National Jewish Democratic Council director Ira Forman was delighted by the recently conducted NJDC poll that showed John Kerry still polling 75% of the Jewish vote, despite President Bush’s record as the firmest supporter of Israel ever to inhabit the White House. Those concerned with the future of American Jewry, however, could be forgiven for viewing those numbers as cause for rending our garments.
The real story behind the numbers is that most American Jews do not care much about Israel or their fellow Jews living there. Indeed the survey explicitly found that only 15% of American Jews listed Israel as the most important issue for them when determining for whom to vote. (Admittedly, that number somewhat understates the importance of Israel to American Jews. Many may have hesitated to name Israel as most important for fear of the dual loyalty rap.)
The low level of concern of American Jews with Israel reflects a low level of interest in Judaism. Nearly three-quarters told the pollsters that they attend synagogue no more than several times a year or hardly ever, and 60% belong to no Jewish organization.
The greatest fear for American Jews remains not the fate of other Jews in Israel, but rather American Christians. Not, mind you, the tony Episcopalians and Presbyterians with whom secular Jews interact on a regular basis, and who like most Jews have reduced their religion to a concern with "good deeds," such as boycotting Israel. No, the Christians who terrify American Jews are those who actually take their religion seriously, and who tell their elected representatives that America will be judged by her treatment of Israel.
An American Jewish Committee poll found that over 40% of Jews view most or many Christian conservatives as anti-Semitic. That is true only if one defines the most important tenet of Judaism as worship at the wall of maximum separation between state and religion, as attorney Nat Lewin once put it.
American Jewry’s anti-Christian phobia was on full display in an August 12 Jerusalem Post op-ed by Eli Valley of the Steinhardt Foundation’s Jewish Life Network. The scariest thing about President Bush, in Valley’s eyes, is that he "has made no secret of his spiritual devotion." The President’s fundamentalist supporters ultimate goal – "converting the Jews and ending the Jewish religion" – should make every Jew shudder, he warns. Even if that charge were true (which it is not), why should it concern secular Jews whose own efforts to "end the Jewish religion" through intermarriage are so much more effective than anything dreamed of by the fundamentalists?
A Christian fundamentalist, like Bush, writes Valley, is inherently incapable of fighting Islamic fundamentalism. It makes no sense, he argues, to combat one form of fundamentalism with another. This effort to somehow place under one rubric Islamofascism and evangelical Christianity is precisely the same conceit employed by writers like Thomas Friedman when they label Torah Judaism "fundamentalist," and therefore a danger to the world. The argument is no more serious applied to evangelical Christians than to Orthodox Jews. How many Christian suicide bombers have there been in the last decade? How many thousands have been killed recently by Christian terrorists?
Rather than debate the Bush foreign policy doctrine, defended eloquently and at great length by Norman Podhoretz, in the current issue of Commentary, Valley slanders Bush as incapable of rational, fact-based reasoning because of his religious faith. He implies that Bush and other Christian fundamentalists may actually court nuclear disaster out of their "longing for Apocalypse." (That later charge will be familiar to Orthodox Jews. Matti Golan’s play "Atom," which played last year at Tel Aviv’s Cameri Theater, portrayed a group of chareidi fanatics taking over the Israeli government and triggering a nuclear Holocaust to hasten Mashiach.) Citing Bush’s religiosity is a substitute for serious consideration of the Bush Doctrine. We might note that Podhoretz is neither a Christian fundamentalist nor someone generally though of as longing for Apocalypse.
WHAT ABOUT THE 15-25% of American Jewry for whom Israel is an important concern when voting, but who are uneasy about voting for a candidate primarily on that basis. How can they justify a vote for President Bush, if they generally support Senator Kerry’s domestic agenda, without somehow being disloyal to America?
For religious Jews, like many religious Christians, this is a no-brainer. It is obvious to us and them that Hashem shows His favor to those nations that protect the physical security of the Jews of Israel. That argument can also be stated in terms that even secular Jews can understand. Jews have always been the pit canary by which the moral development of nations can be measured. A world that is once again prepared to see Jews slaughtered in the thousands is one that has ceased to be worthy of existence.
