American demography and support for Israel

There is good news and bad news.*  The good news is that the reports of the decline of Jewish and pro—Israel influence, and the rise of Arab/Muslim influence in the American political system are at the moment greatly exaggerated. The bad news is that change is underway, and the relative shift described above is occurring.  Daniel Pipes has recently written that the golden age of Jews in America is ending. Today I will explore that thesis, particularly as it relates to American support for Israel. 

I will address several issues:

1. The changing political dynamics within the two parties — and the fortunes of the two parties.

2. The impact of high immigration levels, and minority population growth.

3. Jewish population decline.

4. Arab and Muslim population growth.

5.  Evangelicals' population growth.

6. The growing sophistication of Israel's political enemies in the US.

7.  The distancing of media, academic and intellectual elites from Israel.

8.  The ultimate danger: Europeanizing America's position on Israel.

1. The changing dynamics of the two parties.  Support for Israel in Congress has always been, and remains today strong and bipartisan.  Large majorities in Congress and all presidents since Truman, to a greater or lesser degree, have been supportive of a strong US — Israel relationship. The current President Bush has been among the strongest supporters of Israel, if not the strongest.

The strong Congressional support for Israel is due in no small part to the great efforts by AIPAC, which has successfully maintained the bipartisan nature of the US — Israel relationship and made it a key issue for many in Congress with few Jews in their districts or states.  Jews in America are concentrated in 40—50 congressional districts, and 85% live in eight states with at least 200,000 Jewish population: New York, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Florida, New Jersey, and Maryland. Add in a few other states — with about 75,000 to 150,000 Jews each: Georgia, Texas, Nevada, Ohio, Michigan and Missouri, and you have over 95% of the Jewish population in just 14 states.  But between 350 and 400 members of Congress routinely support Israel — whether on foreign aid or other resolutions, and so do more than 80 Senators. 

There have been some major shifts in the political dynamics in Congress in the last decade. With more House seats non—competitive, members from both parties have found it easier to some extent to move away from the center. Only 7 incumbents were beaten in 2004 House races, 4 of them in Texas due to redistricting.  In over 90% of the House races, the winner received at least 56% of the vote.  The every—ten—year Congressional redistricting has become an incumbent protection activity, in which both parties participate. 

For Democrats, the move away from the center has meant less support for Israel than in the past. Among Republicans, on the other hand, there is now more support for Israel in Congress than existed ten years ago. Christian evangelicals, and many of the members of Congress they help elect, have become increasingly vocal supporters of Israel, though many Jews are wary of their support, because of their social policy agenda.  Some Jews seem to fear posting the Ten Commandments in a courthouse or school prayer more than they do Muslims hijacking airplanes and crashing them into tall buildings.  Some Jews behaved last year as if George Bush were more of an enemy and someone worth hating, than Osama Bin Laden.  Intelligent writers at prestige journals like the New Republic were on the same page, writing long articles on why they hated George Bush.

The reality is that one party is on the rise, the other is in decline, at all levels of government: the Presidency, the Senate, the House, governors, state legislatures.  Democrats were Governors in 31 states in 1994, now 22.  Democratic House members have dropped from 257 to 202. Democratic Senate members have gone from 54 to 44.  Look back 30 years, and the Democratic Party's decline is more dramatic. In 1974, Democrats were  Governors in 37 states, held 291 House seats, and 61 Senate seats.  And of course, Democrats have won but three of the last ten presidential  elections, and in each case, only when their candidate  was a Southern state governor.  Yet Jews voted almost 3 to 1 for the Democratic nominee John Kerry in the 2004 Presidential race, closely associating themselves with a party that appears to be in a long term decline. Much of the county has changed politically in recent decades, but not Jews.  As Norman Podhoretz once wrote in Commentary, most Jews now live like Republicans, but most Jews continue to vote like lower—income Puerto Ricans.

