The Not-So-Special Relationship

Article excerpt

Byline: Jacob Weisberg

Why Democrats are down on Israel.

Right after it happened, Israel's ambassador to the U.S. described Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's "insult" to Vice President Joe Biden as the worst crisis between the two countries in three decades. A week later, the blowup had largely blown over. Both sides realized what they usually do when irritated with each other, which is that it serves the interests of neither to quarrel publicly. Netanyahu, who is no fool, would be a big one if he antagonized his country's most powerful ally, especially while trying to raise a posse to hunt down Iran's nuclear program. President Obama, who was already unpopular in Israel, needs Jewish support to win reelection. All parties indicated regret for expressing their true feelings.

But even as it fades, the Incident of the Mistimed Zoning Announcement points to an ongoing shift with large political implications in both countries. Simply stated, the instinctive solidarity that American liberals, many of them Jews, have long felt with Israel is on the decline. The frustration vented by various members of the Obama administration over Netanyahu's belligerence is an illustration of this fissure, not the cause of it. The more everyone says that nothing's changed in the relationship, the more you know it has.

Various polls reflect the disenchantment. The Israeli journalist Shmuel Rosner pays a lot of attention to the rapidly rising partisan gap in American support for Israel. He notes that according to Gallup, 80 percent of Re-publicans--the party of both millenarian Christians, who want the Holy Land in Jewish hands for Jesus' Second Coming, and of neocons, who want a preemptive strike against Iran--express favorable views of Israel. This compares with only 53 percent of Democrats. Two years ago, the gap between the parties was significantly smaller. One recent study found that only 54 percent of non-Orthodox Jews under 35 are "comfortable with the idea of a Jewish state" (as compared with more than 80 percent of those over 65). If you want examples of the shift in sentiment, read just about any Jewish columnist for a major newspaper. Thom-as Friedman of The New York Times spent last week arguing that Biden underreacted to Israel's announcement about the new housing units in East Jerusalem, comparing Israel's policies to drunken driving. …