Home A Special Relationship- Jews, America and Israel
Home A Special Relationship- Jews, America and Israel

A Special Relationship- Jews, America and Israel

Three months after Obama deliberately snubbed Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel was invited back to put on a good show of friendship before the midterm elections. There were smiles all around, reassuring sound bites and even some waving. The idea was to assure everyone that things were back to normal. At least until the mid-term elections delivers the Jewish vote. Just another cynical round in a very cynical administration.

The re-invitation was a concession that Obama's original approach of publicly attacking Israel in order to force concessions was not the best strategy. Not only did Obama fail to convince the American people that Israel had gravely insulted them by approving one stage of a housing project in its own capitol, while Joe Biden happened to be in town-- but the backlash that was generated even from some of his own supporters, such as Ed Koch, actually helped lower Obama's own poll numbers. But all the smiles and friendly waves don't mean that anything is fixed, it just means that the Clintonites have won the argument.

The argument between the radical voices that Obama brought in, like Samantha Power or Susan Rice, and the Clinton Administration veterans, including Rahm and Hillary Clinton herself, was over the best way to bring Israel to heel. The radicals wanted a direct confrontation, the Clintonites wanted the old policy of friendly overtones, with harsh undertones. In public everyone keeps smiling, in private everything gets ugly real fast. The re-invitation was a triumph of style over substance, the substance of the administration's policies have not changed. They are just being moderated by a desire to avoid alienating Jewish Democrats and increasing Netanyahu's popularity at home.

It was Bill Clinton who had mastered the "friendly overtones/ugly undertones" school of diplomacy toward Israel. No President had done a better job of building a pro-Israel image, while ruthlessly pressuring and intimidating Netanyahu in private into making concessions, and finally using his "experts" to overthrow his government. It's a given that Hillary Clinton and Rahm Emanuel are highly familiar with that game plan, and are eager to run it again. The re-invitation just means that they'll have the chance to do it, by pressuring Netanyahu into signing an agreement with whoever's around to run Fatah, after the shooting stops.

It also means the agenda of the radicals, who wanted a deal with Hamas and a unilateral Palestinian State are on hold on for the moment, but not for too long. Giving the Clintonites their head, not only plays better among Jewish voters going into mid-term elections, but extracts concessions that will later be added to a Hamas state anyway, because the peace process has always been unworkable, and Fatah will fold the moment it loses American support. So the radicals can let the Clintonites have their fun, knowing that whatever Netanyahu gives to Fatah, Hamas will claim anyway-- with the support of the radicals.

But mostly Jewish voters have only themselves to blame, for paying so little attention to substance, and focusing on style. And for allowing the Democratic party to think of them as property, rather than votes in play. Until FDR ran for President in 1932, the Jewish vote tended to favor the Democrats by narrow margins in Presidential elections. In 1920, Warren Harding. a Republican who strongly supported the recreation of Israel, won a majority of the Jewish vote. FDR however dramatically shifted the Jewish vote, to make it look more like the black vote.

Part of this was due to the hometown advantage. FDR had been governor of New York, which held a majority of the Jewish population at the time. Al Smith, another New York governor, had reaped almost as disproportionate a share of the Jewish vote as FDR would. Theodore Roosevelt, another New York governor, had also benefited from Jewish support. But when Dewey, another Republican New York Governor, ran against FDR and then Truman, he overwhelmingly lost the Jewish vote, both times. And that snapshot of voter totals would form a pattern. Eisenhower would be the last Republican President until Reagan in 1980, to pick up anywhere around 40 percent of the Jewish vote. A total that had once been commonplace until FDR.

Reagan pulled in the numbers that he did, partly because of his native popularity, but also because he was running against Carter, who was the first Democratic President to openly attack Israel. Up until then, Democratic Presidents had made a point of building a pro-Israel public image. This was partly due to an accident of history that began with FDR dying, and Truman authorizing a Yes vote on the creation of Israel. Had FDR lived, there is no doubt whatsoever that the United States would have voted No. In addition to his personal antipathy toward Jews (that expressed itself in their treatment during the Holocaust), FDR had intended to follow a Saudi line on Israel.

