"I have developed a habit," writes Richard Ingrams, a columnist for The Guardian, a far-left British newspaper, "when confronted by letters to the editor in support of the Israeli government to look at the signature to see if the writer has a Jewish name. If so, I tend not to read it."
This shameful passage raised a small storm in the United Kingdom over antisemitism. But what about Ingrams' implicit assumption that Jews uniformly support the Sharon government?
At first glance, this might seem accurate. Israeli Jews voted Ariel Sharon into power and the leading diaspora Jewish organizations generally take their cues from Jerusalem. But a closer look reveals the assumption to be nonsense, as Jews are among Sharon's (and Israel's) most vehement and vocal critics.
The academic campaign to delegitimize Israel presents a striking example of this, for Jewish faculty have lead the effort. Noam Chomsky started and other Jews picked up the pressure on American university administrators to withdraw investments from Israel. In Britain, Steven and Hilary Rose initiated an academic boycott against Israel; John Docker had a similar role in Australia. Among Middle East specialists, Joel Beinin, Ian Lustick, Sara Roy, and Avi Shlaim lead the anti-Sharon charge.
Authors such as Norman Finkelstein, Thomas Friedman, Michael Lerner, Arthur Miller, and Susan Sontag are outspoken critics. Lawyer Stanley Cohen specializes in representing the enemies of Israel. British MP Oona King states that "in escaping the ashes of the Holocaust, [Israelis] have incarcerated another people in a hell similar in its nature - though not its extent - to the Warsaw ghetto." The president of the World Jewish Congress, Edgar Bronfman, clashes publicly with the Sharon government. One compilation lists sixty-five predominantly Jewish or Israeli anti-Sharon groups.
In short, Jews – especially the intellectuals among them – do not uniformly support Sharon.
There is, however, another group that does predictably support Israel: conservatives. And, no less predictably, the Left opposes Israel. While there are plenty of exceptions, this pattern has wide validity. Some examples:
A conservative like U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay speaks of the "common destiny of the United States and Israel" and the "heartfelt friendship between the citizens of two democracies at war, bound by the solidarity of freedom." In contrast, a far-leftist like the writer Kirkpatrick Sale considers the idea of a Jewish state "a mistake" and explicitly proposes the time has come "to ask whether the 50-year-old experiment known as the state of Israel has proven to be a failure and should be abandoned."
Britain's Labour prime minister, Tony Blair, hosted a conference in early 2003 on the Arab-Israeli conflict and did not bother to invite Israelis; he also ostentatiously snubbed Israel's foreign minister. In reply, Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith criticized Blair for "fiddling with pointless conferences while suicide bombers are malignantly burning their way through Israel" and he berated Blair for "giving support" to Yasir Arafat while refusing to see the Israeli foreign minister.
It was primarily conservatives in the European Parliament who pushed for a parliamentary committee of inquiry into the possible misuse of the European Union's monthly 10 million stipend to the Palestinian Authority for support of terrorism.
Ethnicity and religion certainly play a role in shaping attitudes but ideas matter more. One telling symbol of this was in 1998, when the Nation magazine called on a leftist Jew (Andrew N. Rubin) to savage a book by a conservative Muslim (Fouad Ajami) for being too friendly to Israel.
In many other countries, as Charlotte West observes, Israel also finds its most solid support among conservatives; Australia, Canada, France, Italy come to mind.
This is a new development. Twenty years ago, liberal or conservative outlooks had little bearing on one's views of Israel or other Middle East issues. During the cold war, Middle Eastern problems stood largely outside the great debate of that era – policy toward the Soviet Union – so views of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Iraq, militant Islam, and other topics were formed in isolation from larger principles.
Today, all that has changed. The Middle East has replaced the Soviet Union as the touchstone of politics and ideology. With increasing clarity, conservatives stand on one side of its issues and liberals on the other.