walter russell mead peter berger lilia shevtsova adam garfinkle andrew a. michta
Published on: February 25, 2010
Middle East ‘Realists': Anti-Semites or Just Dumb?

The Gallup organization has come out with yet another poll showing that Americans by an overwhelming percentage sympathize with the Israelis rather than the Palestinians.  This time, the pro-Israel sentiment is at a near record level: 63 percent of those asked said their sympathies lie more with Israel, 23 percent said both or neither, and just 15 percent of those polled sympathized more with the Palestinians.

Another Gallup poll last week showed that Israel had the fifth highest ‘favorable’ rating among Americans, trailing only Canada, Britain, Germany and Japan; Israel was viewed favorably by 67 percent of those polled and unfavorably by 25 percent.  The Palestinian Authority was viewed favorably by ten percent of those polled, while 70 percent viewed it unfavorably.  Yemen and Pakistan both enjoyed higher standing with those polled than the PA.

Although public opinion has been moving in a slightly more pro-Israeli direction in the last couple of years, these polls are not really news.  That is, since 1948, Americans have consistently told pollsters that they sympathized more with the Israelis than with their enemies, generally by more than two to one.

Truman and Ben Gurion

Now in case any of my readers have missed the census news since 1790, there are not now and never have been all that many Jews in the United States.  Less than two percent of the roughly 300 million people in the United States are Jewish.  This means that Jews can at most account for two of that 63 percent of the population who sympathize with Israel.  Pro-Israel gentiles in America outnumber pro-Israel Jews by a factor of 20-1, and ever since polling on this issue began, the overwhelming majority of the Americans who support Israel against its enemies haven’t been Jewish.

This brings us to a problem: why do so many people, especially self-described ‘realists’ when it comes to Middle East policy, find it mysterious that American foreign policy supports Israel?  Surely in a democratic republic, when policy over a long period of time tracks with public sentiment, there is very little to explain.  American politicians vote for pro-Israel policies because that is what voters want them to do.  Case closed, I would think.  Late breaking news flash: water runs downhill.

Yet many otherwise intelligent people are drawn over and over again to the idea that a mysteriously powerful Jewish lobby is somehow thwarting democracy to bend American foreign policy to its nefarious will.  Polls, reason, history, none of this matters.  America supports Israel because of ‘the Jews’.

As I blogged on the Sullivan-Wieseltier controversy, there’s not a lot of point in calling individuals anti-Semitic today.  This inevitably gets you into an argument about someone’s motives and since I myself lack the power to read other people’s minds, I do not feel qualified to rule on what their motives really are.  If someone has stupid ideas about American foreign policy, you can perhaps show they are mistaken.  Further than that it is very hard to go.

But I think you can say something about society at large, and in this case I think you should.  While I say nothing because I know nothing about the motives of particular people, it’s impossible to understand the popularity of ILS or Israel Lobby Syndrome (the belief that the organized, insistent power of American Jews as deployed through organizations like AIPAC is primarily responsible for American support of the Jewish state) without assigning a role to a lingering whiff of anti-Semitism in the American air.

At a time when most of America’s Jewish leadership was strongly anti-Zionist, American gentiles overwhelmingly supported the Zionist cause.  And today American gentiles are generally more hawkish on Israel than American Jews who on this issue, like so many others, tend to skew toward the center-left band of the American political spectrum.

Some ILS victims have a ‘clever’ explanation for this disturbing fact: Jewish media power. The insidious, overwhelming power of those sneaky Jews in the mainstream media feeds a steady stream of pro-Israel propaganda disguised as news to the idiot gentiles out in the boondocks and the dumb hicks and yokels swallow the propaganda hook, line and sinker.

Again, I say nothing about the motives of individuals, but only entrenched, unconscious anti-Semitism could make an opinion this dumb seem so credible to so many otherwise intelligent people.

Let us take, for example, Sarah Palin, who formerly kept an Israeli flag in her office while serving as governor of Alaska.  How much influence does the mainstream media have on her thinking about abortion?  About global warming?  About US relations with Cuba?

The answer, of course, is that whatever the sources of Ms Palin’s opinions on a very wide range of subjects, the mainstream media has not played a major role in her intellectual formation.  And what is true for her is true for a great many other Americans who disagree with the mainstream media virtually across the board. They are more likely to disagree with the mainstream media than to mindlessly parrot its views — so why does it seem even remotely credible to assert that Palin and so much of the rest of the country is pro-Israel because of Jewish media power?

Again, a deep and unreasoned belief that powerful Jews control things and that the powerful Jewish media shapes public opinion could lend broad social credibility to ideas with so little support or coherence.

American foreign policy in the Middle East may not be wise and it may not be right.  That subject is and must remain open to debate, and every American citizen is entitled to have and to express an opinion on the topic.  But a failure to recognize that long standing, deeply rooted and consistent gentile public opinion is the driving force behind that policy–foolish or wise as that policy may be–is just dumb.  And when smart people go suddenly and inexplicably dumb, it’s reasonable to posit the presence of an irrational, uncontrolled mental force — in this case, ILS. Not every victim of ILS is an anti-Semite, but the prevalence of ILS shows that anti-Semitism like other forms of racism and unconscious prejudice retains a more powerful place in our society than we would like.

show comments
  • Steve

    I wonder why you are waltzing around the pink elephant in the room: anti-Israel opinions are most frequently and strenuously stated by leftists. The further to the left, the more extreme the views.