The hard left has an increasing role in the Democratic Party. What I call the  hard left — the Michael Moore/GeorgeSoros/Hollywood/ crowd — have become the largest financial supporters of the Democratic Party. This increasingly prominent wing of the Party is not only anti—war on Iraq, but is also at times anti—Israel and anti—American.  Michael Moore, a longtime harsh critic of Israel, was invited to the Presidential box of Jimmy Carter at the Democratic National Convention in Boston. He drew crowds like a rock star wherever he went during the campaign. His movie Fahrenheit 911 drew an audience of over 15 million.

Anti—war demonstrations by groups like International Answer, are always virulently anti—Israel.  Many Israel haters are Jews — legitimizing others to share the hate.  Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Jeff Halper, Jews for Peace and Justice, Not in My Name are all individuals or groups that want Israel destroyed.  There were no Bush votes coming from this group. 

African—Americans and their members in Congress (all Democrats) are far less supportive of Israel than they were during the '60s, when Martin Luther King was a great friend of the Jewish state.  Now the Democrats have elected Howard Dean as the Chair of the Democratic National Committee. Dean was to the left of most of the Democratic field on the subject of Israel and the Middle East during the Presidential primary campaign, and was the most stridently anti—war among the top tier candidates. The Democratic Party is moving left, and becoming less supportive of Israel.
The story is very different with the Republicans. After the GOP's takeover of the House and Senate in 1994, support for Israel became a core concept.   Much of this was due to Newt Gingrich, who was a very vocal supporter of Israel.  Now on foreign aid bills, or resolutions supporting Israel, 375 or more members of the House are core supporters. A half—dozen GOP Congressmen will vote no, while 40—50 Democrats will routinely oppose the bills.  Jim Moran of Virginia, Cynthia McKinney of Georgia, and Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia are among the Democrats openly hostile to Israel.

Jews have always played a very significant fund raising role for the Democrats. Now their influence has been somewhat eclipsed by anti—war internet 'progressives,' trial lawyers and unions with their single self serving agendas, and feminist groups such as Emily's List, whose sole focus is abortion.  Jews are still politically very active, but this is due to multiple agendas, Israel not necessarily first among them.  Jews are working and contributing to protect abortion rights, the environment, you name it. It is my guess that a higher percentage of Jewish contributions to Republicans were related to support for Israel than among Jewish contributions to Democrats, in the last election cycle.

In the 2004 campaign, four Jews — George Soros, Peter Lewis,  Steven Bing and Herbert Sandler — gave over $80 million to Democratic 527 groups.  This level of political giving by a few individuals has never happened before in the history of the country.  These are the same people who formerly preached the necessity of campaign finance reform, of course.  Israel is not the leading agenda item for any of them. They were Bush—haters, pure and simple.  This is true of much of the political money that comes from Jews in Hollywood (from where Bing hails). Israel is not the motivator for their contributions.

Jews have traditionally been a strong Democratic voting group — about 70/30 on average. Then in 1992 and 1996, there was a stronger shift to the Democrats.  Bill Clinton received 85% of the Jewish vote in 1992 (Bush senior was viewed as hostile to Israel), and about the same percentage against Bob Dole.  The Gore—Lieberman ticket also received about 80% of the Jewish vote. This year, the exit polls suggested about a 75%/ 25% split. I suspect the reality is that Bush—Cheney received a bit higher percentage, since the Orthodox, a growing segment of the total Jewish population (they have many children) and much more supportive of Bush, were under—sampled. They tend talk to pollsters about as often as do the Amish.

2. Impact of high immigration levels and minority population growth. From 1990 to 2000 the Hispanic population grew by 13 million, just over 50%. The black population grew by 4 million, or 11%. The Asian population grew by 4 million, or over 60%.  The population of non—Hispanic whites grew by  6 million or 3%. Non—Hispanic whites accounted for 22% of the country's population growth during the ten year period, Hispanics for half of it. Non—Hispanic whites are now 70% of the population, headed for 50% by 2050.

