How pejorative characterization of U.S. supporters of Israel crept into CiF essay about Rick Santorum

Dan Savage’s report in CiF America (Rick Santorum’s homophobic frothing, Jan 5) was ostensibly about the anti-gay politics of Republican Presidential candidate, Rick Santorum.  However, as with so many critiques of American conservatives in the Guardian, Savage couldn’t avoid contextualizing Santorum’s views without an unrelated pejorative characterization of Christian Zionists.

While I’m personally sympathetic to Savage’s views on the rights of the LGBT community – and, without question, one of the many moral advantages Israel has over its neighbors is the legal protections afforded to its sexual minorities – there is a passage in his essay as gratuitous as it is bigoted.

As with other Guardian reporters and contributors, Savage’s a priori assumption is that support for Israel couldn’t merely reflect a moral and rational decision by Americans who see Israel as a state which shares American values and national strategic interests.

Savage first critiques what he characterizes as conservative Christians’ dismissal of the LGBT community as a marginal voice:

“…America’s religious conservatives/extremists…argue that the LGBT community is so tiny – just 9 million Americans, according to the Williams Institute – that our calls for civil rights protections and full civil equality shouldn’t be taken seriously.” 

He then pivots, quite awkwardly, to Israel:

This is a curious argument coming from the same people – evangelical Christians – who seem to regard Israel as the 51st state in our union. There may be “just” 9 million LGBT Americans – but that number that is greater than the entire population of Israel (7 million). And if we are “just” 3.8% of the US population, the LGBT community – a figure that includes hundreds of thousands of LGBT Jews – is still more than twice the size of the total Jewish community in the United States (1.4% of the population)

in short, [the LGBT community is] not “too small in number”, or too insignificant a portion of the American electorate…to be taken seriously as a political force. 

Savage, in arguing that the size of the LGBT community in the U.S. is large enough to be taken seriously, references evangelical Christian support for Israel which, he suggests, is informed by the political lobbying of a Jewish community much smaller than the population of gays. 

But, leaving his demographic arguments, and electoral math, aside, its clear that it never occurs to Savage that support for Israel – from Christians, Jews and others in America  – is typically motivated by moral factors, namely the Jewish state’s undeniable democratic advantage in the region.

Moreover, Gallup Polls have consistently demonstrated that support for Israel by Americans of all backgrounds is overwhelming, based on annual polling data as far back as 1967.   

Finally, while savage accuses Christians, and not Jews per se, of viewing Israel as America’s 51st state, his implicit assumption is that Americans who passionately support Israel view a foreign country’s needs as on par with their own.

Such tropes have, of late, penetrated the American progressive landscape so deeply that bloggers associated with the liberal “Center for American Progress” recently made news for using the term “Israel Firster” in the context of accusing members of Congress of having a greater allegiance to Israel than the United States.

If Savage, or any other commentator, wishes to critique U.S. support for Israel they are, of course, free to do so. But, you’d think that self-styled progressive bloggers would strenuously avoid suggestions that such pro-Israel sentiments within the American political milieu represents something dark, a corruption of the American political system, or a cynical alliance with the organized Jewish community.

Written By
More from Adam Levick

Poisoning the wells: David Hearst’s Jewish problem

David Hearst’s title at the Guardian is “foreign leader writer”. In other...
Read More