Chapter 3: Liberals, Democrats, the Left & Israel Jonathan Rynhold
Please do not cite without permission from this draft George Washington University, 7 November 2012 Abstract
This paper is a draft chapter from a book tentatively entitled, 'The Israel Paradox: The Arab-Israeli conflict in American Political Culture The book will survey and analyze the ways in which American political culture informs attitudes and approaches towards Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict. The chronological focus is the post-Cold War era, especially the period since 9/11.
At the heart of the matter lies a paradox. On the one hand, Americans support for Israel has surged to new heights. This contrasts with Western Europe, where sympathy for Israel has declined. On the other hand, the surge in Israel's popularity has been unevenly distributed. A gap has opened up. Republicans and conservatives have become far more supportive of Israel than liberals and Democrats. Moreover, Americans have become increasingly divided over policy to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the peace process. Republicans and conservatives are more inclined to favor Israel per se, while liberals and Democrats are inclined towards neutrality in the conflict or to at least making practical support for Israel in that context more conditional.
The chapter begins by surveying trends in the public's ideological identification, as well as trends of ideological identification among those who identify with the Democratic party. Subsequently, the various approaches of liberal elites to the place of Israel and the Middle East in U.S. grand strategy are explored, as are other ideological, cultural and historical factors that affect their outlooks. Following this, the respective narratives of the rise and fall of the peace process 1991-2011 are presented, based on articles that appeared in the main liberal magazines, as well as the articles of a few leading columnists in the New York Times and the Washington Post. Subsequently, the chapter focuses on public opinion. After this, the chapters briefly look at how partisan-ideological approaches find expression in the political arena, both in the various post-Cold War administrations and in Congress. Finally, some comparisons are made between Republicans and conservatives on the one hand, and liberals and Democrats on the other hand .
'The Israel Paradox: The Arab-Israeli conflict in American Political Culture
Republicans, Conservatives and the Right: The Surge in support for Israel
Democrats, Liberals and the Left: The Rise in Criticism of Israeli Policies
Evangelicals and Christian Zionism: Standing with Israel
The Mainline and Anti-Zionism: Divesting from Israel?
6. American Jewish Attachment to the Israel: Mind the Gap
7. American Jewry and the Peace Process: Divided We Stand?
Liberals, Democrats, the Left and Israel 'This explosion of violence would be totally understandable if the Palestinians had no alternative. But… it came in the context of a serious Israeli peace overture, which Mr. Arafat has chosen to spurn. That's why this is Arafat's war. That's its real name'.1
Thomas Freidman, October 2001
'Israel's continued control and colonization of Palestinian land has been the primary obstacle to a comprehensive peace agreement in the Holy Land.'2 Jimmy Carter, 2006
Since Vietnam, and especially since the 2003 Iraq War, American opinion over foreign policy has grown more polarized along partisan and ideological lines, with Democrats and liberals on one side, and Republicans and conservatives on the other.3 Yet at the same time, Democrats have become increasingly divided among themselves over foreign policy.4 For a long time such divisions bypassed the Arab-Israeli conflict. Indeed, sympathy for Israel over the Palestinians remains heavily bipartisan. However, in the 21st Century a much larger percentage of Republicans and conservatives have become sympathetic to Israel, than Democrats and liberals.5 Moreover, among Democrats and liberals divisions are increasingly emerging on how to relate to the Middle East and the Arab-Israeli conflict.
This chapter surveys and analyses liberal, Democratic and left-wing approaches to Israel, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the peace process. It focuses on the ideational dimensions of these approaches rather than politics or policies per se. The three main approaches to Israel and the Middle East among liberals and Democrats in the post-Cold War era are sketched out in depth, with the focus being on the intellectual and political elites. In each case, approaches towards Israel and the conflict are part of a wider grand strategy for American foreign policy, while also being informed by other factors, such as ideology, theology and various prejudices – all of which have deep historical roots. Consequently, the historical roots, core beliefs and grand strategy for US foreign policy of each approach are laid out, before the place of Israel and Middle East in this scheme is explained. This involves looking at each approaches' preference for US policy towards the peace process, as well as looking at who each blames for the conflict and on whom each puts the onus in terms of peace-making.
