American Jews Anti-Semitism Barack Obama Dual loyalty Israel Jewish identity

Sorry to disappoint you, conspiracy theorists: few Jewish voters are obsessed with Israel

A commentator with a brilliant nickname, “Agog,” was disturbed by the previous thread’s discussion of candidates’ positions on Israel. Agog asked: “Is that how you judge the merits of the respective candidates: who is best for Israel? Shouldn’t the criterion be who is best for the US? The two countries’ interests are not one and the same.”

The premise that Israel is the most important priority for American Jewish voters has been endlessly recycled in this campaign season. It was stongly implied in pre-Super Tuesday primary coverage that focused obessively on the positions of Obama/Clinton/McCain on Israel. It was assumed by the ignorant creeps who came up with the smear campaign against Rob Malley; they seemed to believe that if a whiff of even-handedness could be detected in Obama’s advisor, it would automatically swing Jewish votes away from the candidate.

All of this chatter feeds the suspicions of people like Agog, who choose to believe that when American Jews discuss politicians’ views on Israel, it is evidence that we don’t care enough about our own country.

But while Israel’s fate is certainly a concern for most American Jews, an American Jewish Committee poll in November, 2007 revealed that it an obsession for a tiny minority of Jewish voters:

When asked to pick their most important campaign issue from a list of options, 23% of those surveyed named the economy and jobs, followed by health care (19%), the war in Iraq (16%), terrorism and national security (14%), support for Israel (6%), immigration (6%) and the energy crisis (6%).

It is impossible to discern how many of the respondents who ranked the economy or health care as their highest priorities also looked closely at candidates’ stances on Israel. I suspect the percentage is high. Hillary might have had increased appeal to Jewish voters in, for example, New York, because of the perception that she was “good on Israel.” But that doesn’t mean Israel’s plight or future was anything close to the most important reason why they voted for her.

For me, the most important priorities when I entered the voting booth were fixing our unconscionable health care system, preventing the economy from collapsing, getting us out of Iraq and making college education more affordable for my daughter, who is in high school. But of course I also factored in the candidates’ stances on Israel and the Middle East, as well as their ability to restore America’s shattered international credibility, when making my choice.

The truth about Jewish voters’ priorities won’t matter to the conspiracy theorists who search for ways to prove that we are a bunch of disloyal fifth columnists intent upon subverting the Republic. Logic and facts don’t do anything to dissuade them and it is no use trying. But their close cousins, who believe there is something incompatible about American citizenship and concern for Israel’s survival and safety, are often more lucid. They include the likes of Philip Weiss, who insists American Jews’ commitment to Israel means they are less loyal to America than they should be, and that we need a public conversation about this “problem.”

They should look at the AJC poll results and try to understand something that should not be hard to understand: Israel is one of the things Americans Jews care about and worry about, but when it is time to exercise our civic responsibilities, what happens here at home is what matters most to us.

7 thoughts on “Sorry to disappoint you, conspiracy theorists: few Jewish voters are obsessed with Israel

  1. The last sentence of the Forward story you linked to proves your point:

    “Nearly 70% said they feel `very close’ or `fairly close’ to Israel.”

    So you can feel very close to Israel and still cast votes for the same reasons as anyone else in this country. At first I was annoyed that you felt compelled to say this, as it might give people the impression that “thou does’t protest too much.” But you’re right, there are lots of anti-Semitic “creeps” out there and someone needs to answer them.

  2. In contrast to the assertions of Walt/Mearscheimer and their less than thoughtful propounders that Israel is NOT an intimate or strategic ally, my sense of the relationship of the US state with Israel is that it is comprehensive (economic, social, strategic, sentimental) intimate and permanent, and NOT so trivially dismissable. Even without the strategic relevance, the relationship will still be economic and social, and impossible (as well as immoral) to renounce or ignore.

    The sole question is the form of that relationship. Will the US be a friend that assists in whatever it takes to make peaceful bridges? Will it be a friend that assists peace by holding Israel accountable for promises that it makes? Will it be a friend by holding Palestinians accountable for promises that they make?