On March 1st, 1945, FDR addressed Congress and told them;

"I learned more about the whole problem, the Moslem problem, the Jewish problem, by talking with Ibn Saud for five minutes than I could have learned in the exchange of two or three dozen letters."

The Saudi King's message had been that there could be no Jewish state in the Muslim world, and that Jews should go back to Germany. Mind you, unlike Helen Thomas' statement, when FDR met with King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al-Saud, Jews were still being murdered in Nazi concentration camps.

But FDR's death put Truman in the driver's seat. And while privately Truman was a bigot, in public he needed to build up a different image going into a tough election. While FDR could do anything and still count on the Jewish vote, Truman was not nearly so confident. He lacked FDR's New York background, his casual elitism and the halo of liberalism that went with it. And while Truman did not like Jews, he did not have much sympathy for the British desire to drag the US into an extended occupation either. And so he cut the knot, by allowing Israel to be created, but imposing an embargo on any military shipments to Israel, and even imprisoning US pilots who volunteered to fly for Israel.

Israel survived by the skin of its teeth, and Truman went on cynically milking that image for all it was worth. As Democratic Presidents after him would continue to do. The elevation of FDR and Truman's friendship with Jews and Israel to the realm of mythology helped Democrats lock in the Jewish vote. This accomplishment is all the more stunning, considering both men's true feelings for their admirers. But it was not a unique accomplishment. Not at all.

The Democratic party went from being the party of segregationists, to the party of civil rights. Nor were Black and Jewish voters the only ones fooled this way, led around the nose by a leadership that answered to the party. Social welfare spending helped create a pyramid, leading down to the community. Since by the 40's, the sons of ragmen were successful professionals, the Democratic party knew it could not rely on social welfare to lock in the Jewish vote. And that was where its friendship for Israel came in.

The Republicans did not make things any better. Again, accidents of history came to the fore. Had Dewey really defeated Truman, a Republican President might have become more closely associated with pro-Israel policies. Instead Truman defeated Dewey. And the next Republican President, Eisenhower was hostile to Israel at best. Unlike FDR or Truman, Eisenhower was no bigot. Unfortunately however his administration embraced policies that were highly protective of Arab-Muslim countries. In 1956, Eisenhower brushed the edge of open hostilities with England to protect Nasser's dictatorship in Egypt. But all that Eisenhower managed to accomplish was to make the Middle East safe for Arab Socialism, not only turning over much of the Middle East to the USSR, but forcing the US to spend fortunes and make significant commitments to everyone else from the Saudis on down.

Where Truman had avoided such direct military commitments in the Middle East, Eisenhower drove out the British, only to take their place. In the name of fighting Communism, Saudi policy became US policy. Truman may have been responsible for the "Golden Gimmick" which enriched the House of Saud at the expense of US taxpayers, and might have funneled as much as 2.5 percent of the GDP to the Saudis, which in time would help fund the Islamization of Europe and international Islamic terrorism-- but Eisenhower repeatedly committed US troops to protecting Arab governments. Which put the US in the middle of internal infighting in the Arab Muslim world.

By the time JFK was elected, the Middle East was sliding into Soviet hands. Reaching out to Israel was good PR with Jewish voters, but it was also practical problem solving. Israel served as a buffer between Egypt and the Gulf States. Two years earlier, Egypt and Syria had united into the United Arab Republic, an entity that was meant to dominate the Middle East. The only thing separating them, again, was Israel. Arming Israel was a cheap alternative to sending in the US Marines every time the UAR stirred up trouble, as they had in Lebanon, forcing the US to send in the troops. As a lightning rod, Israel was a useful way to direct troublemakers away from Arab governments, and toward trying to destroy the Jewish state.

