Diverse Coalitions: Reconciling Disparate Ideologies and Incongruent Collective Identities

By Rottem Sagi

“‘Politics makes strange bed fellows’ we say to express our bewilderment at some new coalition which belies our expectations from past knowledge of the participants” (Gamson 1961: p. 373).

In order to build and sustain a coalition, SMOs must share a common purpose and create an identity that can unite member groups (Rucht 2010; McCammon and Campbell 2002; Hirsch 1986). Conflicts over organizations’ grievances, goals, tactics, and organizational structure often lead to fragmentation (Cornfield and McCammon 2010; McCammon and Campbell 2002; Van Dyke 2003; Maney 2000; Lichterman 1995). Groups with conflicting ideologies or world views are likely to find it harder to identify shared interests and create a common identity. Even if groups share similar interests or are located in the same interest sector, varied conceptualizations of the same social problem can lead to divergent movement goals (Maney 2000). Furthermore, groups often link multiple topics together. Groups in a coalition may not agree upon other topics beyond the shared goal. Disagreements about peripheral issues can lead to disputes among member groups (Rucht 2010). In other words, member organizations must share sufficient common ground upon which to build a coalition. Divergent interests and conflicting world views can create divisions and fracture the coalition.

Despite these barriers, scholars have identified ideologically diverse organizations that found a way to work together toward a common goal. The anti-Hate Crime movement included conservative Victims Rights groups and liberal Civil Rights groups (Grattet and Jenness 2001). Pornography opponents include both conservatives and liberal feminists (Whittier 2014). These collaborations, often referred to as “strange bedfellow alliances,” differ from traditional coalitions because they bring together relatively diverse organizations that don’t share a collective identity and possess disparate ideologies. How do such ostensibly unlikely alliances develop?

In her recent study, Nancy Whittier (2014) offers a theoretical framework to help us understand strange bedfellow alliances. Previous research has found that there are different types of coalitions. Inter-organizational alliances can range from event to enduring coalitions (Levi and Murphy 2006). Event coalitions are short-term agreements between groups that involve coordinating the time, place, and tactics for a particular action. Enduring coalitions are formally structured alliances that require long-term commitments from member groups. Whittier (2014) builds on the idea that organizational interactions exist on a continuum by adding an additional dimension based on organizations’ ideologies.

My research expands our understanding of strange bedfellows by exploring how ideologically disparate organizations work together toward a shared goal. More specifically, I study how Evangelical Christian and Jewish organizations in the United States work together to mobilize American support for Israel. I use the term American pro-Israel movement (APIM) to refer to those American organizations that seek to secure political, financial, or moral support for Israel. The APIM is rooted in American Zionism, which dates back to 1914. Zionists advocated for the establishment of a secure Jewish homeland (Cohen 1975). Since 1948, APIM has not only developed an extensive set of formal coalitions within the Jewish community, but it has also expanded to develop unexpected alliances with Evangelical Christian organizations.

Evangelical Christian support for Israel stems from a biblical interpretation known as “Premillennial Dispensationalism” (Carenen 2012). This popular biblical interpretation which predicts that during the Rapture, when Jesus Christ returns, the majority of Jews will perish while the rest immediately convert to Christianity. Israel heavily factors into these end-times prophecies. The restoration of Jews to the Holy Land is a precondition for Christ’s return. Foreign nations’ treatment of Israel, and God’s chosen people, affects Evangelical Christians’ places in Heaven. This is the basis of American Evangelical Christian support for Israel (Carenen 2012).

Evangelical Christians’ end time prophecies are not the only ideological distinction that makes these two groups unlikely allies. American Jewish political organizations, like the ADL, and Evangelical Christian organizations, such as the Moral Majority, often disagree about domestic policy (Carenen 2012). Social policies, such as prayer in school and access to abortion, frequently divide these two political groups. Despite these differences, both American Jews and Evangelical Christians work together to secure political, financial, and moral support for Israel.

