For the past eight years in particular, but even before, the Israel advocacy volunteer community in the United States was increasingly identified with the United States Republican party, with right wing neo-conservatism and Christian Zionist Evangelism. The counter-historical myth was fostered that only Republicans are true friends of Israel, and that Zionism had some necessary relation with Republicanism and Republican values.
We need all the allies we can get, but not at the expense of other opinions. About half of Americans are Democrats - what the neo-conservative pundits and bloggers often call "left wing radicals."
America now has a liberal progressive Democratic administration. It has always had a liberal academic community and political leadership. Bush II was an aberration. Not only American policy, but American society and culture are turning to the left, and probably will do so for the next decade.
This polarization increased during the Iraq war and the recent election campaign. One would have thought that the "Jewish bloc" was going to vote overwhelmingly for the Republican candidate. Not really surprisingly however, about 77% of Jews, about the same percentage as always, voted for the Democratic candidate. Every election we hear about the supposed Jewish shift to the Republican party, and every election it turns out not to be so. It is a myth.
The agitation against Barack Obama and the Democratic party by a tiny minority of "Zionists," oblivious of evidence, has not ceased even after the elections (See Obama and Israel
Our friends on the right are mostly out of step with USA and most of Europe. Many of the writers of Front Page magazine and Pajamas media and the like have thoroughly confounded support for Israel with support for anti-abortion legislation, drilling for oil in Alaska, tax cuts and not using condoms. That's OK for them. They are conservatives first and only incidentally support Israel. They say what they are right on the label. If they also support Israel, that's find. But a good many "Zionist" pundits are doing the same thing.
The attempt to identify Zionism with Republicanism or Conservatism is contrary to historical fact. As an advocacy strategy it is disastrous. An administration is probably not going to listen much to a lobby or interest that they know represent folks who won't vote for them. As James Baker said, "F--- the Jews. They didn't vote for us." That was not one of his wiser remarks, but it expressed a fundamental truth. There is no chance the Republicans will pay much attention to the ADA or the NARAL pro-choice lobby, and you know Barack Obama is not going to be listening much to the National Rifle Association if he can help it. We can't let the cause of Israel and spokespersons for that cause be put into deep freeze. More important perhaps, a majority of Americans support the Democratic party. If Zionism and the Israeli cause is identified with conservatism and the Republican party, it will be shunned. Even worse, since about 77% of Jews voted Democratic, as they always do (James Baker was right of course) identifying Zionism with the Republican party or conservatism isolates Zionism and Israel from American Jew
s. Indeed, there were and are a group of extreme leftist anti-Zionists and some anti-Semites in the Democratic party, but there is no lack of Republican and conservative bigots as well.
It is counter-historical and counter-factual to identify Zionism with conservative causes or the Republican party. One person who wrote to me objected to the alleged "socialism" of Barack Obama, which he claimed was "against Western values." I had to remind him that almost all of the founders of the Jewish state were socialists. Historically, every Democratic president without exception, regardless of their private views, including even Jimmy Carter, was, on balance, "good for Israel." The Republicans have a mixed record. The attitude of the Eisenhower administration was notorious, though Eisenhower was a good friend of the Jews in principle. The Ford administration was fortunately voted out of office before the impact of its Middle East "reevaluation" could be felt. George Bush Sr. was exceptional in being publicly antagonistic to Israel and claiming that the US had fought Desert Storm as a special favor to Israel. George Bush Jr. ("W") has a mixed record. America stood by Israel in the Second Lebanon War
and made a lot of soothing statements about Israel. Palestinians insist that the United States has been biased in Israel's favor, but they will probably claim that about anyone who doesn't advocate deporting all the Jews. Mr. Bush proclaimed his support for a Palestinian state in numerous public addresses, even at the height of the Second Intifada
. At the start of the Second Intifada, he sent Mr Mitchell
and Mr Tenet
here for the purpose of issuing reports that were certainly unoptimal from the Israeli point of view. During Operation Defensive Shield, he sent Secretary of State Colin Powell here with the thankless task of getting Israel to withdraw and cease hostilities, and then reneged and pulled the rug out from under Powell because of growing bipartisan
pressure in the United States. The Bush administration is responsible for the removal of the IDF from Gaza - that was not part of the original disengagement plan, and the Bush administration is responsible for the participation of the Hamas in the Palestinian elections - over the objections of BOTH the Israelis AND the Fatah
The Bush administration record on Iran is not quite as great as it seems. They do what is in the interests of the United States, for which they can hardly be faulted. As far as Israel is concerned, it is another matter. Had the Bush administration only issued the National Intelligence Estimate that claimed Iran was not building nuclear weapons, it would have been enough to illustrate the problem- "Dayenu," as we say at Passover
. Had the Bush administration just taken care to quietly veto an Israeli attack on Iran, it would have been enough to show where their heart is - Dayenu. Had they also made sure that we didn't have the wherewithal to carry out such an attack at a future date, even if Iran obviously was developing nuclear weapons, that would have been more than enough, Dayenu. But in addition to that, they took care to leak all of this information, so that all credibility was removed from the Israeli deterrent, and Mr Ahmadinejad could laugh all the way to the uranium stockpile. Yet somehow, Republican partisans clothed as "Zionists" have managed to convince their audiences that the Bush administration was "good for Israel," but Democrats would be bad. Of course the Bush administration combated Jihadist terrorism, but they did that because Osama Bin Laden
attacked the United States, not as a special favor to Israel.
