American Jews Must Choose Between the Liberal and the Existential
We are witnessing the simultaneous ghettoization of Israel and of Jews in US politics. Barring a political realignment among American Jews, it’s only going to get worse.
It first became obvious during the debate over the Iran nuclear agreement. Media coverage has been biased against Israel for a long time. But for the first time, an American administration conducted a sustained campaign to isolate Israel on a matter of strategic importance to both countries.
The Obama administration deliberately sought to give the impression that opposition to the agreement came only from Israel. John Kerry issued thinly veiled warnings that that opposition would lead to Israel’s isolation internationally. Arguments that the Iran deal was bad for the national security of the United States were virtually ignored.
At the same time came the increasing presumption that Israel is an issue of interest only to Jews, also encouraged by the administration. In the aftermath of his decision to support the deal, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), held an “emergency summit” with Jewish leaders for damage control. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) tried to use his Jewish ancestry as street cred for supporting the deal, and then immediately proposed legislation to give Israel targeted assistance in dealing with the Iranian threat.
The impression isn’t limited to Democrats. Ann Coulter’s infamous tweets during the first Republican debate also implied that the only reason the candidates were emphasizing Israel as a foreign policy priority was to try to gain the Jewish vote.
We’re seeing the effects of the administration’s efforts to isolate Israel internationally and Jews with respect to Israel in the dearth of news coverage of the ongoing Intifada III. It barely exists in the US, making US viewers dependent on foreign coverage. The international media is universally hostile to Israel, making it easier to marginalize Israeli sources as Jewish propaganda.
P.J. O’Rourke’s reply in the Weekly Standard was a reminder of how wrongheaded Coulter’s beliefs were. In the sharpest terms, here was a Christian reminding the world of why non-Jews should and do care about Israel’s fate, in decidedly non-religious terms. Add that to the millions of evangelical Christians who support organizations such as Christians United for Israel (CUFI), and it’s clear that Coulter, Booker, and Bennet’s numerical calculations are off.
The problem is, their political calculations may not be.
The Democrat senators’ damage control on their Iran votes not only drew no response from Israel-supporting Democrats — most applauded it. Contrast that to O’Rourke’s columns, and you can be forgiven for believing that non-Jewish support for Israel now resides primarily among independents and Republicans.
For some time, Jewish pro-Israel organizations have pursued a dual strategy of taking liberal positions on social issues, and seeking to cultivate support among the Democrat office-holders. The latter is direct. The former satisfied the liberal instincts of most American Jews, which they could justify by saying that they were building bridges to other Democrat interest groups.
That strategy is now clearly bankrupt, having ignored both the primary role of the presidency in foreign policy, and the obstinate character of the current president.
The failure with respect to Israel is clear enough. Every single Democrat interest group backed the president instead of challenging him. What’s more, even the Jewish leadership appeared to back down, with the JCPA (the umbrella organization for Allied Jewish Federations) hosting a series of softball webcasts, mostly with deal supporters.
Those webcasts were hosted by the JCPA Chairwoman, Susan Turnbull, a prominent national Democratic Party activist.
All of this comes at the same time that open antisemitism is more and more widely accepted among the same campus Left that strenuously opposes Israel. Indeed, one can easily trace the development from anti-Israel activity to outright antisemitism. And Al Sharpton, who has literal, not figurative, Jewish blood on his hands, is a regular visitor at the White House.
The result is that Jews are increasingly finding support for Israel being carried by a party in which there are few Jewish members, and which resists identity politics in building its coalition. This, at the same time that they find their own position within their party of choice becoming increasingly tenuous.
Having failed to stop the Iran deal, American Jews are faced with a choice they have struggled mightily to avoid making, between the liberal and the existential.
Sharf is a contributor to the Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought. He is head of the PERA project at the Independence Institute, a Denver based free-market think tank. Follow him @joshuasharf.