There is a justifiable uproar over the fact that Eric Cantor, the Republican whip, has pledged his party's greater allegiance to Netanyahu than Obama [quotes below]. Andrew Sullivan calls it a "scandal." Jim Traub at Foreign Policy asks, "Did Bibi win the midterms?" and then picks up a statement Cantor--"the leading GOP voice on Israel"--made on talk radio:
Cantor said that "it is very controversial" to "slam our ally, Israel," adding that "most Americans understand that Israel's security is synonymous with America's security." Actually, it's extraordinary to think that any country's security can be "synonymous" with that of the United States...
Glenn Greenwald lands on the declaration, too.
I'll quote Greenwald in a moment, but I want to get to my slight irritation with the coverage. Does it matter that Cantor is Jewish? All the commenters step around this fact. (Except Laura Rozen: Cantor "is set to become the highest ranking Jewish member of Congress in history.") They don't want to feed anti-Semitism; some of them are Jews, they obviously believe that you can be Jewish and American and not be biased toward Israel. And that's true, you can.
But I think his Jewishness is relevant. Whenever an article praises Cantor for his support of Israel, they like to point out that he is only Jewish GOP member of Congress. And I bet that if any one of these writers told you about Cantor's siding with Netanyahu over a drink, they'd mention his Jewishness. It would be like talking about about political opposition to stem-cell research without referring to evangelical Christians.
Are there evangelical Christians who support stem-cell research? I'm sure. But the politics of the question have a strong religious component; and journalists make generalizations, justifiably. And Zionism (whatever its imperial or Christian veneers) is a religiously-borne ideology.
I can't wait till Jewish attitudes here are diverse. They are not now. Zionism captured Jewish life 40-70 years ago; Dershowitz says that it is the sacred mission of Jews to defend Israel. This is an invocation that I and every other Jew has heard. As J Street proclaimed the other day, "a deep commitment to Israel...[is] interwoven deep in the soul of American Jewish political identity." I agree, lamentably. It's woven, and the only way we will unweave it is to acknowledge its prominent presence. And as to dual loyalty, Eric Alterman and John Judis both explained that dual loyalty is part of support for Zionism. So did the anti-Zionist Rabbi Elmer Berger 70 years ago. So did Herzl's rich English hosts 110 years ago when they told him to get lost, they were doing fine in England.
And the reason it's vital to talk about these things now is that you can't unpack the disastrous American decision to invade Iraq or the push now to go to war with Iran (or indeed the unending support for Israeli colonization of the West Bank, or the defeat of the right of return in the 40s and 50s when American presidents were demanding the return of the refugees) without talking about the lobby and the construction of Jewish identity. I submit that not acknowledging the Jewish piece of this is a kind of forcible political stupidity that inhibits genuine understanding. But here is Greenwald:
[Cantor] vowed that he and his GOP colleagues would protect and defend Israeli interests against his own Government. According to a statement proudly issued by Cantor's own office:
"Regarding the midterms, Cantor may have given Netanyahu some reason to stand firm against the American administration.
"Eric stressed that the new Republican majority will serve as a check on the Administration and what has been, up until this point, one party rule in Washington," the readout continued. "He made clear that the Republican majority understands the special relationship between Israel and the United States, and that the security of each nation is reliant upon the other."
Leave aside the absurdity of believing that Israel needs to be protected from the extremely deferential and devoted Obama administration. So extraordinary is Cantor's pledge that even the Jewish Telegraph Agency's Ron Kampeas -- himself a reflexive American defender of most things Israel -- was astonished, and wrote:
"I can't remember an opposition leader telling a foreign leader, in a personal meeting, that he would side, as a policy, with that leader against the president. Certainly, in statements on one specific issue or another -- building in Jerusalem, or somesuch -- lawmakers have taken the sides of other nations. But to have-a-face to face and say, in general, we will take your side against the White House -- that sounds to me extraordinary."