Friday, June 20, 2008

The American Public and the Jewish State

Walter Russell Mead, at Foreign Affairs, argues that support for Israel is deeply institutionalized in American history, although the nature of that support has become increasingly polarized with the emergence of the American left's radicalism in the post-Vietnam era:

Since the 1967 war ... the basis of Israel's support in the United States has shifted: backing for Israel has tended to weaken on the left and grow on the right. On the left, a widespread dislike of Israel's policies in the occupied territories and a diminished concern for its security in the wake of its triumph in the war led many African Americans, mainline Protestants, and liberal intellectuals, once among Israel's staunchest U.S. allies, toward growing sympathy with Palestinian views. Increased identification on the part of blacks with anticolonial movements worldwide, the erosion of the black-Jewish alliance in U.S. domestic politics, and the rising appeal of figures such as Malcolm X and the leaders of the Nation of Islam also gradually reduced support for Israel among African Americans. The liberal Protestant churches, for their part, were newly receptive to the perspectives of those missionaries sympathetic to Arab nationalism, and as the mainstream churches became more critical of traditional American ideas about the United States' national identity and destiny, they distanced themselves ever further from traditional readings of the Old Testament. (On the other hand, relations between American Catholics and the Jews began to improve after the 1967 war, largely due to the Catholic Church's new theological approach toward the Jews since the Second Vatican Council.)

On the right, the most striking change since 1967 has been the dramatic intensification of suppport for Israel among evangelical Christians and, more generally, among what I have called "Jacksonian" voters in the U.S. heartland. Jacksonians are populist-nationalist voters who favor a strong U.S. military and are generally skeptical of international organizations and global humanitarian aid. Not all evangelicals are Jacksonians, and not all Jacksonians are evangelicals, but there is a certain overlap between the two constituencies. Many southern whites are Jacksonians; so are many of the swing voters in the North known as Reagan Democrats.

Many Jacksonians formed negative views of the Arabs during the Cold War. The Palestinians and the Arab states, they noted, tended to side with the Soviet Union and the Nonaligned Movement against the United States. The Egyptians responded to support from the United States in the 1956 Suez crisis by turning to the Soviets for arms and support, and Soviet weapons and Soviet experts helped Arab armies prepare for wars against Israel. Jacksonians tend to view international affairs through their own unique prism, and as events in the Middle East have unfolded since 1967, they have become more sympathetic to Israel even as many non-Jacksonian observers in the United States -- and many more people in the rest of the world -- have become less so. The Six-Day War reignited the interest of prophetic Zionists in Israel and deepened the perceived connections between Israel and the United States for many Jacksonians. After the Cold War, the Jacksonians found that the United States' opponents in the region, such as Iraq and Iran, were the most vociferous enemies of Israel as well.
Those Jacksonians sound much like the earlier "Reagan Democrats," and they are reflective, frankly, of mainstream public opinion during the George W. Bush administration.

In contrast is the current Democratic Party, which has been taken over by
Carteresque ideology and the community anti-Semitism at "mainstream" Democratic blogs - and such trends against the Jewish state are ultimately represented in the anti-Israel candidacy of Barack Obama for the presidency.