Israel remains an American favorite

During these hyper-partisan times, one of the few things the vast majority of Americans can still agree upon is their affection and support for Israel.

March 21, 2016 20:22
3 minute read.
A man waits for the start of the evening's speeches at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee

A man waits for the start of the evening's speeches at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Israel remains an American favorite • By JONATHAN ADELMAN The past several years have not gone well for Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The BBC reported over two years ago that Israel is the fourth most hated country in the world, behind only Pakistan, Iran and North Korea. The three wars in Gaza with Hamas since 2005 and the continuing problems with the West Bank Palestinians have harmed Israel’s image in a number of countries.

There has been little condemnation of the killers of Israelis in the early stages of a potential third intifada. Some leading newspapers and media are openly critical of almost everything Israel does.

Many European countries condemn Israel for its actions in the West Bank and Gaza.

Israeli officials have to be careful when they go abroad to certain countries, where they are at least theoretically liable to arrest.

Even the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been openly critical of Israeli activities in the territories.

Here at home the White House openly invites anti-Israeli Arabs to meetings. President Barack Obama has repeatedly been critical of Israel. The battle between Obama and Netanyahu over the Iranian nuclear deal has soured the traditional relationship between Israel and the United States.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement seems to be in control of many college campuses. In the last year fully 41 percent of Jewish college students reported being attacked or watching anti-Semitic acts, mostly connected with Israeli activities.

Given all this, one would expect a sharp decline in support for Israel in the United States, Israel’s principal ally. However the Gallup poll last year showed that 70% support Israel to only 17% support the Palestinians.

How can that be? Several factors explain it.

Attitudes toward Jews have changed dramatically in recent decades in the US. A 1937 poll showed only 46% of Americans would vote for a Jewish president. In the 1950s with strong anti-Semitism, Jews were not admitted to elite neighborhoods, country clubs and many private schools. Today 91% of Americans would vote for a Jewish president.

Time magazine calls Jews “the new WASPS.” Although less than 2% of the American population, they form a strong element in key American institutions, like Wall Street, Hollywood, Silicon Valley and Ivy League universities. Jews today marry into elite families like the Bushes and Clintons.

This new favorable view of American Jews impacts the American view of the only Jewish state in the world. Like others, Americans tend to like peoples and countries that seem similar to them. Israel is the “51st state” with democracy, rule of law, globalized trade, First World economy ($300 billion GNP), strong educational system and advanced high tech. Like America, Israel has a first rate military and intelligence services.

All this stands out in a Middle East where none of the other 23 states are democratic, high-tech or blessed with a strong educational system. Americans despair of Islamic fundamentalism, terrorism and endless Middle East violence reaching American shores. Israel shines by comparison to countries like Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Iran, terrorist groups like Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Qaida, and areas like the Palestinian West Bank.

In the Republican Party, once quite hostile to Israel in the 1950s, it is now fashionable to be pro-Israel. In the Republican presidential debates Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz all mentioned Israel and vied to see who loved it the most. In the Democratic Party Hillary Clinton also, despite some problematic advisers, has been moderately pro-Israel. Bernie Sanders is Jewish and spent time as a youth in Israel.

Even a defunct independent candidate, Michael Bloomberg, is not only Jewish but deeply involved with Israel.

And, always, there is the strong religious support for Israel from 50 million evangelicals.

During these hyper-partisan times, one of the few things the vast majority of Americans can still agree upon is their affection and support for Israel.

The author is a professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.

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