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Why Some US Jews Don’t Get Israel

If you leave aside Arabs and other Muslims, the worldwide movement to end the Jewish state is disproportionately led by people of Jewish descent.
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Part of my job — not my paying job, the one I do for the sake of shamayim — is to talk to my Jewish friends and try to explain why the existence of a Jewish state is essential for all Jews, wherever they live, why a good relationship with the US is essential for Israel, and why the support of American Jews is in turn essential for such a relationship.

I meet a lot of resistance, which is unsurprising when you consider that if you leave aside Arabs and other Muslims, the worldwide movement to end the Jewish state is disproportionately led by people of Jewish descent. Here are some of the reasons it can be tough to be a Zionist in America:

The politicization of Israel

My job recently got a lot harder because of the introduction of Israel as an issue in Republican-Democratic politics. President Obama (for multiple reasons that I won’t go into here but have written about at length) is no friend of Israel. His administration and informal advisers also lean toward anti-Zionism, some of them pretty sharply.

The Republicans have noticed this, and have made a pitch for Jewish votes. So now, any discussion about Israel becomes a discussion about Obama vs. Romney.

That is very unfortunate, because Jews are still overwhelmingly liberals, and criticism of Obama’s attitude and policy toward Israel is understood as “Republican propaganda.” Many liberal Jews seem to think that ‘Republican’ means ‘right-wing’ means ‘fascist’ means ‘Nazi’. Even if they don’t go that far, some of the social and economic positions of today’s Republican party are anathema to liberals.

The universities

The difficulty is even greater with academics or those who would call themselves ‘progressives’, to distinguish themselves from mere liberals. In their case I need to overcome the post-colonialist worldview, in which Israel is treated as a Western colonial power, oppressing the third-world Palestinians. This makes Israel the bad guy from the beginning, and excuses almost any degree of Arab violence as “resistance to oppression.”

Many Jews have university degrees, which means that they have been exposed to this ideology during their intellectually formative years. Since the 1960′s, the concept of academic freedom has come to mean permissiveness toward political activism, even radical activism, in the classroom.

Media bias

Liberal media, like the New York Times, MSNBC, NPR, the Huffington Post, etc. almost invariably slant their reporting in an anti-Israel direction. Progressive media, like Pacifica Radio, simply present the Arab or Iranian line, repeating accusations of Israeli wrongdoing as fact and ignoring or whitewashing violence against Israelis. If you watch or listen to this stuff all day, it sinks in.

The effect of the media is amplified by the ‘information bubble’ phenomenon: because it simply feels good to have one’s opinions confirmed, people seek out media that confirm their opinions. So liberals listen to NPR and conservatives to Fox News. They choose friends with like ideas for political conversations. Living in an ideological information bubble reinforces their views. It’s a positive feedback loop.

The human brain

Jonathan Haidt, in his excellent book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, explains some of the reasons why it is so hard to change a person’s mind about ideological issues. One is that political opinions stem from moral intuitions that are primarily emotion-based, not the result of rational argument. These emotion-based moral intuitions happen immediately upon perception; only later does a person come up with arguments to justify his belief. Reasoned arguments work against other arguments, but don’t touch the underlying intuitions.

Haidt uses an analogy of a rational rider on an emotional elephant. The rider can try to influence the elephant, but mostly he comes up with reasons to explain the direction the elephant chooses to go.

How many times have you heard “I grant your facts and understand your reasoning, but I just don’t see it that way?” That’s the elephant talking!

Another reason is confirmation bias. Psychological research has shown over and over that humans have a tendency to focus on evidence that supports their beliefs and ignore evidence that challenges them. This is why scientists sometimes stick to discredited theories despite clear evidence against them (luckily for us, other scientists work hard to find disconfirming evidence for theories that they oppose).

What can be done?

Here are a few lessons:

It will never be possible to disconnect Israel from US politics, but soon the election will be history. The focus should always be on policies, not personalities. And it is a poor idea to mix Israel with other issues. I once read a persuasive article about why Obama’s policy was anti-Israel, which closed with a negative remark about Obamacare. Stupid.

It is important to be in touch with what is happening on campuses, oppose egregious politicization of supposedly academic activities, and fight to prevent the resources of universities from being used for anti-Israel purposes. Arab and Iranian interests fund departments and programs to serve their interests; Zionists should do the same.

