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Religious Americans more likely to support Israel — with growing exceptions

Published: Friday, Aug. 8 2014 4:15 a.m. MDT

Updated: Friday, Aug. 8 2014 10:50 p.m. MDT

Palestinians run for cover during clashes with Israeli soldiers following a protest against the war in the Gaza Strip, outside Ofer, an Israeli military prison near the West Bank city of Ramallah, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014.

Majdi Mohammed, Associated Press

As protests and counter-protests swirl around the recent clash between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, a recent Gallup survey shows Americans who define themselves as "religious," as well as most Jews and Mormons, are among the top supporters of the Israeli position.

Even the less-religious tend to support Israel, Gallup said, though by not as great a margin.

"Over the past 14 years, on average, 66 percent of Americans who attend church weekly or almost every week are sympathetic to the Israelis, compared with 13 percent who are sympathetic to the Palestinians," a news release from Gallup stated. "Sympathy for Israel drops to 46 percent among those who never attend church, still twice as many as the 23 percent who are sympathetic to the Palestinians."

Gallup's statement continued, "Although Americans' sympathies have fluctuated over the years, more have been sympathetic toward the Israelis than the Palestinians every time they have been asked. Overall, an average of 59 percent of Americans have been sympathetic to the Israelis and 16 percent sympathetic to the Palestinians, with the rest saying 'both' or not having an opinion."

While 93 percent of American Jews tell Gallup they are pro-Israel, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not far behind: "Seventy-nine percent of Mormons are more sympathetic to Israelis," Gallup reported, versus 11 percent who say they support the Palestinians.

The polling firm says the higher levels of support from "religious Americans" for Israel "have been consistent" since Gallup has done the survey, which asks the question: "In the Middle East situation, are your sympathies more with the Israelis or more with the Palestinians?"

Political affiliation may also have something to do with support levels. Gallup said among Republicans "as many as 80 percent" who attend church regularly are pro-Israel, versus 65 percent who are not weekly worshippers. Among Democrats, only 42 percent who say they don't attend worship are pro-Israel, Gallup reports.

Religious support for Israel has undergone shifts in recent years. In June, delegates to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) narrowly voted to divest from three U.S. companies that supply items potentially used by Israel's defense forces. Just before the Presbyterian vote, the United Methodist Church's pension board voted to sell shares of G4S, a security firm that does business with Israel, according to The New York Times.

Among younger evangelicals, David Brog of Christians United for Israel wrote in the Middle East Quarterly's spring 2014 issue, "there is a cadre of rising young evangelical stars who are bonding on trips to Israel and the Palestinian Authority and returning to push their fellow evangelicals away from the Jewish state. This is a largely well-coiffed and fashionably dressed bunch dedicated to marketing Christianity to a skeptical generation by making it cool, compassionate, and less overtly political."

Brog asserted, "the real danger is that they will teach their fellow evangelicals a moral relativism that will neutralize them."

Email: mkellner@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @Mark_Kellner

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