What are Jews doing to make Israel an important issue with Hispanics and their political representatives?  As best as I can tell, not that much.  AIPAC works with the 25 or so Hispanic congressmen. They are not  hostile to Israel,  as are some African American Congressmen such as Cynthia McKinney or John Conyers.  Chicago Congressman Luis Gutierrez has been a solid supporter for Israel. Hispanic Congressmen are generally friendly to pro—Israel resolutions.  But Muslims in America are pushing for relaxed immigration standards, and amnesty for illegals already here.  So are many Hispanics, which creates a natural political alliance on an issue that matters a lot to both groups.  This is a potential danger to the pro—Israel community.

Among blacks, surveys show that Israel is viewed quite negatively. The black media generally reflects the views of race—baiters like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, who have always been hostile to Israel.  Affirmative action has been a major source of conflict between blacks and Jews. Many blacks see Palestinians as victims, much like black South Africans were, noxious as this comparison may be. Some alumni of the civil rights movement, which had very strong support among American  Jews, such as Georgia Congressman John Lewis, are still very pro—Israel. But an increasing number of African—American representatives are much cooler to Israel.  Newly elected Senator Barack Obama has an opportunity to provide a leadership role on this issue.

3. Jewish population decline.  The world's Jewish population has never recovered from the Holocaust.  From a peak of 18 million in 1939 (almost 1% of the world's population), the world's Jewish population today is about 13 million, 80% in Israel and the United States. We are now 0.2% of the world total, 1 of every 500, where 60 years ago we were 1 of every 100.   The American Jewish population has also declined over the past 50 years, without a Holocaust to blame for it.  From a peak of 6 million American Jews, or 4% of the US population in 1950, Jews are now just about 5.2 million in number, according to the latest Jewish population surveys, or a bit less than 2% of the US population.  With an intermarriage rate around 50%,  and a fertility rate of 1.6 children per Jewish woman, Jews are committing population suicide.  Jews marry late and often never marry, and have fewer children as a result.  The commitment to abortion rights as a pre—eminent political issue strikes me a particularly odd, with Jewish numbers declining at an accelerating rate.  Rather than being aggressive advocates of abortion rights, Jews might more rationally be advocates of carrying unwanted pregnancies to term, and then giving up the babies for adoption. This is especially the case since many Jewish women marry late and have difficulty conceiving.

On the occasion of Israel's 50th birthday as a modern nation, Charles Krauthammer wrote an article for the Weekly Standard on the centrality of Israel to Jewish continuity.  In the article, Krauthammer summarized the decline of the British Jewish community, from 450,000 to fewer than 300,000 in two generations. In the US, as already indicated, the decline has been more modest, from 6 million to 5.2 million in two generations.  But with present demographic factors the number is  headed down to 4 million in one generation, and then 3 million in the next.  The influx of Israelis and Russians has moderated the decline of the American Jewish population up to now.  But Russia is running out of Jews to move away. Israelis are not moving to America in as large numbers as in the past, either. My son used to say that 75,000 to 100,000 Russian Jews can't move to Israel every year, and still leave 2 million Jews in Russia. As rapidly as America's Jewish population is declining, the remainder of the diaspora is disappearing even faster.  The  British Spectator now says the Jewish vote no longer matters in Britain. In how many decades will they say that about the Jewish vote in America?

4. The Arab and Muslim population in America is growing. The relevant questions are how rapidly the number is growing, and how many Muslims and Arabs are now here?  The 2000 census identifies 1.2 million Arabs in America, more than half of whom are Christian.  Many Christian Arabs in America do not share the political views of the more militant Muslim groups such as the AMC or CAIR.  Since religion is not a question on the census form, the Muslim number is harder to gauge.  Estimates range from 1.8 million to over ten million.  Two serious academic studies have put the US Muslim population at between 1.8 and 2.9 million.  Muslim groups advertise their numbers as much higher — from 7 to 10 million. The real number is probably about 3 million, of whom more than a third are black Muslims, with many of the rest South Asian. Add to the Muslim number over a half million Christian Arabs, and the total Arab/Muslim community is probably about 3.5 million, two thirds the size of the Jewish community.

