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His Land and the Origins of the Jewish-Evangelical Israel Lobby

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 February 2019

Abstract

The 1970 release of His Land, a religious documentary about Israel produced by Billy Graham's film studio, World Wide Pictures, took the evangelical world by storm. It was shown to hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of churchgoers and encapsulated the mix of prophecy beliefs and cultural arguments that cohered a decade later into the Christian Zionist movement—a major component of the religious right. Surprisingly, American evangelicals were not the only fans of His Land. American Jews, led by the American Jewish Committee (AJC), helped make the film an international success. AJC officials organized ecumenical screenings and kept detailed records of the film's reception, praising it as “an authentic interpretation” that “strengthen[s] the current interreligious discussion on the Middle East question.” By 1971, the AJC was showing this unabashedly evangelical film to Jewish audiences in synagogues and community centers. Through reconstructing His Land's production and reception, this article provides a new interpretation of the origins of bipartisan, Jewish and evangelical support for Israel in the late-twentieth century. It recasts the rise of a Jewish-evangelical pro-Israel lobby as an important religious episode to understanding the rise of the religious right and the continuing importance of confessional and theological identity even in the era of the “culture wars.”

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Copyright © American Society of Church History 2019 

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Footnotes

I would like to thank Mark Edwards, Lauren Turek, and Neil J. Young for reading an earlier version of this essay. I would also like to thank Skye Doney, Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, John Suval, and Kevin Walters for feedback and support.

References

1 Gerald Strober to Kenneth Bliss, February 25, 1971, box 22, folder 4, Marc H. Tanenbaum Papers, American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati, Ohio (hereafter cited as MHT).

2 Quoted in monthly American Jewish Committee letter to National Council for Christians and Jews, November 1970, box 22, folder 3, MHT.

3 “Introductory Remarks to His Land,” box 22, folder 4, MHT.

4 See, for example, Griffith, R. Marie, Moral Combat: How Sex Divided American Christians and Fractured American Politics (New York: Basic Books, 2017)Google Scholar; Stahl, Ronit Y., Enlisting Faith: How the Military Chaplaincy Shaped Religion and State in Modern America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2017)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; White, Heather R., Reforming Sodom: Protestants and the Rise of Gay Rights (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2015)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Schultz, Kevin M., Tri-Faith America: How Catholics and Jews Held Postwar America to Its Protestant Promise (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011)Google Scholar.

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6 This is especially true in literature on the culture wars. See Prothero, Stephen, Why Liberals Win (Even When They Lose Elections): How America's Raucous, Nasty, and Mean “Culture Wars” Make for a More Inclusive Nation (New York: Harper One, 2016)Google Scholar; Dowland, Seth, Family Values and the Rise of the Christian Right (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015)Google Scholar; and Hartman, Andrew, A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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9 Young, Neil J., We Gather Together: The Religious Right and the Problem of Interfaith Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 4CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For a similar criticism, see Heineman, Kenneth J., God Is a Conservative: Religion, Politics, and Morality in Contemporary America, Second Edition (New York: New York University Press, 2005)Google Scholar. For scholarship on the religious right see Kruse, Kevin M., One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America (New York: Basic Books, 2015)Google Scholar; Dochuk, Darren, From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism (New York: W.W. Norton, 2011)Google Scholar; Flippen, J., Jimmy Carter, the Politics of Family, and the Rise of the Religious Right (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011)Google Scholar; and Williams, Daniel K., God's Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

10 See, for example, Mearsheimer, John J. and Walt, Stephen M., The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007)Google Scholar.

11 On the relationship between evangelicals and American Jews, see as representative: Ariel, Yaaḳov, An Unusual Relationship: Evangelical Christians and Jews (New York: New York University Press, 2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar and Mittleman, Alan, Johnson, Byron, and Isserman, Nancy, eds., Uneasy Allies?: Evangelical and Jewish Relations (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2007)Google Scholar.

