It's an obvious point, but it needs stating:
Not all Jews are Zionist. Some believe in universal socialism, some support Palestinians, others hold that only God can create a Jewish state or have been disappointed since 1977 when the right first came to power in Israel. Some openly hate Israel, others pretend it does not exist, and the most crafty of them present themselves as Zionist.
- Plenty of non-Jews are Zionist. Christian Zionism began in nineteenth-century Great Britain, included many leading American personalities, culminated with Lord Balfour and Harry S Truman, and today, as I put it in 2003, "other than the Israel Defense Forces, America's Christian Zionists may be the Jewish state's ultimate strategic asset."
- Non-Jewish Zionism is becoming more important over time. Although Christian Zionism dates back almost two centuries, the real surge of non-Jewish Zionism dates back only about 25 years, as liberals distanced themselves from Israel and conservatives moved more closely to it.
- Jewish Zionist is becoming less important. Accordingly, given that diaspora Jews are overwhelmingly liberal, they have, moved away from Israel.
Combining points #3 and #4, Israel has lost many Jews but gained many more conservatives; not a bad deal, in all.
It's inaccurate to assume Jews support Israel and this assumption has two regrettable implications: it privileges anti-Zionists among them ("I'm Jewish but … ") even as it marginalizes non-Jewish Zionists.
Jews are adherents of a faith, not a political movement. When speaking of politics, talk about the pro-Israel community or Zionists, but not about Jews. (August 18, 2009)
Sen. Joseph Lieberman speaking at the 2008 national meeting of Christians United for Israel.
June 10, 2010 update: Peter Beinart makes my point #4 in his much-discussed essay, "The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment." In it, he argues that "fewer and fewer American Jewish liberals are Zionists; fewer and fewer American Jewish Zionists are liberal."
May 22, 2011 update: In the aftermath of the Zionist alarm over Barack Obama's speech on May 19, Peter Nicholas of the Los Angeles Times makes my point #3 about the growing importance of non-Jewish Zionists: "Though polling shows the president is still in good standing with Jewish voters, Republicans are using the speech to appeal to other pro-Israel voters, such as evangelical Christians." Excerpts:
Hours after President Obama gave a major speech on the Middle East, Rep. Michele Bachmann flooded Iowa with automated phone calls and posted an online petition calling his approach "an insult to Israel." But Bachmann, a potential Republican presidential candidate, wasn't necessarily appealing to the state's tiny Jewish vote. Evangelical Christians were a richer target, voters who are staunchly pro-Israel and who might have been unnerved by Obama's call for a peace agreement based partly on boundaries in place before Israel's territorial gains in the 1967 war.
Bachmann's move underscores the shifting politics surrounding Israel. A presidential candidate seen as confrontational toward Israel once might have feared backlash from American Jewish voters. But Obama's standing in the Jewish community remains strong because he has answered a threshold question: He has satisfied most American Jews that he is friendly toward Israel and committed to its security, polling shows. He is unlikely to see a defection of Jewish voters or even an appreciable drop in Jewish fundraising support, according to pollsters and political consultants.
For Republican candidates, though, the dust-up over Obama's Middle East peace plans presents a fresh opportunity of a different sort. Portraying Obama as a fickle friend of Israel is a way to gain ground in primary races dominated by vocal, pro-Israel conservative voters.
Nicholas predicts that "Israel is likely to be a focal point of the 2012 race in ways it hasn't been in decades."
Related Topics: Arab-Israeli debate in the U.S., Israel & Zionism, Jews and Judaism
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