Fortunately, it is no crime to be a complete ignoramus, unless, of course, one is in a position to make public policy and professes a sophisticated knowledge of the relevant subject area.
Shinui leader and Justice Minister Tommy Lapid falls into the latter category. In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, last week Lapid explained that it is in Israel’s best interest to adopt the religious pluralism advocated by the Reform and Conservative movements because those movements constitute the bulk of political support for Israel in America.
"The White House backs us because Congress does. Congress does because of the Jewish influence, both locally and in Washington. The Jews have influence in politics and the press. All the young Jews who set the tone are Reform and Conservative," Lapid told the Post. He worried that Israel is losing the Jewish professors in academia, the intellectuals. "The synagogues is where their Judaism comes from and their Reform and Conservative synagogues are discriminated against in Israel," said Lapid.
Lapid thus revealed that he knows nothing about either about American Jewry or about American politics. Like many Israelis, he imagines that all those American Jews who are not Orthodox are Conservative or Reform. In fact, they are nothing. The majority of American Jews maintain no synagogue affiliation of any kind. Even those who tell pollsters that they are Reform often mean nothing more than that their religious identification is minimal.
Nor are American Jews overwhelmingly dedicated to Israel. Israel is rarely their primary concern when it comes to the voting booth. Even today, with an incumbent president considered by Israeli leaders the most sympathetic ever to inhabit the White House running for reelection, 80% of American Jews are leaning towards John Kerry. Kerry opposed the security fence in a speech to an Arab group and publicly mulled over the idea of making Jimmy Carter, a non-stop critic of Israel, his special envoy to the Middle East.
Kerry may have a favorable rating from AIPAC, but his constant theme of the necessity of better relations with European "allies" and his instinctive deference to the U.N. bode poorly for Israel. The pro-Palestinian tilt of the Europeans is well-established – just recently a former French prime minister declared Israel’s creation a mistake – and the U.N. is the leading forum for Jew haters. Those flocking to view Fahrenheit 9/11, the latest product of the febrile brain of filmmaker Michael Moore, for whom Halliburton, Bush, and Israel are the private Axis of Evil, are almost all going to vote for Kerry in November? And when they do, they will be joined by the overwhelming majority of American Jews.
There is no chance of Israel losing the American Jewish professorate: They have been lost for decades. Already in the 1961 Commentary symposium, "Jewishness and the Younger Intellectuals," young Jewish intellectuals professed little interest in Israel. Even at a time when Israel was still viewed in the popular mind as a doughty little David, the most common response of the younger intellectuals was to bemoan the state’s bellicosity and mistreatment of Arabs. They perceived Israel as a threat to their favorite image of the Jew as the powerless Other.
Nor are American Orthodox Jews inactive politically, as Lapid imagines. In his lifetime, Rabbi Moshe Sherer of Agudath Israel of America was perhaps the best connected Jewish leader in America. The first President Bush referred to him as "my rabbi." Young Orthodox Jews are increasingly active in the Republican party, which is today the majority party and likely to remain so for some time to come. The Center for Jewish Values, an Orthodox think tank, has been invited to host a prime time event at the Republican convention.
Most importantly, Lapid grossly overestimates Jewish political power, and ignores the true source of Israel’s political strength in America. Jewish political power cannot explain the depth of American support for Israel. Jews are heavily concentrated in a relatively small number of states and congressional districts. Those tend to be the most liberal states and districts in the country. Yet polls consistently show that support for Israel is highest among Republicans and conservatives. Two-thirds of Republicans describe themselves as more sympathetic to Israel than the Palestinians; only 8% are more sympathetic to the Palestinians. Among Democrats, a majority – 54% - are more or equally sympathetic to Palestinians.
There may be many Jewish names on the New York Times masthead, but if the Times is the source of support for Israel in America, Heaven help us. The most influential Jewish voices in the media on behalf of Israel are the Jewish neo-conservatives. And their support for Israel derives from a fully articulated world view that has nothing to do with religious pluralism, or the lack thereof, in Israel.
It is too bad that Lapid was not present in the Knesset on Monday when Senator Sam Brownback, a member of both the committees on Foreign Affairs and Appropriations, addressed MKs and journalists. He would have learned a great deal about America and its support for Israel.
Brownback began, "I was steeped and raised in the Bible while growing up. Ancient Israel was, and is, a living reality in my home." He then went on to say, "The bedrock of support for Israel in America today is comprised of Christians, like myself, who were raised on the Bible, and who see in the Jews of Israel today the inheritors of the tradition of ancient Israel." Later on, the Senator pointed out that it is Christians, not Jews, who tell him all the time that America will be judged by her treatment of Israel.
For the tens of millions of devout Christians, who are America’s most ardent supporters of Israel, and who wield great influence in the Republican party, the more Jewish Israel is, and the more modern Israelis are identified with the Jews of the Bible, the greater their support for Israel. As David Wurmser, a leading advisor to Vice-President Cheney, has written, Americans support Israel because they see the Jews of Israel as sharing common values, including religious values, and being willing to fight for those values.
If Americans view Israeli Jews as nothing more than typical post-modern pleasure-seekers, eager to appease their enemies so that they can get on with their pleasures, they will care less about Israel. From that point of view, Shinui and its project of de-Judaizing Israel is the greatest threat to Israel today, and Israel’s Orthodox Jews one of its greatest assets. (Significantly, Senator Brownback spent hours meeting with a group of leading rabbis before he met any Israeli public officials.)
Brownback warned in his speech of the disappointment many Americans will feel "if your nation in the culture wars of today embraces relativism, redefines right and wrong, good and evil. . ."
But the greatest threat to Israel, he added, if it follows that path, is from a much more powerful source than the American voter: "Truth does not change. The whims of man cannot change eternal truths. We defy them to our penalty, as we defy the laws of physics to our penalty. The history of your survival and continued existence is filled with examples of what happens to a people when they walk away from G-d’s sacred laws."
Woe to us, that a gentile Senator from America had to come to deliver this message in the Knesset.