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14 For example, in 2014 Pew Research found that Southern Baptists leaned or identified Republican by a margin of +38 while Jews leaned or identified Democratic by a margin of +38. See Michael Lipka, “U.S. religious groups and their political leanings,” Pew Research Center, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/02/23/u-s-religious-groups-and-their-political-leanings/.

15 Simon, Merrill, Jerry Falwell and the Jews (Middle Village, N.Y.: Jonathan David Publishers, 1984), 88Google Scholar. For recent scholarship on evangelical Christian Zionism, see Ariel, Evangelicals and Jews; Smith, Robert O., More Desired than Our Owne Salvation: The Roots of Christian Zionism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Spector, Stephen, Evangelicals and Israel: The Story of American Christian Zionism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Clark, Victoria, Allies for Armageddon: The Rise of Christian Zionism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007)Google Scholar; and Weber, Timothy P., On the Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Became Israel's Best Friend (Grand Rapids.: Baker Academic, 2005)Google Scholar. These works tend to root evangelical attitudes toward Jews in Christian theological doctrines. Weber sees evangelicals “getting off the sidelines” after 1967 but does not frame evangelical activism in interreligious terms.

16 For ethnographic studies that offer more varied explanations, including the role of biblical typology in Christian Zionist thinking, see Shapiro, Faydra L., Christian Zionism: Navigating the Jewish-Christian Border (New York: Cascade Books, 2015)Google Scholar; Durbin, Sean, “‘For Such a Time as This’: Reading (and Becoming) Esther with Christians United for Israel,” Relegere: Studies in Religion and Reception 2, no. 1 (2012): 6590CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Harding, Susan, The Book of Jerry Falwell: Fundamentalist Language and Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), 228231Google Scholar.

17 See especially Smith, More Desired Than Our Owne Salvation; Clark, Allies for Armageddon; Weber, On the Road to Armageddon; and Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More. The thematic center of gravity of these titles are revealing in their focus. Yaakov Ariel, the foremost scholar of Christian Zionism, likewise privileges apocalypticism over other factors in explaining evangelical (and earlier fundamentalist) Zionism. See, for example, Ariel, Yaakov, “Israel in Contemporary Evangelical Christian Millennial Thought,” Numen 59, no. 5–6 (2012): 456485CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

18 Works on American evangelicalism often tend to treat Christian Zionism as an isolated element of evangelical politics. See, for example, Marsden, George, Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 7778Google Scholar and Carpenter, Joel A., Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism (New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 1999), 97100CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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20 On the increasing divisiveness of political identity, see “Political Polarization in American Public Life,” Pew Research Center, June 12, 2014, http://www.people-press.org/2014/06/12/political-polarization-in-the-american-public/.

21 See Dinnerstein, Leonard, Antisemitism in America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 150174Google Scholar; Hunter, Culture Wars, 40–41.

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23 Bellah, Robert N., “Civil Religion in America,” Daedalus 96, no. 1 (January 1, 1967): 121Google Scholar; On the differences between Herberg and Bellah, see Stahl, Ronit Y., “A Jewish America and a Protestant Civil Religion: Will Herberg, Robert Bellah, and Mid-Twentieth Century American Religion,” Religions 6, no. 2 (April 2015): 434–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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25 For correctives to this “backlash thesis,” see Sutton, Matthew Avery, American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2014)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Dochuk, From Bible Belt to Sunbelt; Williams, God's Own Party; Phillips-Fein, Kim, Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan (New York: W.W. Norton, 2009)Google Scholar; and Moreton, Bethany, To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009)Google Scholar.

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27 On the enduring influence of fundamentalists, see Ruotsila, Markku, Fighting Fundamentalist: Carl McIntire and the Politicization of American Fundamentalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015)Google Scholar. On the evangelical left, see Gasaway, Brantley W., Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Swartz, David R., Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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29 See Wald, Kenneth D., “The Choosing People: Interpreting the Puzzling Politics of American Jewry,” Politics and Religion 8, no. 1 (March 2015): 435CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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31 On Restorationism, see Goldman, Samuel, God's Country: Christian Zionism in America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Smith, More Desired than Our Owne Salvation; Lewis, Donald M., The Origins of Christian Zionism: Lord Shaftesbury and Evangelical Support for a Jewish Homeland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010)Google Scholar; Goldman, Shalom, Zeal for Zion: Christians, Jews, & the Idea of the Promised Land (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009)Google Scholar.