There are numerous organizations opposing bias in the mainstream media. It’s also necessary to develop alternative media, but strongly partisan approaches will not be effective because of the information bubble phenomenon.

Finally, involved arguments about (for example) Israel’s rights under international law are less effective than appeals to fairness, Jewish self-determination, etc.

Visit Fresnozionism.org.

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About the Author: Vic Rosenthal created FresnoZionism.org to provide a forum for publishing and discussing issues about Israel and the Mideast conflict, especially where there is a local connection. Rosenthal believes that America’s interests are best served by supporting the democratic state of Israel, the front line in the struggle between Western civilization and radical Islam. The viewpoint is not intended to be liberal or conservative — just pro-Israel.


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23 Responses to “Why Some US Jews Don’t Get Israel”

  1. Think for yourselves and then realize the stand you have taken is not only absurd but politically harmful!

  2. Charlie Hall says:

    The attempt by Republican partisans such as this author to make Israel a partisan political issue in this election is contributing directly to the disillusionment by Jews.

    What the author says about the media is ridiculous. Most Americans have never listened to Pacifica Radio and in fact I would venture that most Americans have never even heard of it. (Pacifica stations are always at or near the bottom of the ratings — if they manage to qualify for the ratings at all.) Anyone who reads HuffingtonPost knows that Israel is not a major focus for them, but its opinion pieces are not particularly anti-Israel and the Canadian HP site recently published this:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/arsen-ostrovsky/palestine-bombs-israel_b_2011785.html

    MSNBC did feature Pat Buchanan for years, but he is no liberal and he now has switched to Fox News, spouting his anti-Israel nonsense on the Fair and Balanced network.

    While there are indeed Leftist anti-Israel propagandists at some universities, it is not at all clear that today's college students pay any attention. Today's college students are more likely to identify with Ayn Rand and Ron Paul — no friends of ours, but no Leftists. And in the state that probably does have the worst problem with anti-Semitism, California, the State Assembly — dominated by Democrats, recently passed the following resolution as a shot over the bow over the university administration that needs to take the problem more seriously:

    http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml;jsessionid=d4df7d3510900146efbbc88f1045?bill_id=201120120HR35

  3. Two thumbs up!!!!!!

  4. Grace Acosta says:

    I would add to this, a lack of Jewish education for American children. If they don't grow up feeling connected to the land, then why should they care?

  5. The lack in America, and in the West generally, of teaching and fostering critical thinking skills to youth is the bane of possible future survival as free nations and individuals. This is one of the greatest moral sins committed – it is, essentially, child abuse to educate children the way we do. We deny them the tools necessary to be free individuals who question things. We seem to prefer to propogandize them in schools. For Shame!

  6. Mike Esses says:

    I Don't Agree With You About Obama Being Anti Israel…You Are Politicising An Issue Which Should Only Concern Americans…Israel Has Nothing To Do With This Election For President…America Will Always Support Israel…In Fact It Is The Big Brother Of Israel…Heaven Should Help Anyone…Including Iran…Obama Would Have Iran Decimated…If It Harmed Israel…Americans Care About Israel Jews & Non Jews…No President Would Ever Fail Israel…I Don't Care Who's President…

  7. Rc Fowler says:

    Most US Jews including a very large percentage of Israeli Jews [if not most]–do not get Israel–because they are in rebellion with God–in fact many of these whores hate God!

  8. Rc Fowler says:

    Mr. Esses–if you genuinely believe what you have written–you are an ignorant fool–as nothing you wrote is true!

  9. Rc Fowler says:

    Mr. Driesen, You are correct!

  10. you are absolutely right!

  11. What the hell are you talking about? OMG Get a grip girl! two thumbs down and I am juust as Jewish as the next person. Listen to Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She knows what is going on. God help us all if that lying sack of crap gets in!

  12. Jack Menashe says:

    Obama has done more to bring about an Armageddon than any evangelist could have prayed for by united an Arab front that hasn't been this close since the days of Suleiman and the Ottoman Empire.

  13. who is ignorant? You certainly are. Get off my timeline *******!

  14. Mr. Esses, you are abolutely correct. Thank God there is some sanity left in this world. 70% of Jews are for Obama. The 30 per cent are ignorant and misinformed.

  15. unbelievable!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  16. Susie Picciotti says:

    Not looking to good right now….

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