Explaining American Jews’ love for Israel and America

I did something fun tonight: I went to a moderated talk concerning Israel. The speakers were Dennis Prager, John Podhoretz and Mona Charen, with Michael Medved moderating. As you can imagine, the discussion was informed, vigorous, amusing, intelligent and opinionated. I enjoyed every minute of it and I gathered from the applause, laughter, murmurs of agreements and other sounds of an engaged audience that the hundreds of other people attending did as well. (And believe me, it impressed me tremendously that there were hundreds of conservative Jews who could be gathered together in San Francisco. Before I arrived, part of me suspected that only about 10 people would show up — just enough for a political minyan.)

At the end of the evening, I asked a question that got some very interesting answers. I didn’t go into the evening expecting to ask this question, by the way, but it seemed an appropriate question by evening’s end. You see, it was patently clear, both from the conversation at the front of the room, the periodic audience applause, and the audience questions, that people in that room were both fiercely supportive of Israel and deeply patriotic Americans. That love for and belief in two countries reminded me of a question that’s been thrown at me over the years (or, perhaps, it could be categorized more accurately as an accusation): “How can you support Israel and call yourself a loyal American?” So when Michael Medved went around the room with a microphone, I caught his eye, and quickly asked “For those people who claim that America’s and Israel’s interests are antithetical to each other, how do we justify or explain our loyalty to both?”

John Podhoretz answered first by pointing to the common values shared by both nations — their belief that all men (and women, of course) are equal before God and their commitment to true Democratic values (however imperfectly that commitment may sometimes be realized). He noted that these shared values have resulted in two unusually free societies, free by any standards, but especially when one compares Israel’s society to her neighbors. Although I don’t think he quite said it outright, I gather that Mr. Podhoretz believes that American Jews are not disloyal to America when they support Israel because it is the morally correct thing to do: one beacon of light supporting another. I think he’s right.

When he’d wrapped up, Mona Charen chimed in to point out that the most fervent support for Israel comes, not from American Jews, but from Evangelical Christians. In other words, support of Israel is not some shady Jewish conspiracy, but is part of the value system religious conservatives of all stripes, both Christian and Jewish.

Finally, Michael Medved closed with the flip side to these preceding answers. That is, after Mr. Podhoretz and Ms. Charen pointed out that it is not unpatriotic to support Israel, he explained why Jews are — or should be — patriotic. His take, and one with which I strongly agree, is that America is one of the great blessings bestowed on the Jews. In America, they have enjoyed freedom and opportunity the likes of which has never been seen before during diaspora history — and probably wasn’t seen that often during the Jews’ own Biblical history. We have every reason to be profoundly grateful to this nation that has treated us so generously over the centuries, and there is no reason to doubt the patriotism of Jews who recognize America’s beneficence.

Mr. Medved also suggested a thought experiment: if Jews could magically vanish onto a space ship (kind of like the space ship that Louis Farrakhan assures his followers will be coming for them), would the world like America any better? It’s doubtful that the Europeans would. Our support for Israel isn’t why they dislike us, it’s just a piece of evidence in the litany of complaints they have against us. As for the Muslim world, Medved believes that it is our support for Israel — real support, not just lip service — that forces the Muslim world to pay attention to us and to give us some influence in those lands, influence we’d never have if there was no Israel and they dealt with us only as supplicants for oil. He also pointed out that, in the Arab hierarchy, we’re the Great Satan, with Israel ranking only as the Little Satan. That may relate to geographic size, but one has to suspect it also goes to influence and importance.

I gathered that the panel thought it was a good question (something reinforced by the fact that Mr. Medved was kind enough to tell me — twice — that it was a good question). I liked their answers, but I’d be interested in what you have to say as well. So, my question again: Can American Jews be both patriotic Americans and supporters of Israel? And to take Mona Charen’s point, if an American Evangelical Christian supports Israel, should that call his patriotism into question in the same way that people feel it calls a Jewish person’s patriotism into question?

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Comments

  1. expat says

    As a non-Jew, I look at the question from a different angle. My support for Israel is based very much on my dislike of its enemies. People who call Jews pigs and don’t want them in their neighborhood or to exist at all strike me as totally ignorant. How can I respect people who tell me George Gershwin was sub-human? How can I respect people who would deny the world the contributions of Jewish writers and scientists?