32 See Pietsch, Branden, Dispensational Modernism (Oxford University Press, 2015)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

33 Rossinow, Doug, “‘The Edge of the Abyss’: The Origins of the Israel Lobby, 1949–1954,” Modern American History 1, no. 1 (March 2018): 2343CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

34 Waxman, Dov, Trouble in the Tribe: The American Jewish Conflict over Israel (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016), 36Google Scholar.

35 Raphael, Marc Lee, A History of the United Jewish Appeal, 1939–1982 (Chico: Scholars Press, 1982), 77Google Scholar.

36 Arthur Hertzberg, “Israel and American Jewry,” Commentary, August 1, 1967, 69.

37 Goldberg, J. J., Jewish Power: Inside the American Jewish Establishment (New York: Basic Books, 1997), 134135Google Scholar.

38 Waxman, Chaim I., “The Limited Impact of the Six Day War on Americas Jews” in Lederhendler, Eli, ed., The Six-Day War and World Jewry (Bethesda: University Press of Maryland, 2000), 99Google Scholar. See also Waxman, Trouble in the Tribe, 35–40 and Rosenthal, Steven, Irreconcilable Differences?: The Waning of the American Jewish Love Affair with Israel (Hanover: Brandeis University Press, 2001), 2142CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

39 Hertzberg, Arthur, “Zionism and the Jewish Religious Tradition,” in The Jerusalem Colloquium on Religion, Peoplehood, Nation, and Land, Jerusalem, Tanenbaum, Marc H. and Werblowsky, R. J. Zwi, eds. (Jerusalem: Truman Research Institute of the Hebrew University, 1971), 184Google Scholar.

40 Siegel, Seymour, “Election and the People of God,” in Speaking of God Today: Jews and Lutherans in Conversation, Opsahl, Paul D. and Tanenbaum, Marc H., eds. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974), 5152Google Scholar.

41 Malachi, , “New Dimensions for Christian-Jewish Confrontation in United Jerusalem,” in Discussing Jerusalem (Jerusalem: Israel Academic Committee on the Middle East, 1972), 34Google Scholar. The relationship between Israelis and the Jewish diaspora over the significance of Israel is one of the defining marks of modern Jewish history. See Barnett, The Star and the Stripes, 147–154; Ganin, Zvi, An Uneasy Relationship: American Jewish Leadership and Israel, 1948–1957 (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2005)Google Scholar; Gorni, Yosef, The State of Israel in Jewish Public Thought: The Quest for Collective Identity (New York: New York University Press, 1994), 5478CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

42 Marc Tanenbaum quoted in Banki, Judith Herschkopf, Christian Reactions to the Middle East Crisis: New Agenda for Interreligious Dialogue (New York: American Jewish Committee, 1967), 1516Google Scholar.

43 See McAlister, Melani, Epic Encounters: Culture, Media, and U.S. Interests in the Middle East since 1945, Second Edition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 157190Google Scholar.

44 Exodus, directed by Otto Preminger, United Arists, 1960, film. See Goodman, Giora, “‘Operation Exodus’: Israeli Government Involvement in the Production of Otto Preminger's Film Exodus (1960),” Journal of Israeli History 33, no. 2 (July 2014): 209229CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Kaplan, Amy, “Zionism as Anticolonialism: The Case of Exodus,” American Literary History 25, no. 4 (2013): 870–95CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and McAlister, Epic Encounters, 159–165.