The first approach is that of 'critical friends of Israel' who deeply sympathize with the Jewish state, while being critical of Israeli policies that deviate from liberal norms. They advocate a robust liberal internationalist grand strategy for the US that requires confronting or containing extremist ideological forces, especially totalitarian ones. The historical era which most informs this orientation is 1930s, when the Left failed to recognize the evil of Stalinism while the West's appeasement of Fascism ended in WWII and the Holocaust. They support a two state solution for both principled and pragmatic reasons. But while they advocate active US diplomatic efforts to end the Arab-Israeli conflict, they believe that ultimately the burden of responsibility falls on the parties themselves and they do not view the conflict as the central strategic dynamic in the Middle East.
Second, there is the dovish liberal approach. Some dovish liberals identify more with Israel, but they tend to stress their sympathy for both sides, while advocating an even-handed approach to the conflict. In general terms they support a grand strategy based on multilateralism and international economic and diplomatic engagement but only very limited military intervention abroad. An important event informing this approach is the 2003 Iraq War, which they either opposed or regret supporting. They believe in 'linkage' - the view that the Arab-Israeli conflict is a central strategic dynamic in the Middle East – which has a major impact on all other sources of regional instability and anti-Americanism. In order to resolve the conflict, they advocate heavy pressure on Israel, combined with US engagement of Hamas. In other words, they put the onus on Israel and the US, rather than the Palestinians and the Arab states.
Third, there is the progressive postcolonial approach that sympathizes primarily with the Palestinians. It has far less support among Democrats than the other two approaches, but it retains influence, especially among intellectuals. In general, they oppose active US military intervention abroad. The main historical metaphor informing this disposition is the Vietnam War, though the orientation itself has roots going back to isolationism and appeasement in the 1930s. They view Western intervention – always labeled imperialism and colonialism -- as the main cause of conflict and injustice throughout the Third World, including in the Middle East. Israel is viewed as playing an especially symbolic role in the guise of white Western settlers' usurping the natives. Blame for the conflict and the onus for resolving it fall overwhelmingly on Israel. A minority advocate the dissolution of the Jewish State. But most advocate heavy external pressure to impose a Palestinian state on Israel.
Having looked in depth at these three approaches, the chapter goes on to survey liberal narratives of the rise and fall of the peace process from the early 1990s until the end of the first decade of the new millennium through the coverage of the relevant issues in the main liberal magazines and columns of a number of leading liberal columnists. Attention then turns to the attitudes of rank and file Democrats and liberals. Following on from this, the chapter briefly demonstrates the impact of liberal approaches on US policy towards Israel and the conflict in the Clinton and Obama administrations, as well as among Democrats in Congress. Finally, the future implications of opinion trends among Democrats and liberals are assessed. Here it is argued that there is a decline in support for Israel over the Palestinians particularly among the younger generation of liberals.
Below, the chapter begins with a look at levels of identification with liberalism among the general public and within the Democratic Party, followed by a brief survey of the development of liberal attitudes to Israel prior to the end of the cold war.
