The Magazine

When Will They Ever Learn...

Why do so many American Jews hate the president who stands by Israel?

Jul 31, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 43 • By DAVID GELERNTER
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FOR YEARS I have watched the Palestinians do absurdly self-destructive things, and have never understood them until now. But watching the Bush administration stoutly defend Israel this week against the background of an American Jewish population that vocally (often sneeringly) dislikes him and his administration, and consistently votes by massive majorities for his Democratic opponents, I start to understand the Palestinians just a little.

American Jews are not Palestinians and have not sunk to the level of supporting terrorist murderers. But their behavior is a lesson in self-destructive nihilism that could teach even the Palestinians a thing or two. U.S. Jews remain fervent supporters of an American left that is increasingly unable or unwilling to say why Israel must exist. Of course American Jews, like all Americans, define their interests in terms of many issues and not just one. But there is a reason why so many used to put Israel's safety near the top of their lists: Israel has been caught in a life-or-death struggle since birth; American support is critical to her survival.

True: Jewish support for President Bush moved upward in the 2004 election relative to the 2000 figures. It moved all the way up to 25 percent. During the five presidential elections of the 1970s and '80s, American Jews averaged 35 percent support for the Republican candidate, so 25 percent for Bush in '04 was not exactly a landslide move to the GOP. But even this pint-sized move seems to have petered out earlier this year. Jack Abramoff does not make an attractive spokesman for Jewish Republicans. The fall of Tom DeLay silenced one of the best friends Israel ever had in American politics, and one of the most effective symbols of Republican support for Israel. So the pattern of the '90s is likely to continue: American Jews move left as the left moves away from Israel.

Merely look at American universities and their disastrous left-wing tilt (many are close to capsizing), and check out recent studies that document a startling deterioration in knowledge of and sympathy for Israel on U.S. college campuses, and you will learn plenty about the American left and its increasingly anti-Israel tendencies.

When you vote for a presidential candidate, you are voting to award jobs to a few of his supporters, and influence to vast numbers of them. Most Democratic politicians speak up for Israel. But grassroots Demo crats are increasingly dangerous to the Jewish state (not to mention the American state). Still, American Jews vote for (and bankroll!) Democrats. And each time they repeat this performance, the risk is greater.

Will they risk it again in 2008? Will the Arabs force Israel into yet another round of catastrophic, self-destructive bloodletting after this round is over? In both cases, probably yes.

American Jews (especially the intellectual leadership) have a tragic history of acting against their own professed interests. In the years before Pearl Harbor, U.S. intellectuals on the whole (especially New York intellectuals) vehemently opposed American entry alongside Britain into the war against Nazi Germany. Of course many New York intellectuals were not Jews, and many American Jews didn't care for New York intellectuals. But journals like Partisan Review helped shape the cultural climate--and were fiercely antiwar until Pearl Harbor--and were shaped, themselves, by Jewish intellectuals. Leading Jewish intellectuals signed a Partisan Review statement explaining that "Our entry into the war, under the slogan of 'Stop Hitler!' would actually result in the immediate introduction of totalitarianism over here. . . . The American masses can best help [the German people] by fighting at home to keep their own liberties."

Before Pearl Harbor, many prominent (non-intellectual) U.S. Jews failed to support war against Hitler because they were scared--understandably if unforgivably. Anti-Semitism was still real in this country, Jewish influence in America was brand new, and Jews did not want to be blamed for involving their country in another world war. Which makes the case of Partisan Review and other intellectual organs so fascinating. In some respects, left-wing Jewish intellectuals were admirably fearless. Most were Marxists and didn't give a damn what the country thought of them. Nonetheless: The Partisan Review crowd did not speak up for war against Hitler. Just the opposite.

Read that ancient Partisan Review statement and the truth hits home. The problem with the American Jewish left, from 1940 through 2006, is not malevolence but naiveté--naiveté so great, it is the next best thing to stupidity. Naiveté is an occupational hazard among all intellectuals. But American Jews at large respect their intellectuals as much as any group does, and more than most--and way too much for common sense.