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

  • Daniel G. Hummel
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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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.

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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); Stahl, Ronit Y., Enlisting Faith: How the Military Chaplaincy Shaped Religion and State in Modern America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2017); White, Heather R., Reforming Sodom: Protestants and the Rise of Gay Rights (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2015); and Schultz, Kevin M., Tri-Faith America: How Catholics and Jews Held Postwar America to Its Protestant Promise (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

5 Boyer, Paul S., When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1994), 205.

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); Dowland, Seth, Family Values and the Rise of the Christian Right (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015); and Hartman, Andrew, A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015).

7 Hunter, James Davison, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America (New York: Basic Books, 1991). Hunter's work relied on Wuthnow, Robert, The Restructuring of American Religion: Society and Faith Since World War II (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988). More recent works of scholarship that advance the restructuring thesis includes Putnam, Robert D. and Campbell, David E., American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010) and Wolfe, Alan, The Transformation of American Religion: How We Actually Live Our Faith (New York: Free Press, 2003).

8 Hunter, Culture Wars, 43.

9 Young, Neil J., We Gather Together: The Religious Right and the Problem of Interfaith Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 4. 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). 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); Dochuk, Darren, From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism (New York: W.W. Norton, 2011); Flippen, J., Jimmy Carter, the Politics of Family, and the Rise of the Religious Right (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011); and Williams, Daniel K., God's Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

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).

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) and Mittleman, Alan, Johnson, Byron, and Isserman, Nancy, eds., Uneasy Allies?: Evangelical and Jewish Relations (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2007).

12 See, for example, the Anti-Defamation League's 1994 report, The Religious Right: The Assault on Tolerance and Pluralism in America (New York: Anti-Defamation League, 1994).

13 See, for example, Robertson, Pat, The New World Order (Dallas, Tex.: Word Publishing, 1991).

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), 88. 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); Spector, Stephen, Evangelicals and Israel: The Story of American Christian Zionism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009); Clark, Victoria, Allies for Armageddon: The Rise of Christian Zionism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007); and Weber, Timothy P., On the Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Became Israel's Best Friend (Grand Rapids.: Baker Academic, 2005). 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); 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): 6590; and Harding, Susan, The Book of Jerry Falwell: Fundamentalist Language and Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), 228231.

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): 456485.

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), 7778 and Carpenter, Joel A., Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism (New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 1999), 97100.

19 Mart, Michelle, Eye on Israel: How America Came to View the Jewish State as an Ally (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2006); Anderson, Irvine H., Biblical Interpretation and Middle East Policy: The Promised Land, America, and Israel, 1917–2002 (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2005); Grose, Peter, Israel in the Mind of America (New York: Schocken, 1984).

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), 150174; Hunter, Culture Wars, 40–41.

22 Herberg, Will, Protestant, Catholic, Jew: An Essay in American Religious Sociology (New York: Doubleday, 1955).

23 Bellah, Robert N., “Civil Religion in America,” Daedalus 96, no. 1 (January 1, 1967): 121; 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): 434–50.

24 See Wuthnow, Restructuring of American Religion, 3–13.

25 For correctives to this “backlash thesis,” see Sutton, Matthew Avery, American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2014); 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); and Moreton, Bethany, To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009).

26 See Barnett, Michael N., The Star and the Stripes: A History of the Foreign Policies of American Jews (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016); Berman, Lila Corwin, Speaking of Jews: Rabbis, Intellectuals, and the Creation of an American Public Identity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009); Sarna, Jonathan D., American Judaism: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005).

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). On the evangelical left, see Gasaway, Brantley W., Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014); and Swartz, David R., Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012).

28 On neoconservatism among New York intellectuals in the 1960s, see Abrams, Nathan, Norman Podhoretz and Commentary Magazine: The Rise and Fall of the Neocons (New York: Continuum, 2009). On the fracture of American Judaism and the Jewish left, see Staub, Michael, Torn at the Roots: The Crisis of Jewish Liberalism in Postwar America (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002).

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

30 For an account of the war, see Oren, Michael, Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).

31 On Restorationism, see Goldman, Samuel, God's Country: Christian Zionism in America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018); 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); Goldman, Shalom, Zeal for Zion: Christians, Jews, & the Idea of the Promised Land (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009).

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

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

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

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

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), 134135.

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), 99. 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), 2142.

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), 184.

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), 5152.

41 Malachi, , “New Dimensions for Christian-Jewish Confrontation in United Jerusalem,” in Discussing Jerusalem (Jerusalem: Israel Academic Committee on the Middle East, 1972), 34. 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); Gorni, Yosef, The State of Israel in Jewish Public Thought: The Quest for Collective Identity (New York: New York University Press, 1994), 5478.

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), 1516.

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), 157190.

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): 209229; Kaplan, Amy, “Zionism as Anticolonialism: The Case of Exodus,” American Literary History 25, no. 4 (2013): 870–95; 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), 2.

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), 8593.

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), 135155.

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

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

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

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): 233257.

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), 292293; Wacker, Grant, America's Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2014), 245246; Miller, Steven P., Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009), 217218, 287n2.

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) 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), 57.

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.

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.

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