Long before there was an Israel lobby in the U.S., before a Jewish political constituency supplying candidates with election funding, there was a wide support among prominent and influential Americans for establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine. This support preceded by far the establishment of Israel in 1948. It even antedated Theodor Herzl, the Basel Declaration and the founding of the World Zionist movement in 1897. Affinity for Zionism with a small "z" can be traced to American Protestant rootedness in the Old Testament and evangelical belief that "Zion will rise again" in the Holy Land under Jewish hegemony.
The evangelical image of the Holy Land was less of a country populated by real people than an imaginary place derived from the Bible, concocted from the American cultural experience and superimposed on the Middle East: books, icons picturing Palestine displayed individuals resembling Westerners often dressed in medieval European garb rather than Middle Easterners. Although such images may have been modified to conform more with reality in recent years, the traditional images of the Holy Land with its Jewish prophets and Christian saints still prevail and they frequently color the political position of influential Americans.
Early American settlers set out to establish a "New Jerusalem" inspired by their perceptions derived from the Old Testament. Today, dozens of American cities and towns are named after biblical characters and sites, including Jerusalem, Bethany, Bethel, and Salem. The term "pilgrim" attached to the early New England settlers originated with the concept of journeys to the Holy Land.
In present times, evangelical visitors to the Holy Land are often shocked to find that modem Israel is unlike the "city on the hill" of their dreams. The U.s. Consulate in Jerusalem reports that every year there are scores, mostly Protestant Americans, treated at Jerusalem's mental health center for breakdowns related to shock that the modem city is so unlike the Jerusalem of their imagination. Many come with messianic fantasies and delusions of being Mary Magdalena, John the Baptist, and other biblical characters. In their disappointment and frustration they lose control and carry out acts of madness.1
One of the most notable and dangerous of these Americans was 38-year-old Alan Henry Goodman, a "born-again" Jewish volunteer in the Israeli army. In April 1982, he almost set off a major international crisis when he shot his way into the Dome of the Rock Mosque. Inside he climbed onto the Stone of Foundation where Abraham is said to have offered the sacrifice of Isaac, flourished his weapon above his head and proclaimed that he was sent to liberate the Temple Mount and become "King of the Jews."
This syndrome was by no means new. The American missionary Bertha Vester devoted a chapter in her memoirs to American Christian "religious fanatics and cranks of different degrees of mental derangement" who, 150 years ago, were drawn to the Holy Land believing themselves reincarnations of saints, prophets, priests, messiahs and kings.2

'Palestine of the Bible'