    Likewise, you fail to mention the incredible loyalty of conservative Christians to the people of Israel. That loyalty continues in the face of unrelenting American Jewish attempts to push public expression of Christian expression not only out of schools but malls, offices, and everywhere.

    My view of the latter is that American Jews believe that Christians are going to turn on them any minute. Therefore, it is imperative to destroy their power and influence in every way possible. Likewise, it is imperative to embrace Government as the protector agains Christians. Hence, Jewish political opinion is nearly identical to that of atheists (and many are atheists themselves) and the very leftists who favor Palestinians.

    As someone who greatly admires both those with a strong Christian faith and Jews, I hope Jews come to have more faith in the American people as a whole and less in the small faction who glory in the power of the state.

  • Roy

    Thanks, Russell, for your courage (yes, courage.) Contrary to what certain corners of the blogosphere would have us believe, there is still a lot of enmity harbored toward those who express public sympathy for Israel, though mostly outside the borders of the United States, to be sure.

    We’ll have to get you a screenplay option for “God and Gold.”

  • narciso

    Except for the Wall Street Journal, the Times to whom she contributed an Op Ed, her local paper, the Frontiersman, What a stupid question, brought out in part because of Couric’s abysmal researching abilities

    Now is it too much to suspect the Wahhabi lobby in the formation of ILS, both here and in the UK, leftist currents in general. I can’t explain Sullivan, that’s more for the DSM IV to solve. Now a country that is undersiege, its civilians being methodically blown up by Islamic terrorists, it’s not that hard to figure out

  • http://n.a. Adam Garfinkle

    I don’t think ILS is about anti-Semitism, if one defines anti-Semitism strictly, as clinicians have done. I think it’s about Jewcentricity, about a tendency to exaggerate the role of Jews. Anti-Semitism is a mental disorder that exhibits demonization, obsession, double standards, selective representation, and conspiracy theories. Most purveyors of ILS are not mentally ill, and those who obsess tend to do so about theories of offshore balancing, not Jews.

    Of course, I discuss all this at length in my book, Jewcentricity (Wiley, 2009), which, unfortunately, almost no one seems to take notice of. I discuss it in chapters 3, 5 and 11; anyone can look it up.

  • fisher

    Steve, agreed that trying to eliminate religious expression altogether from public life isn’t very neighborly, but would borrow your own argument, i.e., it’s a relatively small group of retrograde leftists pushing for adherence to the letter of the law regarding separation of Church and State. I guarantee you that most Jews don’t think twice about the presence of a creche on the village green. If anything, we tend to enjoy, indirectly, the Christmas spirit, even if we’re not at Midnight Mass.

  • Luke Lea

    I would like to see Europe — led by Germany — take a much more active role in mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflctt. After all they are the ones who started it. Why not acknowledge the fact and offer to compensate the Palestinians as part of a final settlement? They should commit to establishing a Western standard of living for Palestinians wherever they choose to live, whether in a future Palestinian state, Jordan, Lebanon, or even Europe itself.

    As for the United States, we are — as we should be — Israel’s faithful ally and defender of last resort. We are not an honest broker to the conflict. How can we be an honest broker? Germany might assume that role if she chose to — she has the moral standing — but it is hard to imagine any other country..

  • Norwegian Shooter

    When I saw the title of this post, I knew what was coming and started to scroll past. However, the news hook of the recent Gallup poll stopped me before I got very far. So I had to read the first part. Not impressed. I know you have praised Daniel Larison, so I thought I’d just point out that his take is infinitely better than yours.

    You almost got me to start reading again with the mention of Sarah Palin – the blogging gift that keeps on giving – but I managed to make to the comments unscathed.

  • Norwegian Shooter

    Larison responds:

    “I would have thought it was quite clear that the public’s views of other countries are shaped to a significant degree by the way they are portrayed in the press and by the government.”

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  • Norwegian Shooter

    Larison, Sympathy is not what creates policy, and Scoblete, Nothing dumb about it, refute you.

  • narciso

    What would it take for these realists to pay attention, Year Zero, the Anfal, Rwanda, Darfur, hasn’t shaken them, in fact one of the lead chroniclers of this, Samantha Power, seems eager to follow the same path. And the likes of Ahmadinejad and his war cabinet, would likely
    give us that opportunity

    And yes, facile shallow blogging about Palin, seems to be the order of the day, like a certain contribution to Politico, last weekend/ Now there has been a progression from the dystopian visions of Mortal Splendor, that I recall reading 20 years ago

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  • Raymond in DC

    Luke Lea writes, “Why not acknowledge the fact and offer to compensate the Palestinians as part of a final settlement? They should commit to establishing a Western standard of living for Palestinians wherever they choose to live …”

    And why, pray tell, should Palestinians be treated so much more generously than other refugees? What about the 850,000 or so Jews who were driven out of Arab lands they’d lived in for centuries? The fact that the UN granted Arab refugees from Palestine refugee status based on only two YEARS residence – and could pass that status on to descendants – tells us all how “special” they are, as does the fact that they have their very own UN agency (UNRWA) to look after them.

