Presidential Politics, Jewish Voters and the Capacity for Partisan Self-Deception
By Matthew M. Hausman
As the presidential election draws near, it seems appropriate to assess whether Jewish political priorities have evolved since the Democratic National Convention, where controversy erupted over the removal of pro-Israel language from the party platform. The response of Jewish Democrats at the time illustrated the capacity for partisan self-deception. Deleted from the platform was language acknowledging Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, identifying Hamas as a terrorist organization, guaranteeing that Israel would not be expected to withdraw to pre-1967 armistice lines known as the “Auschwitz borders,” and assuring the United States would never pressure Israel to accept an Arab right of return that would bring about her demographic destruction. After three oral votes from the floor – video of which clearly showed booing and catcalling at the mention of Israel – the plank supporting Jerusalem was reinserted despite the conventioneers’ raucous disapproval. The other redacted passages, however, were cast to the winds.
President Obama’s spinmeisters quickly went to work, claiming the reinstated language regarding Jerusalem actually reflected his true beliefs, despite nearly four years of contrary pronouncements, policies and actions by his administration. (Interestingly, his apologists said nothing about the other missing passages, which prior to deletion had reflected the close relationship between the U.S. and Israel.) While it is true that Mr. Obama proclaimed his supposed commitment to an undivided Jerusalem when pandering to AIPAC in 2008, his spokesmen backed off that statement within twenty-four hours, displaying a cynical pattern that has characterized his comments on Israel ever since. His Jewish supporters should have become suspicious at the time, but they voted for him anyway. As of today, the White House still refuses to acknowledge that Jerusalem is the capital – regardless of what the platform says.
Once in office Mr. Obama began a steady campaign to “put daylight between the U.S. and Israel.” He began referring to Jewish neighborhoods in North Jerusalem and elsewhere as settlements, demanding Israeli construction freezes that were not contemplated by Oslo, and calling on Israel to institute apartheid-like measures to curb Jewish population growth in her capital, a city in which Arabs never constituted a majority. He refuses to criticize illegal Arab construction, although it is rampant throughout Jerusalem and elsewhere, and he routinely blames Israeli “settlements” for impeding peace. Conversely, he has never once condemned the doctrinal Arab-Muslim rejectionism and Jew-hatred that existed for generations before Judea and Samaria were liberated from Jordan in 1967, and which precipitated three wars of attempted extermination against Israel and her people.
These are not the actions of a president who recognizes an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s sovereign capital or respects Israeli national integrity. However, assuming for argument’s sake that Mr. Obama never authorized the removal of platform language regarding Jerusalem and that he really does recognize its status as Israel’s capital, then he would seem to have no control over his own party. It stretches credulity to think that a president does not have ultimate authority over the contents of the platform setting forth his party’s guiding principles at the convention endorsing his candidacy for reelection. It just does not happen. The only possible explanations for purging the Democratic Party platform of pro-Israel language are that Obama has no respect for the Jewish State, or that he is a weak leader who has no control over his party. Neither explanation instills confidence in those concerned for Israel’s welfare, or indeed any Americans who desire strong, honest and uncompromising leadership.
In light of the president’s openly hostile treatment of Israel over the last four years, there can be little doubt that the platform revisions reflected his real beliefs. His hostility is apparent in his uncritical embrace of the Palestinian national myth, his attempts to minimize Jewish historical claims and foster realignment with the Arab-Muslim world, his denial of the religious basis for Muslim terrorism, and his validation of Islamist organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood as moderate. If he were truly concerned for Israel’s security, he would not have refused to meet Bibi Netanyahu to discuss the Iranian threat when the prime minister was in the United States for the U.N. General Assembly. If Mr. Obama really “has Israel’s back” as he often says, he would have instructed the American delegation to join Canada and Israel in walking out of the General Assembly when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad referred to Israel as a “fake regime” propped up by the U.S. The failure to do so was glaring.
Furthermore, if the president had any regard for the existential threat posed by a nuclear Iran, he would not have publicly dismissed Mr. Netanyahu’s comments on the subject as “noise.” In deriding the Prime Minister thus, Mr. Obama flippantly disregarded legitimate Israeli fears and attempted to obscure the role of his “policy of engagement” in enabling Iran to advance its nuclear program. Despite Joe Biden’s creative explanation during the Vice Presidential debate that Iran is actually a long way off from having usable nuclear weapons, the International Atomic Energy Agency (“IAEA”) has stated otherwise. In its recent report in August, the IAEA noted that Mr. Obama’s sanctions have not worked and that Iran is close to nuclear capability. The Iranians’ recent offer of direct negotiations with the U.S. promises only more of the same; that is, hollow dissimulation intended to obfuscate.
