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Explaining American Jews’ love for Israel and America

An Account of the JPC's December 9, 2007, San Francisco Forum


I did something fun tonight: I went to a moderated talk concerning Israel. The speakers were Dennis Prager, John Podhoretz and Mona Charen, with Michael Medved moderating. As you can imagine, the discussion was informed, vigorous, amusing, intelligent and opinionated. I enjoyed every minute of it and I gathered from the applause, laughter, murmurs of agreements and other sounds of an engaged audience that the hundreds of other people attending did as well. (And believe me, it impressed me tremendously that there were hundreds of conservative Jews who could be gathered together in San Francisco. Before I arrived, part of me suspected that only about 10 people would show up — just enough for a political minyan.)

At the end of the evening, I asked a question that got some very interesting answers. I didn’t go into the evening expecting to ask this question, by the way, but it seemed an appropriate question by evening’s end. You see, it was patently clear, both from the conversation at the front of the room, the periodic audience applause, and the audience questions, that people in that room were both fiercely supportive of Israel and deeply patriotic Americans. That love for and belief in two countries reminded me of a question that’s been thrown at me over the years (or, perhaps, it could be categorized more accurately as an accusation): “How can you support Israel and call yourself a loyal American?” So when Michael Medved went around the room with a microphone, I caught his eye, and quickly asked “For those people who claim that America’s and Israel’s interests are antithetical to each other, how do we justify or explain our loyalty to both?”

John Podhoretz answered first by pointing to the common values shared by both nations — their belief that all men (and women, of course) are equal before God and their commitment to true Democratic values (however imperfectly that commitment may sometimes be realized). He noted that these shared values have resulted in two unusually free societies, free by any standards, but especially when one compares Israel’s society to her neighbors. Although I don’t think he quite said it outright, I gather that Mr. Podhoretz believes that American Jews are not disloyal to America when they support Israel because it is the morally correct thing to do: one beacon of light supporting another. I think he’s right.

When he’d wrapped up, Mona Charen chimed in to point out that the most fervent support for Israel comes, not from American Jews, but from Evangelical Christians. In other words, support of Israel is not some shady Jewish conspiracy, but is part of the value system religious conservatives of all stripes, both Christian and Jewish.

Finally, Michael Medved closed with the flip side to these preceding answers. That is, after Mr. Podhoretz and Ms. Charen pointed out that it is not unpatriotic to support Israel, he explained why Jews are — or should be — patriotic. His take, and one with which I strongly agree, is that America is one of the great blessings bestowed on the Jews. In America, they have enjoyed freedom and opportunity the likes of which has never been seen before during diaspora history — and probably wasn’t seen that often during the Jews’ own Biblical history. We have every reason to be profoundly grateful to this nation that has treated us so generously over the centuries, and there is no reason to doubt the patriotism of Jews who recognize America’s beneficence.

Mr. Medved also suggested a thought experiment: if Jews could magically vanish onto a space ship (kind of like the space ship that Louis Farrakhan assures his followers will be coming for them), would the world like America any better? It’s doubtful that the Europeans would. Our support for Israel isn’t why they dislike us, it’s just a piece of evidence in the litany of complaints they have against us. As for the Muslim world, Medved believes that it is our support for Israel — real support, not just lip service — that forces the Muslim world to pay attention to us and to give us some influence in those lands, influence we’d never have if there was no Israel and they dealt with us only as supplicants for oil. He also pointed out that, in the Arab hierarchy, we’re the Great Satan, with Israel ranking only as the Little Satan. That may relate to geographic size, but one has to suspect it also goes to influence and importance.

I gathered that the panel thought it was a good question (something reinforced by the fact that Mr. Medved was kind enough to tell me — twice — that it was a good question). I liked their answers, but I’d be interested in what you have to say as well. So, my question again: Can American Jews be both patriotic Americans and supporters of Israel? And to take Mona Charen’s point, if an American Evangelical Christian supports Israel, should that call his patriotism into question in the same way that people feel it calls a Jewish person’s patriotism into question?