The syndrome helps explain the origins of current American involvement and government policy towards Israel and the Palestine problem today.
U.S. missionary presence in Palestine dates back to the 1830s when Presbyterians were sent to Jerusalem by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Among their objectives was the conversion of Jews and Eastern Orthodox Christians. In the course of their activity, they established close relations with the Jewish and Orthodox communities, although they had little contact with Palestinian Muslims.
The American consular presence in Palestine dates from the 1850s; several 19th-century U.S. representatives in Jerusalem were Protestant clergy involved with assistance to missionaries, Jewish rabbis and scholars living in Jerusalem. Edwin Sherman Wallace, an ordained Presbyterian minister, consul in Jerusalem between 1893 and 1898, was a prototype of the missionary-diplomat. In his book, Jerusalem the Holy, Wallace wrote that the "coming inhabitants of Palestine will be Jews." During his tenure he frequently intervened with the Ottoman authorities on behalf of the Jewish community and, occasionally, was an intermediary in its intra-communal disputes. Discounting the Muslim presence, Wallace wrote that "the Jew has national aspirations and ideas, and a national future. Where, if not here, will his aspirations be realized and his ideas carried out?"3
American interest in Palestine, in general, and Jerusalem, in particular, increased after World War I. By the end of the war, the U.S. public generally perceived Palestine, especially Jerusalem, as rescued by the British for Christianity from the Muslim Turks. A study by Lawrence Davidson of 150 articles during 1916-17 in four leading American newspapers, The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times, underscored two principal themes:4
• "Contemporary Palestine was the same Palestine of the Bible ... Therefore, it properly belonged to the 'civilized' Western Christian World."
• "While Palestine had long suffered under the yoke of 'uncivilized' Turkish/Muslim oppression, it was now being redeemed by a 'modem crusade.' British forces were literally crusaders picking up where Richard the Lion-Hearted had left off."
These articles left a message that the "only significant Muslim presence in the Holy Land is an enemy of the civilized world ... " The Washington Post of November 2, 1917, wrote that "millions of ardent Christians are fervently control of the Muslim who for centuries has held uninterrupted sway over the birth place of the Christian religion ... That event will be the cause of general rejoicing throughout the civilized world."
After the Balfour Declaration in November 1917, these newspapers printed ecstatic articles about the return of the Jews to the Holy Land. On November 4, The Chicago Tribune reported that "within a few days Jerusalem will fall into the hands of the British. Now comes the glorious news that Palestine will be given to the Jews. This is part of the plan to make the world safe for democracy." Much of the U.S. press compared Jewish Palestine to America and parallels were drawn between Jewish settlers and American pioneers. While The New York Times (March 18, 1917) recognized the Arab character of regions surrounding Palestine, the Holy Land, especially Jerusalem, was different. Jerusalem was described as "the city of Abraham, of David, of Solomon, of Jesus"; while Baghdad is the city of Muslims, Jerusalem is the city of the Judeo-Christian world.

The Holy Land for the Jewish People

President Woodrow Wilson and the U.S. Congress supported Zionist claims, and the American ambassador in Istanbul (Abram I. Elkus) and the consul in Jerusalem (the Reverend O.A. Glazenbrook) participated in a Zionist rally in New York on December 22, 1917, to celebrate "the British promise to return Jerusalem and the Holy Land to the Jewish people."5
Wilson believed that with the "return" of Palestine there would be a "'rebirth of the Jewish people' [that] would result in the production of new ideals, new ethical values, new conceptions of social justice which shall spring as a blessing for all mankind." He assured the Zionists of his support, promising that "in Palestine shall be laid the foundation of a Jewish Commonwealth."6
The prevailing American Protestant image of Palestine as the source of Judea-Christian tradition, custom and practice was reinforced after World War I with the rise of the Zionist movement and the ardent support for Zionism by prominent Jews who were influential in American political life, such as the Supreme Court Justices Brandeis and Frankfurter. As the Jewish community grew and prospered, its influence in American political life, like that of other "New American" ethnic communities (Irish, Polish, Italian, German) was taken for granted.
Opposition to what became known as the "Jewish lobby" was relatively weak without a significant political constituency. It consisted of the small number of American missionaries and educators working in the Arab world, American Middle East oil companies with connections in Washington, but without a popular base, and the handful of U.S. foreign service officers who, although sympathetic to Arab nationalism, had little impact on the upper echelons of policy making. Until now there has been no effective ethnic lobby to counter the influence of Israel's supporters, both Jewish and non-Jewish, on the American political scene. The prevailing American image of the Arab world has remained largely negative while Israel is seen as a modem, progressive outpost of Western "civilization" in a "backward" region of the world. Recent attempts to organize a counter lobby of Arab-Americans has been largely ineffectual, with little impact on politicians or the public at large.