Jewish voters of course did not see any of this. What they saw were smiling meetings between JFK and Golda Meir. There is of course nothing wrong with practical politics of that kind, but there was something wrong with Jewish voters being gullible enough to romanticize JFK's friendliness to Israel, as anything but an attempt to build dikes in a global Cold War that was already absorbing too many American resources. While LBJ's friendship was more authentic, the bottom line was still that Israel was a useful tool to maintain some degree of stability in a regional conflict where Soviet allies had the weapons and the motivation to use them, and America's Arab allies had a lot of money, and wanted someone else to protect them.

For Israel, Eisenhower's intervention had a double effect. The humiliation of England and France, resulted in a political crisis in the latter country, which ended with DeGaulle taking power. And under DeGaulle, France reversed its former friendliness and turned overtly hostile to Israel. But the USSR's plans for the Middle East also required the destruction of Israel. With Israel out of the way, the UAR could swallow up Jordan and peer down at the mighty oil fields of Saudi Arabia. It would become a Soviet backed superstate that would eventually consume the entire Middle East. The only thing standing in the way was Israel. And so the USSR ramped up anti-Israel propaganda among European leftists. After America and England, Israel became Enemy No. 3. The taint of that propaganda is still visible in the obsessive hatred of the European left for Israel today.

Increasingly cut off from Europe, the American Option was Israel's best bet. And JFK and LBJ made it seem like a safe one. While they had done their share of behind the scenes pressuring, and the support for Israel was nothing, like the support that the Saudis received, overall there seemed to be a sense of security to the relationship. And that security helped make Jewish voters more comfortable with the Democrats.

In 1968 came Nixon. Not only did Nixon bring many of the leftovers of the Eisenhower Administration with him, but he brought along Henry Kissinger. It was Kissinger who turned the American Option into a noose. Where in 1967, Israel had been able to launch a preemptive strike against its attackers-- in 1973, Israel was forced to wait until it was attacked, and was nearly destroyed for it. Kissinger brought Israel to the brink of destruction, played politics with its POW's and might have utterly caused its destruction, had General Haig not intervened. But while the policies originated with Kissinger, the buck had to stop with the President.

Yet in 1972, Nixon had actually picked up 35 percent of the Jewish vote. The highest of anyone since his old boss, Eisenhower in 1956. It might have had to do something with the man he was running against. George McGovern's views on Israel, were much the same as Carter's would be. And for the first time, Jews confronted the very real prospect of a Democratic President hostile to Israel. While McGovern had not yet manifested the rabid attitude he would go on to display much later, there was enough there for 16 percent of the Jewish vote to move over to Nixon. McGovern did not win, but in 1976 Carter did. And America had its first Democratic President, who was not only covertly, but overtly hostile to Israel. In 1980, Reagan had actually picked up enough of the Jewish vote over Nixon, to equal Eisenhower's total, almost a generation ago.

As Carter had been America's first overtly anti-Israel Democratic President, Reagan was its first Republican overtly pro-Israel President, since the recreation of the state. But the clock was reset in 1988 with George Bush Sr, an overtly hostile Republican President. This made winning the Jewish vote into a cakewalk for Clinton in 1992. And the numbers once again reset back to the FDR era. Clinton only suffered a marginal loss in 1996 and Bush only marginally improved on his election numbers in 2004. Differences well within the rate of error.

Today Jewish support for Obama has fallen below the 50 percent mark. Once again Jewish voters are confronted with something they had not seen since the seventies, an overtly anti-Israel Democrat in the White House. Generations after FDR, Jewish liberal voters have been conditioned to associate everything good with Democrats. A Democrat that is anti-Israel creates a sense of disorientation, forcing Jewish liberals to decide if the man at the top is wrong, or they are. The radicals think the time is ripe to push for a break between American Jews and Israel. Their front groups such as J-Street are positioned to mainstream an anti-Israel position among American Jews. The Clintonists however want to keep things the way they were, with the mirage of pro-Israel rhetoric used to garner political support to pressure Israel into making concessions.

