In “The Failure of the American Jewish Left,” an article in the current issue of Middle East Quarterly, David Brog, executive director of Christians United for Israel, laments the fact that “for many years, the liberal base of the Democratic Party has been steadily turning against the Jewish state.”
Brog notes the fiasco at the Democratic National Convention in September, where earnest efforts could not muster a two-thirds majority — or, apparently, any majority — for Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. While “liberal members of Congress such as Harry Reid, Robert Menendez, Shelly Berkley, and Elliott Engel remain among Israel’s most outspoken defenders on Capitol Hill,” a sizable chunk of Democrats now take stances inimical to Israel.
For instance, “on January 26, 2010, 54 congressmen sent a letter to President Obama urging him to pressure Israel to lift its blockade of Gaza. All were Democrats.” And in March that year, when 333 members of the House sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton protesting the administration’s excoriation of Israel for plans to build homes in Jerusalem, only seven Republicans refused to sign it while no less than 91 Democrats—over a third of all House Democrats—refused to do so.
But “even more troubling than this shift in Washington is the shift at the grassroots. On Capitol Hill, at least, most Democratic congressmen still stand with Israel. Out in the grassroots, only a minority of Democrats continue to do so.” For instance, “a February 2010 Gallup poll found that 85 percent of Republicans and only 48 percent of Democrats sympathized more with the Israelis than the Palestinians”; while “an October 2011 Quinnipiac poll found that 69 percent of Republicans and only 36 percent of Democrats sympathized more with the Israelis than the Palestinians.”
Brog warns of “a situation where the U.S.-Israel relationship is alternatively strong when one party is in power, then abandoned when the other party rises. In such a world, Israel’s enemies will simply build their bombs, stockpile their missiles, and await the inevitable swing of the U.S political pendulum.”
Brog is, of course, right; a situation where Israel becomes a “wedge issue” is not at all desirable. But in seeking to ward off the danger, Brog turns to a problematic address: the American Jewish left — many of whom, he acknowledges, “as the Jewish state stands accused of the worst of crimes…have waved the white flag at best and joined in the attacks at worst.” Peter Beinart and Jeremy Ben Ami, Brog notes, are now the standard-bearers of this camp of “disaffected” American Jews.
Brog exhorts liberals, and particularly American Jewish ones, to change course, saying they are
best positioned to fight [the pro-Israel] battle. They are the ones who can most effectively defend Israel by invoking progressive principles to their progressive colleagues…. Now is not the time to abandon the battle of ideas…. America’s pro-Israel activists must instead redouble their efforts to expand the pro-Israel coalition and ensure that all major streams of American political thought have a home there.
Indeed, it doesn’t hurt to try. American pro-Israel activists (now, as Brog acknowledges, primarily conservatives) should try to reach as many people as they can. As is generally true of social groups, American Jews cannot necessarily be stamped with labels; those whose “progressive” identity is less clear-cut, in particular, can potentially be persuaded (some may even have voted for Romney).
But when it comes to American Jews who are clearly in the Peter Beinart and Jeremy Ben Ami mold, Brog’s hope of bringing them — along with their non-Jewish counterparts — back to genuine pro-Israelism is sadly misplaced. The implications of that for future Democratic support for Israel, and for Israel itself, are indeed worrisome. Nevertheless, the gap between such people and Israel (except, perhaps, in rare individual exceptions) now appears unbridgeable.
I see five reasons why that is the case.
1. Guns. As Brog himself notes, most Israel supporters have abandoned dreams of peace with the Fatah (let alone Hamas) movement and “begun to face the grim prospect of a longer struggle for Israel’s survival.” As Israel itself gears up for elections in January, not even the left-of-center parties are flaunting the “peace” issue. It has sunk in for most Israelis that a ministate “living in peace” beside Israel is not the heart’s desire of Palestinians — and, even if it were, would hardly put the Middle East as a whole to rest.
True, right-of-center prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who by all projections stands to be reelected — recently claimed four years of relative quiet on the security front as one of his achievements. But that quiet has come at a price, as the major terrorist threats on Israel’s borders — Hamas in Gaza and Hizballah in Lebanon — keep adding large quantities of rockets and other weapons to their arsenals; and their supporter, Iran, approaches the nuclear finish line.