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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Is the US still an ally of Israel?

Victor Davis Hanson argues that the US's friendship with Israel cannot long survive either the partisan split that it has brought about nor the split between the policy elites and the public.
The hard Left's multiculturalist furor at Israel has made enormous inroads into the Democratic party, as we see with the current "reset" policy of the Obama administration, while the old blue-blood, country-club Republicans who tsk-tsked Israel have almost vanished. Over the last 20 years the Left has reconstructed Israel from a bastion of the traditional liberal Jewish tradition into a Western, capitalist hegemonic oppressor, all of which shows the power of campus multculturalism when a tiny democratic country of 7 million can be reconfigured into a colonial power.

In some sense Obama's new policy, rather than the wishes of the Democratic Congress, reflects the new Democratic majority, even as it is at odds with the country at large (63 percent of the American people express support for Israel). More to the point, no alliance can long withstand such a marked divide, in which Republicans are overwhelmingly pro-Israel and Democrats quite clearly are not — that divide leads to something like the radical change of heart from Bush in 2008 to Obama in 2009.

Clearly Jewish-American voters are not factoring in Israel all that much in their political decisions and have little problem identifying with a party that has lots of problems with Israel — unless domestic politics have not caught up with rapidly changing attitudes in Washington. Stranger still, the Israeli liberal elite that dominates foreign policy and cultural life in Israel will be finding the U.S. government much more akin to the hostile feeling of Europe; its six-out-of-ten support in America remains mostly rank and file.
Hanson is right about the hard Left. Another reason that might explain why most Democratic members of Congress still support Israel while the party rank and file does not, is that the hard Left is mostly concentrated on the two coasts, while the Congress consists of people from all over the country. Of course that doesn't explain the relatively pro-Israel views of a Charles Schumer or Barbara Boxer, but it does explain why someone as lukewarm to Israel as John Kerry can be re-elected from Massachusetts.

He's also right about Jewish voters not regarding Israel as a priority, and that is especially true of younger Jewish voters. I know that a lot of you don't like to hear this, but I continue to believe that the real source of American support for Israel is no longer Jews - whose power was always exaggerated anyway - but Evangelical Christians. Will that support last forever? I hope so, but obviously that relationship is nowhere near as 'heimish' (folksy) as a relationship among Jews would be, and many of us are uncomfortable with the element of Evangelical Christians (and it's most definitely not all of them) who seek to convert us to Christianity or who believe in our eventual doom and destruction as part of an apocalypse.

Unless something changes, the lack of Jewish support for Israel is likely to worsen, because it's the older generation of Jews - the generation that remembers the Holocaust and the West's silence in the Holocaust - that strongly supports Israel. The younger generation has far less appreciation for why there needs to be a Jewish state. In that, they have something in common with a lot of Israelis, but that's a subject for another post.


At 11:30 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

I think its the result of the experience for young Jews, being that Israel has been around their entire lives and they assume it will be around forever. So they see no contradiction between the support for Hard Left policies and the fact those policies endanger Israel. The American people will remain supportive of Israel but America's government will have an arms' length relationship with the Jewish State, at least so long as Obama remains in office.

At 11:38 AM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...


I think it's more than that. Most of the younger generation in America has no appreciation for why having a Jewish state is important.

I just finished reading Daniel Gordis' Saving Israel and it's a book I would urge all of you to read. One of Gordis' arguments is that when the State of Israel's founders tried to take Judaism out of the picture and create a uniquely Israeli identity, what they got was a bunch of Hebrew speaking goyim (non-Jews) with no appreciation for why it's important to have a Jewish state and why it's worth fighting for. Gordis argues that's the biggest crisis Israel faces today, and he makes a good argument, and some suggestions for how to resolve it.

But making the case to American kids - who for the most part are completely secular have never lived with real anti-Semitism - why a Jewish state is important strikes me as a much tougher battle.

At 11:58 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

That's true... why have a Jewish State at all? In fact, that is precisely the position of the Jewish post-Zionist Left that argues maintaining Israel is a losing battle and keeping it alive is more trouble than its worth. To them, we live in an era in which religion is an anachronism and a state based on religious faith doesn't stand a chance against the notion its outlived its usefulness. The secular Zionist arguments no longer work. So Israel's supporters have to frame a relevant argument for why Israel still speaks to Jews and what they can do for it. Notice I didn't say what it can do for them. To survive, its the Jews who will have to show Israel is important to Jewish survival and only then is it going to be in the prophets' words a light unto the nations. Getting younger Jews to reconnect with Jewish history AND the principal purpose of Israel's existence is today the Jewish State's greatest challenge.


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