45 Cast a Giant Shadow, directed by Melville Shavelson, United Artists, 1966, film.

46 Kaell, Hillary, Walking Where Jesus Walked: American Christians and Holy Land Pilgrimage (New York: New York University Press, 2014), 2CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

47 The Gospel Road: A Story of Jesus, directed by Robert Elfstorm, Twentieth Century Fox Film Incorporation, 1973, film.

48 See, for example, Pat Boone, The Pat Boone Family—In the Holy Land, Lamb & Lion Records, 1974; Don McLean's most famous album, American Pie (1971), includes the track “Babylon,” a cover of Psalm 137 on Jewish longing for return to their homeland. In later albums, such as Believers (1981), he includes tracks such as “Jerusalem.”

49 Jesus Christ Superstar, directed by Norman Newison, Universal Pictures, 1973, film. See Lawrence Van Gelder, “Two Jewish Organizations are Critical of ‘Superstar,’” New York Times, October 13, 1971, 40.

50 Jesus, directed by John Krish and Peter Sykes, Warner Brothers, 1979, film.

51 Cliff Barrows, “I Walked in His Land,” Christian Life, January 1971, 22.

52 See McMahan, Tom, Safari for Souls with Billy Graham in Africa (Columbia, SC: State-Record Company, 1960), 8593Google Scholar.

53 Barrows, “I Walked in His Land,” 23.

54 Ibid., 22.

55 Ibid., 26.

56 Dave Foster, “This Land is ‘His Land’,” Christianity Today, May 8, 1970, 39.

57 “Introductory Remarks to His Land,” n.d., box 22, folder 4, MHT.

58 Sanua, Marianne Rachel, Let Us Prove Strong: The American Jewish Committee, 1945–2006 (Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2007), 135155CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

59 See Cummings, Jonathan, Israel's Public Diplomacy: The Problems of Hasbara, 1966–1975 (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016)Google Scholar.

60 See Staub, Torn at the Roots, 112–152.

61 Brickner, Balfour, “A Time for Candor in Interreligious Relationships,” CCAR Yearbook 77 (1967): 117122Google Scholar.

62 Marc Tanenbaum quoted in Paul L. Montgomery, “A Dialogue of Faiths at Seton Hall,” New York Times, October 29, 1970, 45.

63 Gerald Strober to Walter Smyth, February 27, 1970, box 22, folder 2, MHT.

64 Billie Stern to Gerald Strober, October 26, 1970, box 22, folder 3, MHT; Marc Tanenbaum to Area Directors, “Follow Up on His Land,” memo, July 15, 1970, box 22, folder, 3, MHT.

65 Comments on “His Land,” box 22, folder 2, MHT.

66 Comments on “His Land,” box 22, folder 2, MHT.

67 Marc Tanenbaum to Area Directors, “Responses to His Land,” January 14, 1971, box 22, folder 4, MHT.

68 George Dugan, “Ecumenic Praise Given Graham's Film on Israel,” New York Times, June 1, 1970, 15.

69 George Cornell, “Graham's Film on Israel Lauded by Christians, Jews,” Church Chronicle, August 7, 1970.

70 Comments on “His Land,” box 22, folder 2, MHT.

71 Quoted in His Land promotional letter, September 14, 1970, box 22, folder 3, MHT.

72 Foster, “This Land is ‘His Land’,” 39.

73 Quoted in Marc Tanenbaum to Area Directors, “Responses to His Land,” memo, January 14, 1971, box 22, folder 4, MHT.

74 Marc Tanenbaum, memorandum, May 29, 1970, box 22, folder 2, MHT; Gerald Strober to W.W. Simpson, January 5, 1972, box 22, folder 4, MHT.

75 Invitation, November 17, 1970, box 22, folder 3, MHT.

76His Land: A Discussion Guide,” box 22, folder 2, MHT.

77 See, for example, “His Land Study Guide,” box 129, folder 8, Collection I–123: Jewish Community Relations Council—Boston, American Jewish Heritage Center—New England Archives, Boston, Massachusetts.

78 Gerard Persaghin, “‘His Land’ Stumbles Along Like a Clumsy, Well-Intentioned Oaf,” Catholic Standard, August 11, 1970, box 22, folder 3, Marc H. Tanenbaum Collection, AJA.