    In America, a Jew can be the guy next door, the woman at the next desk, the owner of the best deli in town , the doctor treating my mother, or the comedian telling chicken soup jokes. Our stereotypes of Jews are not all that different from the stereotypes of other groups; they are things we laugh about together but don’t take seriously when it comes to individuals. I don’t buy the excuse that the problem is Israel, I think the hatred preceded Zionism and Israel and I think this hatred is contemptible.

  2. Trimegistus says

    I fundamentally agree. . . but there’s a “but.”

    I’m married to a Jew and that’s how we’re raising the kids, but I have no real religion.

    Anyway. America should support Israel, as you say, BUT:

    Israel owes America the same unconditional duty. When Jonathan Pollard was found to be spying ON America for Israel, the Israeli government’s response should not have been requests for him to be extradited (so they can release him). They should have apologized abjectly and volunteered to furnish rope for his hanging. If we’re going to have a special relationship, that means no spying. No “America is our friend now, but what about tomorrow?” — because then America could justifiably ask the same question about Israel.

    I hope the American-Israeli relationship can be like the Anglo-American relationship — based not on formal alliances but on a community of thought and beliefs.

  3. swampacreage says

    That’s right we should laugh and the most famous Jew of all time was Karl Marx(okay maybe Abraham,Moses or Jesus but they were lefties as well ) and he was a lefty . . . er I mean the greatst Jew of all time was Sandy Koufax and he also was a lefty .Strike three I’m out . . well at least in California !

  4. says

    It honestly never occurred to me that my support for Israel was in any way inconsistent with my support for America. Israel more closely shares American values than nearly any other nation. Who else would we support?

  5. says

    Let’s get real here. Many times in American history there have been wild enthusiasms for foreign countries based on our allegedly identical characters, destinies, interests, moral claims, etc. There was a mania for France during their revolution. Pro Germand and Pro British forces competed during WWI. We’ve gotten in more than a few wars because of this sort of thing that later turned out to be mistakes.

    No two nations have identical interests. And small nations in particular often get their larger patrons in trouble; just ask Tsarist Russia, which undid itself because of its pugnacious client state Serbia. Sometimes our friends today are our enemies tomorrow. Russians were our allies in WWII and our enemies in the Cold War.

    The real question is, if our interests diverge, for example, if Israel sells sophisticated arms to the Chinese (as they’ve tried), if Israel destabilizes our oil supply, or if Israel is simply too costly to support, what will these “loyal Americans” do then? What if we decide we need to go to war with Israel because of some UN mandate or because they’ve betrayed us or whatever? I’m Italian-American. My Italian family members fought against the Italian Army in WWII. Would these pro-Israel fanatics fight against Israel if it came to it? We ask Muslims to kill Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan. Is there some reason a lower standard of loyalty is appropriate among other Americans?

  6. Deana says

    Roach –

    Who is saying that there should be a lower standard of loyalty or that Isarel and America have identical interests?

    I am a supporter of Israel because I realize that the Israeli people overwhelming support many of the same values I support. I feel the same way about Australia. I don’t expect them to have the SAME interests we do.

    Have there been times when I’ve been concerned about Israel’s support of America’s interests? Yes. But I am absolutely confident that Israelis have spent much time wondering if America supports their interests. Like now, for example, with our fabulous new NIE report.

    As for the question of whether American Jews would ever engage in an American war against Israel – I suspect the majority of them would, IF Israel were engaging in behavior that threatened America on the level that Germany, Italy, and Japan did 70 years ago. However, I doubt that history will progress in that direction.

    Deana

    P.S. I know there are a few Muslims in the U.S. military (some pretty extraordinary ones, too) but I don’t think their numbers reveal a commitment to America’s defense in the same way that Italian and German Americans did during WWII. In fact, I can think of very, very few examples of Muslim America citizens who have been publicly willing to even discuss the Islamist threat to liberty and peace and the need to support America’s efforts in the Middle East.

    So what’s with the concern about Jewish Americans?

  7. says

    When there’s somebody better to support than Israel, then Roach will get something out of the argument. Until then, it’s meaningless whether loyalties conflict or not. Sometime in the future the Jews may end up like the Muslims and then Muslims will have to be called to fight their own. Until then, we have to deal with real problems.

