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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

May 09, 2003

Jew-Haters Search For Signs of Intrigue

During the Terror War, Jew-hating floated to the surface like a dead fish. Anti-war demonstrators in France waved signs that read "Vive Chirac. Stop the Jews." It was the fashion to blame such outbursts on France’s large North African immigrant population, yet it’s not fair to scold poor Algerians when a French diplomat called Israel a "shitty little country." Where the beau monde leads, the canaille will follow.

On this side of the pond, anti-warriors from the Maureen Dowd left to the paleocon right harped on the malign influence of Paul Wolfowitz and William Kristol. The assistant secretary of defense and the editor of The Weekly Standard, it seems, were behind every scene, in the best tradition of sinister ventriloquist Yids going back through Svengali to the Jew of Malta. For inveterate Bush-haters, surely there is conspiracy gridlock here. Isn’t Vice President Dick Cheney the channel of commands to the dull-witted Texan from Halliburton, Bechtel and the rest of the military-industrial complex? Or is there a hierarchy of manipulation, in which Jews trump corporations? William Kristol’s powers are truly amazing. During the 2000 campaign, he was a pro-McCain zealot who did more than anyone outside the Florida Supreme Court to keep George W. Bush out of the White House. Now he’s his puppeteer. If Howard Dean wins the 2004 election, look for the stories 18 months later about how William Kristol is pulling his strings.

The hunt for the Jew behind the arras is related to the notion that entourages run leaders: Mr. Cheney, Mr. Kristol or whoever rules George W. Bush, just as Dick Morris ruled Bill Clinton and Henry Kissinger ruled Richard Nixon. In fact, anyone who climbs the greasy pole of ambition is avid to rule himself and those around him. The notion that big egos like Mr. Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell take orders from anyone other than their own egos is ridiculous, as is the notion that Mr. Bush takes orders from them. A few months ago, I wrote a piece on Mr. Bush for The Atlantic Monthly. The best quotation I got unfortunately came after the piece appeared, from a former Bush speechwriter. "Bush," he said, "is a prick." He meant it as description, not judgment. As Thoreau urged, Bush "step[s] to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."

But these days, the hunt for Jewish influence is a special case. The tensions and the strategic value of the Middle East draw attention to it, to our policies and to our policy-makers.

Those who hunt for influential American Jews draw justification from the sympathies of American Jews themselves. In his farewell address, George Washington warned America against partiality toward foreign countries. "The Nation, which indulges towards another an habitual hatred, or an habitual fondness, is to some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest." Washington, in 1796, was thinking of the French Revolution and the ideological passions it had produced in this country. But as America became a magnet for immigrants, Americans took stands on foreign policy based on ethnic affinities. The Irish Catholic diaspora supported Irish independence with money, weapons and, on one occasion, an unsuccessful plot to invade Canada. German-Americans in the upper Midwest were reluctant to enter World War I against the Vaterland. WASPs, redefined by immigration as an ethnic group, felt the tug of Anglophilia. Mrs. Bridge, Evan Connell’s Kansas City matron, lands at Southampton and has a Molly Bloom moment on the train to London. "Yes, she said to herself slowly, yes, I was here before." The same pressures touch the same chords in American Jews.

If the ideal of passionless discussion of foreign policy is utopian, we must still evaluate the passions that foreign countries arouse. If American Jews are disposed, more than non-Jewish Americans, to support Israel, what kind of country are they disposed to support?

I see no self-evident justification for Zionism, or for any other form of nationalist state-building. Jews, it is argued, needed a country of their own after the Holocaust. Yet the Zionist movement preceded the Holocaust by decades, and millions of post-Holocaust Jews feel no need to move to Israel. Catastrophes like the Holocaust, or the potato famine, are symbols of national longing, not causes.

Ethnic affinity is assumed to be a sufficient basis for nationhood. But who defines the affinity, and how far do they push their claim? Why is Corsica a part of France? Why is Sicily a part of Italy? Why is the South a part of the United States? Many ethnicities do not rouse themselves to nationhood; others are violently blocked. Neither race, nor language, nor religion is destiny, where political independence is concerned. Destiny is what we make of it.

Every nation or would-be nation must then be judged by its track record. The facts must be submitted to a candid world. Israel is a republican government, with elections and rights. It has maintained both through the pressure of repeated wars. Israel did not "deserve" to exist before it was created, but it deserves its existence by its behavior. When its interests are in sync with ours, it deserves our support.

The various Palestinian liberation movements and the Palestinian Authority have their own track record, and it is not good. They use terror to achieve their goals, and Yasir Arafat’s proto-state is a thugocracy. To the extent the Palestinian people support these methods, they are implicated in the immorality—though it is hard to know exactly what Palestinians think, given their dictatorial regime. Palestinians may change what they think. That is supposed to be a way station on the much-discussed road map. Maybe the appointment of Mahmoud Abbas, the new prime minister, is a portent.

America takes on the tones of those who live here. Carl Jung wrote of "the slightly Negroid mannerisms" of white Americans. By now, gentile Americans are probably slightly Jewish—more ironic, more skeptical than they once were. But the influence works both ways. Blacks, Jews, Catholics and all the other minorities who live here are different from their counterparts in other countries, and sometimes those differences seep back to their fellows abroad. America now has millions of Middle Eastern Muslim immigrants. Can it have any positive effect on them or on their homelands? This is a more important question than who is in William Kristol’s phone book.