Reading David Brooks column in the NY Times on Friday December 28, 2007, I was intrigued by his list of articles worth reading. Brooks is one of the few conservative columnists that occasionally lapses into sanity. I am reading one of his choices, “The Usual Suspect” in the New Republic, by Jeffrey Goldberg. The article deconstructs the new book by Mearsheimer and Walt, “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy.” The book claims that the Israel lobby, or US Jews, control American foreign policy and have lead the US to several wars over the last fifty years.
I’ll let Goldberg’s article speak for itself. What I’m interested in is how antisemitism is ‘in’ again, as it was for most of the 20th Century, until about the mid-60’s. During the War the US government refused to bomb concentration camps, refused to cut off arms and industrial exports to Nazi Germany until December 9, 1941, and refused to confirm reports of death camps and atrocities reported widely abroad and even in the NY Times. The OSS and the State Department refused to employ Jews in high level positions. The CIA and State Departments continued this tradition until well into the 1960’s.
I learned first hand how antisemitism is ‘in’ again when confronted by one of my best friends at a dinner party a few weeks ago. Didn’t I know, for instance, that the Jews generally and the Rothschild family in particular were responsible for 9/11? Well, I said, I must have missed that one, hoping he would drop the subject. I told him that this was just another one those old tropes built up out of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I was informed that blaming it on the ‘old’ antisemitic tracts was a cop out, and that I had an obligation to argue with him that Jews were not responsible for 9/11. This approach, that one is required to engage with and argue with these ridiculous right-wing conspiracy theories, is one of the themes of modern conservative web sites. But I also realized that my friend had read this somewhere recently: it was a new way of describing old antisemitic views.
The irony of all this is that today Israel has no significant lobby in the US except among right-wing Christian conservatives who see Israel as important to their post-Apocalyptic left-behind fantasy theories, and few diehard Jewish Israel supporters like Joe Lieberman. The broad-based Israel lobby of liberal North American Jews is gone.
When I was a boy Israeli charities always had collections at the synagogue and at various Jewish events. At Halloween, children collected money for Israel in little blue boxes, instead of candy. No more. Most Jews in North America and Europe are disgusted with the right-wing Israeli government of Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netayahu and their racist and imperialist policies. This is not our Israel and we have no obligation to support it, and we don’t. In the years after Israeli independence, the country was largely supported by charitable donations from Jews abroad. That is not true today, and hasn’t been for years. My synagogue has not had a call for donations for Israeli charities that I can remember.
American Jews, to answer that tirade, do not buttonhole their Congressmen to support Israel. Of course, Americans expect the US to remain an ally and to the be the military supporter of last resort. But there is no significant Jewish lobby in support of the current Israeli government, at least not in a financial sense (which is what counts.)
I am more concerned about how the new antisemitism will be used, like the old one, to discriminate against, objectify, and exclude American Jews as my friends tried to do. We will have to go back to only socializing with other Jews? Since I live in Seattle, that is a pretty narrow demographic. Still, I’m not going to try and explain why Baron Philippe De Rothschild is not a threat to American (our waistlines maybe) security.