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
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

The Palestinian Arabs who cheer terrorists on do so out of hate, which is far stronger than intelligent self-interest (or any other emotion). American Jews used to act out of very different motives; used to vote left out of idealism. But that is starting to change. As the left-wing agenda dries up, nothing remains to feed on (if you are used to getting your nourishment left of center) but the bitter weeds of hate. And thus the tragic, pathetic surge of hatred for George Bush on the left, including among left-wing Jews. As I heard someone say last week, "I think Bush is doing great on Israel. Naturally, I still hate his guts."

For those who continue to insist on voting Democratic, the future is written in a recent column by Richard Cohen--who explains that the "greatest mistake Israel could make at the moment is to forget that Israel itself is a mistake." Who advises Israel to "hunker down," while "waiting (and hoping) that history will get distracted and move on to something else." It is hard to understand why Israel is a mistake if Switzerland isn't--or the United States, or any other nation or (for that matter) human being. Cohen himself is occupying space right now that someone else could be using, and maybe wants to. The earth's surface did not expand to make room for him. Births have outstripped deaths on this planet for many generations. But we are not in the habit of demanding that human beings justify their existence or be mowed down, and the idea is equally bad in the case of nations.

Life is valuable in itself--human life or the life of nations; one of the main differences being that it is so much harder to create a nation. That the Israelis have done so--have created in fact a free nation and a hugely productive one that treats all its citizens humanely and is a world center of science, medicine, scholarship, and argument (all flavors)--is one of the stunning facts of modern history.

And, of course, the origins of no two nations more resemble each other than Israel's and America's, both created by Europeans clutching Bibles, searching for freedom, prepared to fight for a room of their own. Both populated by human beings, a species not noted for perfection. Yet both strongholds of democracy, freedom, and tolerance nonetheless. Anyone who has decided that Israel is a mistake is likely to come around to the same view of the United States.

But let's consider Cohen's offensive question anyway. Imagine how Jews might have fared in the Middle East over the last half century with no Jewish state to protect them. Would they have done as well as the Syrians, Egyptians, Libyans? Or would they all be dead, along with countless other victims of mass-murdering Arab tyrants? Or should the Middle East have been "restricted," like tony New York clubs in the 1930s--no Jews allowed? And Europe doesn't like Jews any better than the Middle East does; should Europe be restricted too? And what about America?

But Jews no longer have to ask such questions. Cohen may not be so sure that Jews have the same rights as other nations, but thanks to Israel's existence the question is closed and his view no longer matters. One thing is certain: Palestinians and left-wing American Jews would understand each other beautifully if they ever got together for a conference on refusing to face reality.

David Gelernter, a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD, is a national fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.