I have examined the resolutions of the first Zionist Congress
and the writings of numerous Zionist leaders. I didn't find in any of them any statement supporting bans on gay marriage, or support for right to life, drilling for oil in Alaska or income tax cuts. Some of them, like Theodor Herzl
, supported "socialist" or liberal labor innovations, some, like Nachman Syrkin
were socialists, and a few were more conservative, like Zeev Jabotinsky
. Israel advocacy and Zionism have room for all democratic social and economic theories.
Real Zionist advocates should never confuse their personal political ideas with Zionism or try to market those ideas as a part of Zionism. This was always true. However, with the emergence of a new administration in the United States, it becomes urgent that conservative Zionists understand that a new era has dawned in American political life. Their insistence on identifying Zionism exclusively with the extreme right wing of the Republican party is an inaccurate distortion that will needlessly alienate most of the Jews of North America and about half the general population from Israel and from Zionism. The enemies of Israel have worked overtime to identify Zionism with Dick Cheney, neo-conservatism and the Republican party. Their work is facilitated by neo-conservative Zionists who insist on doing precisely the same thing.
However, it is not realistic to expect that most of these "Zionists" who are beating the drums of neo-conservatism will change their rhythm or their tune. Therefore, it is up to the progressive Zionists, who have generally been less than forward in defending Israel and representing Zionism, to re-assume the historic role of Labor Zionism as the representatives of our movement, rather than confining themselves to criticisms of Israeli policy. Ami Isseroff
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Replies: 2 Comments
The facts you invent are so much better and more comforting than the real ones, aren't they? 77% or 78% (not 70%) of Jews voted for Obama.
Of course few Jews voted for Ike, who kicked us out of Gaza in 1956 and brought Ibn Saud to the Waldorf Astoria when there was still slavery in Saudi Arabia.
Jews have always been opposed to slavery.
And of course no Jews voted for Nixon then, as he was a known anti-Semite. Not a lot of colored folks voted for George Wallace either.
Jimmy Carter got us peace with Egypt - almost completely on our terms. Begin signed that treaty. Was Begin anti-Israel too? Most people in the State Department insisted on a Palestinian settlement as well. Begin didn't want it, so he got what he wanted.
Jimmy Carter got us $3 Billion a year in US military aid. I don't think that's so great, but that's what the Israeli government wanted. So yes, he was good for Israel in balance. He was a clueless dumbass who lost Iran but that wasn't because he was bad for Israel.
Obama is not the current mayor of Chicago or the father of the current mayor either, so what is your point? Truman was a Democrat and did the right thing by us when it was most difficult to do it.
Ami Isseroff, Monday, November 10th
Your reading of American History is certainly counter to mine and also counter to my memory of experiences. FDR was hardly the first example of American Liberal tradition, but one of the great supporters of his New Deal was Father Coughlin, as open an anti-Semite as has ever existed on the American scene. And while Dwight Eisenhower can hardly be described as a lover of Jews, we owe him an enormous debt in his having the foresight to document the Holocaust on film, fully realizing that as time advanced there would be a huge attempt by Jew haters to claim it never happened.
And to say that Jimmy Carter, that infamous touter of the "Israel Lobby" is or was "good for Israel" is hardly consistent with my view.
I am not impressed with the selection of Rahm Emmanuel yet. I have never in my lifetime seen an American presidential candidate ally himself with more rabid anti-Semites than has Barack Obama, over so long a time. His wearing a kipa while visiting and placing a prayer on the Wall was definitely a plan to impress the thoughtless. I suspect it conjured up by Axelrod or Emmanuel, or both.
I also recall that the father of the present mayor of Chicago stood up at the Democratic convention of 1968 shouting perfervidly, "Jew! Jew!" as Ambassador Goldberg addressed the convention.
To presume that the American Left or even the Democratic Party has any special affinity for Jews or Israel is terribly naive.
The good news is that American Jewry supported Democrats to the tune of 85% back in 1960, when I was taking a Political Science course back in 1960. The support level has dropped to 70%. We are slowly learning.
Howard Wolf, Monday, November 10th
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