Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Is He Kidding?

I'm really confused about Ethan Leib's description of the relationship between Jews and the Christian Right. On second thought, I think he's confused. Basically, he claims that:
We all know that the Evangelicals and the Jews are in bed together, facilitating the U.S.'s Israel-friendly policy...the Zionist agenda is possible, in large measure, owing to Christian Zionism on the Religious Right. That may be a controversial idea, but a kernel of it must be true.

Leib uses this to frame the recent attacks by prominent Jewish leaders against the Religious Right's anti-Jewish calls to demolish the separation of Church and State (I blogged about those events myself here). He may be being sarcastic, but if so I'm missing it.

I won't deny that Christian Right support for Israel is not an important factor for maintaining support for Israel (not the least because America certainly doesn't care about Jews qua Jews). But I think it is, far from something "we all know," wildly inaccurate to say that Jews and Evangelicals are "in bed together." Certainly, Evangelicals have used their strong support for Israel to attempt to crack the normally solidly Democratic Jewish constituency. And I am aware of otherwise liberal Jews for whom those efforts have currency, especially contrasted with some Democrats' luke-warm (at best) support for the Jewish state. But by and large, these efforts at penetration have failed dramatically. 78% of Jews voted for Clinton in 1996, 79% for Gore in 2000, and 76% for Kerry in 2004. In fact, the last time a Republican candidate got even a plurality of the Jewish vote was Warren Harding with 43%--and that's only because Socialist candidate Eugene V. Debs took 38% of the Jewish vote (the Democratic candidate took another 19%). And though the Jewish GOP vote is slowly starting to rise, it still remains in abysmal territory--George W. Bush did 11 percentage points worse in 2004 than his father did in his 1988 trouncing of Dukakis.

On issues aside from supporting Israel (which I still refuse to characterize as a "conservative" viewpoint), Jews overwhelmingly identify with liberal positions. As of September, 2004, two-thirds of Jews opposed the Iraq war. Michael Lerner has pointed out that Jews were the only white ethnic group to oppose California Proposition 209 (barring Affirmative Action), and that Jews and Blacks together constitute the most solidly liberal voting blocs in America today. Jews tend to be pro-choice, support gay marriage (at 64%, they are more likely than any other group [PDF] to be pro-equality here) and stem cell research, and favor liberal fiscal policies. And their views on the Christian Right? Well, in Newsweek's run-up to the 2004 election, they wrote that:
[M]any Jews are uncomfortable with Bush's embrace of the Christian right, whose solidarity on the issue of Israel strikes some as a cynical, self-interested ploy.

I'm not going to say that it is or is not a "self-interested ploy" for conservative Christians to support Israel. I will say that if it is, it's failing miserably. I obviously welcome support for Israel from any quarter--it is nice to see the Christian Right be on our side for once. But Jews continue to be their own separate force in politics, and claims that they are "in bed" with the religious right (just like claims that they are trending conservative) lie somewhere between alarmist and mythical.

5 comments:

jack said...

Can we talk about WHY Christian evangelicals support Israel so vehemently? Cause it isn't self-determination. It isn't even projection of American power in the Middle East. mmmmmmm Rapture.

Anonymous said...

Jack is right.

We're talking about people who think Jews are bound for Hell, and aren't particularly unhappy about it. God's will, and all that. Their support for Israel comes not from friendliness to Jews, but from their theological views. I would go so far as to say, from their superstitions.

To pick a nit, not all of these have to do with 'Rapture'. Some biblical passages suggest that God will favor nations that favor 'Israel', whether the Rapture be near or far. It helps that the 'Jewish state' took that particular name for itself, which I understand was a last-minute decision and a fairly close vote.

OTOH there is some distance between ideology and day-to-day politics. If evangelical leaders were displeased by Jewish leaders, I don't think that would change their opinion of Israel in the abstract, but it might cause them to de-emphasize support for Israel in favor of other interests. That possibility would, at least in theory, give Jewish leaders some incentive to 'make nice'.

That brings us to the Salon article. David Schraub seems to miss the point of it.

'As leaders of the religious right and their allies in the Republican Party trumpeted plans to "take America back," observers detected growing anxiety among ordinary American Jews, but there was little response from organized Jewry.'

The Salon article is about leaders and organizations, while David's comments were all about opinion polls and voting.

Ruchira Paul said...

Ethan was being provocative in his post for sure. What he is claiming is not that a "higher percentage" of American Jews now support Bush and the religious right, but that a small but influential group of Jewish people may have had a role in formulating certain foreign policy decisions, deemed "good" for Israel.

I agree with David Tomlin's characterization of the Christian right's motives in supporting Israel.For the Jewish right (and even some moderates and left) to embrace only the evangelicals' support of Zionism and ignore all their other world views is a bit cynical. Making one's political choices wholly contingent to the Israeli issue is fraught with danger and is bound to disappoint because it means turning a blind eye to other matters that run counter to one's overall moral and social philosophy. That is what Abraham Fox and Rabbi Yoffie are warning against.

I have a friend who is a single issue voter (Israel). She had this to say to me about the Salon article :
"....and I do agree, that Abe Foxman DOES NOT speak for the majority of Jewish people. It was an outrage that he had the gall to insinuate that his views spoke for the millions who feel otherwise. Believe me, I feel very uncomfortable when Christians think they can change my religion, or when they think at the end of time, all people will eventually see their "truth" My feeling about that is, that they can believe what they want to, just leave the rest of us alone! (Most Christians do not bother others like this though) Still, I do not want to alienate anyone who is supportive of Israel's right to exist in security as a JEWISH state.....we cannot afford that!"

I have to gently remind her that no US president is likely to be "bad" for Israel. It would therefore make more sense for her to vote for the candidate who promises to be "good" for Israel, the US AND the world.

We know that political expediency makes strange bed fellows. But this one is stranger than others. There is a great book,"The End of Days" by the Israeli author Gershom Gorenberg which sheds light on the methods and motives of this peculiar alliance.

Ruchira Paul said...

I had meant to include my blog address in my post. It is:
www.accidentalblogger.typepad.com

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