  8. says

    So what’s with the concern about Jewish Americans?

    They are an easier target than Muslim Americans. People have to admit that on an absolute scale, Jews, of whatever stripe, lack ruthlessness in comparison to other nationalities and ethnicities.

  9. says

    Hi Books,
    Here’s how I answer the question: Israel is and has been one of America’s most important allies, and one of the few with a significant military component. And the alliance has been exceptionally good for both countries.

    All real alliances come from shared values, something we could never achieve with the Arab states.

    It’s too bad that the Bush Administration appears to have essentially changed their minds on this, especially now that condi Rice appears to be leading the charge.

    Weakening Israel by forcing them into unwise security concessions in order to placate people like the Saudis is an incredibly stupid move, and one that will come back to haunt us.

    All Best,
    FF

  10. says

    Well, judging by their role in the Soviet Union, particularly in the Cheka, that can be debated. Lord knows how many mass murderers of Ukranian and Russian peasants labeled themselves Holocaust “survivors” and live now fat and happy in Israel.

    And why the concern, because, frankly, it’s undeniable that pro-Israel forces, Jewish and Evangelical, are very powerful in America and that Israel is an alliance that is far-from-costless and seems to do relatively little in return for us other than make active lobbyists on their behalf happy. In return, we get 1.2 bb Muslims pissed off at us and we make it harder for their pro-American leaders to have any credibility since Israel so mistreats its Palestinian minority.

    The Cold War’s over; we should drop these attachments to small countries. Back then it was our orbit or the Soviet’s. Today they can just melt away. These countries must learn to accomodate their strong neighbors or be annihilated, whether we’re talking Taiwan, Moldova, Lebanon, or Israel.

    Israel’s tough and reasonably wealthy anyway. They don’t really need us, and we shouldn’t fight their wars for them, particularly as it costs so much moolah.

    Iran is basically a non-threat to us and has only become one because we’re in their face so aggressively trying to fight Israel’s wars, as we are doing so obviously in Iraq.

  11. says

    Where was Israel, if they’re such good allies, in Korea and Vietnam? Spain, Greece, Australia, South Korea, New Zealand, and the Philipines all contributed troops to one or both conflicts and they’re not much tougher.

    Israel takes and gives nothing back.

  12. Danny Lemieux says

    To Roach:

    I suspect that 1.2b Muslims are going to be pissed at you no matter what, infidel.

    As far as Iran being a non-threat to us…why don’t you take them at their word. For the record, Palestinians aren’t an Israeli minority. You need to brush up on your history.

  13. says

    Where was Israel, if they’re such good allies, in Korea and Vietnam?

    Israel is a proxy fighter of the US, first begun in the Cold War. Not an “ally”. Get your geopolitics straight, okay?

    The Russians backed the Ayrabs, we backed the Israelis, and the Arabs tired to kill the Israelis so that Russians and Americans didn’t have to nuke each other.

    Now that the Russians are gone, the Ayrabs seek the title of Master. The Jews remind them of their historical subservience and incompetency, thus the Jews must be eliminated. America, being the enemy that defeated their masters, the Soviets, must also be eliminated by crushing the life out of Americans, as Hizbollah did to the hundreds of Marines in Lebanon.

  14. says

    Joshua Pundit is too ideologically blind due to the the author’s biases against Bush. The technical intelligence analysis isn’t bad, but the motivations attributed to Bush are incorrect as well as inconsistent with Bush’s psychological profile.

  15. says

    As a matter of fact, that’s what I expected we were doing there, since invading Iraq didn’t make any sense otherwise.

    he expected that because he expected Bush to act consistent with what he thought Bush was. But Bush wasn’t what Joshuapundit thought he was.

    Once you get the assumptions wrong, your conclusions end up wrong as well.

  16. Danny Lemieux says

    Incidentally, Israel has been a great source of intelligence to the U.S. with regard to the Middle East, as well w/ regard to the Soviet. They have also made many great technological advances, especially in radar, missile and anti-missile warfare, that have benefited the U.S.

