Exit Strategies

The Israel Question


A question I’ve been thinking about for some time is as follows: Where on the American political spectrum would it be proper to place strong supporters of Israel, including American partisans of Israel’s present nationalist government? What complicate this question are the support patterns for the Israelis and the Palestinians. They cut across conventional ideological divisions.

While the Republican Party and the media-promoted conservative movement are unconditionally pro-Israel and lean heavily toward Israel’s now ruling, hard-line Likud coalition, the overwhelming majority of American Jews are Democrats, but emotionally attached to the Jewish state. Despite the tensions between the Obama government and Premier Netanyahu’s coalition, American Jews show greater fondness for the Obama administration than does any other ethnic group, save for blacks. Obama’s reduced popularity among Jews, which fell from 83 percent in January 2009 to 64 percent last month, doesn’t change the relative standing of his Jewish supporters. His popularity among Hispanic voters, another group with which he did well in 2008, has dipped to below 60 percent.

With the exception of the Orthodox, most American Jews combine their financial and other forms of assistance to Israel with unmistakably left-of-center views about American politics. Despite the attempts by some Jewish groups to be more “even-handed” in the Middle Eastern conflict, most American Jews find no contradiction between being on the social and cultural left in the U.S. and remaining ardent Zionists and, in effect, Israeli nationalists.

The American Right reveals even more interesting fissures, if one looks beyond the semblance of unity created by FOX and other promoters of a center-right party-line. Admittedly both the neoconservatives, who control most of the relevant media resources, and Christian Zionists, like Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee, endorse the Israeli Right, to the point of denying that Palestinians were ever forcibly removed from their homes during the Israeli war for independence! One would be hard pressed to find in Israel such righteous fanatics on the question of Israeli treatment of the Palestinians as one encounters in the Wall Street Journal, National Review, The Weekly Standard, or Commentary or on FOX. I myself reacted with a bored yawn when I saw a column a couple of years ago by Cal Thomas, calling on the Israelis to expel all Arab residents. Thomas, who appeals to Christian Zionists and lives off neoconservative money, found it intolerable that Arabs should be allowed to live in Israel, since presumably they do not accept his ideas about democracy and human rights. Movement conservative websites descend even further into lunacy when they deny that the inhabitants of Gaza are living in straightened circumstances. Pro-Israel activists who write about the Gaza refugees eating gourmet food, frolicking in Olympic-size swimming pools, and visiting luxury hotels have ascended the heights of lunacy.

The Old Right, which FOX and the neoconservatives successfully shoved out of their movement, is at least equally extreme on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Whether one reads Pat Buchanan, Joe Sobran, Paul Craig Roberts, or any issue of The American Conservative, the pro-Palestinian stance expressed by these advocates is over the top.

Here the Israelis are to blame for any violence that erupts in their country or on the West Bank, because they are racists and imperialists. The Israelis are imagined to be exclusively at fault whenever a peace initiative fails; and by giving Palestinian organizations what they want, we can supposedly defuse the terrorist threat to the U.S. And, oh yes, our state department only acts with Israeli approval.

What makes both sides annoying is not only their childish partisanship. What the two sides are screaming over has nothing to do with those issues that should be engaging the Right, such as limiting the power of our centralized managerial state and removing bureaucrats and judges from controlling our social relations. Although I confess to having pro-Israeli feelings, this would not keep me from joining with pro-Palestinian Americans, if the two of us shared the same concerns about government overreach or the about the government’s latest attempts to create chaos on our borders. What the polarizing views about the Middle East have done is create phony litmus tests for deciding who is or is not “conservative.”

The American Conservative features writers from the Left, and even from the far left, depicting the Israelis as Western imperialists. The Old Right courts these publicists, providing they are willing to go after the Israelis as “fascists.” Meanwhile the far more powerful and better connected neoconservative press serves up the kind of half truths that one finds coming from AIPAC. Thanks to such advocacy, liberal Democrat Joe Lieberman has been turned into a movement conservative poster boy. After all, as Bill Bennett who supported Lieberman for president, observed: “He is good on the security of Israel.” Having watched the American Right sink into a confrontation over Israel, I wish it would change the broken record. But this may be wishful thinking.