters because of his impolitic 2007 remarks about the “Jewish lobby” that has “intimidated lawmakers.”

That threat seems to have passed, thanks in part to Hagel’s expression of “total support” for Israel and the reluctance of Obama’s many Jewish supporters to buck him on the pick.

But as Samuel Goldman points out at The American Conservative, Hagel’s real problems may be with conservative Christians — “Christian Zionists” — who have always been at least as important to U.S. support for Israel as any perceived “Jewish” lobby:

In fact, two of the most active sources of opposition are Christians United for Israel and Concerned Women for America. The leadership of both groups is inspired by eschatology based on the Book of Revelation, according to which the resettlement of the Jews in the whole of the Biblical holy land is a prelude to the return of Christ.

This divergence between the Jews as an organized community and of Christian supporters of Israel movement reflects an amazing transformation of America’s relation to Israel. Until the 1990s, the “pro-Israel” lobby was rooted in the activism and financial support of American Jews. Hagel was alluding to this fact when he used the rather unpleasant term “Jewish lobby” to describe American supporters of Israel.

Since then, however, American Jews have adopted more dovish views. In addition to their overwhelming support for a two-state solution, younger American Jews are less likely than their parents to see Israel as the centerpiece of Jewish identity. As a result, Jews are probably more likely than other Americans to support the foreign policy positions for which Hagel has been criticized (similar views are fairly common on the Israeli left). In any case, they voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama, despite extensive and expensive efforts to shift Jewish votes into the Republican column.

At the same time, Christian Zionists have mobilized in favor of unconditional support for Israel’s increasingly hawkish governments.

Goldman goes on to cite Matt Yglesias’s description of the “Post-Jewish Pro-Israel Movement.” He says  that’s not good for Israel, but it’s also not the source of Hagel’s remaining difficulties.

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David Gibson

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.


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