    Finally, Israel and the U.S. share much in common, aside from religious ties. Eventually, I believe, it is Israel that holds the key to Muslim countries eventually and successfully joining the modern world. One of the big reasons that Israel is so hated by the Islamic world is that its success is a great mirror in the face of Islam that reflects back all of its failures. Until the Middle Eastern Muslim countries come to terms with that, nothing will change. Among other things, Israel has amply demonstrated how Arabs (Israeli citizens) and Jews can live together in harmony. Here’s a great story on what happens when Israeli Muslims go to Haj in Mecca: http://www.themedialine.org/news/news_detail.asp?NewsID=19820

    I understand the sentiments of the Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan types that wish we could simply unload the cares of the world and retreat back into fortress America, but the world doesn’t work that way anymore. Should the Middle East blow up and oil supplies to the rest of the world be interrupted, the result will be a world-wide recession that will as surely affect us as any other country. We, too, would be paying astronomical prices for that same commodity, oil, that other countries depend upon for survival.

    Finally, the NIE report on Iran notwithstanding, it is kind of fun to see the UN, Europeans and Arab countries squirm when the U.S. NIE report says, in effect, “it’s not our problem anymore”. Mmmm…maybe we SHOULD be making more isolationist noises and letting our erstwhile “allies” know that the day may come when Atlas shrugs.

  17. says

    How come everyone everywhere from nearly every political persuasion worldwide realizes the lunacy of our support for Israel but for Israelis, Jews, and apocloyptic Evangelicals? I mean, literally all of Europe, India, Asia, etc. is against us on this one? Are they just mad? Yeah, they’re crazy, just like when they said Iraq would be a cesspool and Saddam had no WMDs.

    Someday the truth will be known, just as it is becoming known about the Soviets and the role of you-know-who.

  18. expat says

    Roach,

    I usually read many sources before coming to an opinion on important topics. Before the war, I read in the FAZ, probably Germany’s most respected paper and certainly no American poodle, that German intelligence agencies also believed Saddam had WMD. And while many predicted that Iraq would be a mess (Joschka Fischer comes to mind), no one came up with an alternative for dealing with Saddam. They were interested in talking nice while Americans and Brits were enforcing the no-fly zones. They were interested in reporting constantly on the kids starving under sanctions. Funny how there is zilch interest in reporting oil for food scams that stole that oil money from the kids.

    BTW, I am not an apocalyptical Evangelical.

  19. Trimegistus says

    Roach:

    To summarize your point, it seems that you believe that anyone opposed to the mass slaughter of the remaining Jews on Earth must be some kind of fanatic.

    That was once known as basic human decency. If the rest of the world has really abandoned that, so much the worse for them.

  20. says

    Roach, my man, a simple question. Compare and contrast Israeli treatment of their Muslim minority (there’s no such thing as a Palestinian minority in Israel, of course) with the Arab states’ treatment of the Jewish minorities. When you misspeak about Jewish treatment of the Palestinians and don’t mention the determined Palestinian (and other Muslim) efforts to kill as many Jews as possible, destroy Israel and drive it into the sea, you betray either an appalling ignorance of the truth or a cynical disregard for the truth. Either way, you cannot be taken seriously by people who value the truth.

    P.S. If you favor the slaughter of innocent Jews why don’t you just come out and say so instead of doing a bogus cost-benefit analysis. If you really are morally bankrupt, why not own up to it?

  21. Lulu says

    Reading the comments of the aptly named Roach has been a bit disturbing. To sum up some of his key points:

    From Roach # 1.

    The United States expects a lower standard of loyalty from Jewsih citizens than anyone else.

    Israel may likely work against US interests- note unethical business dealings with China.

    From Roach # 2.
    Powerful pro-Israel forces in America are causing us to be hated by more than a billion Moslems who would otherwise love us- and they are quite right to do so.

    Mass murderers of east European Christians pretending to be Holcaust victims live, as Roach put it, “fat and happy” in Israel.

    Now, I need a little help understanding this point. Are these mas murderers of Russian peasants Stalinists, KGB, pillaging Cossacks? Or is Roach hinting at evil Jewish deeds? Unclear. Also, the he wrote Holocaust “survivors” in quotations. Is he implying that many Israeli survivors actually didn’t survive the Holocaust, that they were actually guilty evil folks rather than innocent victims of a sick, perverted and evil hatred? That Israel’s “sympathy card” of being a refuge post genocide is actually false because most alleged survivors were really Nazi-like poseurs? I hope that’s not what Roach was saying, because that is just vomitous.

