American Jews and Jewish AmericaAt the heart of the conflict is the relationship between Israel and America. The statistics – billions in aid and loans, UN vetoes, etc., etc. need not be repeated here - American support for Israel seems limitless. But what is the nature of this support? For many, perhaps most, the answer is relatively simple. Israel is a client state of America, serving American interests or, more particularly, the interests of its power elites. This view is underpinned by the obvious importance of oil, the huge strategic importance of the region and the fact that, if Israel did not further the interests of those who control America, then we can be sure America would not support Israel. Also, there is no doubt that, in the IDF, America has found a marvellously flexible and effective force, easily aroused and let loose whenever any group of Arabs get a little above themselves.
But is this the whole story? Does Israel really serve America’s interests and is their relationship wholly based on the sharing of these interests? Consider how much in terms of goodwill from other nations America loses by its support for Israel, and consider the power and influence of the “Jewish”, “Zionist” or “pro-Israel” lobby, as when many an otherwise responsible lawmaker, faced with the prospect of an intervention in their re-election campaign from the Jewish lobby, seems happy to put his or her re-election prospects way in front of what is good for America.
The details of the workings of AIPAC and others, and the mechanics by which these groups exert pressure on America’s lawmakers and governors, have been dealt with elsewhere; we need only note that this interest group is undoubtedly extraordinarily effective and successful. Not just a small group of Jews supporting Israel, as its supporters would have us believe, these are powerful and committed ideologues: billionaires, media magnates, politicians, activists and religious leaders. In any event, the power of the Jewish lobby to make or break pretty well any public figure is legendary – not for nothing is it often referred to simply as “The Lobby”.
But again, there may be far more to the Israel/U.S. relationship than just a commonality of interest and the effectiveness of certain interest groups. That support for Israel must be in the interests of those who control America is certainly true, but who controls America? Perhaps the real relationship is not between Israel and America but between Jews and America.
The overwhelming majority of Jews in America live their lives just like any other Americans. They’ve done well and are undoubtedly pleased that America supports their fellow Jews in Israel but that’s as far as it goes. Nonetheless, an awful lot of Jews certainly do control an awful lot of America – not the industrial muscle of America - the steel, transport, etc., nor the oil and arms industries, those traditional money-spinners. No, if Jews have influence anywhere in America, it’s not over its muscle and sinew but over its blood and its brain. It is in finance and the media that we find a great many Jews in very influential positions. Lists abound (though you have to go to some pretty unpopular websites to find them) of Jews, prominent in financial and cultural life: Jews in banks; Jews in Forbes Magazine’s Richest Americans; Jews in Hollywood; Jews in TV; Jewish journalists, writers, critics, etc., etc.
Nor have Jews been slow in exploiting their position. Jews have not hesitated to use whatever resources they have to advance their interests as they see them. Nor does one need to subscribe to any conspiracy theory to note how natural it is for Jews in the media to promote Jews and their values as positive and worthy of emulation. When did anyone last see a Jew portrayed in anything other than a favourable light? Jews are clever, moral, interesting, intense, warm, witty, complex, ethical, contradictory, prophetic, infuriating, sometimes irritating, but always utterly engaging. Nor is it any wonder that Jews in influential positions are inclined to promote what they see as Jewish collective interests. Is it really all that incredible that Jewish advisers around the Presidency bear Israel’s interests at heart when they advise the President on foreign affairs?
But so what? So there are a lot of Jews with a lot of money, and a lot of Jews with a lot to say and the means to say it. If Jews by virtue of their ability and use of resources (as honestly gained as by anyone else) promote what they perceive as their own collective interest, what’s wrong with that? First, with some notable exceptions, the vast majority of Jews can, in good faith, lay hands on hearts and swear that they never take decisions or actions with collective Jewish interests in mind, certainly not consciously. And even if they did, they are acting no differently from anyone else. With a few exceptions, Jews have earned their advantageous positions. They came with nothing, played according to the rules and, if they use their influence to further what they perceive as Jewish interests, what’s so special about that? Do not the Poles, the Ukrainians, the Gun lobby, the Christian Evangelicals also not work to further their group interests?
The difference between Jews and other groups is that they probably do it better. Jews are, by pretty well any criteria, easily the most successful ethnic group in America and, for whatever reason, have been extraordinarily successful in promoting themselves both individually and collectively. And there would probably be nothing wrong with this were it not for the fact that these same people who exert so much control and influence over American life also seem to refuse to be held accountable. It is the surreptitiousness with which Jews are perceived to have achieved their success which arouses suspicion. Jews certainly seem cagey about the influence they have. Just breathe the words “Jewish power” and wait for the reaction. They claim it’s because this charge has so often been used as a precursor to discrimination and violence against them, but never consider the possibility that their own reluctance to discuss the power they wield arouses suspicion and even hostility.
