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.
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.