WHY ARE AMERICANS so pro-Israel?
Of all the ways in which the United States marches to the beat of its own drummer, few are more striking than the American people's consistent and deep-rooted support for the Jewish state. In a recent nationwide survey, the Gallup organization asked Americans: "In the Middle East situation, are your sympathies more with the Israelis or more with the Palestinians?" For the fourth year in a row, 59 percent -- nearly 6 in 10 -- said their sympathies were with Israel, while just 18 percent sided with the Palestinians. When respondents were asked for their opinion of various countries, 63 percent said they had a favorable view of Israel (21 percent said very favorable), compared with just 15 percent who thought highly of the Palestinian Authority.
Conversely, only 29 percent of Americans told Gallup that their opinion of Israel was negative, even as a whopping 73 percent expressed a negative attitude toward the Palestinians.
This overwhelmingly positive feeling for Israel is normal for the United States, but it puts Americans sharply at odds with the rest of the world. At the United Nations, for example, nothing is more routine than the castigation of Israel. Similarly, any time Israel is forced to use its military power in self-defense, it comes under the harsh glare of the international media, which subject it to a scrutiny far more unforgiving than any other country receives. It was only a few years ago that a poll commissioned by the European Union found that a plurality of Europeans regarded Israel as the greatest threat to world peace -- more menacing than even North Korea or Iran.
So what makes Americans different?
Foreign policy "realists" could certainly suggest reasons why close friendship with Israel is not in America's interest, beginning with the fact that most of the world doesn't share it. There are 300 million or more Arabs in the world, and they sit atop a vast share of the world's oil supply. Why endanger American access to that oil by maintaining such close ties to a nation with only 6 million people and no petroleum to export? Why risk incurring the wrath of Islamic terrorists by supporting Israel, a nation most of them detest? Surely it would make more sense -- so a "realist" might argue -- for Americans to distance themselves from the world's lone Jewish state, and tilt instead toward the much greater number of nations and governments that are hostile to Israel.
Yet most Americans instinctively reject such advice. The national consensus in support of Israel is longstanding and durable, and it isn't grounded in economics, energy policy, or a quest for diplomatic popularity. Nor, as some conspiracy-minded critics have claimed, is it because a "Zionist lobby" in Washington routinely hijacks US foreign policy, manipulating America into serving Israel's ends.
The roots of America's bond with Israel lie elsewhere.
First, Americans stand with Israel because in it they recognize a liberal democracy much like their own: a nation in which elections are lively, fair, and democratic; in which freedom of speech and the press are core values; in which the political rights of minorities are respected; and in which a commitment to civil liberties and justice is woven into the very fabric of society.
Second, Americans know that Israel is a stable ally in one of the world's most critical and volatile regions. Its intelligence service is perhaps the world's finest, its military is the best in the Middle East, and its painfully acquired expertise in counterterrorism is invaluable -- all the more so as we wage our own war against jihadi terrorists.
Third, Americans sympathize with Israel because they understand that the enemies of Israel hate the United States as well. The suicide bombers who revel in the death of innocent Jews, the fanatics who chant "Death to Israel," the Iranian- and Syrian-backed forces that launch rockets from Gaza or Lebanon with the aim of shedding Israeli blood -- they are steeped in the same murderous ideology as Osama bin Laden and the Islamists who slaughtered so many Americans on Sept. 11, 2001.
And fourth, there is a deep religious bond between American Christians and the Jewish people, a bond that stretches back to the earliest era of American history. More than a century before the Revolutionary War, the Puritan leader Increase Mather taught his followers to anticipate the day when the Jews would return to their homeland and establish "the most glorious nation in the whole world." In 1819, former President John Adams wrote of his wish to see "the Jews again in Judea an independent nation." Today, tens of millions of American evangelicals passionately support -- even love -- the Jewish state, and consider it nothing less than their duty as Christians to stand with Israel and her people.
Why are Americans so pro-Israel? For reasons practical and idealistic, religious and strategic. They are linked by the kinship of common values -- an affinity of strength and decency that reflects the best of both nations, and sets them apart from the other nations of the world.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe.)
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