It's true - America does like Israel

US support for the Jewish state is solid and genuine, with or without the vaunted ‘lobby’

November 24, 2016 20:54

American support for Israel is a glowing example of what Stateside politicians and historians proudly refer to as "American exceptionalism". Just drive down a random main street across the 50 states and you will see synagogues displaying banners declaring: "We stand with Israel", banners untouched by vandals. Churches, too, are adorned with messages like: "Psalm 122:16. Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem".

A recent poll found that 63 per cent of Americans had a favourable opinion of Israel, while only 20 per cent had a favourable opinion of the Palestinian Authority. In a fractious, polarised America, where it is hard to get Democrats and Republicans to agree on anything, one of the bedrock consensus issues is support for Israel.

Even after Prime Minister Netanyahu's recent chilly visit to the White House, a bipartisan House of Representatives resolution "reaffirming unequivocal support for the alliance and friendship between the United States and Israel" was signed by no less than 333 members (77 per cent). House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stated, "we in Congress stand by Israel", and House Republican Leader John Boehner affirmed, "we have no stronger ally anywhere in the world than Israel." It was not one of the 31 Jewish House members, or one of the 13 Jewish Senators, but Mike Spence, whose Indiana constituency can barely raise a minyan of Jewish constituents, who felt impelled to criticise the President: "I never thought to see the day an American administration would denounce the Jewish state of Israel for rebuilding Jerusalem."

Of course, the left-liberal and Muslim punditocracy will claim that the US is in the thrall of the nefarious "Israel lobby". Yet even in the absurd event of Jews (who constitute only two per cent of the American population) being guilty of manipulating public opinion polls or carrying out wholesale bribery, this still would not explain the existence of 175 million Israel supporters.

Republican support for Israel stands at an all-time high of 85 per cent, and contemporary discourse in conservative circles is replete with references to a "Judeo-Christian heritage". Paradoxically, the religious rise of evangelical, born-again Christianity and decline of liberal Protestantism has benefited the Jews. Like the Mormons, evangelical Christians revere and study the Old Testament. Their faith is strengthened by what they see as the miraculous and triumphant return of the exiles to Zion, a precursor, they believe, to the Second Coming of Jesus. More crudely, heavily armed Christian Zionists living in Oklahoma find little wrong with heavily armed settlers in the hills of Samaria claiming to do the Lord's work.

All this religious fervour is of course a bit problematic for the majority of American Jews concentrated in larger cities. They tend to be sceptical in belief, socially liberal and unswerving Democrat voters who feel equally ill at ease with the revisionist Zionist rhetoric of the Likud. But mainstream American Jews remain proud of Israel and its scientific, medical, agricultural and social achievements, and most fear that its enemies want to destroy it. Arab-Muslim rhetoric and violence (and Iranian President Ahmedinajad alone) reinforces even very liberal Jewish solidarity with Israel.

One pillar of American gentile support for Israel derives from a relatively new grouping - non-Jewish family members, work colleagues and neighbours whom Jews invite to their family simchas and Passover seders. This phenomenon - millions of philosemites who know, like and mix with Jews and have become sympathetic to their concerns - is a source of solid support for Israel and Jewish interests generally. Nancy Pelosi has two children married to Jews and claimed at a recent Hadassah national convention that she probably has more grandchildren being raised as Jewish than most American Jewish women. Former Democratic Party presidential candidate John Kerry, though Catholic, is of part-Jewish descent and, more interestingly, his brother is an involved Conservative Jew. Bill and Hillary Clinton will soon have Jewish in-laws, former members of Congress known for their Israel sympathies.

From the perspective of Jewish history, in an exceptional time America is indeed an exceptional country.

November 24, 2016 20:54

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