From McGovern to Carter to Obama, the problem for the Democrats has been that their party still needs Jewish support in close races, and despite the best efforts of Ted Kennedy, there still aren't enough Muslim voters in America to change that. Given time and enough immigration that will change. It is changing already. But as Obama has discovered, change isn't quite here yet. Even with J Street and a lapdog media barking at Israel all day and night, there's still a core of support for Israel. And not enough Jewish liberals are willing to throw Israel under the bus. Meanwhile the Republicans have gotten a lot better at selling themselves as a pro-Israel party and enough Jewish Democrats are still capable of deserting to serve as a swing vote.

And there in a nutshell is Obama's problem. Living in a left wing bubble, Barry was surprisingly out of touch with mainstream Jewish Democrats. Instead he actually believed that J Street was mainstream and mainstream Jewish groups were a bunch of right wing Likudnik extremists. All he had to do was lead, and American Jews would follow. The backlash to Biden's Jerusalem Incident, the humiliation of Netanyahu, genuinely took him by surprise. So now this is the retrenchment behind Clinton lines. Barack Hussein Obama will smile, mumble something unconvincing about understanding how important Israel is, and getting serious about Iran-- as a cover for the exact same policies as before.

Obama is a symptom of the radicalization of the Democratic party. But that radicalization did not begin with him. And among the left, hostility toward Israel is an ideological reflex, derived from the Soviet Union and its Cold War era assaults on Israel, and before that from the socialist hostility to Jewish separatism. While party machine Democrats had viewed Israel, much the same way they viewed Ireland when working with the Irish, or Italy with the Italians, a way to pander to a community, the radical left demands a political test for every country instead. The radicalization of the Democratic party therefore means that membership within it will become incompatible with pro-Israel positions.

That process of course will take a while. Even in Europe, Nick Clegg finds something nice to say about Israel, even while Jenny Tonge stands in his shadow. But by that point it's pandering to people who are willing to be satisfied with the illusion of a sham. And an illusion of a sham is all that Obama has to offer. Obama is hardly the first man in the White House to dislike Jews and Israel. He is not even the first man in the White House to dislike them for ideological reasons. But he is the first one to marry that dislike to the Saudi agenda, in a way that has never been seen before.

The support of American Presidents for Israel was always premised on two agenda items, stabilizing the Middle East, and winning elections. Israel was always secondary, to protecting Saudi Arabia and oil companies. And seen through that lens, Israel was a source of instability in the region, and yet a buffer against the greater instability that might arise if it were not there. So while on the one hand there was hardly a single President that would not have traded the survival of Israel, for the survival of the Saudi monarchy, in the blink of an eye-- they also generally understood that as annoying as Israel might be, it was still necessary.

In public they would cloak that pragmatism in high minded rhetoric, not only for Jews, but also for millions of other Americans, who were positively inclined toward Israel-- much more so than toward the House of Saud. But they were pro-Israel because it was a means of controlling events in the Middle East. By backing Israel, they maintained it as a buffer against more aggressive Arab Muslim states. Because to fail to do so would require fighting the Gulf War over and over again, every time someone tried to seize all that priceless oil guarded only by armies led by some prince's cousin. And of course by backing Israel, they were able to dictate Israeli policy. To force concessions and play Israel against Arab countries, and the Arab countries against Israel. It was the same old game, the Brits had been playing there throughout the Mandate.

The rise of the radicals however is ending that. The radicals are not interested in buffers and stability. Even when they are beholden to the Saudis, as Obama is, they are much more fascinated by the siren song of Islamic terrorists killing and dying for the Jihad. Their narrative has Soviet roots (in the case of some like Robert O'Malley, those roots are actually literal) and is still bent on destroying Israel, to make way not for the UAR any more, but for a Caliphate.

