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Who is the Jewish Vote?

America, Israel and why Jews shouldn’t support Bush

By Ilana J. Sichel, THE ROUGH CUT

If the crowd gathered outside Cardullo’s on Wednesday is any indication, at least I won’t be alone in my despair for the next four years. As thousands of Bush-Cheney supporters screamed and cheered on the screen, I studied the faces reflected back at me in the autumn-themed window. Resting on bodies of various heights, ages and fashion styles, each bore the same expression: hollow-eyed despondence. I couldn’t find a trace of the happiness of the nearly 59,000,000 citizens who voted to keep Bush in office.

In fact, all of Cambridge felt blanketed by an invisible storm cloud. I may be projecting, but I swear the streets were eerily quiet in the Square. I did, however, catch wind of the dull roar of indignant cell phone conversations: “…and this time he was actually elected…” “…Billions of dollars in Iraq…” “Who are these people?”

I wish I had the freedom to say that I only know of people who are so different from myself that their voting pattern has nothing to do with me. Unfortunately, though, I know all too many fellow American Jews who are placing their confidence in the Bush administration.

Last week a flurry of e-mails went over the Harvard Hillel community list in response to two New York Times op-eds about the connections between American Jews, support for Israel and voting for Bush. Though most students fell on the Kerry side of the divide, enough pro-Bush writers spoke up to merit this public response—geared toward anyone who either believes Bush is good for Israel or wonders why others say they do.

As far as I can tell, the twenty-or-so percent of American Jews who trust Bush’s alleged commitment to Israel are mistaken on three major counts. The first is that they believe our administration has been improving what Israelis call “The Situation.” Second, they think the “War on Terror” will take down an alleged common source of anti-Israel and anti-American wrath. Third, they are comforted by the apparent philo-Semitism of Bush’s evangelical Christian belief system.

To the first count, I must say I am rather astounded by the allegation that Bush has been good for Israel. Though his supporters number only around 20 percent of American Jews (most of whom are observant), a good deal more than that vote Democratic but do so with a split conscience. Considering that more Israelis and Palestinians have been killed since 2000 than in the previous 14 years combined, anybody concerned about the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean should realize that Bush has not furthered the cause of peaceful co-existence. Furthermore, the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) would ensure that any elephant or donkey in office would pledge and act out of allegiance to Ariel Sharon’s version of Israeli democracy.

Secondly, Israel is already demonized and seen as a proxy of the Bush administration in much of the Middle East and Europe. Therefore, continuing support for Bush’s War on Terror as-is only serves to deepen the anti-Americanism that almost instantly turns into anti-Israel sentiment and action. The insistence that the two countries join at the hip benefits neither. The increasingly mobilized anti-Israel and anti-American movements are not responding to the same stimuli. As distinct countries with distinct histories and locations, Israel and the United States deserve to be analyzed and understood in their own contexts and for their own actions. Neither Israelis nor Americans, nor the Jews who inhabit those categories, benefit from erasing Jewish, Israeli or American specificity. Why lend ourselves to conspiracy theories if we aren’t even benefiting from their grain of misunderstood truth?

And to the third point, regarding gratitude for Christian Zionism, I have this to say: Jews should be extremely wary of interpreting evangelical Christianity as selfless sensitivity to Jewish history. The past couple decades have seen a surge of influential Christian support for Jewish control of so-called “Greater Israel,” i.e. Israel’s internationally recognized borders in addition to territories seized in 1967. Even though the majority of Israelis are willing to give up the occupied territories for a negotiated peace plan and a Palestinian state, most Christian fundamentalists oppose such a deal. Why? Not out of deference to the Israeli and Palestinian people who are affected by these policies, but because they believe Jesus’ Second Coming is contingent upon the return of all of the Jews to all of the Land of Israel.

In its allegiance to this community of extremists, the Bush administration is betraying the Jews they purport to be supporting. Evangelical Christian Zionists not only want Jews to ultimately emigrate to Israel (regardless of whether or not they want to themselves), but would also be happy to let them stay there ’til the end of days—because unless they suddenly convert to Christianity, their supposed allies won’t be welcoming them to heaven.

In short, Jewish support for Bush based on alleged commitment to Israel is dangerously self-defeating. Since he’s back in office I’m hoping for the best, but he certainly hasn’t earned my trust—and my objections far transcend the Israel issue. As an Orthodox Jewish friend inquired about our Republican-friendly community members: What is it about observing the Sabbath that warrants being anti-choice, discriminating against gay people and supporting tax cuts for the rich? I, too, am at a loss for an answer.

Ilana J. Sichel ’05 is a literature concentrator in Dudley House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.

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