Wednesday, July 27, 2011

America first

We know about Anthony Weiner's empty seat because we know far too much about what was going on in his pants, not because his former district is in fact the recognized and objective center of the universe. But of course the fact that a district with an especially high percentage of especially not-so-assimilated (whether b/c elderly or Orthodox) is one in which Israel policy is a key election issue is now taken to mean (well done as always, NYT commenters) that good ol' 'merican politics are being controlled by Jewish puppeteers. (Because, when I visit my grandmother - who's Canadian, we can leave her out of this - in Midwood, surely the signs in Hebrew letters mean Israel's the 51st state. Or maybe those in Russian mean the commies are taking over?) "It's unbelievable to me that Israel comes first to these constituents. We live in the United States & you're loyalty should be to America first." You're loyalty had better be to English and not Hebrew, or else who knows the grammatical errors that might ensue! "America FIRST and ONLY!" writes another.

And the winner:

Geez, heavens forbid that U.S. elections and policies were ever about their own communities and what's best for American citizens. But it's always about how to marginalize and humiliate Palestinians further by groveling to the whims of Israel - a state clearly on the wrong side of history. As a bonus, it's somehow anti-Semitic to point out that Israel and influential American Jews have control over U.S. foreign policy even though it's fairly evident that they do.
Geez indeed. How dare voters choosing a representative of their bit of Brooklyn or Queens think of parochial concerns, concerns particular to themselves, and not what's best for the whole of (Real) America? It can't possibly be that these voters - who, insofar as they are voters, are American citizens, not somehow individuals in America outrageously permitted to vote in elections for who shall govern the real American citizens - think that it's best for America as a whole, but also the bit of America that they comprise, same as all Americans comprise bits not ideologically representative of the country as a whole, to vote, in all likelihood in part, on the basis of a candidate's Israel policy. Yuck, yuck, yuck, and I say this as someone who's in favor of trusting Obama to bring peace to the region.


Anonymous said...

Of course any American can decide to vote on whatever basis they like but if as a voter your number one (or two) issue is the welfare of a foreign country then it becomes a lot more difficult to claim that the whole "dual loyalty" label is just a slander.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Oh, Anonymous. The reason "dual loyalty" is an expression with a reputation as being slanderous is that it's not typically applied just to specific Jews voting/donating specific ways wrt Israel, but rather to "the Jews," as in, "the Jews" are not loyal Americans, b/c some American Jews care too much about Israel.

But even if, Anonymous blog-commenter, you're careful to distinguish between "some" and "the," the question remains: if a voter thinks supporting Israel (by however they're defining "support") is positive or even neutral wrt the welfare of the U.S., then it becomes just like any other issue of relevance to only a limited number of Americans. Thus... interest-groups. This is like blaming someone for voting Republican because of abortion when they really should Think of America and vote Democratic for the economy.

Furthermore, if American Jews believe their lives in America benefit from the existence of a Jewish state, that the world at large benefits from the existence of a Jewish state, that Jews worldwide... etc., unless they think supporting Israel hurts America, what's the big deal? It's not even so much about the "welfare" of Israel for Israelis' sakes, but about how certain Israel policy fits with the desires of these American voters, i.e. a subset of American citizens. Again, unless they think voting pro-Israel harms America - if you do, then by all means, you should vote for the candidate least supportive of Israel, all things equal.

Oh, and consider the overall point of my post: this is one district in part of Brooklyn and Queens, being highlighted in the NYT not because voters there Control America, but because a) the paper does local news, and b) that area's former congressman happened to like tweeting his genitals and has an amusingly apt name for someone with that preference.

CW said...

I'm always struck in these conversations how odd it is that Jewish voters are singled out for attack. American citizens from a variety of ethnic backgrounds have particular interest in and affinities for various countries. Cuban exiles in Florida from whom relations with Castro are particularly important and Irish Americans donating to the IRA are two of the obvious examples. An Armenian friend in college was an American citizen who was very interested in this country's relationships with Turkey and Armenia, and chose which politicians to support in part based on those issues. This week, I discovered how strongly I identify with Norway (despite having much less of a connection than Britta or some members of my family).

Those sorts of "dual loyalties" (I don't that's an accurate term but haven't bothered coming up with another) are a familiar and long-standing aspect of American society. The singling out of Jewish citizens suggests to me that anti-semitism is a factor. Also, more generally, I find the accusations of disloyalty over-wrought and inaccurate. We've seen so many of these accusations in our short history, and they have proven to be wrong on many occasions.

Anonymous said...

Amen to Phoebe and CW. I recall cringing when a college friend referred to those of us with apparent ethnic roots as "hypenated Americans." No political context there, just a put down that still rankles after 30 plus years. JM

eamonnmcdonagh said...

Whenever there are national elections in Italy or Spain, the streets of Buenos Aires are plastered with posters encouraging the many, many Argentines with the relevant passport to vote for this or that party. In the case of Italy, Italian Argentines have even been elected to the Italian parliament.

Funnily enough, Argentines with Spanish or Italian roots and passports are never ever accused of divided loyalty, unlike a certain ethno-religious group I could mention

PG said...

Those sorts of "dual loyalties" (I don't that's an accurate term but haven't bothered coming up with another) are a familiar and long-standing aspect of American society. The singling out of Jewish citizens suggests to me that anti-semitism is a factor.

I think singling out Jewish citizens for "special interests" probably is motivated by anti-Semitism, but I'd note that there's a slight distinction between being a Cuban-American, and being a Jewish American -- as distinct from an Israeli-American. Isn't the position of most American Jews (whose pre-U.S. origins are generally not from the Holy Land, but generally from Europe) relating to Israel rather more comparable to the Catholic American's position relating to the Vatican? And certainly Catholic Americans got plenty of accusations of not being genuinely loyal to the U.S. Remember JFK's having to explicitly disclaim any interest in taking policy direction from the Pope.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


It's somewhere between Cuba and the Vatican, but probably closer to the former. I mean, I'm rather far from Israeli-American, but even I have relatives in Israel; for French Jews, it's my understanding that that's almost a given. My family's pre-U.S. ethnic national origin was... Jewish, because that was how it went for Jews in the less-emancipated bits of Europe. And, the particular Jewish civilization they came from was destroyed. So while the Jewish state is in not geographically where my family's from, and while I feel no particular attachment to the idea that my ancestors were or were not ancient Hebrews, and while as an atheist I certainly feel no religious ties to "the Holy Land," I do see Israel as the state that goes with (for lack of a better phrase) the hyphenated bit of my identity. (This is all very first-person, I realize, but I'm assuming other secular Jews - including those highly critical of Israel - are in the same boat. Meanwhile, you get some super-religious Diaspora Jews not identifying with Israel, so it's not quite how it goes with Catholics.)

David Schraub said...

Evangelical Christians often are urged to lobby (and, at least in part, vote) on behalf of various regimes in other countries based on the premise that those countries are friendly to Christians and Christian principles.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Looks like we all (well, except Anonymous) agree that this is fairly straightforwardly anti-Semitic. So now let's all take a look back at the NYT thread, not only at the offending comments but the number of "recommends" they receive. Damn!

Anonymous said...

Re: D.S. Some (I hope not most) evangelical Christians support Israel because they believe that Jerusalem will be the site of the End Times. Of course, part of their myth includes the conversion of the Jews or their eradication. I wouldn't say they are pro-Jewish or pro-Jewish state, would you? JM