Americans and Israel
The Slonimer Rebbe (Chanuka, pg. 38) observes that the symbolism of the approaching holiday of Chanuka includes the notion that illumination breaks through specifically from darkness. Both the community and every individual Jew must learn from Chanuka that when things appear hopelessly lost and irredeemable, a kernel of life-force remains that can emerge, grow and triumph.
We could use some good news on the political front. I would be willing to forgo all gifts at the end of the month in return for Santa Claus flying James Baker to the North Pole and leaving him there. In the meantime, we can at least appreciate one small item of good news. A recent major American poll shows that popular support for Israel actually grew since March, a time period we would have predicted to show a sharp decline.
Almost everything that could have gone wrong for Israel’s image did – and then some. Americans, brought up with the myth of Israel’s might and invincibility (and banking on its availability to America, should it ever be called upon to deliver), watched a weak military effort in Lebanon botched by even weaker political leadership. The US government began high-profile actions against alleged illegalities by AIPAC. Mearsheimer and Walt complained that the pressure of the Israeli lobby has a stranglehold on US Middle East policy. The inept president who actually damaged America’s position in relationship to two powerful enemies – Iran and North Korea – decided to viciously turn Israel into an apartheid state. Nonetheless, the recent Quinnipiac Survey showed that Israel gained in popularity with every subgroup polled. Support by evangelical Christians was only slightly ahead of that by mainline Protestants. Support among Republicans is higher than among Democrats. Israel is the 3rd most popular country with Americans, achieving an overall positive rating by 68%, and coming in behind only England and Canada. Positive ratings of the Palestinians declined in almost all subgroups, achieving a total 28.3% rating.
In the US, as opposed to many other countries, many people tend to root for the underdog (Israel can now be seen in that role much more often) and to take the Bible seriously (on some level).
Israel still has a rocky road ahead in dealing with American foreign policy because the government, academic, and media elites here mainly favor the Arabs for financial and ideological reasons. If one James Baker was launched into deep space, many others in both parties would gladly fill his muddy shoes. Now that it seems safe to attack Israel and Jews in print, we can expect to see more of it.
Almost everything that could have gone wrong for Israel’s image did – and then some … Nonetheless, the recent Quinnipiac Survey showed that Israel gained in popularity with every subgroup polled.
I don’t think it is such a surprise. Americans are more attuned with reality than the media. They look at the images of a typical Israeli, whether average citizen or or media persoanlity and they see themselves. Most often people interviewed for news pieces (even negative ones) are American Olim. They are usually very attractive middle class types. They look American… they sound American… they have American middle class values and they are seen as idealistic, living those ideals by immigrating to a difficult part of the world suffused with suicide bombers, rocket attacks, and general terror. When people see a news peice like this and then they see a counter piece with usually unattractive Arabs who look nothing like Americans, cannot speak English, and most certainly do not have middle class American values, they see an Arab terrorist who is responsible foe the world we live in today post 9/11. It isn’t that much of a guess which side is going to be more identified with and supported.
Yitzchok Adlerstein writes that support for Israel among Republicans is higher than among Democrats. This fact has been known for quite a while. Recent trends reveal that a significant sector of the Democratic Party is openly hostile, or at best indifferent to the vital needs of Israel. I find it perplexing that American Jews consistently vote for Democrats. Can one learn from it that American Jews do not support Israel, or at best, they are indifferent whether it survives the unremitting onslaught of its hostile neighbors?
The question asked in the survey is not how strongly the respondent supported the state in question, but “How friendly or unfriendly do you think [Country X] is to the U.S.?” While there’s probably a correlation between the two, I wouldn’t interpret this survey as proof that Americans’ support for Israel has grown.
Two observations about your observations and one about your conclusion:
1. Baker is no friend to Israel, but seems on the substance of it to be no more a threat than your pal Nancy Pelosi, who wanted the Congress to insert in a resolution language equating the IDF with Hizbollah.
2. Americans know that Israelis are the good guys – the failure of Israel to respond appropriately to Nasrallah was seen as a failure in political leadership.
As far as your conclusion: the problem is not that Israel has lost friends – it is that the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic public has become far more vocal and blunt.
If the Republicans did give James Baker a one way ticket to the North Pole, more Jews would vote likely Republican. It is a bit ironic, but the fact that he is associated with Republican policymaking that is now quite unpopular may have contibuted a bit to the rise in Israel’s popularity.
The fact is, the overwhelming majority of elected officials in both parties are strongly pro-Israel. And the Democratic takeover of the US House has put a lot of Jewish Zionist Democrats (and not a few non-Jewish supporters of Israel) into very powerful positions. That takeover is a rebuke to the inept President whose policies have made Israel’s strategic position weaker than it has been in decades. The surprising thing is that anyone would wonder why Jewish supporters of Israel would have voted Democratic this year.
“I find it perplexing that American Jews consistently vote for Democrats. Can one learn from it that American Jews do not support Israel, or at best, they are indifferent whether it survives the unremitting onslaught of its hostile neighbors?”
Not at all. For example, my Senators — Richard Durbin and Barak Obama — and my Congressman, Jesse Jackson, Jr, are each quite supportive of Israel,ecognizing the problems faced by Isfael in the “unremitting onslaught of its hostile neighbors” and also support a series of other values with which I agree and which, in my never humble opinion, I derive in substantial part from Judaism. Unlike many — Note: I do not say “all” or even “most” — republican leaders who, although they may give Israel seemingly unthinkable support, have put Israel’s neighborhood into unbelievable chaos, but also support non-Israel positions which I consider to be antithetical to Judaism and even destructive towards Judaism.
A comment about the American Christian support of Israel…
Having been raised in a conservative Christian home (prior to recent conversion), I was always taught that G-d had promised Israel it would never be defeated again. Period.
Thus, even though conservative Christians believe that the Jews rejected the messiah, they still believe that the Jews are G-d’s chosen people and G-d will defend them as promised. Those same Christians, in general, aren’t willing to incur the wrath of G-d by turning on Israel. IF push comes to shove, America will, by and large, stand behind Israel 100% for this very reason.