Friday, October 23, 2009

American Jewish Power: A Clarification

In a previous post, I wrote this:

In other words, the key to AIPAC's emergence was a Manichean view from America; the fight against the Evil Empire, or since 9/11, the clash of civilizations. In this drama, Israel became cast as America's biggest regional aircraft carrier. AIPAC has succeeded by staying close to American hardliners, arguing against pressuring Israel (to give up territory, to stop settlements, etc.) for the same reason a basketball coach will not foolishly demoralize his slightly brazen power-forward. At the center of the argument was a way of thinking about American hegemony in a dangerous world.

YOU CAN SAY that AIPAC was misguided, that it’s even become a pernicious force, but you can't deny that it got its strategic premises ordered properly. One cannot just assume that the Congress will care what Jews want. One has to start with America's foreign policy strategy and then apply its logic to the Middle East. Crucially, this means building coalitions with non-Jews as well, as any watcher of FOX News can see.


In response, Philip Weiss has written a long, thoughtful post taking issue with the statement that "Congress will care what Jews want." I won't try to reproduce his arguments; you can read them here.

What I should have said, perhaps, is that Congresspeople cannot respond to Jews, or indeed, any ethnic or national sub-group in America, apart from the ways they are presumed to inform or contribute to the common good of Americans as a whole. Jews are powerful, alright, but (much as Phil shows) because of the ways they enrich America's view of itself. This must also be true of the ways Jews inform foreign policy decisions. I thought the point was self-evident; with interest group and identity politics so second nature these days, the point is sometimes lost.