    A wonderful book that shows just how long-standing is the US support for a Jewish homeland is Michael Oren’s “Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East – 1776 to the Present”.

  • Louis Proyect

    I don’t think that the role of the American Jewish Congress et al is to maintain the 63 percent support for Israel alluded to in Mead’s article. Rather it is to root out and destroy any dissenting views that might erode that support, from Norman Finkelstein to Tony Judt to Jimmy Carter. The Zionist establishment in the USA is genuinely worried that Israeli crimes and violence might get the kind of attention eventually that apartheid South Africa got. Since young secular Jews are very involved in the BDS movement, they have their job cut out for them.

  • Paul Freedman

    Nobody is destroying anything. This is a typical anti-semitic obsession.Again, what makes anti-semites anti-semites in the modern sense is not their sincerity or lack of sincerity–anti-semities are often genuine in their belief of Jewish domination and preternatural powers of oppression and the delusional insistence that the “Zionist establishment” is deliberately evil. Norman Finkelstein is a self-hating Jew crippled by self-loathing, Tony Judt and Andrew Cockburn are traditional anti-semites that you are attracted to. What makes their beliefs anti-semitic is not their intention but the incoherence of their world view and the demonization of Jewish points of view they disagree with. You may seriously believe that Jews, whom you stereotype, whose history you are ignorant of, whose culture you derive second and third hand from pseudo-intellectual riff-raff on the approximate level of literacy of Bazooka gum comic strips launch search and destroy campaigns. We call it reasonable, justifiable, and necessary self-defense against those naively or not, sincerely or not, determined to eradicate Jewish cultural and ultimately biological existence.

  • Paul Freedman

    Of course to anti-semites, Jewish or Israeli self-defense or even provocative acts like, shudder, gasp, building houses where Palestinians would like to establish judenrein bastions of Islamo-Arabic purity, are “crimes”–Arab pogroms, blood curdling threats of genocide, killing and maiming of civilians are always freedom-fighting acts of Jeffersonian probity.

    Sure, Whatever.

  • Sophia

    Oh right. Teh All Powerful Jooz are out “destroying” dissent.


    Since when?

    I submit your comment as evidence and rest my case.

  • Chris

    As a conservative Christian my first reaction to Israel is positive and my first reaction to liberal American Jews is negative.

    The idea that I’m being manipulated by American Jews to misguidedly support Israel seems exactly opposite from the truth.

  • Binah
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  • Maurice

    Steve, in the first comment, is absolutely correct. I’m an Orthodox Jew and I feel perfectly comfortable being around Christians who are religious and supportive of Israel; but, many Jews are remembering a different time, and need to come up to speed; it’s jihadist Islam and the hateful Left that are anti-Israel and anti-Semitic, and Jews that do not recognize this are fools and suicidal.

    As has been written about, some Jews have replaced traditional Judaism with secular liberalism/socialism, and find it easier to identify with the Left and the atheists and the Left-oriented churches.

  • Witcher Preston

    What the author seems to overlook is … why are so many Arabs hostile towards Israel? Are they “anti-semitic” (semitic/non-semitic being a concept utterly foreign to them) or wary about the notion of a Russian colony in Palestine? What American … Hasbarists have failed to do is properly explain to the Arabs the historic connection between this non-assimilist variety of Russian and the Ancient Hebrew People. Only then will we be on the way towards some beginning of understanding in that beleaguered region.

  • Bigmo

    Jews do control the media but that is not why many Americans look at israel favorably.

    The same gallup Poll has Egypt with an approval rating of nearly 60%. This has nothing to do with “shared values” but has to do with what Louis Proyect said in his comments here that Americans do not hear any realy cricism of Israel from policy makers asthey do not here these days regarding Egypt which is negotiating with the Palestinians on America’s behalf.

    When Americans here Obama, Palin, McCain and Biden all say positive things about Israel than what do youe xpect? When they here negative things regarding Iran than what do you think? Many Americans supported the war in Iraq because no counter argument was presented by the media.

    However most of these 60% and above who have positive feelings about israel have no realy clue about Israel or the Middle East.

    The question is who in the US congress is representing the other 32% who do not have positive views about Israel? Especially since most of them are Democrats.

    No one.

    And that says it all.

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  • Adam

    Certainly, the assertion that “the country is pro-Israel because of Jewish media power” reveals some degree of American anti-Semitism, of the sort which claimed Rothschild world-domination around the turn of the century.

    But the belief that our government is pro-Israel because of the Jewish lobby does not indicate this same anti-Semitism; rather, it reveals a more general tendency toward conspiracism in American thought (especially regarding the influence of lobbies and lobbyists).

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