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.

6 comments:

Matt said...

I think you should take up that idea about the role of minorities with Joe Feagin. It strikes me as the sort of illiberal view of organizing politics that makes Zionism vital.

Taming Korach said...

Mr. Avishai,

I saw some of your statements on the J Street broadcast and I was a bit angered that you arrogantly dismissed the large numbers of haredi and srugi Jews who live in Jerusalem. I myself am an American who converted and live in Jerusalem. You forget that it is because of the Holocaust that secular Jews are the defacto representatives of the Jewish People today. It is from lack of appreciation and understanding from which you belittle the religious population of the most significant city in the world.

Y. Ben-David said...

Mr Taming Korach-
You have to understand that Dr Avishai realizes that he has lost the argument in Israel. The party that is closest to his views, HADASH, has 4 seats in the Knesset out of 120 and has never been included in a governing coalition and receives the majority of its votes from Arab voters who have a very different agenda than he does.

Thus, he has given up trying to influence Israel from within, so he is taking his "Hebrew Republic" and his plans for creating a split in Israel between the "Judeans" (including the Orthodox you mentioned) and what he calls "the Israelis" (the secular Ashkenazi elite) to America in order to try to get the US goverment and American Jewry to support his plans to threaten the "Israelis" in order to mobilize them to move against "the Judeans", which as Dr Avishai has stated, they won't do unless faced with punitive sanctions. This will never happen, of course, but I hope this clarifies things.

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