In one short paragraph in his July 16 Jerusalem Post interview, Tommy Lapid demonstrated startling ignorance of both American Jewry and American politics. As an argument for religious pluralism in Israel, Lapid offered this analysis of American support for Israel: "The White House backs us because Congress does. Congress does because of the Jewish influence, both locally and in Washington. . . . All the young Jews who set the tone are Reform and Conservative."
Lapid makes the common mistake of assuming that most American Jews are Conservative or Reform. In fact, the majority have no synagogue affiliation of any kind. Even those who tell pollsters they are Reform, often mean only to indicate that their religious identification is minimal.
Lapid frets that Israel will lose the Jewish professorate. He can stop worrying; they were lost more than forty years ago. In a 1961 Commentary symposium, "Jewishness and the Younger Intellectuals," the young Jewish professors professed little interest in Israel. Even at that early date, their most common response was to lament Israel’s bellicosity and mistreatment of Arabs.
Like most Israelis, Lapid greatly overstates Jewish political power. American Jews are concentrated in a relatively few key states and congressional districts, and these tend to be Democratic strongholds. Yet support for Israel is widespread across the United States, and much stronger in the Republican heartland. Two-thirds of Republicans describe themselves as more sympathetic to Israel than to the Palestinians versus only 8% who are more sympathetic to the Palestinians. Among Democrats, 54% are more or equally sympathetic to the Palestinians.
American Jews have diminished their political influence through their marriage to the Democratic Party. Only the increasingly active Orthodox and the influential, but numerically small, neo-conservatives, are found in the Republican Party, which is today the majority party and likely to remain so for years to come. The Center for Jewish Values, an Orthodox think tank, has been invited to host an event at the Republican convention.
The fealty of American Jewry to the Democratic Party reflects the fact that for most American Jews Israel is not at the top of the agenda when they enter the voting booth. Even with Israel’s best friend ever in the White House running for re-election, well over 70% of American Jews are leaning towards John Kerry. That despite Kerry having called the security fence "another barrier to peace" in a speech to an Arab group last October, and his naming ex-President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker as possible Middle East special envoys in a December speech to the Council on Foreign Affairs. Most worrisome, is Kerry’s continuous calls for greater deference to the U.N. and European "allies," whose attitudes towards Israel were on full display in the wake of the International Court of Justice’s decision demanding that Israel dismantle the security fence.
Only the Orthodox vote overwhelmingly based on the candidate’s stance vis-à-vis Israel. In recent years, the Israel Day Parade in New York has become a predominantly Orthodox affair.
IF THE JEWS ARE NOT THE MAIN source of support for Israel, then who is? For the answer to that question, a good place to begin would be the speech given in the Knesset last week by Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kans.), a member of the powerful Foreign Affairs and Appropriations Committees.
Brownback began, "I was steeped and raised in the Bible while growning 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."
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 Israeli Jews 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 hedonists, their feelings for Israel will decrease. Brownback spoke 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. . ."
Asked what Israelis can do to ensure the continued support of American evangelicals, Brownback responded, "Embrace your Jewishness. You will get enormous support when you embrace the lessons you gave the world."
Too bad that Lapid was not in attendance at Senator Brownback’s speech. He might have learned that from the point of view of tens of millions of Christian Americans, the Shinui project of de-Judaization represents a major threat to American support.