Liberalism and the Democratic Party
Classical liberalism is central to the American creed. However, in contemporary political discourse liberals are inclined to believe in government intervention to deal with socio-economic problems, they tend to support abortion, separation of Church and State, and minority rights. They also tend to be more dovish on foreign policy. Between 1992 and 2010, the percentage of self-identifying liberals among the general public rose from 17% to 21%. At first glance, this seems insignificant, especially as roughly double the number of Americans identify as conservatives.6 However, conservatives' advantage over liberals is actually less pronounced than it would appear, and it is eroding. First, about a third of Americans consistently identify as political independents and since at least the mid-1980s, their attitudes have been relatively liberal.7 Second, liberals are heavily concentrated among the highly educated and relatively affluent.8 This has a multiplier effect on their political importance especially when the Democrats are in power. Third, successive generations are increasingly liberal, both in terms of self-identification and in terms of their attitudes towards key issues.9 This is especially the case for the 'Millennial' generation – those born between 1980 and 2000. In 2009, as many millennial voters identified themselves as liberals (29%) as conservatives (28%). In every other age group, more voters identified as conservative.10
11 The trend towards increased liberalism is especially apparent within the Democratic Party. Since the mid 1960s Democrats have become increasingly liberal and this trend intensified between 2000 and 2010 as the share of liberals rose among Democrats from 29% to 40%; making liberals the largest ideological grouping in the Party.12 The other part of the Party’s base is composed of disparate elements including many ethnic minorities, two-thirds of who are Blacks and Hispanics, and who generally have lower incomes and a conservative or moderate outlook.13 Aside from becoming more liberal, Democrats are also becoming more secular. Between 2000 and 2010 the percentage of white evangelicals identifying as Democrats fell to an all time low of 20%, while Democrats with "no religion" rose from a quarter to over a third.14 Only 27% of Democrats and 14% of liberal believe that the Bible is the actual word of God, compared to over 40% of Republicans and conservatives.15 16 The American Left, Democrats, Liberals and Israel 1917-91
In 1917 President Woodrow Wilson led America into World War I. He hoped that American involvement in the war, would give it an opportunity to help create a post-war liberal international order based on the establishment of international institutions, the promotion of international law, collective security, arms control, free trade, republican democracy, and national self-determination.17 In line with his support for the principle of national self-determination Wilson supported the Balfour Declaration of 1917 in which the British government committed itself to the 'establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people…[without] prejudice [to] the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine'.
Between 1917 and World War II, there was a certain amount of equivocation about whether support for a national home meant support for Jewish statehood, as some American liberals were initially attracted to the idea of binational state.18 Among Americans further to the Left, many of whom were Jewish, some were hostile to Zionism. However by the 1940s -- in the wake of the rise of Nazism, the closing of America to mass Jewish immigration, violent Arab opposition to Jewish immigration to Palestine, and finally the Holocaust -- Democrats, liberals and organized labor were overwhelmingly in favor of the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine.
After 1948, liberals, Democrats and organized Labor were among the strongest supporters of Israel in the United States. As was discussed in the first chapter, there were a variety of ideological reasons for this support: the universal principle of national self-determination, the provision of a humanitarian refuge for victims of the Holocaust and solidarity with a fellow democracy run by Social-Democrats under threat from its undemocratic neighbors. Indeed, those who were most liberal Internationalist in their outlook, like Eleanor Roosevelt, were also the most pro-Israel. Aside from ideological affinity and common values, Democrats had a domestic political incentive for supporting Israel given the importance of the Jewish vote.
Until 1967, the liberal consensus on Israel ran parallel with the liberal internationalist consensus on containment of the Soviet Union. In the wake of Vietnam and the Six Day War the situation changed. At first, the change was confined to the fringes. The New Left emerged as a force in the antiwar movement. From their postcolonial perspective, the PLO leader, Yasir Arafat, was a hero. At the same time, there was a retreat from liberal internationalism and containment among Democrats represented by the rise of progressive, anti-war, left-wing elements associated with George McGovern. McGovern was considered likely to weaken support for Israel; indeed the Israeli Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin effectively endorsed Nixon in the 1972 election campaign. At the same time, vociferously hawkish pro-Israel elements like the neoconservatives and white Southerners left the Democratic Party, while organized Labor shrank in size, becoming less important within the Party. Nonetheless, the majority of liberals and Democrats remained strongly pro-Israel in the 1970s.
While liberals and Democrats continued to sympathize more with Israel by large margins, the liberal media became increasingly critical of right-wing Israeli government policy towards the Palestinians in the wake of the 1982 Lebanon War and even more so in the wake of the first Intifada, which began in December 1987. As the Palestinians and the Arab states began to take diplomatic steps towards peace with Israel and as Israelis became deeply divided as to how to handle the peace process, so liberals began increasingly to support the Israeli centre-Left, while being highly critical of the Israeli Right; which was increasingly viewed as a major obstacle to peace.19 The section below examines the three main liberal approaches to Israel in more detail, with a focus on the post-Cold War era.
