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Brent E. Sasley

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Are Christian Zionists Replacing Mainstream US Jews?

Posted: 12/19/2011 11:50 am

Spencer Ackerman's piece on the power of Christian Zionism to replace or supplement American Jewry's advocacy on Israel has received much attention. But the argument is incomplete; what's missing is the second part of the story.

Christian Zionists are certainly a potent political force to be reckoned with in the US. And as the longstanding consensus among mainstream Jewry breaks down along new generational, cultural, religious and political divisions in the community, the Christian Zionists are filling the growing gap left by what was once considered the mainstream Jewish position regarding Israel and US-Israel relations.

However, as a political force their power is facilitated by Israel and by American Jewry itself; on its own, it cannot survive. It needs Jewish Zionism, because without it, Christian Zionism can't make a sufficiently strong political case.

It is a paradox that the very breakdown in Jewish communal unity toward Israel and US-Israel relations that weakens American Jewry's ability to influence the foreign policy agenda as much as it used to will also undermine the ability of Christian Zionism to promote its agenda on these issues.

The idea that Israel must or should hold on to all of the West Bank is no longer an obvious if tacit assumption, and hasn't been since Oslo. It is true that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians seem far off, and both settlers and some Palestinians are calling for a one-state solution. But despite the grim state of peace talks today, the two-state solution is the only one acceptable to everybody and nothing has ever replaced its broad appeal.

But more relevant, within American Jewry, it has become very acceptable to critique Israel in public, and to advocate new lines of advocacy by American Jews. Peter Beinart's important essay and the emergence of J Street are the most visible signs of this. Beinart's appearance at various programs among the big Jewish organizations (he recently spoke at the American Jewish Committee's 2011 Global Forum) indicates how deeply his ideas have penetrated. Even questions about boycotting products from the settlements -- inspired by the global BDS movement -- have begun to appear legitimate. All of this represents the breaking down of the political advocacy consensus that long held in the community.

At the same time, American Jewry is fragmenting along religious lines, as synagogue are no longer the primary communal institutions they once were and smaller groups of Jews pursue their own self-created religious norms and rituals. And a sure, if not the only, sign of dispersion is the decline in financial support of the major national Jewish organizations.

In short, Christian Zionism is losing its major domestic ally. This is, to be sure, a long and slow process; but it is occurring.

At the same time, Israel has withstood pressure from both the American government and American Jewry on several occasions. There's nothing to suggest it couldn't also resist this pressure from Christian Zionists alone. And given that most American policymakers do believe Israel should leave the West Bank (or at least most of it), Christian Zionism's agenda will have less traction.

It is true that some Republicans, especially among the current field of candidates for the nominee for 2012, indicate they would be open to such an agenda. But the fact that there are many others both within the party and in the broader constellation (see, for instance: Barack Obama) who oppose it means there will be a debate about it, not a blank check.

As America Jewry--apart from the Orthodox--moves center-left, Christian Zionists who lobby on the West Bank will lose their ability to be more Israeli and Jewish than Israel and the Jews.

First published at Mideast Matrix, December 10, 2011.

 

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