Exaggerating the size of their community is a smart strategy for Muslims. Muslims do this very well both here and abroad.  And this padding of the numbers works to bolster their political advocacy efforts. Advertising that your community is in decline, as Jews in America do, is not politically effective.  Jews use the declining numbers as political ammunition in internal food—fights within the community, over how best to deal with intermarriage and conversion.

This year, Arab—American pollster John Zogby did not provide any post—election survey on how Muslims or Arabs voted. Why? Zogby and others produced plenty of polls in other years, and even before the 2004 election, on these groups. Quite simply, Zogby expected Kerry to win, worked to help him win, and advertised Muslim and Arab support for Kerry before the election.  Now he is embarrassed to advertise that support for Kerry after Bush's re— election, since it may have negative political repercussions with the Republican Party in Congress and President Bush. Maybe the door will shut on Grover Norquist's collection of terrorist supporters who went to visit the White House in the first term. 

Zogby proved this year that he was, in my opinion, a polling pimp for the Democratic National Committee.  His brother James Zogby worked more formally for the DNC, as head of Arab outreach efforts for the Democratic Party. Neither Zogby brother has much use for Israel, though James does an effective job of presenting himself as a voice of moderation on many panels. John Zogby conducted a poll for the Israel—hating Council on the National Interest ( a Saudi front group, in my opinion). The poll concluded that Americans regard AIPAC as an untrustworthy foreign lobbying agent. Zogby thereby lent his name to support the CBS smear of AIPAC for trumped up spying charges.

In 2000, Muslim and Arab groups claimed they voted 80—90% for Bush and delivered Florida to him, and hence the election. This is nonsense. I await the precinct numbers for the Arab and Muslim communities that would prove it.  More reliable and less self—serving estimates suggest Bush may have won a small plurality of the Muslim/Arab vote in 2000 — but less than 50%, with Gore close behind, and Nader, an Arab himself, winning 20%.

Jews can also say they delivered Florida to Bush in 2000.  When you win a state by only 537 votes, a lot of groups can claim credit.  Counting to 537 is easy. For all I know, cross—dressing scientologists might have delivered Florida to Bush in 2000. After all, the Church of Scientology's national headquarters is in Clearwater, Florida.

5. Evangelical population growth. This is a very sensitive subject for some Jews.  The facts are that some Christian groups are growing and others are declining in size.  The evangelicals are growing as a percentage of the Christian population. One reason for this is that they have more children and fewer abortions than members of more liberal Christian churches, such as Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Unitarians. Lutherans and Quakers.  Dennis Prager has written that Orthodox Jews have much more in common with evangelical Christians than they do with Reform Jews.  Prager goes on to say that Reform Jews have more in common with liberal Christian church members than they do with Orthodox Jews.  The accuracy of these statements can be tested by considering which of the just identified groups are much more likely to be regular NPR listeners and read the New York Times, and which groups spend much more time in church or synagogue.

In the 2004 election, President Bush carried 97 of the fastest growing 100 counties in the country. This victory helps explain why Bush won New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado, and won so convincingly in Florida and Arizona.  David Brooks has written about these new counties, and their mega—churches in his latest book: On Paradise Drive. Most urban Jews have probably never heard of many of these counties, and would be unfamiliar with how the lifestyles in these places differ from their own. But these counties are the new base of Christian Zionism in America, not Cook or Nassau, or Los Angeles Counties.

James Taranto, in his daily, column has argued that because of very differing abortion rates, the Democrats are effectively killing—off their potential future voters in much greater numbers than Republicans. In fact, if no abortions had occurred in the last 30 years, and the total number of abortions were added to the populations of each state since Roe v Wade was adopted, Al Gore would have been running for re—election in 2004, since the states he won in 2000, such as California, and New York, would have had several more electoral votes in that year, and Bush's states fewer. Gore would have been elected regardless of the Florida outcome.

There are also many anecdotal comments by college professors that they are seeing a marked increase in the number of students each year who choose to attend church services, and are  serious about religious observance. To put it most indelicately, the mix of those born (i.e., not aborted) 18 years ago may be different than the mix of potential babies who might have been born 18 years back, were none aborted.  This is not per se an argument either for or against abortion. I am merely commenting on what appears to be a pattern that has developed over 30 years. The number and size of college Republican student groups is also growing very rapidly, not a coincidence I think.

