(photo credit: REUTERS)
At America’s annual State of the Union address last Tuesday evening, President Donald Trump reinforced his support for Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, stating: “Last month, I [took] an action endorsed unanimously by the US Senate just months before. I recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel... (tonight) I am asking Congress to pass legislation to help ensure American foreign-assistance dollars... only go to friends of America.”
The line garnered applause from Congress’ Republican majority, as could be expected.
A recent Pew poll reported that “79 percent of Republicans sympathize more with Israel than with the Palestinians.”
Israelis may be surprised to learn that many of their most ardent American supporters come from the American South, a region more often associated with racial conflict.
President Trump’s cabinet includes notable pro-Israel Southerners. United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley is a former governor of South Carolina and a consistent supporter of the Israeli military.
Haley garnered large applause at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in 2017 when she combated the anti-Israel bias she observes at the UN.
Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, a former governor of Texas, has long been an ardent supporter of Israeli sovereignty.
In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece in 2011, Perry wrote: “The US must affirm that the precondition for any properly negotiated future settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is the formal recognition of the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state behind secure borders.”
When he was governor of the Southern state of Georgia, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue publicly supported Israeli action against Hezbollah.
He also led a trade mission to Israel and partnered with both the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and the American- Israel Chamber of Commerce (AICC).
It is worth noting that the cabinet secretaries above are all practicing Christians; the South is known as the “Bible belt.” A recent Pew study showed that 76% percent of adults in the American South are Christian. The South has America’s highest level of church attendance, according to a 2006 Gallup poll.
Many of these Christians, including Evangelical Protestants, are politically active.
According to a USA Today article by John Fea, “Evangelical voters are so influential in some early Republican presidential primary states that they can push candidates to victory and push other candidates out of the race.”
One notable group, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is “a network of more than fifty thousand cooperating churches and churchtype missions,” its website states. The conservative SBC passed a resolution in June 2016 stating: “[At] this critical time when dangerous forces are mounting up against the nation of Israel, we recommit ourselves to pray for God’s peace to rule in Jerusalem and for the salvation of Israel....”
For decades, white Christian Southerners have steadily supported Israel. As author Eli Evans noted in The Provincials: A Personal History of Jews in the South, by the late 1960s, “Jews who were not enthusiastic supporters of Israel were [persuaded] by the respect for Israel and its popularity in the gentile community.”
In 1916, Tennessee-born Louis Brandeis became the first of many Jewish Supreme Court justices. Brandeis was a vocal Zionist who famously wrote that “there is no conflict between Zionism and loyalty to America.” Israelis may be familiar with a Brandeis University, a Massachusetts institution founded by the American Jewish community and named in the justice’s honor.
What they may not know, though, is that there is also a law school named after Louis Brandeis at the University of Louisville.
From “The Bluegrass State” to the State of the Union, Israel has the support of influential Southerners in America.The author has been published in HuffPost, US News and World Report, The Hill, Forward, and The Atlanta Jewish Times. He holds an MA in politics and American studies from Brandeis University and lives in Atlanta, Georgia.