'Robust Liberal Internationalism'20and 'Critical Friendship' with Israel
Identity and Roots
From the early days of the Cold War until Vietnam, robust Liberal Internationalism was the dominant grand strategy within the Democratic Party; it was also strong among anti-Communist elements of the Labor movement. Leading adherents included Harry Truman and Hubert Humphrey who both supported labor rights, the welfare state and civil rights at home; while simultaneously supporting liberal international institutions, multilateralism and foreign aid, combined with a tough policy of containment towards the Soviet Union, abroad. In this context, friendship with a democratic ally like Israel was natural. However, just as their support for the United States in the Cold War was combined with a self-critical edge, so they were critical of Israel when they felt that it failed to live up to liberal values. Nonetheless, whatever the criticisms, the underlying friendship with democratic Israel remained firm.
Among the earliest leading public intellectuals to combine robust Liberal internationalism with critical friendship with Israel, were Irving Howe and Reinhold Niebuhr, the most important American theologian of the Twentieth Century and a seminal thinker on US foreign policy. In their younger days, Howe and Niebuhr identified with forces further to the Left. Separately they both abandoned their former Trotskyite and socialist-pacifist compatriots over their opposition to entering WWII. Niebuhr, Howe and the others like them supported the war, emphasizing the moral distinction between totalitarian regimes on the one hand, and democracies – however imperfect—on the other hand. In 1954 Howe founded the magazine, Dissent, and many people associated with the magazine continue to adhere to his approach, for example: Michael Walzer and Paul Berman.
Grand Strategy: Robust Liberal Internationalism
Niebuhr sought to combine a commitment to liberal values and Anti-totalitarianism with anti-utopian political realism.21 Consequently, during the Cold War, Niebuhr and other robust liberal internationalists supported the containment of the Soviet Union.22 Their anti-Utopianism meant that, in contrast to other liberals and progressives they stressed the limits of rationality and will power in being able to produce historical progress.23 This meant that while they retained a strong belief in the efficacy of diplomacy,24 they were more willing than other liberals to use force, especially against threats posed by anti-democratic ideological extremists. Furthermore, while rejecting the pursuit of absolute justice as utopian and dangerous, they remained committed to advancing a limited proximate version of justice, which included campaigning against racial discrimination at home and support for the New Deal. Such reforms had dual role; they were a moral imperative in their own right, while also serving to limit the potential popularity of communism in the US, by demonstrating that democracy bought material benefits. The same dual logic lay behind their support for foreign development aid, notably the Marshall Plan.25
While they supported the strategy of containment, many, like Arthur Schlesinger Jnr., came to regret their support for the Vietnam War. More generally, Vietnam led to a decline in support for robust Liberal internationalism in the Democratic Party. Still in the 1980s it regained strength through the rise of the 'New Democrats' such as Al Gore and Joe Lieberman.26 They were more hawkish than mainstream liberal Democrats, being skeptical of arms control and more willing to support Reagan's interventionist policies in Central America, though they advocated a more limited intervention that also demanded democratic reforms of America's Contra allies.27 The Democratic Leadership Council and The New Republic magazine, which was very influential inside the beltway during the 1980s, promoted this outlook. In the same vein and at the same time, Dennis Ross, then a young Democrat-supporting foreign policy specialist serving in government was arguing that the US needed to respond firmly to the offensive strategy being pursued by the Soviet Union in the Middle East.28 Like Niebuhr, Ross emphasized the importance of balancing liberal objectives with political realism.29 Ross went on to become the most important U.S. official dealing with the Middle East peace process during the 1990s.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, supporters of robust Liberal internationalism promoted an ambitious grand strategy, including targeted foreign aid, preventative diplomacy, expansion of NATO alliance commitments in Europe and the retention of U.S. armed forces abroad in other areas of vital interest such as the Middle East. They continued to be distinguished from other liberals by their greater willingness to use force. Thus, New Democrats figured prominently among the minority of Democratic congressmen who supported the 1991 Gulf War; which Dissent editor Michael Walzer defined as a 'Just War'. They also led the campaign for humanitarian intervention to save Bosnian Muslims – a situation reminding them of America's failure to try to prevent the Holocaust.30 Their support for the use of force stood out even more starkly regarding the 2003 Iraq War, even as they argued for a more multilateral approach than that adopted by the Bush administration, which paid greater attention to post-war institution-building in Iraq.31 For Paul Berman at Dissent, the key reason to support the war was the fascist nature of Saddam's regime, though most of the Dissent board actually opposed the war. Indeed, as the post-war situation in Iraq began to deteriorate, so many Liberal Internationalists began to express regret for supporting the war. Much as after Vietnam, this lead to a decline in support for robust Liberal internationalism.