But there is another claim, subtler and more worrying. This is that it doesn’t exist; that Jews do not wield power, that there is no Jewish lobby; that Jews in America do not exert power and influence to advance Jewish interests, even that there are no such things as Jewish interests! There are no Jewish interests in the war in Iraq, there are no Jewish interests in America; most amazing, there are no Jewish interests even in Israel and Palestine. There is no Jewish collective. Jews do not act together to advance their aims. They even say that the pro-Israeli lobby has actually not all that much to do with Jews, that the Jewishness of Israel is irrelevant and the Public Affairs Committees (PACs) which lobby so hard for Israel are in fact doing no more than supporting an ally and thus looking after America’s best interests even to the extent of concealing their true purpose behind names such as “American for Better Citizenship”, “Citizen’s Organised PAC” or the “National PAC” – none of which make one reference in their titles to Israel, Zionism or Jews. Similarly, Jews and Jewish organisations are said to be not so much furthering Jewish interests and values as American, or, even, universal interests and values. So, the major Holocaust Museum, styled as a “Museum of Tolerance”, focuses not only on anti-Semitism, but on every kind of intolerance known to mankind (except that shown by Jews to non-Jews in Israel and Palestine). Similarly, the Anti-Defamation League is but an organisation for the promotion of universal principles of tolerance and justice, not just for Jews but for everyone.
This conflation of Jewish interests with American interests is nowhere more stark than in present American foreign policy. If ever an image was reminiscent of a Jewish world conspiracy, the spectacle of the Jewish neo-cons gathered around the current presidency and directing policy in the Middle East, this must be it. But we are told that the fact that the Jewish neo-cons, many with links with right wing political groups within Israel, are in the forefront of urging a pro-Israel policy, is but a coincidence, and any suggestion that these figures might be influenced by their Jewishness and their links with Israel is immediately marginalised as reviving old anti-Semitic myths about Jewish dual loyalty. The idea that American intervention in Iraq, the one viable military counterweight to Israeli hegemony in the Middle East and therefore an inspiration to Arab and Palestinian resistance, primarily serves Israeli rather than American interests has also been consigned to the nether world of mediaeval anti-Semitic myth. The suggestion that those Jews around the president act from motives other than those to promote the interests of all Americans is just anti-Semitic raving. And maybe they’re right. Perhaps those who promote Jewish interests are in fact promoting American interests because, for now at least, they appear to be one and the same.
Jewish AmericaIn Washington, D.C. is a memorial to a terrible tragedy. Not a memorial to a tragedy visited on Americans by a foreign power as at Pearl Harbour or 9/11, nor to a tragedy visited by Americans on Americans such the sacking of Atlanta. Nor is it a memorial of contrition to a tragedy inflicted by Americans onto another people, such as to slavery or to the history of racial injustice in America. It is to none of these. The Holocaust memorial is to a tragedy inflicted on people who were not Americans, by people who were not Americans, and in a place a very long way from America. And the co-religionists or, even, if you like, the co-nationals, of the people on whom the tragedy was visited and to whom the memorial is built make up around two percent of the American population. How is it that a group of people who make up such a tiny percentage of the overall American population can command such respect and regard that a memorial to them is built in the symbolic heart of American national life?
The Jewish narrative is now at the centre of American life, certainly that of its cultural and political elites. There is, anyway, much in the way that Americans choose to see themselves and their history which is quite naturally compatible with the way Jews see themselves and their history. What more fitting paradigm for a country founded on immigration, than the story of the mass immigration of Jews at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? For many Americans, the story of those Jews who came to their Goldenes Medina, their Golden Land, with nothing and, through hard work and perseverance, made it to the very top of American society, is also their story. And what could be more inspirational for a country, if not officially but still viscerally, deeply Christian than the story of the Jews, Jesus' own people and God's chosen people, returning to their ancient homeland and transforming it into a modern state. And for a nation which sees itself as a beacon of democracy in the world, what better international soul-mate than the state of Israel, widely held to be "the only democracy in the Middle-East"? Finally what greater validation for a country itself founded on a narrative of conquest and ethnic cleansing than the Biblical narrative of the conquest and ethnic cleansing of the Promised Land with the addition of the equally violent settlement of modern Palestine with its own ethnic cleansing and then "making the desert bloom"?
Most resonant, of course, is the notion of Jews as a suffering people. The fact that this “suffering people” is now enjoying a success beyond the dreams of any other ethnic group in America seems irrelevant. Also ignored is how American Jews have made it to the very top of American society whilst, every step of the way, complaining about how much they’re being discriminated against. Nonetheless, to America, Jews have an enduring and ongoing history of suffering and victimhood. But this history has rarely been examined or even discussed.