Guardian

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.

6 replies »

  1. I’ve been listening to Savage’s podcast for a couple years now. He’s a one issue guy and that issue is gay rights. Nothing wrong with that, but for the past few months he leads off his podcast with a rant about the latest Republican or Christian anti-gay statement. I’m pretty sure in his mind 99% of Republicans/Christians are evil and out to get the gays.

    It’s therefore unsurprising that he’ll use any talking point to attack them, even if it means going after the most gay friendly state in the ME.

  2. Mr Savage should take a party of his gay and lesbian friends to any of Israel’s neighbours. I’m sure he’ll speak for the rest of his life from another orifice that they will tear up for him.

    Guardian TV is not only hideously white it is institutionally pro-Islamic and therefore anti-Jewish. Israel is just an excuse.

  3. Adam – I have read Savage’s piece, and I’m sorry, but I just don’t see what you are complaining about. His point is that the LGBT population in the US is deserving of legal protection, no matter that it makes up a smaller proportion of the overall population than previously thought.

    To put his point in context, he refers to other minorities – specifically Jews and Mormons – who enjoy legal protection from discrimination in the US despite the fact that they are less numerous than the LGBTs.

    He doesn’t suggest for a moment that Jews and Mormons should NOT enjoy such a status, in fact the opposite is true. he cites the consderation given by government to those minorities as an ideal that ought to be copied for the LGBTs.

    OK – I grant you the reference to Israel as the US’s 51st state is somewhat gratuitous, but for years there were similar mentions of the UK in the same terms in MSM on both sides of the Atlantic. Nothing to get too upset about, in my humble opinion.

  4. additionally, his reference to Israel is peripheral to the main article, and does not refer to lobbying or the reasons for that support, so I have no idea where you get the idea about his “implicit assumptions” on this point. Please clarify?

    • I think that’s just the point GoonerEll. What is the need for the Israel reference at all? It’s rather evident that he saw an angle to take a shot at Israel and in so doing detracts from the rest of the article.

      His Israel obsession is clearly more important to him.

  5. Yes, the Israel references did stick out like a very sore thumb. But, as GoonerEll says, I think you’ve making too much out of this one.