    Palestinians are “so” mistreated.

    From Roach # 3.

    The whole wide world hates Israel, except for the United States, and we should hate it too. After all, enlightened states in the Moslem world have the oil so it’s a hatred that is also pragmatic. Europe, always prone to logic and morality, really hates Israel too, and(from Comment 2) since those Holocaust “survivors” are largely mass-murdering victim-poseurs, Europe should have no guilt vis-a-vis its previous attempts to annhiliate all Jews from the world.

    DQ, the problem with morally bankrupt people is that they usually think they are moral.

    I’ll take an apocalyptical Evangelical with a firm grasp of right and wrong over a roach-addled, roach-infested line of thought churned out in some college poli-sci or sociology class masquerading as thoughtful analysis.
    As far as I can see, Roach is just a run of the mill anti-semite.

  22. says

    Hi Lulu, Good post. I agree that most morally bankrupt folks think they are moral, but it’s amazing how quiet they get when their nonsense views are put to the test. I must admit I lose patience with people who so determinedly distort the truth.

  23. pacificus says

    Underneath the moral, democratic, geo-political, and even religious reasons for Americans to favor Israel and the Jews is a cosmic one: the Judeo-Christian God himself proclaims that He chose the Jews to be the carriers of His truth through human history. They are set apart for this reason, and I believe this is the ultimate reason, despite the many proximate reasons given by such as “Roach” above.

    I view with alarm the rising anti-semitism across Europe and America, where not so long ago civilized people would not be blamed for thinking the time for such barbarism was past; alas, it is not.

    Time now for civilized people to recognize the barbarians are not just at the gate, they are running through the streets of America desecrating cemetaries, attacking conspicuous Jews, and spewing anti-semitic poison from academic fora, books, and journals; and all as if Nazi Germany had never happened.

    Christianity is being targeted too, as witness the new holiday tradition forming of murdering people in churches and college campuses right before Christmas. But like the Jews, they probably deserve it too, right Roach?

  24. Deana says

    Voice – Give me a BREAK!!!!!!!! Anyone who has been on this site for any length of time would realize that Bookworm has 50,000 reasons to ban some folks on this site but she hasn’t due to what can only be described as super-human restraint.

    The reason Roach hasn’t made any comment is because he can’t muster the strength to argue his points. They are just too weak and frankly, disgusting.

  25. says

    1. Israel is a free democracy with a capitalist economy and a Judeo-Christian ethic. That creates natural allies.

    2. Israel is the front line of defense against the triumphalist sects of Salafi Islam and Khomeinist Shia’ism – both existential enemies of our country every bit as much as they are of Israel. And Muslim acceptance of the continued reality of Israel will be the death nell of the triumphalist aspects of those religions. Force can supress actions, but contrary ideas are ultimately the existential threat to such ideologies.

    3. Related to the above, not only is Israel the front line of defense, but it is a country that is thriving in most aspects – which is in stark contrast to virtually all of the Muslim nations surrounding it. Israel is a democracy that embodies modernity. The governance of surrounding nations runs the gambit from brutal authoritarianism to medieval. Thus, Israel presents the possible to these nations, which will cause titanic shifts in those countries if and when it is ever admitted. On a related note, It is both ironic and telling that the Muslim population of Israel and are loyal to the state and, by and large, want nothing to do with their politicized brethern.

    4. The attacks on Israeli civilians and children are craven, despicable and barbaric. The perpatrators are no better than animals. I lend my full support to any nation under that type of attack. That ideology that can give rise to the justification for such attacks must be ended.

    Those are my reasons anyway. Great post BW.

  26. says

    Trimegistus,

    I understand your point about Pollard, but let’s not forget that every nation spies on each other. Don’t think for a moment that our allies do not have spies in our nation or vice versa.

  27. immigrantskid says

    I have supported Israel and revered Jews (in theory because I have never actually been friends with any, although have met some) ever since I was a kid and found out what happened to them during WWII.

    I have known a few anti-semites and I think they’re stupidly, criminally, moronic.

  28. Chaya says

    Hey immigrantskid! Where do you live that you have never had any friends who were Jews?? By the way, some of my best friends are Jews! lol – Actually, I live in Israel!! Originally from New Jersey. I have found this discussion very interesting.

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