The totalitarian reign of Sheldon Adelson

US Politics
on 12 Comments

Here are three fresh items about the power of the Israel lobby in United States politics.

1. On Thursday night at the New America Foundation in NY– a liberal Democratic space, I’d emphasize– a spillover crowd of more than 100 heard a Palestinian photographer and an Israeli human rights activist describe atrocities in Gaza last summer, and a woman with friends in Israel rose to ask if we are approaching a “tipping point” in which American Jews finally get it and don’t “drink the Koolaid” anymore.

Moderator Peter Beinart responded pessimistically:

“We don’t have our own Sheldon Adelson. And a lot of people can change their minds, but given the dominance of money in American politics, a small number of people’s voices can drown out even a majority.”

2. The New York Times ran two pieces in the last two days about the gay NY hotelier couple who got in hot water for hosting a gathering for Texas senator and presidential hopeful Ted Cruz, who opposes LGBT civil rights. The couple’s bad decision was motivated by Israel; but each article in the NYT mentions Israel only once. Here are the two references:

–“A Dinner with Ted Cruz Shines Unwelcome Spotlight on…” by Jacob Bernstein:

“[Ian Reisner] said the dinner with Mr. Cruz was not a fund-raiser, but a chance for the senator to meet their business partner Sam Domb, a holocaust survivor who has raised considerable funds for pro-Israel politicians.”

–“Gay Hotelier Who Hosted Ted Cruz Made a Campaign Donation, too,” by Maggie Haberman and Jacob Bernstein

“Reisner told the New York Times in a statement that he wrote the $2,700 check to Cruz to ‘show my support for his work on behalf of Israel.’ The gay hotelier noted he asked the campaign to return his money once he ‘realized his donation could be misconstrued as supporting his anti-gay marriage agenda.’”

(By the way, here is more about the book Reisner’s friend Sam Domb is holding, and his story, from dishwasher-to-hotelier and friend of Israel.)

Mati Weiderpass, Senator Ted Cruz, Sam Domb and Ian Reisner. photo in NYT, via Kalman Sporn

Mati Weiderpass, Senator Ted Cruz, Sam Domb and Ian Reisner. photo in NYT, via Kalman Sporn

3. The indefatigable Eli Clifton dug up video of a wild performance that Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens made last year. I think he pours lighter fluid over his guitar at the end and lights it up, I didn’t get that far, but there’s this riff from Stephens about Israel and US support for it:

Thank God I was born a Jew because otherwise I’d be a raging anti-Semite… [be]cause I tear my hair out all the time at my fellow Jews. But rare is it in history that we’ve been blessed to live in a country where we can say anything we want and actually get away with it. And it is a scandal, it seems to me, if we fail to live up to the promise of our American citizenship to do all we can to assure the survival of the Jewish state and the Jewish people.

Clifton then comments that, per Beinart and his questioner in item 1, most American Jews support President Obama over Israeli Premier Netanyahu, and Stephens is engaging an anti-Semitic trope of dual loyalty:

Stephens isn’t just comparing his anger and frustration with Jewish liberals (who comprise the mainstream of American Jewry) to the bigotry of anti-Semites. He’s also stoking an anti-Semitic trope that Jews can never be entirely loyal to their country of citizenship because they should dedicate themselves at least as much to Israel’s security. Which of course begs the question of what U.S. Jews should do in the event that U.S. security interests (or values) conflict with those of Israel (presumably as defined by Stephens or Netanyahu).

I have a different take from Clifton and Beinart.

The lobby is systemic and reflects a consensus. The problem goes beyond Sheldon Adelson’s billions to a general Jewish community passivity with respect to Israel’s human rights abuses, a passivity that only Jewish Voice for Peace is really battling, though New Israel Fund and Americans for Peace Now and J Street help out sometimes. And the New America Foundation is hosting some excellent events to smash the consensus.

That consensus is totalitarian. Last week in Detroit, the Jewish leadership shut out two Zionist organizations, Americans for Peace Now and Partners for a Progressive Israel, from the annual Israel Walk because they’re critical of Israel. Beinart himself has repeatedly attacked the American Jewish leadership for being more concerned about the rightwing Israeli government’s concerns than the views of the American Jewish rank and file.

Blindness is fostered. Clifton wonders what US Jews would do in the event US security interests and values conflict with Israel’s. But they have conflicted for decades. When Harry Truman said I believe in the separation of church and state as a fundamental principle of democracy, and then signed off on the creation of Israel, he was having his arm twisted in a way that the Jewish community here has denied forever.