That Jewish Democrats continue to support a president who has been so antagonistic toward Israel and so openly contemptuous of her leaders begs the question of whether their sensibilities reflect sincere political conviction or social pathology. It’s one thing for acculturated Jews to say they do not consider Israel an electoral issue, and quite another to ignore Mr. Obama’s track record and claim – against overwhelming evidence to the contrary – that he is a great friend of the Jewish State. The former position, sad though it may be, is at least an honest one, while the latter is simply delusional.
For mainstream liberals, the refusal to admit Obama’s antipathy for Israel may be a function of their partisan desire to obscure unpleasant facts that make their candidate look bad. For those on the Jewish left, however, it may arise from a pathological rejection of Jewish identity.
There are many on the left who spurn Jewish religion and nationality, and who feel compelled to discount the Jews’ ancient lineage, continuous presence in their land since antiquity, and tenacious allegiance to tradition. Jewish rejectionists uncritically promote the revisionist Palestinian narrative and laud Islamist groups committed to jihad, genocide and the destruction of Israel. From academics like Noam Chomsky to organizations like J Street and the New Israel Fund, the Jewish left espouses a worldview in which Israel and her supporters are always wrong or misguided. When acknowledged at all, antisemitism is seen as a reaction to Jewish provocations; and Israel is frequently labeled an apartheid state, though she has no laws or policies creating such a discriminatory system and although her Arab citizens have full political rights.
In contrast, the left refuses to condemn Arab-Muslim antisemitism or criticize Sharia states in which religious and ethnic minorities are subjected to Nazi-like harassment, persecution and genocide. Radical ideologues use historical revisionism to deny the Jews’ unbroken connection to their ancestral homeland in Israel and to belittle their history as an ancient people that has produced all the indicia of nationhood – including, language, culture, literature and social institutions. Instead, they tout the authenticity of a dubious Palestinian nationality that has produced none of the touchstones of nationhood and is composed of people who have no historical ties to the land.
Jewish leftists are often as extreme in their contempt as traditional Christian and Muslim antisemites. The only difference is that Jewish self-haters are driven by the inner compulsion to reject a heritage they believe conflicts with their worldview, and which potentially sets them apart from non-Jews of the same political bent. Since the liberal intellectual revolution of the nineteenth century, the left has disparaged nationalism and religion as societal evils. Thus, in resisting assimilation and retaining their national character and religious identity throughout their exile, the Jews represented everything the left sought to reject. Nobody hated the Jews more vehemently than those who resented the stain of their own ancestry. But if Jewish self-rejection were really based on a philosophical aversion to religion and nationality, leftists would not be able justify their knee-jerk support for political Islam, which is inherently inconsistent with secular, egalitarian and liberal principles. This incongruity suggests that left-wing antipathy for Jewish continuity has nothing to do with its supposed incompatibility with liberal ideals. It is more likely caused by self-loathing borne of the desire to assimilate.
Dubbed the “Jew Flu,” Jewish self-hatred has been described by some as a personality disorder similar to Stockholm Syndrome, wherein persecuted people adopt the views and prejudices of their oppressors. The phenomenon has been around for centuries, afflicting, among others: Hellenistic Jews who aided the Greeks in suppressing the teaching of Torah during Second Temple times; apostates who assisted the Dominicans in burning the Talmud in the Middle Ages; socialists and communists who sought to force assimilation by suppressing Judaism during the revolutions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; kapos who brutalized fellow Jews in the death camps during the Second World War; and radical ideologues who defame Israel, deny her right to exist, and support Arab-Muslim extremists in our day.
