Conventional wisdom attributes America’s support for Israel to the power of the organized Jewish lobby. Like most conventional wisdom, this picture is only partly true.
Undoubtedly the pro-Israel lobby is well-organized and well-budgeted. It is feared, if not exactly loved, on Capitol Hill, where no one relishes being labeled an anti-Semite. And the concentration of Jews in states rich in electoral votes and the huge amount of Jewish money contributed to political candidates are certainly factors that any politician with national ambitions must take into account.
The impact of these factors, however, is tempered by fact that the vast majority of American Jews are wedded to the Democratic Party. Republicans have little to gain by kowtowing to the organized Jewish community and Democrats can pretty much do as they please without losing Jewish support.
In addition, the American Jewish community is badly divided concerning America’s role in the Middle East peace process. And with the exception of the Orthodox, Israel plays a dwindling role in the vote of most American Jews. At the typical Israel Day parade, three-quarters of the boys will be wearing knitted yarmulkes and the girls long dresses.
A new study by CCNY’s Center for Jewish Studies, reveals that half of the 5.5 million Americans classified as Jews by sociologists list their religion as ``other" or ``none." Their ethnic identification with other Jews, particularly those 6,000 miles away is obviously going to be slight.
While organized Jewish lobbying and Jewish financial contributions are vital to Israel, the bedrock American support for Israel is devout Christians. Not only do they vastly outnumber American Jews, they are far less likely than Jews to be embarrassed by criticism of Israel in certain liberal circles.
Some of Israel’s strongest supporters in Congress have traditionally been devout Christians from states with small Jewish populations, like Sam Brownback of Kansas and John Ashcroft of Missouri. Their support has nothing to do with the organized Jewish community, which typically views them as anathema because of their social conservatism. On a host of issues, from school prayer to abortion, they find themselves consistently lining up on the opposite side from mainstream Jewish groups. Nor are they unaware that most secular Jews get a severe case of the willies whenever they are exposed to ``G-d-talk," and see such talk as a prelude to the next pogram.
Orthodox Jews, in both America and Israel, constitute a potentially vital link to the fundamentalist community. The Orthodox do not get nervous when others speak of G-d directing their lives; they also talk like that. Nor does it matter to them what the role of Israel is in Christian eschatology. They are firm enough in their religious beliefs not to be threatened by those of others.
The mere existence of a visible Orthodox community bolsters Christian support for Israel. Christian supporters of Israel open up their Bibles and read that Israel is the Promised Land, promised to the Jews. But the Jews they read about observe strict dietary law, honor and guard the Sabbath, and are bound by the strictest codes of sexual morality.
Those Jews bear little resemblance to the most visible Jews today, who are likely to be found at the forefront of every movement of sexual liberation. Christians who take the Bible seriously are bound to ask themselves whether the Jews of the Bible still exist and to wonder who is left to claim the Land.
Similar questions about the connection between Jews of today and those to whom the Land was promised are aroused by the apparent indifference of so many modern Jews to the sanctity of the Land and even to the most important historical sites of their religion, like Rachel’s Tomb and the Temple Mount.
By reminding Christians that there are still millions of Jews who take seriously the Bible’s commandments and who continue to cherish the Temple Mount as the former dwelling place of the Divine Presence, a visible Orthodox community correct the impression that the Jews of the Bible have disappeared.
Orthodox Jews, then, are Israel’s secret weapon in the war for American public opinion. They constitute, as a group, Israel’s most committed supporters within the American Jewish community. And they serve as a crucial link between Israel and its tens of millions of Christian supporters.