Liberals’ Dilemma: Immigration or Israel?

October 17th, 2023 11:29 AM

The war between Hamas and Israel forces everyone to recognize an uncomfortable truth: Immigration is a foreign-policy issue.

In Germany, as throngs of Hamas supporters took to the streets, Henry Kissinger told Welt TV, “It was a grave mistake to let in so many people of totally different culture and religion and concepts because it creates a pressure group inside each country that does that.”

Americans have been shocked to see anti-Israel demonstrations in Britain, too -- and to find college campuses in our country are deeply polarized by the bloodshed in the Middle East.

At the end of the Cold War, liberals thought they could have it both ways: They would make America more like the rest of the world, while conducting foreign policy as if this were still the same country that entered World War II in 1941.

The Ellis Island immigration era brought millions of newcomers from Ireland, Italy and central Europe to our shores in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Germans had been the largest portion of an earlier 19th-century wave.

The internment of Japanese American citizens during the Second World War is well known -- but German Americans and Italian Americans were also treated as suspect, and in some circumstances they, too, were interned.

Today these measures seem like shameful overkill.

Yet one reason America was slow to get involved in both world wars was demographic.

It’s far from the case that ordinary German Americans or Italian Americans were pro-Hitler or supporters of Kaiser Wilhelm in the First World War -- but they were not pro-British, either.

And did Irish Americans want to bleed to rescue the British Empire?

On the flipside, of course, Jewish Americans were acutely aware of their relatives’ and co-religionists’ suffering at the hands of the Nazis.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Nazi Germany declared war on the United States -- and thereby relieved Franklin Roosevelt of the burden of trying to maneuver U.S. policy within the constraints of American demographics.

During the Cold War, the national origins of many second- and third-generation Americans helped invest us in the fate of Europe: Polish Americans, for example, cared deeply about the plight of their countrymen under Communist domination.

Religion contributed to America’s sense of mission: Jews felt the oppression of fellow Jews in the Soviet Union, and Catholics, whose numbers had increased with immigration from Southern and Central Europe a generation earlier, were members of an international church struggling with Communism on every continent.

America had always been a majority Christian country, but the Cold War with a militantly atheist Soviet Union renewed Americans’ religious faith - Congress and President Dwight Eisenhower added “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954.

The rise of evangelical Christianity cemented America’s commitment to Israel, and while Hebrew was the official language of the state formed in 1948, the European roots of many of Israel’s Jews were similar to those of millions of Americans.

But what happens when fewer Americans have European roots?

What happens when America’s mainline Christian churches decline, while immigration makes the U.S. more religiously fragmented than ever?

As a nation of immigrants of recent European descent, America’s deep engagement in European affairs, from the Cold War to the war in Ukraine, is not surprising.

Nor is it surprising if a majority Protestant country feels a special affinity for Israel.

Liberals think of themselves as internationalists, both in their concern for conflicts around the world and in their support for mass immigration -- but in fact, American internationalism was shaped by the national origins of Americans themselves.

Change those national origins, as liberal immigration policy has done, and American internationalism will change, too -- or collapse.

In the conflict with Hamas, most Americans support Israel.

But among the youngest American adults, who are the most diverse in national origins and least Christian in religion, support for Israel is lowest.

A CNN poll finds only 27% of Americans aged 18 to 34 say Israel is “completely justified” in its retaliation against Hamas, compared to 81% of Americans 65 or older.

Pro-Israel sentiment falls generation by generation in the CNN survey.

Islam is one of the fastest-growing religions in America, though at present Jews still outnumber Muslims.

Yet our future probably does not look like Germany’s present: What’s most significant here is simply the attenuation of the demographic makeup -- the religious affiliations and national origins -- that drove America’s engagement in the world for the past hundred years.

Perhaps new immigration from India and East Asia will tilt American internationalism in novel directions.

Or perhaps the diversification of our national roots and religious identities will mean it’s simply much harder for Americans to agree on any direction in foreign policy.

Either way, if the strongest supporters of Israel, and of America’s commitments to European security, wish to prevail in the future, they will have to curtail immigration today.

Daniel McCarthy is the editor of Modern Age: A Conservative Review. To read more by Daniel McCarthy, visit