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Why Are Right-Wingers So Crazy in Love with Israel?

It's much more than evangelical Christians hoping for the rapture.

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In the Israeli narrative, Jews were always the victims, constantly on guard against unprovoked attacks -- just like the pioneers of the American Wild West. The fact that Jews had displaced Arabs, just as whites displaced Native Americans, often by violent means, simply wasn’t allowed into the story. Nor was the fact that Israel’s military strength made its existence quite secure. Few Americans questioned the myth of Israel’s constant insecurity.

Americans of the Cold War era empathized with Israel all the more because here in the U.S. we were immersed in our own myth of homeland insecurity, constantly on guard against the imagined threat of communist aggression. In this way as in so many others Israel seemed like a miniature America, a partner in the global battle of good against evil.

Though the Cold War is long gone, that sense of kinship remains just as strong among conservatives, who still see the U.S. and Israel as champions of absolute good in a war against the “evildoers.” Indeed Israel looks even better now because conservatives assume that the “evildoers” plotting to destroy us are the very same Arab “terrorists” who are supposedly trying to wipe out Israel.

Conservatives simply ignore the facts. West Bank Palestinians have shifted almost entirely to nonviolent tactics in their struggle against military occupation. Even in Gaza, Hamas has long observed a truce, firing rockets only when Israeli attacks provoke them. And for years Hamas leaders have been supporting a two-state peace agreement. But none of this fits the conservatives’ beloved Wild West stereotype or their narrative of endless insecurity. So they mistakenly go on assuming that Israel is constantly under attack by vicious savages.

The conservative love for Israel has been strengthened by another mistaken belief: that all Israeli Jews are white folks. In fact a sizeable number of Jewish Israelis came from Muslim lands; they and their descendants have brown skin. But few Americans know it. Yet all know that Arabs generally have brown skin. No one can say exactly how strong the racial (and sometimes, no doubt, racist) factor is in the Republican feeling for Israel. But no one can deny that it’s part of the picture.

Conservatives’ tenuous sense of security depends on the reassurance they get from believing that there’s a permanent structure in the world, based on permanent dividing lines -- between nations, races, religions, and most importantly, between good and evil, with their own kind carrying the banner of the good.

As long as they can see good battling evil, it doesn’t matter exactly who the “good guys” and “bad guys” are. It’s all essentially a matter of symbolism. So the roles can switch in surprising ways. (Osama bin Laden was once the darling of the right-wingers when he fought the communists in Afghanistan.)

Israelis are well aware of how easily American affections can change. Their press is full of discussions about the risk of losing their sole remaining ally.

For now, though, the Republican love for Israel is holding firm. It has been cemented by the recent shift to the right among Israeli Jews. Politically, the last few years in Israel have looked a lot like the Reagan years in the U.S., making it easier for the GOP to feel that sense of kinship.

Even if Israel moves back toward the center, it’s not likely to lose the fervent devotion of Republicans. They’ve been so convinced for so long that Israel can do no wrong, it hardly matters to them what Israel does. It’s Israel the symbol, not the reality, that the Republicans love.

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