The Gaza War, and the New U.S. Jewish Consensus on Israel
It’s hard to imagine any issue on which more than 90% of American Jews agree. Is anti-Semitism bad? Are latkes good? Are reruns of “Seinfeld” worth watching?
Yet we finally do have one such issue. According to a new Gallup Poll released on August 1, when asked about the Gaza War, 93% of American Jews said they sympathize with Israel, 5% sympathize with both sides, and 2% sympathize with the Palestinians.
Note that the poll was carried out amidst a veritable tsunami of pro-Palestinian news media coverage in the United States. American Jews have been bombarded daily with heart-rending images of frightened or wounded Palestinians. The New York Times, especially, has done its utmost to perpetuate the notion that the Palestinians are innocent victims of Israeli brutality.
Just before the poll results were released, a front-page story in The Forward, reporting on American Jewish opinion regarding the war, was headlined “Many Jews Rally For Israel, While Some Protest Gaza War.”
The headline alone conveyed the impression that a substantial proportion of U.S. Jews were criticizing Israel.
According to the body of the article, “a series of opposing rallies and protests have drawn Jews on both sides.” Reinforcing the idea of a deep division in the community, six of the nine individuals interviewed in the article were critics of Israel. (And even one of the pro-Israel demonstrators was quoted not in support of Israel, but in defense of the right of the critics to speak out against Israel.)
The Gallup poll clearly demonstrates the opposite: that the division, if one can call it that, is more than 9 to 1 in support of Israel. (Note that the respondents were not forced to choose between Israel and the Palestinians; they had the option of choosing “both sides.” Yet only 5% did so.)
How is that there is such overwhelming – almost unanimous – support among American Jews for Israel in this war?
After all, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is routinely portrayed in the news media as “right-wing,” and most American Jews are supposedly liberal to left-wing. So shouldn’t they be opposing Netanyahu’s war policies (even though they are backed by an overwhelming majority of Israelis)?
Furthermore, most American Jews voted for Barack Obama, and the Obama Administration has often been harshly critical of Israel’s conduct of the war, while showing sympathy to the Palestinians. So shouldn’t they be supporting Obama?
Moreover, this is a community that has – over three generations – repeatedly given birth to dissident organizations that are opposed to Zionism or Israel. In the 1940s, it was the American Council for Judaism, a group established by anti-Zionist Reform rabbis. In the 1970s, it was Breira, organized by former anti-Vietnam war radicals. In the 1980s, it was the New Jewish Agenda, created by New Age activists.
More recently, J Street has emerged. One of J Street’s oft-repeated claims is that the mainstream pro-Israel organizations do not speak for most American Jews – that there is a silent majority in the Jewish community favoring J Street’s positions. Certainly if one were to believe the fawning media coverage it has received, J Street would appear to have the support of a significant number of American Jews.
But the new Gallup Poll strongly suggests otherwise.
It’s not that there has been much of a shift to the “right” in the Jewish community. In fact, American Jews haven’t abandoned an essentially liberal outlook all that much. It’s the world that has changed.
Beginning with the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, many Palestinian leaders and spokesmen attempted to convince the world – and American Jewry – that they had become moderate and no longer sought the destruction of Israel. For some twenty years, American Jews watched as the “moderate Palestinian” myth gradually fell apart. The “jihad” speeches … the hate-filled Palestinian school books … the attempt to smuggle in a ship filled with fifty tons of weapons … the salaries for imprisoned terrorists … Every new development chipped away at the Oslo illusion.
It all reached a terrible in climax in Gaza. Israel finally did what Israeli and American Jewish doves had long demanded: it unilaterally withdrew every Israeli soldier and citizen from every inch of Gaza. It was the ultimate test of Palestinian intentions.
And how did the Palestinians respond? By burning down the greenhouses Israel left them, electing Hamas terrorists as their leaders, and firing thousands of rockets into “occupied Sderot,” “occupied Ashkelon,” and now, “occupied Tel Aviv.”
American Jews have responded to this sobering new reality as any normal, logical, rational thinking people would respond.
Lesson nineteen of the Gaza war: There is an overwhelming American Jewish consensus in support of Israel.
Moshe Phillips and Benyamin Korn are members of the board of the Religious Zionists of America.