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April 20, 2016 6:30 am

Why Are American Jews Drifting Away From Israel?

avatar by Daniel Pipes

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American Jews, says the writer, should not forgive supporters of the Iran deal. Photo: Isi Leibler.

American Jews, are drifting away from Israel, says Daniel Pipes. Photo: Isi Leibler.

Elliott Abrams began a conversation by asking what has caused American Jews to distance themselves from Israel, and finding the main cause to be the 50%-to-60% rate of Jewish intermarriage with non-Jews. 

Martin Kramer then added a second factor: the changing balance of power between American and Israeli Jews. “When the state of Israel was established in 1948, there were six million American Jews and 700,000 Israelis: a proportion of nine to one. … today, the ratio of American to Israeli Jews is one-to-one — about 6 million in each country. In another 20 years, there will be well over 8 million Jews in Israel, and probably fewer than 6 million in America.” Nor are numbers the whole story: “these Israelis are economically prosperous and militarily powerful” even as “Jewish political clout” erodes in the United States. As a result, Israelis pay less attention to American Jewish opinion, which in turn leads to American Jewish alienation. 

I agree with both their arguments and should like to add a third perspective: 

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Jewish support for Israel has weakened primarily because Jews are solidly on the liberal-left of the political spectrum (these days symbolized by Bernie Sanders), the side most critical of Israel. 

From Israel’s point of view, the fact that American Jews are losing their ardor for Israel is a distinct loss. But it is made up for by American conservative support for the Jewish state. 

The conservative-moderate-liberal spectrum of opinion is consistent in poll after poll (I have collected a decade’s worth of them here) and it shows a large and growing conservative support for Israel. For example, the Gallup poll in February 2016 found Republicans favoring Israel over the Palestinians by 79% to 7%, or a margin of over 11-to-1. With such political backing, Jews have lost their primacy in pushing the US government to a favorable policy toward Israel. 

To be sure, this support could one day erode too but it looks solid for now, being a core issue of the conservative outlook. As one proof, note how a Republican politician (Charles Boustany) who associated with J Street felt compelled publicly to apologize for this step (“I had been deliberately misled.”)

Conservative support includes self-professed Christian Zionists, of course, but it also comprises many others (such as defense hawks or those worried about Islamism) who do not have a religious outlook. 

Mathematically, is it better to have the near-unanimous support of Jews, who make up 1.8% of the US population, or the very substantial support of the 38% who are conservative? To ask that question is to answer it. That said, this change does have disadvantages for Israel: For one, conservatives tend to know less about Israel. For another, Israel has become a partisan issue. 

These subtleties aside, it remains true that as Jewish support weakens, conservative backing has moved in to take its place. The focus on Jewish opinion, therefore, has less salience than it once did. Conservatives, now the Zionist bulwark, deserve that attention and solicitude.

Daniel Pipes (DanielPipes.org@DanielPipes) is president of the Middle East Forum. This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.

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  • delia ruhe

    Maybe Americans are just tired of all the lies and propaganda designed to mask the (no longer invisible) brutality of Israeli policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians. Americans — Jewish and non-Jewish — gave Israel unconditional support for a very long time, and the USG is still handing over $3 billion plus war toys to the Israeli government of thugs every year, but all Americans get in return is snow-jobs. I’d be angry with Israel too if I were American.

  • Jay Lavine

    From a Jewish standpoint, those who adopt a secular political ideology, such as liberalism or conservatism, have much more in common than is generally believed. People who have abandoned or reject Judaism are left with a spiritual void, and they tend to try to fill that void with some ideology that makes them feel good about themselves. What makes those on the Left and those on the Right feel good differs, but the underlying concept is the same. For both, their ideology becomes their religion, a kind of idolatry that often makes them think in ways different from the Jewish way.

    Judaism is neither exclusively liberal nor exclusively conservative, nor is it middle of the road. With respect to some issues, such as retention of traditional values, it would be considered very conservative on the secular spectrum. With regard to leveling the playing field, making sure the rich don’t take advantage of the poor, and seeing to it that the latter have the opportunity to provide for themselves, it would be considered very liberal.

    Unfortunately, most people tend to follow the dictates of their personality and seek self-validation though some secular political ideology instead of subordinating themselves to the Jewish way of life even if the latter sometimes goes counter to their own psychological tendencies.

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