Of course the consensus has a lot to do with the Jewish response to Sam Domb’s experience of the Holocaust. But issues of American Jewish identification with Israel’s interests are now deeply embedded in Jewish education and the very structure of the American Jewish community. This is a crisis because as Sam Molnar said on that Detroit-area panel, the only way American Jews know how to be Jewish is by supporting Israel; while Tova Perlmutter said she lost a prospective job at a major Jewish organization just for saying she was against the occupation.

And as Bret Stephens commands, with less and less success, this is the job of being Jewish today, supporting Israel. Clifton bashes Stephens for an anti-Semitic trope, but the fact is that at least since Louis Brandeis’s declaration 100 years ago that Jews could be good Americans by being Zionists– a declaration made specifically to exonerate Jews of the dual loyalty charge, which was often vicious and anti-semitic — there has existed some confusion about whose side we need to be on in the crunch. This website actually grew out of that confusion: my own brother told me that his Jewish newspaper had written that the Iraq war could be good for Israel. And soon after I started blogging, John Judis wrote that the American Jewish leadership cultivated this confusion: “Many Jews now suffer from dual loyalty.” Sheldon Adelson has said that he regrets serving in the U.S. military and not Israel’s, and even a liberal Democrat, Eric Alterman, professed his dual loyalty and said he has no problem with a conflict of interests:

I was raised dually loyal my whole life… I think that bin Laden and 9/11 were to some degree inspired by U.S. support of Israel. I think a great deal of the terrorist attacks and the sort of pool of potential terrorists who want to attack the United States are inspired by the United States support for Israel. I’m not saying we shouldn’t support Israel for that reason. I’m saying, Dammit if that’s the price we have to pay, then I’m willing to pay it.
We need to unpack the Israel lobby. It pervades the Jewish community and is surely inherent in Zionism itself, a neocolonialist project that always required the support of a powerful nation. The Jewish community is ready to undertake this work. It would help if the media played an active part, to begin with by undertaking investigations of the power of the Adelson/Sabans, those donors for whom Israel is everything. What portion of Jewish campaign donations share that orientation? How is J Street doing raising liberal Zionist money? How much anti-Zionist Jewish giving is there? P.S. I’m a cockeyed optimist.
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12 Responses

  1. JWalters
    May 30, 2015, 6:03 pm

    The facts will determine a person’s thinking if the facts can get into their mind. Emotions can block facts, but only for so long if the facts are relentlessly present.

    Money will become a liability if it is seen to be serving deceptive, ulterior motives. The bigger the bully, swindler, etc, the more they will be despised when found out. This depends on the facts about their motives getting through. The ulterior motives need to be clearly specified and documented.

    Perhaps Mondoweiss could have a small set of articles selected to bring an uninformed person up to speed on the basic facts about Israel’s injustices. Such a “primer” would be useful to people just starting to really look into the issues. It could simplify and speed up the process of getting an accurate overview of the conflict. These primer articles could link to more detailed articles.

    Mondoweiss readers can also help by fanning out and posting comments with links to Mondoweiss articles at other websites, strategically chosen. These comments and links would, of course, always be clearly relevant to the article commented on. Such links would provide useful information, and bring other readers to appreciate Mondowess as a source of current information and analysis on the topic of Israel’s war.

  2. Shingo
    May 31, 2015, 5:48 pm

    , to begin with by undertaking investigations of the power of the Adelson/Sabans, those donors for whom Israel is everything

    Phil,

    I would be fascinated to hear your thoughts and others as to why Israel means everything to these individuals? Is it that the more powerful and wealthy Jews become, the more right wing and pro Israel they become? It seems that wherever there is pro Israeli pressure, there is an uber wealthy individual pulling the strings.

    Or is it that the likes of Adelson and Saban just happen to be wealthy and pro Israel by chance?

  3. Eva Smagacz
    June 1, 2015, 8:02 am

    Shingo, you ask “Why Israel means everything to these individuals?”

    I believe that this is totally a matter of early conditioning. If you are born in a family where certain “truths” are unquestionable, then it is ingrained so deeply in you limbic (emotional) brain, that no amount of processing in your neocortex (logical brain) from facts, data, information can overcome this.

    The imprinting in limbic brain has a social dimension – “it is a truth universally acknowledged” in your community.

    The more isolated your community, the more difficult it is to make inroads to you “truths” in your limbic brain, because those inroads are so conditioned on social connections.

    The way to change the conditioning is to access limbic brain with emotion.

    Hence “love bombing” used by cults, creating irrational boundaries by religious prohibitions that rely on mixture of fears of rejection from co-religionists and God(s): “can’t show face to strangers” “can’t share meals because its not halal/kosher” “Roman catholic must marry roman catholic” and my favourite: “wife must submit to husband”

    There are windows of opportunity to change limbic brain held believes, and they are at times of great emotional upheavals: when you fall in love, when you have children, when you see horrors brought upon some people close up, when you are shamed or rejected publicly, when you come face to face with death.