A Chicago rabbi, Yechiel Eckstein, created the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews a few decades back, perhaps recognizing the trends I have been describing. He believed that there was a very fertile base for Christian and evangelical support for Israel. He was right. Today, Rabbi Eckstein's group, run in Chicago by George Mamo, is out of the wilderness, and is recognized as a significant pro—Israel group. While liberal Christian groups, such as one of the Presbyterian denominations, want to divest their pension funds from Israel and meet with Hizbollah, the evangelicals are pressuring their Congressmen to back Israel more forcefully. It is important to know who our friends are. Are the Presbyterians the real friends of the Jews because they support abortion on demand, while they are also trying to delegitimize Israel? Is it smart for some Jews to regard evangelicals as political enemies because they have differing social views, when they are more ardent supporters of Israel than many Jews are? I guess it comes down to what really matters to you. If the survival of abortion on demand trumps the survival of Israel for you, so be it. But be aware of where this leads.

As I have said already, the GOP is ascendant at the moment. And most New York Times readers believe this means the country is in decline. In the first days after the 2004 election, a groups of Times columnists, Jane Smiley, Garry Wills, Maureen Dowd, and Paul Krugman, all thought it important to vent their anger by insulting Christian believers who voted for Bush. The Bush voters were described as irrational zombies, and lumped with retarded gun owners, Nascar fans, homophobes and racists. Too many coastal elites, including many Jews, are very good at looking down their noses, and need to look up occasionally.

There was especially intense anger by liberal Jews this year at other Jews who backed President Bush. I saw it in my emails, and heard it at talks I gave. Why such resentment at this mere 25% of the community who strayed off the liberal plantation?  I think it is because many liberal Jews viewed Bush voters as idiots — gun toting, Bible—thumping, homophobic, racist idiots to be more precise. 

So non—Jews voting for Bush was understandable. But liberal Jews could not understand other Jews voting for Bush. Jews voting for Bush were inconsistent with the caustic views liberals held about Bush voters. Jews for Bush upset that smug liberal world view — that Jews are smarter, and therefore morally superior.  How could smart Jews vote for Bush?

Jews need to come to terms with the Christian faith community. These are people who resent being viewed as bigots living in a flyover zone.  The real political intolerance today is now from the secular elites who despise religion and people who believe in God.  The evangelicals, the most despised group of Bush voters, have the same number of arms and legs as you do, and they would probably treat you very respectfully if they met you. And they deserve the same in return. And I dare say, some appreciation for being Israel's most stalwart supporters.

6. Growing sophistication of Israel's political enemies in the US.  Arab and Muslim political groups are increasingly modeling themselves after AIPAC, right down to congressional district organizing. So far, they are not as smooth, nor are their members giving as much money to campaigns as Jews do. But they are building momentum. In Illinois, most Jews live in three districts — the 5th , the 9th and the 10th.  These districts are represented by Rahm Emmanuel, Jan Schakowski and Mark Kirk. Arabs and Muslims live in other districts. The Arabs and Muslims are targeting the other Congressmen, especially in Districts where Arabs and Muslims live.  I lobby Rockford Congressman Don Manzullo. In his district, there are maybe 600 Jews out of 600,000, just 1 per 1000. Manzullo is very pro—Israel. He is an evangelical Christian  and a Republican, and appreciates that Israel is a reliable pro—American ally.  Many Jews would argue that he supports Israel because he wants Jesus to come back once all the Jews are assembled in Israel. This is simplistic, but more than that it is a dismissive and bigoted view, and a stupid commentary.  Evangelical Christian members of Congress who support Israel do so for the same  reasons we would want anyone to support Israel: it is a democracy, pro—American, fighting the war on terror with us, voting with us at the UN, and sharing our Western values.  And if the evangelicals also read their Bible, which many Jews have not looked at in years, and believe that Israel is the Jewish homeland, funny thing, but that was the same argument the Zionists used a hundred years ago to win their new state. If Jews belittle the support by these pro—Israel Congressmen, in time some of them may not be as pro—Israel any more, with the other side more aggressively working the street.