As the Democratic party grows incompatible with pro-Israel politics, the Republican party has become identified with the War on Terror. Unfortunately that identification is still compromised by the heavy Saudi influence still being exerted on many top Republicans. So while the Republican party today is far more pro-Israel, than the Democratic party, they both share a penchant for friendly overtones and an unfriendly undertone. And that can only change under a President who takes fighting Islamic terrorism seriously.

For now Jewish voters have to adapt to a very different political landscape in which the Republican party has taken the lead on pro-Israel issues. Meanwhile a split will continue growing within the Jewish community between Jews and Jews In Name Only, who use a Jewish ethnic background as a way of promoting social justice issues, without any commitment to the Jewish community. As Jews begin skewing Republican, JINO's will skew to the radical left. And the Jewish vote will start to once again look more like the way it did before FDR.


  1. I like that look on Bibi's face a lot better than previous ones the past few months. He looks like he has the upper hand in that top picture.

    Fighting stance,

  2. Anonymous13/7/10

    Very informative. Thank you.

  3. Thanks for the history lesson, SK. Bet you won't find that in any US history textbook.

  4. An excellent tutorial on the subject.

    But I would like to see more discussion on why politicians find themselves so attentive to Jews and Israel in the first place. Israel is not a significant player in the Middle East except as a focus of religious obsession. And its ability to defend itself from this aggression is its only hand in Middle East politics

    And this is also the role that they play in US and European politics. Hitler and Stalin's persecution of the Jews had no practical roots. It was strictly religious hysteria adorned sloppily with quack science and social policy. And so it is today. The only significance that Jewish voters have in the US is the way they are observed by the rest of US voters, who are naturally alarmed when they see their leadership making so many decisions regarding such a small population in the world. It always suggest a point of view best alienated from the US and its political life and leadership.

    The Obamination is finding this out first hand, no doubt. It is not just the Jewish voters who are turing around, it is the rest who are wondering what the heck is going on.

  5. Anonymous13/7/10

    I would love to see this article posted at every synagogue and polling place across America.

    Excellent, superb, outstanding, informative and if I missed any superlatives, I apologize.

  6. I am not so sure that Obama's treatment of Bibi had any significant impact on polls. That was probably the economy and health care.

    For all of Koch's protests you can be sure, that the Jewish vote will stay with Democrats. Maybe a few will go to independents, but I doubt many will go to the Republicans.

  7. "The rise of the radicals however is ending that. The radicals are not interested in buffers and stability. Even when they are beholden to the Saudis, as Obama is, they are much more fascinated by the siren song of Islamic terrorists killing and dying for the Jihad. Their narrative has Soviet roots (in the case of some like Robert O'Malley, those roots are actually literal) and is still bent on destroying Israel, to make way not for the UAR any more, but for a Caliphate."

    Are you saying that the radical element in the US desires and is helping to put this Caliphate in place? If so, why?

    I also thank you for the history lesson.

  8. because

    1. they want to overthrow any system associated with the american imperialist-capitalist system

    2 they think that the islamists have the same social justice goals they do

  9. FDR's statement about Ibn Saud speaks volumes, all of it bad.

  10. If that's the case, we're all in big trouble. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" will be our downfall. But isn't it true that when communist dictators came into power, the first ones to die were the ones who put them in power? I guess the cuckoo analogy fits here perfectly.

  11. Shlomo16/7/10

    "Not only did Obama fail to convince the American people that Israel had gravely insulted them "

    I wonder. The only people who could fall under that category are Evangelicals. Maybe that will give theliberals and anti-Israel crowd more ammunition to use against Israel. I question whether Israel should not exhert more effort into courting the influential majority. a poll at INN showed that 50% would prefer Palin to be President. This does not bode well for Israel, nor is it reflective of the general feeling of most peope in the US.

  12. Unfortunately, your characterization of Truman as a bigot who approved of Israel as a cynical way of securing votes is directly contradicted by the account given of Truman by Yehuda Avner in his excellent book on The Prime Ministers.


Post a Comment

You May Also Like