Why should America support Israel in the first place? That’s a fair question to ask down here in Melbourne, Australia, where the United Israel Appeal of Victoria kindly invited me to address communal, school and civic audiences as well as a large number of smaller groups. Australia’s 120,000 Jews are a tiny community compared to their American counterpartsmore Jews live in a couple of neighborhoods in Brooklynbut they are more engaged with Israel and more observant, and punch far above their weight in Jewish affairs. As a community they are closer to the Holocaust and take nothing for granted.
Jews here in Melbroune are trying to understand, for example why an ostensibly observant Jew like Rahm Emanuel would join in breaking the Bush administration’s quid-pro-quo with Ariel Sharon: in return for withdrawing unilaterally from Gaza, Israel would obtain some flexibility on the natural expansion of West Bank settlements.
Back in 1993, when Rahm Emanuel arranged the White House lawn handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat, Jewish leaders explained that they had no choice but to create a Palestinian government to take the fast-growing Palestinian population off Israeli hands. Otherwise, the much-vaunted “Arab womb” of which Arafat bragged would overwhelm Israeli demographics. Israel’s decline was inevitable as a matter of relative population, the story went, and Israel needed to rope in its mortal enemies for lack of any other prospective government.
Compared to some of the great failures of vision in Jewish history this one may seem small, but it was devastatingly wrong nonetheless. Israel’s fertility rate has risen steady to nearly 3, by far the highest in the developed world, and not only because of large ultra-orthodox families. The Palestinian birth rate is in a tailspin. We don’t know how low it has fallen because the Palestinian Authority has inflated its population to a fictitious 3.5 million from an actual 2.4 million.
That was why the Israelis went along with Arafat; then Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin, Rahm Emanuel’s alter ego in Israeli politics, did so out of fanatical socialist universalism. What motivates Emanuel besides an extreme sort of narcissism, I will leave to the psychiatrists.
That was the Clinton administration story: both sides are converging on a peace agreement with America as the mediator. That crashed and burned in the Second Intifada of 1998 and the attacks on the Twin Towers in 2001, when Israel stood out as America’s most reliable ally in a mostly hostile region.
Why should the US support Israel? There are two reasons.
The first is strictly practical: Israel has the strongest military in the region and America wants to ally with strength. Washington should use its own resources to neutralize Iran’s capacity to build nuclear weapons, in my view, but the fact that Israel has the capability to do so gives America the capacity to achieve just this result without taking directly responsibility if it so chooses. Iran’s nuclear capacity is only the most obvious area in which Israeli capability benefits America (think also of the North Korean nuclear reactor installed in Syria which Israel destroyed last year).
By the same token, it is in American interests to monopolize Israeli friendship as much as possible. If (as the Lebanon Star’s Michael Young suggests) the blunders of the American administration and its failure of will lead to “terminal irrelevance” in the region, the vacuum will be filled by Russia, India and Chinaand Israel will adjust its policies accordingly. That would make the world a more dangerous and less stable place, and America is far better off having Israel inside the tent shooting out. That is
But there is a far more fundamental reason for America to support Israel. Israel is part of America’s DNA. As Michael Novak showed so effectively in his book On Two Wings, America’s founding drew on the uniquely Hebrew concept of holiness of the individual and divine love for the weak and powerless, as much as it did on the natural law tradition of Grotius and Locke. The destiny of the United States of America and the people of Israel are inextricably intertwined for that reason, and America’s affinity for Israel and deep interest in the welfare of the Jewish people are bred in American marrow.
From this point of view, what is sacred about America is a reflection of the holiness of Israel. If America succeeds in banishing the sacred from public life and that is the broader agenda of the liberal Democrats— there will be little reason for America to have a special relationship with Israel except for military convenience. And if this banishment of the sacred from public life were to coincide with a demoralized retreat from the exercise of power in Western and Central Asia, there would be little reason at all for a special relationship.
America’s Jewish leadership has failed on all counts.
The liberal left with its smarmy universalism has demanded that Israel make any concession required to appease the paranoia of the Arab world. But this is a paranoia that cannot be appeased, for the patient really is dying.
The secular right argued that because Israel is the region’s only democracy, it deserves a special relationship, and argued further that imposing democratic governments on other countries would lead to cheer and goodwill everywhere. But Americans never cared enough about whether other countries were democratic to make it the criteria for a special relationship (how about Iceland?), and project of imposing democracy on the Arab world came to a horrible end.
The religious leadership should have had the most to say about Israel’s holiness and the American character. Not only did it fail to make this argument, but it stuck its fingers in its ears and turned its back when Christians made this argumentMichael Novak, for example. Rather than make common cause with the Christians who sought Jews out in friendship in the clear belief that the welfare of the Jewish people was of existential importance for the United States, the religious community for the most part dwelt on past injuries. That, perhaps, is the most disappointing of all.
Obama’s betrayal of Israel forces a reconsideration of Jewish policy in general. It exposes the left the rage of the majority of the Jewish organizations (weighted by donors), although younger secular Jews will continue to pursue their pipe-dreams.
It will drastically reduce the influence of war-horses like Alan Dershowitz and Martin Peretz, who vouched for Obama at a point when other warned about precisely this outcome and when Jewish opposition might have made a difference.
And it will put an increased burden on the observant community, which has the closest ties of family as well as spirit to Israel. It is an astonishing thing that Christians have taken the lead in asserting the importance of Israel to the United States, and that observant Jews have viewed them with suspicion. The fact is that observant Jews have more in common with devout Christians than with the secular left wing, just as devout Christians have more in common with observant Jews than with the late Ted Kennedy, for example.
That portends the end of the “Jewish lobby” as such. The divisions within the Jewish community likely are irreparable, and the functional alliances will cross lines of religion and denomination to assert the most fundamental principle of all: the sacred must not be banished from American public life.