The U.S. just marked Black History Month in February, but reaching out to the African-American community and other minority populations has become a year-round endeavor for pro-Israel organizations.
Over the course of the past year a number of delegations of black Christians, particularly clergy members, have made pilgrimages to Israel. These groups are increasingly coming from traditional black churches in America.
In a show of solidarity with the Israeli government, a group of prominent black clergy members last year publicly denounced the decision by the Congressional Black Caucus to boycott Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress about the Iranian nuclear threat.
While the incident ostensibly involved political disagreement rather than a racial dispute (over former House speaker John Boehner’s not having consulted President Obama before inviting Netanyahu) the public discourse about the prime minister’s speech took on racial overtones, in part because of the Black Caucus’s decision to boycott the speech. At a press conference organized by Star Parker, president of the Center for Urban Renewal and Education think tank, the black clergy members made clear that the Black Caucus does not represent all black Christians and that they stand with Israel.
Other organizations such as Christians United for Israel (CUFI) have been working behind the scenes for several years in outreach to the black community. They host programs in black churches to motivate black Christians to support Israel and have taken dozens of clergy on tours to the Holy Land. In fact, CUFI started such efforts with an African-American outreach coordinator, Pastor Michael Stevens of Charlotte, N.C., and has since expanded outreach efforts to other minority sectors.
“It has never been CUFI’s intention to focus on only one denomination of black Christians,” Pastor Dumisani Washington, CUFI’s diversity outreach coordinator and the director of the Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel, told JNS.
“Our former African-American outreach coordinator, Dr. Michael Stevens…did a great job bringing CUFI’s message to his colleagues. We have sought to continue Dr. Stevens’s efforts, while reaching out to all Christians regardless of affiliation or ethnic background. This is why our diversity outreach team includes African, Asian, Hispanic, and [soon] Native American coordinators.”
A 2013 Pew Research Center survey found that 51 percent of black Protestants believe Israel was given to the Jewish people by God, while 44 percent of black Protestants strongly sympathize with Israel and only 12 percent sympathize with the Palestinians. This data reinforces the historical foundation for the support of black Christians for Israel.
“Black Christians tend to be pro-Israel, if only in the biblical and spiritual sense. In-depth knowledge about modern-day Israel or Middle East politics is not common in the black church,” Washington said.
Many point to the Zionist views of Dr. Martin Luther King as the basis for why black Christians should support Israel, typically quoting King’s speech at the annual convention of the Rabbinical Assembly in 1968, 10 days before he was killed.
“I see Israel, and never mind saying it, as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can almost be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy,” King said.
Despite efforts by some groups in the black community to argue that King would today espouse a more pro-Palestinian position, King was staunchly pro-Israel and had very close friendships with Jewish leaders, who worked with him to fight against civil rights injustices.
Even former Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver ended up defending Zionism, in response to the United Nations resolution of 1975 (which was revoked in 1991) that defined Zionism as racism.