J Street vs. The Weekly Standard: Is it possible to be pro-peace and pro-Israel?

October 16th, 2009 by Ravi Iyer

A group called J Street has recently sought to question the wisdom of military action by the Israeli government.  Their influence is supposed to be a counterbalance to the traditionally hawk-ish Israel lobby embodied by AIPAC.  Many lobbying groups which oppose military action by Israel identify with the groups that Israel has conflicting interests with or inherently believe that war is a terrible thing.  J Street is unique in that it is pro-peace AND is pro-Israel, taking the stance that the best way to support Israel is by taking a pro-peace stance.  In taking this stand, they are questioning one of the most powerful implicit arguments for military action….that support for military action is related to being patriotic.  As a result, groups like the Weekly Standard have been questioning just how pro-Israel J Street really is.

Is it possible to be both pro-peace and pro-Israel?  What part of this is simply the moral confabulation of believing that your side (liberal or conservative) is correct and that the other side MUST be unpatriotic?  Sometimes we might dislike the opposing viewpoint so much that we question not just their wisdom, but their motives.

To help answer this question, I analyzed some of our data from yourmorals.org to see how identification with one’s country (measured using questions like “How much do you identify with (that is, feel a part of, feel love toward, have concern for)…people in my country?”) is related to attitudes toward peace (measured using questions like “Peace brings out the best qualities in a society.”) and attitudes toward war (measured using questions like “War is sometimes the best way to solve a conflict.”).  It is worth noting that attitudes toward war and attitudes toward peace are not necessarily the same thing.  They are highly correlated (r=-.68) in our sample, but the correlation is not perfect (-1 or 1 would be a perfect correlation).

At first glance, it seems that being pro-peace might be incompatible with identifying with one’s country.  Consider the below 2 graphs.  Attitudes toward peace aren’t really related to patriotism.  Attitudes toward war are related to patriotism in that people who identify with their country more seem to be slightly more likely to be more sympathetic to the need for conflict.

peace_patriotism_simple0.JPG

war_patriotism_simple0.JPG

Given that the distinction between pro-peace and anti-war is difficult, it is unsurprising that from the simple relationships, people are suspicious of people who are both pro-peace and patriotic.  However, these relationships are not large and there are many confounding variables, the most obvious of which are your political leanings.  Much research in political psychology concerns our motivated reasoning to support our political party’s position on any given issue.  If we look within each political party, the relationship between being pro-peace and pro-country changes as shown in the below two graphs.

peace_patriotism_bypolitics0.JPG

war_patriotism_bypolitics0.JPG

The confusing purple lines above are self-identified libertarians.  Let’s deal with them later.

The main result if we look at everybody else is that we see that identification with one’s country is actually associated with being pro-peace WITHIN each political group.  In contrast, in the first set of graphs, being pro-war was associated with identification with one’s country when collapsing across all political groups. The results suggest that identification with country is independently associated with being pro-peace if we control for being liberal, conservative, or libertarian.  If we control for the variance associated with political ideology, it is not patriotic to be anti-war or pro-war.  It IS patriotic to be pro-peace….and the reason people who are pro-peace are characterized as not being patriotic is because the doves and the hawks reside on opposite sides of the partisan divide.  This partisan divide also predicts identification with country (conservativism correlates .29 with identification with country).  But if we take out the variance due to ideology, peace is indeed patriotic.

Put in the context of the political issue of the day, there is nothing so abnormal about being pro-peace and pro-Israel, but it is unsurprising that critics of J Street are unable to disentangle their partisan leanings from their opinions about the group given the simple pattern of what we see in society.  It is worth noting though that questioning the motives rather than the wisdom of the opposing position is not something that is limited to conservative groups like the Weekly Standard.  J Street characterizes the Weekly Standard’s actions as “thuggish smear tactics”, “swift boat” moves, and “unhinged” which is surely a caricature of their true motivations.  My advice to J Street would be to avoid such confrontational language as it only exacerbates the partisan divide and makes it more unlikely that others might actually see resonance in their pro-peace, pro-Israel stance.

There is one group for whom being pro-peace is more diagnostic, libertarians.  Libertarians make up 10-15% of the population according to recent surveys and 7% of our sample, but it is worth speculating about why group identification is so diagnostic of war and peace attitudes for this group.  Using Moral Foundations Theory, war and peace attitudes are predicted by both the ingroup/loyalty foundation and the harm/care foundation.  Similarly, patriotism and identification with one’s country is a blend of concern about loyalty to one’s group and care for those group members.  Libertarians score lower on the moral foundations questionnaire on both the ingroup and harm foundations.  My hypothesis would be that for libertarians, identification with country is more a function of group loyalty rather than care for other group members (see Ayn Rand’s virtue of selfishness).  Indeed, the correlation between Moral Foundations Questionnaire-Ingroup scores and Identification with Country scores are higher for libertarians than for every other group (r=.56 for libertarians, .37 for conservatives and .38 for liberals).  I would speculate that the fact that libertarian patriotism is more loyalty than care based is the reason why libertarian patriotism is more highly related to pro-war/anti-peace attitudes.  More on libertarians to come as I’m working on a paper on libertarian psychology.

– Ravi Iyer

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