Critical Friendship with Israel and Strategy towards the Middle East
Irving Howe wrote of his 'critical commitment to a democratic Israel',32 a turn of phrase that neatly sums up the essence of this approach. Their support for Israel was grounded on the classical liberal positions outlined in the first chapter, the universal principle of national self-determination,33 the Holocaust,34 Israel's democratic nature,35 its social-democratic tradition36 and its strength and reliability as an ally.37This support involves promoting US support for the security and well being of Israel, as well as including defending Israel against the campaigns to delegitimize it.38
While underlyingly supportive of Israel, they argued that the organized American Jewish community was too shy in expressing its reservations about illiberal Israeli policies.39 In contrast, they publicly criticized illiberal Israeli policies regarding the treatment of the Palestinians, the need to be more inclusive of Israel's Arab citizens, and issues related to religion and state.40 In this vein, they strongly opposed Israeli settlements.41 While completely rejecting the idea that Israel is an Apartheid state42, they feared that the expansion of settlements would prevent a future Israeli withdrawal, thereby forestalling the chance for peace, while threatening to turn Israel into an Apartheid state in which a Jewish minority with full political rights rules over a Palestinian majority without those rights indefinitely.43 This remained a central theme of the discourse throughout.
Their criticism of Israel extended to some of the most sensitive subjects. Thus they valued the work of Israeli historian Benny Morris, who highlighted acts of expulsion carried out by Israel in the War of Independence, and they loudly condemned the indirect Israeli involvement in the Phalange massacre of Palestinians in the 1982 Lebanon War.44 But they were also strongly critical of the post-Zionist Left for whom Israeli actions tainted the whole idea of Zionism. In contrast, for critical friends of Israel, Israeli sins committed during a deadly struggle with extremist enemies who were primarily responsible for the conflict and who committed far greater atrocities45, represented a negative part of a generally positive story – Zionism. At the same time as they supported Jewish national self-determination, they also supported the Palestinians right to self-determination. Consequently, they supported the establishment of a Palestinian state genuinely committed to living in peace with a secure Israel,46 though they were not always convinced that there was a genuine Palestinian partner able and willing to deliver.47 America, Israel and the Middle East
Adherents of robust Liberal Internationalism are united in rejecting the idea that American intervention in the Middle East is the main cause of regional instability and anti-Americanism. They recognize that the conflict is one of many sources of instability, but they believe that even if it (or Israel) did not exist, the region would remain very unstable and anti-American.48 Instead, they put forward a number of different reasons for regional instability, all of which are primarily related to the internal dynamics of the region. The Dissent school argues that the responsibility lay primarily with extreme Islamist theologies and radical Arabist ideologies that fuel terrorism and dictatorship.49 Citing Middle Eastern liberals, Paul Berman highlighted the similarities between European totalitarianism of Left and Right and the totalitarianism of the Ba'athists and the Islamists. As Berman viewed it, such ideologies are essentially pathological, serving no rational interests; they therefore had to be confronted or contained rather than accommodated.50 In this sense, the war on terror and radical Islamism in the wake of 9/11 is the third chapter in the fight against totalitarianism; the first chapter being the fight against Nazism and fascism and the second chapter being the fight against Communism during the Cold war. From this perspective, Israel warrants support as a democracy in the frontline of an ideological and political battle against anti-liberal, extremist groups and states. Others took a somewhat different approach, focusing on the lack of development in the region, as highlighted in the UN Arab Human Development Reports. This lack of development is blamed on population growth, excessive state interference in the economy, the lack of a self-critical educational culture and the lack of democracy. A crucial part of the solution is therefore economic, social and political reform. American support for such reforms is something that all supporters of robust liberal internationalism agree with in principle; though some are more optimistic than others about whether conditions are ripe for this.51