79 Comments on “His Land,” box 22, folder 2, MHT.

80 See Bert DeVries, “‘His Land’ and History,” Reformed Journal (April 1971), 10–11.

81 Barrows, “I Walked in His Land,” 26.

82 Solomon Bernards to ADL Regional Offices, report, box 22, folder 3, MHT.

83 Staub, Torn at the Roots, 48.

84 See Ariel, Yaakov, “Counterculture and Mission: Jews for Jesus and the Vietnam Era Missionary Campaigns, 1970–1975,” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 9, no. 2 (July 1999): 233257CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

85 Gerald Strober to Marc Tanenbaum, November 5, 1973, box 24, folder 1, MHT.

86 Gerald Strober to Marc Tanenbaum, June 9, 1969, box 21, folder 1, MHT.

87 “Statement by Billy Graham,” February 28, 1973, box 24, folder 1, MHT. See also “Billy Graham on Key 73,” Christianity Today, March 16, 1973, 625.

88 It is less probable that Graham was making a reference to Paul's chastisement of Jews in Romans 10:2, which contains the same phrase.

89 “Statement by Billy Graham,” February 28, 1973, box 24, folder 1, MHT.

90 Marc Tanenbaum to Billy Graham, March 1, 1973, box 24, folder 1, MHT.

91 “Billy Graham's Statement Could Equal That of Vatican II: Rabbi Tanenbaum,” The Jewish Post & Opinion, April 13, 1973, 12.

92 On Graham's relationship with the religious right, see FitzGerald, Frances, The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017), 292293Google Scholar; Wacker, Grant, America's Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2014), 245246CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Miller, Steven P., Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009), 217218, 287n2Google Scholar.

93 See Mearsheimer and Walt, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, 110–139; Waxman, Trouble in the Tribe, 147–173.

94 Eckstein would go on to found the Holyland Fellowship of Christian and Jews in 1983 (later International Fellowship of Christians and Jews) which now raises tens of millions of dollars yearly for Zionist and Jewish humanitarian causes, mostly from American evangelical donors. See Chafets, Ze'ev, The Bridge Builder: The Life and Continuing Legacy of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein (New York: Sentinel, 2015)Google Scholar and http://www.ifcj.org/who-we-are/about-ifcj.html.

95 Yechiel Eckstein, “Evangelical-ADL Meeting in New York on September 3, 1981,” report, September 9, 1981, box 8470, folder 16, Ministry of Foreign Affairs records, Israel State Archives, Jerusalem.

96 Jerusalem Post, “Hagee, Falwell Deny Endorsing ‘Dual Covenant’,” Jerusalem Post, March 2, 2006, http://www.jpost.com/Jewish-World/Jewish-News/Hagee-Falwell-deny-endorsing-dual-covenant. See also, Shapiro, Christian Zionism, 128–130.

97 “The Willowbank Declaration on the Christian Gospel and the Jewish People,” April 29, 1989, box 51, folder 8, National Association of Evangelicals records, Wheaton College Special Collections, Wheaton, Illinois; “Proselytizing Statement Angers Jews, Evangelicals Deny anti-Semitism,” Washington Post, June 3, 1989, D19.

98 Perlmutter, Nathan & Perlmutter, Ruth Ann, The Real Antisemitism in America (New York: Arbor House, 1982), 57Google Scholar.

99 See Spector, Evangelicals and Israel, 158–161; Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More, 205–206; Halsell, Prophecy and Politics, 152–160.

100 “Evangelical-Jewish Leadership Conference,” memo, box 51, folder 8, NAE; Abraham Foxman, “Evangelical Support for Israel Is a Good Thing,” JTA, July 16, 2002.

101 Michael Mehlman to Seymor Brief, February 22, 1971, box 22, folder 4, MHT.

102 Seymour Brief to Gerald Strober, February 22, 1971, box 22, folder 4, MHT; Gerald Strober to Kenneth Bliss, February 25, 1971, box 22, folder 4, MHT.

103 Jerry Falwell, transcript, April 26, 1985, box 20, folder 2, MHT.

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