American Sympathy for Zionism

The Second World War and the Holocaust further reinforced support for Zionism as American sympathy for victims of the Nazis was expressed in widespread backing for a Jewish state. This included an extensive constituency - nearly the whole political spectrum from Henry Wallace's Progressive party to Thomas Dewey's Republicans. American politicians attempted to outbid each other in exorbitant claims of support for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.
Both liberals and conservatives, labor unions and the majority of church organizations became supporters of the new State of Israel. The American press reflected positions and attitudes similar to those after the World War cited above.
Although the establishment of Israel caused immense tragedy to the Arab inhabitants of Palestine, the American public has only recently become aware of the Arab refugee plight and the Palestinians' loss of their homeland. The PLO and its leaders were seen as terrorists and, during the Cold War, regarded as Soviet clients, enemies of the West. Although the Soviet Union supported the establishment of Israel, the Cold War further reinforced American perceptions of the Jewish state as an outpost of the West in a hostile Middle East. Israel's role as an American ally in the Cold War and increasing Soviet hostility to Zionism only strengthened support for the Jewish state across the U.S. political spectrum. The Christian right, with extensive influence in the Republican Party, became one of Israel's closest allies.
After 1948 and the displacement of the Palestine Arabs, the American left became aware of and sympathetic to the Arab situation. However, attempts to understand developments in the Arab world have been limited to a relatively small number of Middle East scholars, liberal Protestant denominations, such as the Quakers, and individuals who have worked in the region and are familiar with its history and traditions. The larger public still perceives the Middle East and the Palestine problem in much the same way as the 19th-century American missionary-diplomats.
In the present political climate, Protestant evangelicals wield far more influence than liberal Protestants affiliated with the National Council of Churches. Groups including Adventists, Charismatic Christians, Southern Baptists and other Evangelicals have actively backed U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and some denominations have called for rebuilding the third Jewish temple there. They envisage a rebuilt temple as fulfillment of the prophecy heralding the "End of Days." The temple, they believe, will be rebuilt, destroyed, and rebuilt again on the Mountain of the Lord after a great war in Jerusalem between Russia and the U.S. In 1985, "Evangelicals for Freedom of Worship on the Temple Mount" protested the arrest of Jewish terrorists who planned to blow up the mosques on the Temple Mount.
Throughout the American Bible Belt, hundreds of thousands of copies of magazines, such as Israel, My Glory; Endtime and Vision, propagate the Pentecostal fervor. In Jerusalem, the International Christian Embassy has spacious offices claiming to represent Charismatic Christians from allover the world. American evangelicals have conducted annual conventions in Jerusalem attended by thousands of delegates, in numbers much greater than the liberal Protestant constituency can rally.7
The evangelical adherents include radio preachers with millions of followers and great political clout, such as Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and Jimmy Swaggert, individuals with extensive political power in the right wing of the Republican Party. They might be said to constitute one of the principal elements among the non-Jewish factions in the Israel lobby. Although AIPAC is considered one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington, its successes to a large extent depend on America's traditional perceptions rooted in the Old Testament image of Palestine as the Jewish homeland, perceptions that totally overlook Arab and Muslim connections with the country. The political impact of these influences is greatest in the U.S. Congress, where only a handful of representatives and senators have resisted pressures to vote for the numerous resolutions calling for the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, for moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and for the huge amounts of financial assistance Israel receives annually. The result is that Middle East policy devised by the president and the State Department, especially when concerned with Israel and its conflict with the Arab states, is greatly diluted by congressional considerations.


1. Amos Elon, Jerusalem, City of Mirrors (London: Fontana, 1991), pp. 146-148; Evan M. Wilson, Jerusalem, Key to Peace (Washington: Middle East Institute, 1970), p. 9.
2. Bertha Spafford Vester, Our Jerusalem (New York: Arno Press, 1977), pp. 119-132.
3. Yehoshua Ben-Arieh, Jerusalem in the 19th Century: The Old City (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1984), pp. 250-251; Moshe Davis, America and the Holy Land (Westport, NY: Praeger, 1995), pp. 67--68.
4. Lawrence Davidson, "Historical Ignorance and Popular Perception: The Case of U.S. Perceptions of Palestine, 1917," Middle East Policy, 111/2.1994, pp. 129-145.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Elon, op. cit., pp. 110-112.