Israel and Polarization

By Daniel Levine

It is no surprise that support for Israel is becoming increasingly partisan. An array of articles floating around the media in the past couple of weeks have all pointed to a recent Pew study underlining what everyone has already noticed in the past few years. Support for Israel is rapidly decreasing on the Left, especially amongst younger demographics, and it is only projected to get worse.

However, the main point to take out of this Pew study actually has nothing to do with Israel. I somehow doubt that Israel or the current Israeli government is the main cause of this swing to partisanship. Rather, I tend to view this swing as just another effect of the modern political climate. Israel has simply become another victim on the laundry list of items in the public and political sphere that is dominated by polarization.

In recent years the idea of intersectionality has been proliferating throughout the Left. While intersectionality itself has a multiplicity of aspects and even meanings, it most commonly refers to the idea that the suffering of one group is fundamentally connected to the suffering of another. Thus, the plight of the Black community in the United States, the increased Islamophobia of recent years, and the struggle for LGBTQ rights are all viewed as separate parts of a similar struggle.

The problem here is twofold. On a simple level, we need to initially decide which groups warrant inclusion under the banner of intersectionality. Should Jews, who are the leading target of hate crimes in the country but also white passing and generally affluent, be included?

The much more fundamental problem is that the groups and issues strung together within an intersectional framework are not the same. How can we compare the Black community, a group who were enslaved for hundreds of years under oppressive and explicitly racist institutions, with Muslims and Jews who have almost always had the same rights as white people in this country?

By inflating all of these disparate causes, each of their claims are weakened. Furthermore, we are forcing people into a binary. Either we agree with every claim made by intersectionality, or we have implicitly chosen to reject all of it. Why can I not support Black Lives Matter because I do believe that there is still systemic racism in the country, while wanting tougher immigration, or vice versa?

But sadly, the opposite is also true. The Right is plagued by certain unsubstantiated dogmas of their own that stymie potential progress. Most of the political Right refuses to accept the pathologies of free market capitalism. Given the history of government sanctioned racism and sexism in our country, and the inevitability that their traces still remain, it is extremely irrational to say that success in America today is attainable for anyone who is willing to work hard.

Additionally, the politics on the Right have always been linked to religion, in a fundamentally un-American way. Views on LGBTQ rights, abortion, and even climate change are often predicated on religious presuppositions, regardless of how much their adherents try to rationalize this away. Furthermore, although our society has been slowly progressing over time, many on the Right view past generations in America with deep rooted nostalgia, expressing to their desire to return to this golden age. This halcyon view of American history creates an inherent skepticism of any change or progress that the American public hopes to implement.

Israel used to be an issue that somehow escaped the right/life polarization that is inevitable within a two party system. A common joke goes that Israel is the topic that you bring up when your entire social group all belongs to the same political party but you still want an argument. Sadly, this is becoming increasingly untrue – Israel is now being subjected to the same party lines as virtually every other issue in the country.

The average American knows absolutely nothing about Israel, aside from the immediate conclusions of their political party. Yet, people on each side will fiercely defend or attack Israel simply because their opponent believes the opposite.

The real tragedy is not even that Israel will almost certainly lose American support as our government moves to the left. Rather, the impending partisanship of Israel is just another benchmark of the state of groupthink that is slowly enveloping the American public sphere.

About Daniel Levine 1 Article
Moshe Daniel Levine received a double bachelor's degree from UCLA in Cognitive Science and Jewish History, and then went on at UCLA receive an MA in religion while completing his rabbinic ordination from YPS. His intellectual interests include history, philosophy, politics, religion, and psychology and loves nothing more than writing about or discussing these topics in length. To reach Moshe, send him an email at dlevine21@gmail.com and to see more of Moshe's writing you can view his blog at Whoknowsoneblog.wordpress.com.