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The Real Israel Lobby

It’s the American people.

10:30 AM, Oct 8, 2010 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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Now we know who constitutes the real Israel lobby: the American public. Especially the Republican-leaning part of it.

The Real Israel Lobby

Consider the results of a new poll, a survey of 1000 likely voters done October 3 to 5 by McLaughlin and Associates for the Emergency Committee for Israel. (The complete survey results, including cross-tabs, are available at committeeforisrael.com.)

Before getting to Israel, we might note that the survey found the GOP ahead in the generic congressional ballot by about four points. That’s a somewhat smaller margin than that found by several other likely voter surveys during this period. We might also note that 33 percent of those polled identified themselves as Republican, and 40 percent as Democratic, which suggests a sample a bit more Democratic than the norm. So this was not a GOP-tilting survey.  

What the survey shows is this: The American people strongly support the state of Israel, and want their elected representatives to do so as well. An astounding 93 percent of those polled say the United States should be concerned about the security of the state of Israel. A majority—54 percent—say the U.S. should be “very concerned” about Israel’s security. Virtually the same number care that their elected representatives be pro-Israel. When asked, “Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for a candidate whom you perceive as pro-Israel?,” 53 percent say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate they saw as pro-Israel, 24 percent less likely. Even more striking, the same number—53 percent—say they could not vote for a candidate if he were anti-Israel, even if that candidate agreed with them on most other issues.

So it’s not only that the American public is pro-Israel by more than two to one. It’s also that being anti-Israel is an actual disqualifier for a majority of American voters.

This is a pro-Israel nation. Which parts of it are most reliably pro-Israel?

Consider the results to the already-quoted Question 30 in the poll: “Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for a candidate whom you perceive as pro-Israel?” Among those intending to vote Republican this fall, 69 percent would be more likely to vote for a candidate who was pro-Israel, 15 percent would be less likely—a margin of 54 percent. On the other hand, among Democratic voters, the pro-Israel margin is only 7 percent—40 percent of Democratic voters are more likely to vote for a pro-Israel candidate, 33 percent are less likely. Conservatives (and Tea Party sympathizers) mirror Republicans; their pro-Israel margins are also over 50 percent. The margin among self-described liberals is only 5 percent. And while Fox News fans are very pro-Israel, by 73 percent to 16 percent, devotees of the New York Times are actually negative on Israel, by 30 percent to 35 percent.

The bottom line: The public is strongly pro-Israel. But the public consists basically of two groups. The GOP/conservative/Fox News-viewing part of the public is overwhelmingly pro-Israel. The Democratic/liberal/New York Times-reading part of America is... comme-ci, comme-ca.

Over 50 years ago, conservatives and Republicans were not so pro-Israel. Indeed, the newly founded conservative magazine, National Review, was hostile to Israel. This prompted the political philosopher Leo Strauss to write an unusual letter to the editor, published in National Review’s January 5, 1957 issue. There Strauss remarked on his agreement with many articles appearing in National Review, but he expressed his incomprehension at the magazine’s hostility to Israel. He noted that if you were attached to the Bible, you should be attached to Israel; if you wanted to stand against “the tide of ‘progressive’ leveling,” you should stand with Israel; and that if you cared about the West, you should care about Israel.

Much to their credit, National Review, and American conservativism more broadly, long ago took these admonitions to heart. American conservatism is now unequivocally pro-Israel. In large part thanks to this fact, the American public as a whole is solidly pro-Israel. It is American liberals who are divided and uncertain. Can they find within liberalism the resources to resist succumbing to the anti-Israel temptation? Or is it time for pro-Israel liberals to rethink their attachment to liberalism? 

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