The Six Day War ignited a new wave of Evangelical and fundamentalist interest in Israel (Carenen 2012). The sight of Jews praying at the Western Wall and Israel’s impressive military victory was recognized by some Evangelical Christians as a sign of the End of Days. During this time, many Evangelical organizations were reaching out to Israel while some church groups tried connecting with the American Jewish community. For instance, Jews were invited to attend “Adventures in Understanding,” a dinner sponsored by Evangelical congregations aimed at offering their friendship and support to their Jewish friends (Carenen 2012). American Jewish organizations cautiously reached out to Evangelical Christian organizations as well. In 1975, the director of the American Jewish Archives reached out to Bible Light Ministries, a prominent Evangelical organization, asking if they would like to add their publications to the Jewish archival collection. When Nathan Perlmutter, director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith (ADL), was asked about uneasy alliance between American Jews and Christian fundamentalists he said, “Praise God and pass the ammunition” (Carenen 2012:201).

When placing this strange bedfellow alliance on Whittier’s spectrum from most to least congruent ideologies, APIM alliances fall somewhere between practical coalitions and adversarial collaborations because Evangelical Christians and Jews openly collaborate in some arenas. How are these diverse groups able to negotiate their oppositional ideologies? What compromises do these organizations make in order to maintain their alliances? I explore these questions in my current project, “Who’s in My Bed? Strange Bedfellows in the American pro-Israel Movement.” Archival research suggests that Evangelical Christian and Jewish organizations modified their behavior in order to maintain an alliances. For instance, Evangelical Christians who work closely with Jewish organizations often refrain from proselytizing Jews in the United States and Israel. Some evidence suggests that Israel actively worked to bring together American Evangelical Christian and Jewish organizations. Interviews with leaders of Jewish organizations implied that a shrinking membership base, especially the lack of younger members, made organizations more willing to reach out to unlikely allies.

Carenen, Caitlin. 2012. The Fervent Embrace: Liberal Protestants, Evangelicals, and Israel.
New York University Press: NYC

Cohen, Naomi W. 1975. American Jews and the Zionist Idea. Ktav Publishing House, Inc

Cornfield, Daniel B. and Holly J. McCammon. 2010. “Approaching Merger: The
Converging Public Policy Agenda of the AFL and CIO, 1938-1955” in Strategic Alliances: Coalition Building and Social Movements, edited by Van Dyke, Nella and Holly J. McCammon. University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis

Gamson, William A. 1961. “A Theory of Coalition Formation” American Sociological
Review 26(3): 373-382

Grattet, Ryken, and Valerie Jenness. 2001. “The birth and maturation of hate crime policy in the
United States.” American Behavioral Scientist 45(4): 668-696.

Hirsch, Eric L. 1986. “The Creation Of Political Solidarity In Social Movement Organizations”
Sociological Quarterly 27 (3): 373-387

Levi, Margaret and Gillian H. Murphy. 2006. “Coalitions of Contention: The Case of the WTO
Protests in Seattle ” Political Studies 54: 651-670

Lichterman, Paul. 1995. “Piecing Together Multicultural Community: Cultural
Differences in Community Building among Grass-Roots Environmentalists” Social Problems, Vol. 42 (4): 513-534

Maney, Gregory M. 2000. “Transnational Mobilization and Civil Rights in Ireland”
Social Problems 47:153-79

McCammon, Holly J., and Karen E. Campbell. 2002. “Allies on the Road to Victory:
Coalition Formation Between the Suffragists and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.” Mobilization 7(3): 231-251.

Rucht, Dieter (2010) “Movement Allies, Adversaries, and Third Parties” Pp. 197-216 in
The Blackwell Companion to Social Movements. Edited by David A. Snow, ‎Sarah A. Soule, ‎Hanspeter Kriesi Blackwell Publishing: Malden, MA

Van Dyke, Nella. 2003 “Crossing Movement boundaries: Factors that Facilitate Coalition
Protest by American College Students, 1930-1990.” Social Problems 50(2): 226-250.

Whittier, Nancy. 2014. “Rethinking Coalitions: Anti-Pornography Feminists,
Conservatives, and Relationships between Collaborative Adversarial Movements.” Social Problems 61(2): 175-193.

Leave a comment

Filed under Coalition Building, Essay Dialogues

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s