JERUSALEM, ISRAEL – As tens of millions of Evangelical Christians around the world celebrate Israel’s 75th anniversary this year, many will be surprised – even shocked – that the vast majority of Israeli Jews do not have a positive opinion of them.
And it’s not as if half of Israelis see Evangelicals positively and the other half doesn’t.
Not even close.
A new survey just being released this week finds that fewer than 1-out-of-5 Israeli Jews – 17.5%, to be precise – say they have a positive view of Evangelicals.
This number includes:
11.8% of Israeli Jews say they have a “good” opinion; and
5.7% who say they have a “very good” opinion
To be clear, it’s not that most Israelis are hostile towards Evangelicals.
Only 6.7% have a “poor” opinion
Only 5.2% have a “very poor” opinion
Far more – upwards of 1-in-4 – say that their view of Evangelicals is “neutral.”
That last figure may be significant.
After all, looking at the data another way, one could argue that 32.8% of Israelis Jews have either a “neutral or positive view” of Evangelicals, while “only” 11.9% of Israelis say they specifically have a “poor or very poor” opinion.
Still, it’s important to point out that the overwhelming plurality of Israeli Jews – 43.6% – say they have “no opinion,” or “don’t know” what they think about Evangelicals.
The survey of 1,200 Israeli Jews was designed by two Jewish professors in the United States. It was conducted last month in Hebrew by one of the top research and polling firms in Israel.
The survey was partially funded by ALL ISRAEL NEWS and the results are being published here for the first time. More results will be published over the next few days and will also be released at the National Religious Broadcasters convention in Orlando, Florida, this week.
OLDER ISRAELIS VIEW EVANGELICALS MORE POSITIVELY THAN YOUNG PEOPLE
One striking factor that jumps out of the data is that young Israelis are notably more negative towards Evangelicals.
And older Israelis are notably more positive.
14.2% of Israelis between the ages of 18 and 29 say they have a “poor” to “very poor” view of Evangelicals.
Among Israelis between the ages of 30 and 49, the number of negative views drops to 10.8%.
Among Israelis between the ages of 50 and 64, the number holds at 10.8%.
For Israelis ages 65 and old, the number rises slightly to 11.4%.
Only 9.6% of Israelis under the age of 29 have a positive view of Evangelicals.
Yet nearly three times this number of Israelis 65 and over – 26.4% – have a positive view of Evangelicals.
DO THESE NUMBERS REPRESENT AN IMPROVEMENT AT LEAST?
One thing that’s not clear to me at this point is whether the number of Israelis who have a positive view of Evangelicals has climbed over the years.
Personally, I’m not aware of any survey quite like this one so I don’t have a baseline to compare.
It’s possible that this survey will become the baseline against which future studies should be compared.
That said, my colleagues and I are continuing to search to see if other polling firms have hard data from five years ago, ten, or even twenty or more years ago.
Anecdotally, my impression in recent years certainly has been that Israelis increasingly see Evangelical Christians as a source of blessing to Israel and the Jewish people.
TV, radio, print, and digital news sites here have been filled with positive stories about Christians generally and Evangelicals in particular over the past ten years.
After all, 54% of all tourists to Israel are Christians, according to a 2019 study by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism.
American Evangelicals were instrumental in persuading President Donald J. Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.
Evangelicals from the U.S. and around the globe have also been significant contributors of philanthropic support to Israel, and particularly to Israelis living at or below the poverty line.
Still, these numbers are going to surprise many Christians – they certainly surprised me – and will take much more study and careful analysis to understand.
One thing that is clear: Evangelicals have a lot of work still to do to demonstrate true and unconditional love and support for Israel in the years ahead.
GOOD NEWS: MOST ISRAELIS BELIEVE JEWISH-CHRISTIAN RELATIONS ARE IMPROVING
Not all was disappointing.
The survey did contain quite a bit of good news.
For example, fully two-thirds of Israeli Jews – 66.7% – say they believe the trajectory of Jewish-Christian relations has dramatically improved over the years.
This figure includes 58.6% who told researchers they believe that “today, there is less hostility between Jews and Christians than in the past.”
It also includes 8.1% who went further, telling researchers they believe that “the hostility between Jews and Christians has ended.”
Roughly one quarter of Israelis – 23.8% – say they believe hostility between Jews and Christians is the same as in the past.
Only 9.6% believe that “there is more hostility between Jews and Christians than in the past.”
MORE GOOD NEWS: MOST ISRAELIS BELIEVE EVANGELICALS ARE “SINCERE” IN THEIR LOVE FOR ISRAEL
Another example of the good news found in the survey came in the answers to this question.
“Evangelicals say they love and support Israel. Do you believe they are sincere?”
Here, respondents were asked to rank their view from 1 to 10.
A rank of “1” meant the respondent believes Evangelicals are “completely insincere.”
A rank of “10” meant they believe Evangelicals are “completely sincere.”
A remarkable 58.7% of Israeli Jews ranked Evangelicals at either a “6” or higher, meaning they overwhelmingly believe Evangelicals are sincere in their love and support for Israel.
Only 19.4% of Israelis ranked Evangelicals at “4” or lower.
Twenty-two percent ranked Evangelicals at “5,” indicating they really aren’t sure whether Evangelicals are sincere or not.
Overall, I consider the fact that nearly 6-in-10 Israelis believe Evangelicals are sincere in their love for Israel both significant and quite positive.
Yet, what’s confusing is why such views of sincerity have not yet translated to more Israelis viewing Evangelicals positively.
What is clear is that, as Evangelicals, we have much hard work ahead of us to both demonstrate our unconditional love and support for Israel, and to engage directly with Israelis, answer their questions, and defuse their worries and concerns about who we are and whether we are really on their side.
HOW WAS THE SURVEY CONDUCTED?
Two American Jewish professors designed the survey.
One was Dr. Mordechai Inbari, full professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at the University of North Carolina Pembroke.
The other was Dr. Kirill Bumin, the dean of the Graduate Studies and full professor in the Department of Political Science and International Studies at Stonehill College
The scholars contracted with the Geocartography Knowledge Group, one of the leading research and polling companies in Israel, to professionally conduct the survey.
A representative sample of 1,200 Israeli Jewish respondents were surveyed.
The sample provides a 95% confidence level that the sampling error does not exceed ±2.82%.
The sample includes 1,000 respondents who were interviewed online in Hebrew.
It also includes 200 respondents who were interviewed by phone in Hebrew. These were Israelis ages 65 and over, and ultra-Orthodox Israelis, both of which are historically less responsive to online surveys and more responsive to phone surveys.
Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.