    Limbic brain changes, just like limbic brain imprints, have social dimension: the change is facilitated by social interaction, interdependence, closeness and cohesion.

    It goes without saying that there is similarity between religious and political beliefs – hence use of fear and loathing as a favourite weapon to manipulate electorate (“They hate us for our freedoms” and “The Welfare Queen driving a pink Cadillac to cash her welfare checks at the liquor store” “Arabs vote in droves”)

    • a blah chick
      June 1, 2015, 8:13 am

      Thanks for that, ES. It really helped explain why some people appear clueless to the truth against all odds.

      If I might also suggest that some of us are just “natural” questioners. Some of us are individuals who must always true to fathom “why.” I think that would explain why indoctrination works for some people and not others.

    • echinococcus
      June 1, 2015, 12:46 pm

      Absolutely right, Eva!
      This has a very serious consequences in that it clearly shows a difference between the in-group believer and the hanger-on for lack of information. The true believer is indoctrinated from birth, and to change his mind facts are of absolutely no relevance, as opposed to the ill-informed:

      There are windows of opportunity to change limbic brain held believes, and they are at times of great emotional upheavals: when you fall in love, when you have children, when you see horrors brought upon some people close up, when you are shamed or rejected publicly, when you come face to face with death.

      So only the last two are things that a Palestine supporter can do with regard to Jewish Zionists, and the Zionists are definitely much better than us at shaming and rejecting or issuing plausible death threats.
      Result: all those who think it worth to invest most of their time and energy in “converting” the Zionist-raised Jews are just wasting their time (and ours.) Logic or human decency won’t work. Concentrate on the population at large.

    • MRW
      June 1, 2015, 2:07 pm

      The imprinting in limbic brain has a social dimension – “it is a truth universally acknowledged” in your community.

      The amygdala rules. The limbic brain is also called The Lizard Brain, because it functions at the same level.

    • retired
      June 1, 2015, 4:08 pm

      The good news is that it is within our power to regulate this lizard brain. For example

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3303604/?report=reader

  4. pabelmont
    June 1, 2015, 10:16 am

    The “totalitarian” actions of “Jewish organizations” (that is, their actions to shut out, to minimize, to ostracize pro-Palestine, pro-human-rights Jewish groups) are doubly totalitarian: because they seek to coerce Jews into acting Israel-uber-alles; but they also seek to coerce all Americans (into the same pattern) by pretending that all American Jews agree with them and using the leverage of a general American philo-semitism.

    The phrase “some of my best friends are Jews” is not only a defense against an accusation of antisemitism; it is also a fact, in many cases, which motivates well-meaning non-Jewish Americans to support what they (mistakenly) believe to be universally-by–American-Jews-held political or ethical position, here one relating to Israel.

  5. eljay
    June 1, 2015, 10:27 am

    … there’s this riff from Stephens about Israel and US support for it:

    Thank God I was born a Jew because otherwise I’d be a raging anti-Semite… [be]cause I tear my hair out all the time at my fellow Jews

    At which of his fellow Jews does Mr. Stephens tear out his hair? The ones who support the universal and consistent application of justice, accountaility and equality; or the ones who support Jewish supremacism in/and a supremacist “Jewish State”?

    And it is a scandal, it seems to me, if we fail to live up to the promise of our American citizenship to do all we can to assure the survival of the Jewish state and the Jewish people.

    It’s a scandal to attribute to American citizenship the need or the right to support any form of supremacism anywhere in the world.

  6. Kris
    June 1, 2015, 11:06 am

    Eric Alterman: “I think a great deal of the terrorist attacks and the sort of pool of potential terrorists who want to attack the United States are inspired by the United States support for Israel. I’m not saying we shouldn’t support Israel for that reason. I’m saying, Dammit if that’s the price we have to pay, then I’m willing to pay it.”

    What “price” is it that Alterman is willing to pay? Has he lost people he loves in terrorist attacks? Have his kids been forced to find their “opportunities” in life by enlisting in the U.S. military? Are his kids coming home from “operations” in the Middle East too damaged to do anything but beg on the streets?

    Alterman and fellow Zionists are loathsome moochers, pretending to look for their wallets while the poor people in this country pay the tab.

    • MRW
      June 1, 2015, 2:09 pm

      “I’m saying, Dammit if that’s the price we have to pay, then I’m willing to pay it.”

      Yeah. But he’s one out of 319 million, so why should his POV reign?

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