Happy Birthday, Eretz Yisrael

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Israeli flag.jpgWhen it comes to reckoning with the increased impact of religion on American electoral politics in the past generation, the focus, not unreasonably, has been on the “values” agenda, starting with abortion and issues relating to the rights of homosexuals. But the importance of the Israeli-Arab conflict is not to be underestimated. What was once the particular preoccupation of the American Jewish community has climbed ever higher on the list of evangelical policy priorities. Not that evangelicals are newborn supporters of Israel, but with America’s role in the world increasingly cast for them in terms of a struggle with Islam (or perhaps radical Islam), support for Israel has become a virtual article of faith in evangelical political theology.
Meanwhile, the official American Jewish community has come to see Israel as its sole public raison d’etre–linked inextricably to the only other thing that matters: Jewish continuity. Emboldened by an evangelical community that is more pro-Israel (in the sense of supporting Israeli maximalists) than American Jews are, American Jewish leadership can indulge its Zionist enthusiasms without stint, and in a way that seems increasingly out of touch with the more sober assessment of mainstream Israeli politicians.
Such, at any rate, are the views of Jeffrey Goldberg and Thomas Freedman in today’s New York Times. Both address themselves, more or less explicitly, to the Times‘ Jewish readers and the heartburn they may be feeling about the near inevitability of Barack Obama running as the Democratic Party standard bearer in November. Reading not very closely between the lines, it’s clear that both think Obama stands a better chance of making headway with Israelis and Palestinians than another Republican administration; both believe that an administration that is prepared to push Israel to undo settlements and encourage the creation of a viable Palestinian state on the West Bank is more in Israel’s interests than an administration that gives at most lip service to such goals.
As the general election campaign gets under way, the only back-and-forth on Israel/Palestine has concerned the profoundly silly matter of the significance of an Hamas official expressing a preference for an Obama presidency. Prospects for a reasonable debate between the candidates seem not much brighter than prospects for a comprehensive peace settlement. But on Israel’s 60th birthday it is perhaps not out of place to remember that the Israeli national anthem is called Hatikvah–Hope.