Israel Support Could Be In Danger As US Demographics Shift

The numbers may be small. The membership concentrated in pockets around the country. But there is a growing, if not more vocal segment of the American populace openly criticizing and attempting to boycott the State of Israel.

Say what?

Just this week, the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) narrowly defeated a vote to disinvest from Motorola, Caterpillar, and Hewlett-Packard based on the companies’ “non-peaceful pursuits in Israel and Palestine.” Not four months ago, the Park Slope Food Co-op voted down a measure to ban Israeli products from their store. And while these attempts failed, they are just a few examples of an often overlooked piece of history surrounding the US-Israel relationship.

Such actions, though minuscule in the grand scheme of current US policy, provide an interesting study of the spectrum of feelings Americans have for the Israeli government, instead of one sole pro-Israel agenda as critics of the US have charged.

Consider that recent polls continue to have Americans favoring the Israeli side of its conflict with the Palestinians. There are also, as one can surely guess, gaps in religious conviction and support for Israel.  It is the gap between the Evangelical and mainline (liberal) Protestant branches that is most jarring – 70 percent of Evangelicals support Israel, to 49 percent of mainliners in this multi-year studying ending in 2009. If that were not interesting enough, the Protestant makeup of the American population holds at a little over 50 percent, a majority still but currently in the decline, as the Pew Forum points out.

Indeed, the American religious landscape could have an effect on future foreign policy matters over the next 30 years. Studies by Vegard Skirbekk, Anne Goujon, and Eric Kaufmann of the Vienna Institute of Demography, as well as Tom W. Smith and Seokho Kim of the University of Chicago note that Roman Catholics, thanks to immigration and higher birth-rates from Latin American countries, will increase in number. According to the studies, a decrease in the percentage of Protestant Americans will be joined by a decrease in the percentage of Jewish Americans; not surprisingly, socio-economic factors and increasing secularism are to blame.

What these scholars also point out is the increase of the American Muslim population. According to Skirbekk, et al, the Muslim population will exceed the Jewish population by 2023. Combined with aforementioned increase in Roman Catholics – whom have fewer sympathies for the State of Israel than their Protestant counterparts – this population shift could be of consequence to today’s apparent status quo policy. Combined with the fact that US citizens are overall less concerned about protecting Israel than preventing terrorism and safeguarding oil, it may be cause some to feel wary.

But there is no guarantee that this will indeed be the case. While population numbers backed by studied trends hold some weight, predicting what will happen almost 30 years from now may be a bit of an overreach. Immigration flows to the US, given our own economic situation, may change over time, along with the political and social struggles in Israel, the West Bank, Gaza Strip – heck, even the entire Middle East – as well as how the US may react, all things considered.

Yet, this may mean that boycotts by religious institutions and your corner grocery store, while fairly uncommon at the moment, may increase and become more viable, visible, and accepted over time.