A few days ago Matt Yglesias said a true thing —
Protecting Israel is a special project taken on by the United States. The reasons may be good and bad, but it’s a burden we undertake. Israel does us no favors and is no use to us. Recognizing that fact hardly solves the decades-long Arab-Israeli conflict, but it ought to be the starting point for what Americans should debate–not Israel’s policy toward its Palestinian subjects but America’s policy toward Israel.
This is something that needs to be acknowledged — that for all the heat and passion many Americans pour into support for Israel, there’s nothing about Israel that qualifies it as an exceptionally critical interest for the United States. And this has nothing to do with being “for” or “against” Israel; it’s just an acknowledgment that the U.S. gets nothing out of whatever deal we’ve made with Israel.
The United States gives the country billions in aid. Indeed, it is the largest recipient of American foreign assistance in the world, even though it’s neither a poor country nor a large one. Netanyahu explained that his country and ours are such good friends because “we stand together to defend democracy.”
But, as Matt points out, Israel contributes nothing to international efforts toward democracy, including peacekeeping efforts around the globe. There are other small countries, such as The Netherlands, doing their bit, but not Israel. Israel looks out for Israel. There’s nothing wrong with that; Israel has particular problems that The Netherlands does not. But let’s stop kidding ourselves that the U.S. relationship with Israel is of any particular benefit to anyone but Israel.
Matt says something else that I’ve also noticed, but which doesn’t get said much — fervent Zionism in the West is less and less about courting the “Jewish vote,” because western Jews are not of one mind on Israel. Certainly there are Jewish Zionists, but western Jews more often are hugely ambivalent about the situation in Israel and are not knee-jerk supporters of whatever the government of Israel does.
This led to the (Catholic) Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL) complaining that “too many American Jews are not as pro-Israel as they should be.” I don’t want to presume to speak for American Jews, but they might say they are plenty pro-Israel; they just aren’t necessarily pro-Netanyahu.
Further, recent demographic trends are rendering Israel into something quite different from the enclave of western values many Americans want to believe it is.
Matt has written a couple of posts about post-Jewish Zionism, pointing out that the real engine driving knee-jerk support for Netanyahu is Christian Zionism mixed with Islamophobia.
The existence of Christian Zionists is, of course, not new. But what is new is that Israeli politics has drifted toward the hawkish right over the past ten years even as Jewish Americans remain on the progressive left. That change in Israeli politics, meanwhile, has been in part driven by a demographic shift away from the kind of secular ashkenazi Jews who predominate in the American population. At the same time, Christian Zionist sentiment has boomed in America and the Palestinian cause has never been less popular among America’s overwhelmingly non-Jewish population.
This is all part of what I’ve called the trend toward post-Jewish Zionism. That’s not to say that there are no Jewish Zionists in the United States (or Canada, etc.) but merely to observe that Jews as such are decreasingly relevant to the politics of Israel. In Europe, too, we’re seeing a boom of far-right parties (True Finns, Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party, the Danish People’s Party) with strong pro-Israel stands. And why shouldn’t there be? An Israeli government whose policies are based on putting zero moral weight on the welfare of Arabs is a natural partner for xenophobic anti-Muslim parties who appeal more to Europe’s local sociocultural majorities than to its small Jewish communities.
As the first commenter says,
Factoring out the Christian eschatology, post-Jewish Zionism, in either North America or Europe, is essentially about living vicariously through Israel as it fulfills their forbidden desire – to put a bunch of Muslims in a giant cage and shoot into it.
A lot of us have been critical of Israel not because we are anti-Israel, but because we think recent policies of the government of Israel are reckless and self-destructive and not in the best long-term interests either of Israel or the United States. The zealots will not listen to this, of course.
Update — See “Ass-Backwards in the Middle East.”