    I spent part of the weekend with Phil at the home of family/friends (my family, his lifelong family friends).

    I think what I learned of his experience is not atypical of idealist left. My sense is that he is blown around between rationally (and irrationally) vehement positions. He regards his parents’ understandings as reasonable. (His mother confided in me that she thought that the Walt/Mearscheimer thesis was a sanitized (my word) version of the Protocols, not innocuous, not scholarly, a fanning of the flames.)

    He doesn’t know how seriously to take that position or not, and partially personally and partially professionally does not judge (even where in some respects backbone in opposition to terror and orchestrated contempt, are NECESSARY).

    And, he is affected by what he hears of the experence of the Nakba (as am I) are real, and of a heart-valve like sequence (one-way) of increasing suppression of Palestinians.

    He does know that the expansionist version of Zionism, including all flavors of “all the land belongs to the Jews”, is repugnant, untrue, rejected, and he is slowly finding what he knows as distinct from what he doesn’t and can’t know.

    What is known? What can I be sure of enough to make my position, my understanding?

    So, not having really investigated the issues before speaking (how many of us do that, speak first, I do sadly), he spoke first, invited “discussion” in the blogosphere that now appears to be an anti-semitic fascist invocation club.

    Characterized by people who will change the truth to fit into their preconceptions, their prejudice.

    “Jews control the media” (Thats how public opinion has ANY favorable opinion of Israel).

    “Jews control academia and think tanks”. (Thats how the neo-conservatives came to convince the Bush administration to pander to Israel.)

    “Jews control the money”. (Thats how protection of Israel’s security came to be a concensus component of politicians’ creed in the fundraising phase of campaigning.)

    The fascist impulse is to use the sliver of truth (some of the contributors to political campaigns are interested in a high degree of confidence in Israel’s security – and to even rationalize expansion), but for the purpose of imprinting the lie.

    The other elements that are KNOWN to me, is that Jewish migration out of Europe following WW2, was a necessity and a possibility (ONLY offered by Zionists). And, that terror as a means is cruel, racist, and rationally vehemently confronted.

  3. Dan,
    One need only remember that only a minority of American Jews have even visited Israel and that only a small minority has made any plans to settle there. American Jews will support candidates who they feel care about Israel’s security, but what presidential candidate, with the exception of Pat Buchanan, hasn’t? The voting patterns of the vast majority of American Jews can be traced to their basic perceptions/political philosophy, the same as for all other Americans.

  4. Walt & Mearsheimer’s 463 page book The Israel Lobby & U S Foreign Policy, incuding its supporting 114 footnotes, has not been factually disputed singularly or in its overwhelming aggregate. Instead, it is disposed of by trotting out the anti-semitic slur. The power of the lobby is easily seen by what the presidential candidates say and do not say about Israel and its regime’s policy as implemented, disproportionately funded by U S taxpayers.. Israel is NOT an intimate or strategic ally, my sense of the “special” relationship of the US state with Israel is that it is comprehensively a disaster, both for the US and Israel, economic–we could use those annual billions at home, so too the billions we give Egypt-Jordan to play nice with Israel, social–like the fact Israel has no constitution, bill of rights, or borders? Strategic–be isolated in world moral opinion like Israel? Sentimental & intimate? Because the Christian Zionists need Israel to have their final biblical battle come true? And permanent? I hope not; I hope there’s a place yet for humanism.
    The sole question is the form of that relationship. Will the US be a friend that assists world peace, or will it be a tool of right-wing Zionism at the expense of the USA & Israel?

  5. Charles,

    I know a few idiots called Walt and Mearsheimer anti-Semitic but there is also a considerable amount of scholarship out there that refutes many of their claims on a factual basis. My take is that they got some very important things right but also got a lot of things wrong because of sloppy scholarship. It you enter “Walt and Mearsheimer” on the search box in this blog you will see posts that acknowledge the truths they impart but also argue with the false assertions.

    Here is one of them:

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