One frequently repeated Israeli myth attributes American support for Israel to the power of American Jews. As Tommy Lapid put it in a Jerusalem Post interview last Friday, "The White House backs us because Congress does. Congress does because of he Jewish influence, both locally and in Washington."
In fact, Jewish political power is greatly overstated. The American Jewish population is 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.
Jews have also diminished their impact, and in the process shown that Israel is, at best, a secondary factor in determining their vote, through their fealty to the Democratic party. Only the increasingly politically active Orthodox and the influential, but numerically small neo-conservatives, are found in the Republican Party.
Even with the best friend Israel has ever had in the White House running for re-election, nearly 80% of American Jews are leaning towards John Kerry. And that despite Kerry’s expressed opposition to the security fence before an Arab group, his mulling over the appointment of Jimmy Carter as a special envoy to the Middle East, and his repeated call for greater U.S. deference to the U.N and European allies.
But if the Jews are not the main source of support for Israel, who is? For the answer to that question, a speech given by Kansas Republican Senator Sam Brownback in the Knesset on Monday is a good place to start.
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, eager to appease their enemies so that they can get on with their pleasures, they will care less about Israel. 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. . ."
From the point of view of tens of millions of Christian Americans whom Brownback represents, the Shinui project of de-Judaization represents a major threat to American support, and ironically Orthodox Jews represent an important asset. (Significantly, Brownback spent hours sitting with a group of rabbis before meeting any Israeli public officials.)