Though not exclusively limited to the left or right, Jewish self-hatred is more conspicuous among leftists who counterintuitively support Islamist groups that seek to destroy Israel and exterminate her people. It is not simply a form of passive dissociation from kith and kin, but rather an affirmative act of provocation with malice aforethought. The left has always been a haven for self-denying Jews, as was demonstrated in years past by some of the most revered personalities of Jewish radical society, such as the Bolshevik Rosa Luxemburg, who famously stated: “I have no room in my heart for Jewish suffering – Why do you pester me with Jewish troubles”
Such calumnies have been magnified in recent years by leftist Jews who without proof or justification accuse Israel of the most heinous crimes and uncritically support the Palestinian cause, which itself is inherently antisemitic. It seems this problem has always plagued the left, as was recognized by the labor Zionist leader Berl Katznelson, who in lamenting the prevalence of Jewish self-hatred, rhetorically asked: “Is there another People on Earth so emotionally twisted that they consider everything their nation does despicable and hateful, while every murder, rape, robbery committed by their enemies fill[s] their hearts with admiration and awe”
Certainly, most moderate liberals probably don’t suffer from “Jew Flu,” and not all who support Obama are self-haters. However, there is an intellectual disconnect in the way they interpret his treatment of Israel. They take his platitudes of support at face value, but refuse to analyze actual policies that have harmed Israel’s interests, compromised her security, and facilitated the rise of Islamists in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. They fail to see the connection between his condemnation of Israeli “settlements” as barriers to peace and his failure to criticize the Palestinians’ refusal to recognize a Jewish state or amend their charter calling for Israel’s destruction. The inability of Jewish liberals to disavow a president who derides Israel and enables Islamist dictatorships stems from their presumption that progressive ideals are synonymous with Jewish values and, therefore, that they must continue to support Mr. Obama simply because he is liberal.
This perception, however, ignores the disparity between traditional Judaism and some central tenets of the liberal canon. Although Jews can certainly support whatever political causes their consciences dictate, they cannot claim that Jewish tradition requires them to endorse programs that conflict with Jewish law. Regarding positions implicating marriage, sexual relationships, and personal status, for example, traditional Judaism is not very liberal at all, although Jews as political beings are free to support any causes they please. Thus, despite claims that progressive ideals are entirely consistent with Jewish values, certain elements of the liberal agenda conflict with the corpus of Jewish law from which these values arise.
An entire political agenda – whether liberal, conservative or libertarian – is not rendered compatible with Jewish tradition simply because some Jews support it. That would be the same as saying that violations of Halacha are consistent with tradition because many Jews commit those violations or support others who do. Protecting the right to eat non-kosher food, for example, is not a Jewish value simply because many secular Jews don’t observe the dietary laws. Pork is still treyfe (nonkosher) regardless of how many Jews may eat it. Likewise, one cannot say that a political program represents Jewish values solely because secular Jews support it. Jews as individuals can support or oppose any of the hot-button issues upon which liberals and conservatives disagree, including gun control, same-sex marriage or abortion rights; but they cannot claim the imprimatur of tradition where Jewish law conflicts with those issues or takes no position on them.
Mainstream and moderate liberals may not harbor “Jew Flu,” but their political agenda has been tainted by a Jewish left that does, particularly with regard to Israel and Mideast policy. The imbroglio over deletions in the convention platform shows how the Democratic Party’s principles have been infected by the left’s disdain for the Jewish state. The debacle at the convention offered disquieting evidence that the anti-Israel left controls party policy, and that the antisemitism (yes, antisemitism) displayed on the convention floor is no longer considered a political liability. Certainly, not all Democrats hate Israel; but this year’s convention made clear that moderates have failed to confront the extremism that has taken hold of their party and which seems to dictate its foreign policy agenda.
Partisans on the campaign trail conveniently ignore their party’s increasingly anti-Israel bias while they accuse Mitt Romney and the Republicans of catering to extremists. However, their rhetoric concerning Romney’s supposed extremism rings hollow, particularly as they overlook the sorry record of a Democratic president who disparages Israel, denies the connection between Islamist doctrine and terrorism, and promotes the Muslim Brotherhood as moderate despite its stated goals of jihad and genocide. Though Democrats are fond of proclaiming that their party is more pro-Israel than the Republicans, Congressional voting patterns show that Republicans actually have a stronger record of support for the Jewish State.
Most Jewish Democrats would bristle at the suggestion that self-hatred has influenced their party’s policies regarding Israel and the Mideast. It seems, however, that they simply cannot admit that a problem even exists, perhaps because they prefer to be identified as liberals and Democrats first and Jews second – if at all. Though they incessantly promote their agenda as the embodiment of Jewish values, the divergence between central elements of that agenda and normative Judaism exposes the fallacy of any claims of moral symmetry.
Those who persist in equating Jewish values with their party’s agenda are similar to assimilationist Jews of prior generations who threw themselves into secular political movements and tempered their Jewishness to facilitate their acceptance into Gentile society.
However, if Jewish Democrats are genuinely concerned for Israel, they would do well to recognize that supporting her requires no validation from an external political agenda. They must also realize that the purging of pro-Israel language from their party platform constitutes an assault on Jewish historical claims and, therefore, is inconsistent with Jewish values.
The author can be contacted directly by email at firstname.lastname@example.org