While foreign-policy orientated supporters of robust liberal internationalism support the reform agenda, they also analyze the region in state-orientated political-strategic terms. Like Kissingerian realists, they view the key strategic dynamic in the region as the intra-regional struggle between pro-American moderate regimes and anti-American radicals, led by Iran, who are seeking to replace the pro-American order in the Middle East, with a radical anti-American order. One of the earliest articulators of this outlook was Professor Malcolm Kerr, the former head of the American University of Beirut, who wrote of the 'Arab Cold War' in the late 1950s. Kerr was no friend of Israel, but his approach evidently influenced his student, Dennis Ross. In contemporary terms, while Iran and its allies lack the power of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, The threat posed by the radicals is deemed of vital strategic importance to the US because of the dependence of the world economy on Middle Eastern oil. Were radical anti-American forces to get control of a large share of those resources or pose a threat to the supply of oil to the global economy, this would constitute a major threat to the US and the West. From this perspective, Israel was perceived as a strategic asset as it is the strongest and most reliable U.S. ally in the region.52 These foreign policy orientated liberal internationalists are more willing to engage diplomatically with radical extremists states than the anti-totalitarian liberal intellectuals. They believe that a mixture of carrots and sticks can affect such states calculations, especially those related to regime survival. Yet like the anti-totalitarian liberal intellectuals, they think that there are ideological limits on these actors' rational calculation of their interests. Thus, in terms of the peace process, they take seriously Hamas and Hezbollah's desire to eradicate the State of Israel. They argue that such extremism cannot be accommodated in a strategic sense. Similarly, they think it unlikely that the U.S. will be able to deter a nuclear Iran under the current regime.53 The Peace Process
Robust liberal internationalists/critical friends of Israel support active U.S. involvement in the peace process. As liberals, they value peace and a two state solution in and of itself, and they tend to believe in the efficacy of diplomatic negotiations. They also think that the peace process assists in managing the conflict by preventing the development of a dangerous vacuum that could lead to a violent escalation. Furthermore, although they reject the notion that Israel is a strategic liability, they thought that U.S. support for the peace process weakens anti-American forces in the region, while making it easing co-operation with Arab allies.54
Yet while they strongly favor US engagement in the peace process, they oppose the idea that the US should seek to impose a settlement. From this perspective, the successful implementation of any peace agreement is primarily dependent on the parties' themselves. Without their willingness, an imposed deal would be likely to unravel quickly with dire consequences. Still, they were not adverse to applying pressure on both parties, and they were willing to focus that pressure on Israel, if the there was an Arab partner who judged to be both willing and able to deliver. But pressure was not their preferred instrument of diplomacy. Instead, they tended to focus on providing incentives for peace. In this connection, aid to Israel and the development of the strategic relationship between the countries was designed not only to strengthen an ally against common enemies, but even more to reassure Israel and thereby encourage it to take the risks required to make peace. Peace would require Israel to withdraw from strategically important areas, and U.S. support was designed to compensate for those loses.55 Consequently, when an Israeli government was seriously committed to making compromises, they tended to promote closely coordinating strategy towards the peace process with that government, and this strategic coordination was closer than that it undertook with America's Arab partners. On the other hand, when an Israeli government was deemed to be unwilling to proceed, no such preference existed. This approach was a close match to that of centre-Left Israeli leaders like Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak.56 Given their belief that ultimately peace depends on the parties themselves, they were willing to actively support attempts at reaching a comprehensive peace settlement when they perceived that both sides were genuinely committed to that objective. On the other hand, they recognized that support for peace in the Arab world was based on a pragmatic acceptance of the costs of the on-going conflict and not on recognition of the legitimacy of the State of Israel. This was viewed as greatly inhibiting the willingness of the Arab side to make concessions to Israel and really end the conflict. Consequently, they often supported partial agreements, when they felt that the parties were not ripe for dealing with the core issues.57 While they were consistently supportive of the peace process, there was a certain ambivalence about the relationship between domestic liberal-style reforms in the Arab world and the peace process. In the 1990s, in contrast to the neoconservatives, they supported a strategy which focused first and foremost on peace process, leaving liberal reforms to the future. However, following the collapse of the peace process, they switched to supporting a strategy which integrated domestic reforms with the peace process, as was particularly evident in their enthusiastic support for the efforts of the Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.