According to a poll conducted by the Israel Project, 48 percent of Hispanic Americans support the State of Israel, while only 9 percent support the Palestinians. Similarly, 44 percent of Hispanic Americans believe that the US should support Israel, while only 6 percent say that the US should support the Palestinians. Thus, Hispanic Americans have a positive perception of Israel by a three to one margin. The Israel Project claims that their top three reasons for supporting Israel are the Iranian nuclear threat (22 percent), a belief that Israel is America’s most important ally (17 percent), and the shared struggle against terrorism (17 percent). In fact, 63 percent of Hispanic Americans believe that the Iranian nuclear threat is gigantic, outranking their fear of the Arab Spring, Islamic extremism, and a variety of other potential national security issues.
Yet, Hispanic Americans are not just supportive of Israel. They also have a positive perception of the Jewish people in general. For example, 78 percent of Hispanic Americans believe that Jews have a strong commitment to family life, a trait which is very important in familial societies. Two thirds of Hispanic Americans think that Jews have a strong religious faith; 61 percent believe that American Jews make a strong contribution to American society; and 53 percent proclaim that they think that Jews support civil rights.
Furthermore, many Hispanic Americans carry Jewish DNA. A 2003 genetic test of men living in New Mexico, Southern Texas and Northern Mexico claims that about 10 to 15 percent of Hispanics living there might have had Sephardic Jewish ancestors. Attesting to this claim, a friend of this author that grew up in Texas who is of Hispanic origin claimed that her grandmother’s church in Mexico had Jewish symbols hidden inside. Indeed, people with Hispanic family names such as Alvarez, Lopez, and Mendez have found that they have Sephardic Jewish ancestors that were forcefully converted to Catholicism during the times of the Spanish Inquisition. All of this shared history serves as the basis for the Hispanic-Jewish friendship.
On top of that, the Hispanic and Jewish immigrant experiences in America are similar in the sense that both peoples often struggled to come to America legally. Over the last two hundred years, many Jews were forced to immigrate to the United States illegally due to the various persecutions that they experienced yet the difficult immigration quotas that existed in the US. One such group of illegal Jewish immigrants was the passengers of a ship called the St. Louis, containing nearly 1,000 Jewish refugees from Hamburg who sought to immigrate to the New World to escape the horrors of the Holocaust. After both the United States and Cuba refused to accept the passengers on the St. Louis ship, these Jewish refugees from Hamburg were forced to go back to Europe, where most of them perished in the Holocaust. Thus, Jewish people can relate to another minority group that is seeking better opportunities or fleeing difficult conditions in their home country in order to improve their life.
Edward Retta, who partook on an American Jewish Committee sponsored program for Hispanic leaders, declared, “We share many common things such as, the experience of being minorities, the idea of wandering and displacement, the search for belonging, the desires for better, more secure lives, and success and stability for our children and our children’s children.” As Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz wrote, “We should stand with all minorities seeking to be treated with basic human decency. This is our covenant. This is the dream: that all people may live freely in the world. May we as the Jewish people continue to act as global and local leaders building bridges and standing in solidarity with all minority partners for a more just, equitable, and free world.”
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About the Author: Rachel Avraham is a news editor and political analyst for Jerusalem Online News, the English language internet edition of Israel's Channel 2 News. She completed her masters degree in Middle Eastern Studies at Ben-Gurion University. The subject of her MA thesis was: "Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab media."
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