American support for Israel doesn't come from the JewsHe doesn't get everything right (he seems particularly obtuse on why the mainstream Jewish community finds his friend George Soros to be totally vile), but Walter Russell Mead's analysis of why J Street is irrelevant is spot-on. It boils down to this: America doesn't support Israel because of its Jews.
J Street fundamentally misreads the politics of America’s Middle Eastern policies, and as a result it is essentially irrelevant to the real debates that will decide what America will do in the region. Globally, one of the most common (and idiotic) assumptions about American foreign policy is that “the Jews” control it. Virtually everyone in the Middle East, a deeply depressing number of Europeans (who cling to anti-Semitic myths about Jewish power and clannishness even while claiming to be completely free of prejudice), and even a handful of misguided Americans think that American gentiles are so weak and so foolish that a handful of clever, rich and unscrupulous Jews have led us around for decades with rings through our noses when it comes to the Middle East. The allegedly awesome mindbending power of Jews in the media and the allegedly irresistible power of Jewish money (through AIPAC and other organizations) bribed politicians and bamboozled the public. How else, these theorists of occult Jewish power ask, to explain America’s stubborn and stupid support of the Jewish state?Read the whole thing.
Everything I know about the history of American foreign policy, the state of American opinion, the nature of American ideology and theology, and the state of American politics tells me this is wrong. Support for the construction of a Jewish state in the Holy Land has been an important part of American Christian and political thought going back to colonial times. The ideas of Jewish exceptionalism and American exceptionalism have been bound together in the American mind for more than two hundred years. During the Cold War, Americans gradually got into the habit of considering Israel one of our most valuable and reliable allies. In recent years this longstanding association has been substantially strengthened by the widespread public belief that the same people who most hate Israel and want to bring it down are the bitter enemies of the United States and will stop at nothing to kill as many American civilians as they possibly can.
AIPAC’s power, which is real, is a bit like the power of the National Rifle Association. The NRA has a lot of influence over American gun legislation, and few politicians want to take it on. It spends plenty of money and mounts plenty of PR campaigns, but if large numbers of Americans didn’t care about gun rights, the NRA would be a much less important and relevant organization. The NRA mobilizes an existing public consensus, and it increases the impact of the public support of individual gun rights, but its power flows from the public’s belief that gun rights are good — and that the NRA is a reliable watchdog. Politicians quake in their boots and obey because they know that if the NRA labels them ‘anti-gun’, the voters will believe the NRA on an issue that matters to them — and in most races the politicians who cross the gun lobby will pay a heavy political price.
AIPAC’s power works the same way, but it needs to be stressed that the politicians who fear it aren’t thinking much about the Jewish votes it allegedly commands. Less than two percent of the US population is Jewish, and Jews aren’t exactly swing voters. Next to African-Americans, Jews are the most reliable (and most liberal) bloc of voters in the Democratic Party.
AIPAC’s political power ultimately comes from its ability to influence non-Jewish voters. If AIPAC and related groups call politicians anti-Israel, the tens of millions of non-Jewish voters who connect Israel’s security with American values and interests will believe them. (A recent poll found that 53% of voters were more likely to vote for a candidate who was ‘pro-Israel’.) AIPAC is powerful because it is the accredited watchdog on an issue the non-Jewish public cares about; if the dog barks, something is wrong.
I have 1,157 followers on Twitter as of this morning (if you don't follow me already, please do so by going here), and although my most active commenters on this blog are mostly Jews, most of my followers (the silent majority) are American Christians. The US supports Israel because most American Christians support Israel, and not because of the small number of Jewish voters in the US. That's another reason why Walt and Mearsheimer are wrong too.