A large swath of European opinion has already reached that point. It is no longer just novelists, like A.N. Wilson, who lament the creation of Israel, but leading public figures, such as former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard. Most Europeans, according to recent polls, blame Israel for the current conflict and believe that Yasser Arafat genuinely wants peace. By a ratio of two to one, they side with Palestinians, and 15% even declare terrorism against Israeli civilians to be legitimate. Should Americans follow suit, or an American administration come into power eager to bring American policy into closer alignment with current European thinking, the stage would be set for Israel’s destruction.
In any event, those concerned that they would be betraying the United States by voting in large part based on Israel’s security can rest easy. At present, there exists an almost complete congruence between Israel’s security needs and the foreign policy best designed to secure the future of America and the Western world.
Put another way, Israel’s battle with Palestinian terrorism must be seen as but a subplot in the larger struggle between Islamofascism and the West. President Bush’s June 24 2002 speech on the Middle East recognized this congruence. The President made clear that it makes no sense for America to fight against terrorism while supporting the creation of another terrorist state in the Middle East. He placed the Palestinian terror assault in the context of the larger war on terror: Every nation that wishes to join the United States in its war on terror, he declared, must "stop the flow of money, equipment, and recruits to terrorist groups seeking the destruction of Israel."
Foreign policy concerns must dwarf domestic ones for any serious American voter in the upcoming presidential election. As former New York mayor, and lifelong Democrat, Ed Koch put it in endorsing President Bush, "I do not agree with him on any major domestic issue. . . These issues, however, pale in importance beside the menace of international terrorism, which threatens our very survival as a nation."
Any effect of President Bush’s tax policies on the American economy, for instance, would be dwarfed by impact of another major terrorist attack on a major American metropolis, or a series of attacks in Europe, or the seizure by Islamic radicals of control of one of the world’s major oil producers. Any of the latter could plunge us into world-wide depression.
Above all, 9/11 revealed threats to the free world of a magnitude not previously contemplated, and the need for radically new thinking about global strategy. Cold war strategies based on nuclear deterrence were quickly rendered irrelevant, as President Bush noted, by shadowy terror networks with neither citizens nor territory to protect.
Recognizing the ideological nature of the battle with radical Islam holds the key to making sense of the world revealed by 9/11. Islamists lay claim to every inch of land ever within Moslem control, including all of Israel (and Spain for that matter), and seek the imposition of Sharia (Islamic law) on the entire globe. The roots of the Islamists’ hatred of the West lie in the failures and deformities of Moslem societies.
From this recognition several conclusions follow as the night the day. Islamists cannot be appeased, for they seek world hegemony and the destruction of the enemy, not some minor territorial adjustments. Indeed any sign of weakness only whets the terrorists’ appetite. In a series of interviews, Osama bin Laden declared clearly how the feeble American response to the first World Trade Center bombing, the retreat from Lebanon after the bombing of a marine barracks killing 241, and the flight a decade later from Somalia led him to conclude that America was a paper tiger.
The European model of transnational organizations of rational bureaucrats calmly discussing matters has little relevance to Islamofascists seething with rage and bent on destruction. The latter will not be pacified by expressions of sympathy for their backward state or understanding for their anger. Neither European sophistication nor cynicism offer much hope against enemies like Iran. Iran will not be deterred from acquiring nuclear weapons and the missiles to strike Europe by billions of dollars in trade with Europe.
The realist model, based on preserving the stability of Middle East regimes, has been shown to be woefully bankrupt, despite having been recently reaffirmed by the Democratic candidate. The exclusive focus on stability, as President Bush has observed, "brought little stability and much oppression." Moreover it is a "realism" disconnected from the recognition that in real life "America is always more secure when freedom is on the march."
The fundamental lessons of 9/11 are ones that Israelis have also learned well over the last three years. The battle with a determined ideological Islamic foe driven by the internal logic of jihad, and which places scant value on human life, will be long and costly. Victory requires carrying the fight to the enemy with all means at our disposal – economic, diplomatic, and military. Ultimately ending the threat of the Islamofascists requires transforming the societies that have given rise to the jihadists in the first place.
The presidential candidate with the clearest understanding of these matters will not only be the best for Israel but for America and the entire free world.
Related Topics: American Jewry & Continuity
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