7. Distancing of media, academic and intellectual elites from Israel. The  mainstream media eulogies for Yassar Arafat were telling. Some described him as the man who was once a hardliner, but then became a peacemeaker during Oslo, and agreed to compromises, and almost got a deal done at Camp David and Taba. What he was, of course, was the greatest mass murderer of Jews since Hitler, and a man who indoctrinated his people with vicious anti—Semitic propaganda for 40 years, and never gave up on his goal of driving the Jews out of Israel and creating a single Arab Palestine.  He was a man who never would accept a deal that would let Israel live in peace. Compare how the New York Post, Wall Street Journal, Weekly Standard, the National Review, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and Commentary — the supposed house organs of the right — described Arafat with how he was portrayed in the New York Times, NPR, Washington Post, ABC and CBS.

Frank Luntz, a pollster, says there is great danger ahead, because American elite opinion is not sympathetic to Israel, and it is getting worse. Elites view Israel as aggressive and warlike and Palestinians as victims. Academia is the community that is the least sympathetic to Israel, since lefty radicals from the 60s run the faculty at most schools. Columbia University is one of the worst offenders, particularly its Middle Eastern Studies Department, now chaired by former University of Chicago Professor Rashid Khalidi.  This has happened despite the fact that Columbia gets 50% of its contributions from Jewish alumni, and more than a quarter of its students are Jewish. Jewish intellectuals, such as Tony Judt writing in the New York Review of Books, have given up on Israel. It has just become too difficult for the spineless and witless to defend Israel at cocktail parties.

Elites are very angry — at President Bush, at Republicans, at evangelicals. A lot of it revolves around the Iraq war. They blame 'neocons,' shorthand for the Jews, for promoting the Iraq war, and for controlling Bush. This is just one more justification for their anti—Israel venom.

8. Europeanizing America's position on Israel.  The ultimate danger is that many of the factors I have described already will serve to Europeanize America's position on the Middle East.  Europe has a very low birth rate, an aging population, and a far weaker work ethic than in America. Immigration is growing — mainly Arabs, South Asians and Africans — many of whom are Muslim. America is growing from the south — primarily Mexicans and Latin Americans — and we have a near stable replacement birth rate of just below 2.1.  Now there is the United States, and Australia, and maybe India in Israel's corner.  It is also fair to say that the leaders of Britain, Italy and Japan do not loathe Israel the way much of Europe does. And that is it. America must stay America and not follow Europe's lead on the Middle East.  In this last election, in many ways an American President was running against Europe's preferred candidate. The election was close, but in the end, a majority of Americans rejected Europe's choice for president.

Had Kerry won, regardless of his own views on Israel and the Palestinians, Europeans would have considered him more susceptible to their pressure to change America's policy on the Middle East. Some trade involving softening America's support for Israel in exchange for more European support on Iraq might have been in the works. Tony Blair tried this approach with President Bush right after the election, and got nowhere.

This would be a bad deal for Israel, and an awful precedent for America to be shaken—down this way.  Palestinian society is now a state of nature as Locke, and Hobbes described it. Sharon has decided that in light of this, Israel needs to separate from this broiling mess. So he will leave Gaza, and complete the West Bank fence.  The builder of settlements will dismantle some of them, just as Begin before him did in Sinai.  For this, Sharon has  America's support. And I do not believe that he will feel any undue pressure from this President to turn over most of the West Bank to a  Palestinian Authority, while gunmen and killers still run wild. We shall see if Abbas can control them. This President has no illusions about terrorism and the culture which supports it.  For now, Bush is the man who matters in terms of American support for Israel.  Whatever your views about Bush in any other way, for Israel, this is good news.

*This article is based on "America's Changing Demography — Implications for American Support for Israel," a talk delivered at North Suburban Synagogue Beth El, Highland Park, Il,  Sunday, Feb. 20th, 2005