Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Blaming the America Lobby

Those in the more conservative, traditional wings of the pro-Israel community are being joined by a progressive pro-Israel movement. Forged in an era where Israel's prolonged existence was far more uncertain than it is now, the traditional school of thought prioritizes strength through unity. Considering Israel's position after only 61 years, they clearly had something right. But in this age where Israel's threats are more complex and challenging than ever, the multitude of ideas which comes from a diverse American pro-Israel community can only be an asset to a state facing threats both internal and external.

Among the more radical of these traditionalists are those who argue that American progressive Jewry has simply become assimilated. These traditionalists, a number of whom are Israeli and without significant background in the American Jewish culture, assume that American Jews who support a settlement freeze simply care more about being politically correct (i.e. the American interest) than supporting Israel.

Firstly, this is blatantly false. The only reason a settlement freeze benefits the US is because it benefits Israel. Because freezing settlements improves Israel's security and negotiating posture, it indirectly benefits America's ability secure military and economic stability to the volatile region. Progressives do not see this as a case of supporting the U.S. over Israel, they see it as a case where both states' interests align.

Secondly, it is irresponsible for traditional pro-Israelis to frame the issue as being pro-US versus pro-Israel. While traditional pro-Israelis warn progressives that their comments may be used as fuel by anti-Israel groups, some of the same traditionalists seem to have no problem painting anyone who disagrees with them as unloyal. These accusations are to Israel and Judaism's detriment. But the armchair generals of the talkbacks section see progressives as too taken in by the clawless tiger of political correctness to realize that they must stand up for Israel no matter what.

This strategy hurts all Jews, and it hurts Israel.

For centuries, Jews have been accused of holding duel loyalties. For this, we were stripped of citizenship, denied basic rights, relegated to second-class status. Our growth as a community in America arose from our ability to be both Americans and ardent supporters of Israel.

Among those who fail to understand the complexity of the American Jewish relationship with Israel are Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer in their "Israel Lobby" article. The heart of the misunderstanding was less what the article said and more what it didn't say. The implication, as read from the prism of the Jewish experience in the 20th century, was that members of the Israel Lobby cared more about Israel than about America's interests. Why else, the authors argue, would they have supported initiatives like the war in Iraq so strongly? Needless to say, the article was widely panned by experts in the field.

However, the "Israel Lobby" shows that the canard of Jewish dual loyalty haunts us in 2009. It is a real phenomenon. But traditionalists have created a reciprocal spectre: The "America Lobby," a group of progressive Jews who secretly like the U.S. more than Israel and want it to fail. Like its predecessor, this pseudo-phenomenon is poorly substantiated and overlooks the simplest reading of the facts.

That this canard is propagated by Jews against other Jews is truly a shame.

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