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August 9, 2006

What’s a Liberal Jew to Do?


I’m one of those liberals who likes to listen to conservative talk radio, watch Fox News and read right-wing blogs just for entertainment’s sake, and because I like to be challenged by opposing viewpoints. Few things lighten up the commute home more than arguing with the car radio.


So when I listen to such bombastic voices of the people as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, I’ll disagree vehemently with about 95 percent of what they say. No, I don’t believe that all illegal immigrants should be immediately deported. I don’t think that the mainstream media is on the side of the terrorists. And I don’t subscribe to the view that George W. Bush is a wonderful and heroic leader who deserves every benefit of the doubt when it comes to all of his actions.

But when the subject of the talk radio loudmouths turns to the Middle East, and the idea that Israel has the right to defend itself against its Islamist enemies, I can’t help but… agree. The rock-solid support for Israel on the right has created quite a dilemma for committed Zionists such as myself and my friends, who have liberal views on most other issues, especially at a time like now in which the Mideast is at the forefront of foreign and domestic politics.

Yes, there are many Jews who subscribe to more peacenik beliefs. And there are also Jews who are unabashed conservatives. But, the position held by the vast majority of American Jews I know is that, while the liberal position is more correct than not on most major domestic political issues, the conservatives have it right on Israel more than the liberals do. This is buttressed by the fact that the majority of Jews are supportive of Israel, while the Democrats get around three-quarters of the Jewish vote in every presidential election.


I’m kind of uncertain how exactly support of Israel became known as a “conservative” cause, especially considering that many of the early Zionists were socialists, and the Kibbutz system that remains in place to this day is the closest thing to successful Marxist collectivization that has ever existed on Earth. And you’d think that a liberal, Westernized democracy surrounded by illiberal, theocratic enemies would be the kind of thing the left would tend to get behind.


Most experts trace the change to around the time of Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War in 1967. This drew the anti-colonialist wing of the left, in and out of the U.S., toward the Palestinian cause, constructing a (largely bogus) narrative that presented the Israelis as “white” European colonizers of “indigenous” land.  Soon, support for the Palestinians quickly became a cause celebre on the far left, while the concurrent rise of the Christian right brought the Holy Land closer to conservative hearts.


The conspiracy theory used to be that Jews – in the tradition of Karl Marx – were behind worldwide communism. This was a stereotype that drove McCarthyism, among other injustices. Now, per Mel Gibson, it’s that a Jewish neoconservative cabal has taken control of the government and started multiple wars. It’s now merely the anti-war left (and assorted Buchananites and Gibsonites) making the accusations, as opposed to John Birch types.


The Democrats and Republicans differ today not on whether or not to support Israel, but rather to what degree, and in what manner. That Bill Clinton attempted to push the Israelis and Palestinians toward a peace deal does not make him anti-Israel. In fact, Clinton said in an interview after leaving office that he “loved Yitzhak Rabin more than I’ve ever loved another man,” and that the day Rabin was assassinated was the darkest of his presidency (more so, even, than his impeachment).


So this is not to say that the Democrats are anti-Israel. Far from it, in fact. On July 20, in the opening days of the current conflict, the House of Representatives considered a resolution to back Israel’s right to self defense and to condemn the aggression of Hamas and Hezbollah. It passed not on a close party-line vote, but rather by a margin of 410-8. (Seven Democrats and one Republican voted no).


The conclusion seems to be that most Democrats support Israel, while virtually all Republicans do. And while I certainly appreciate the GOP’s support, I conclude that this miniscule difference is not reason enough to support them in the end.


I suppose it’s a good thing that Jews as a group are coveted by both parties. But this dichotomy represents a growing dilemma for the Democrats, and for the Jews. Even so, until the day they nominate Cynthia McKinney for president, I think I’ll stick with the Dems.

© 2006 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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