How Anti-Iraq-War Jews Licensed Neoconservatism

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Ever since the rise of the neocons, my liberal Democratic mother and I have had the same argument. I say, "They’re Jews, and they’re representing Jewish political aims."  She says, "No they’re not. They’re a bunch of rightwing nuts. You keep talking about the Jewish support for the Iraq war; every Jew I know was against it."

I’ve never had a very articulate answer for my mother. Till I read James Petras’s wonderful piece on an AJC poll that makes her point–most American Jews opposed the Iraq war and oppose an attack on Iran…

One reason for the gap between the
‘progressive’ polling results and the actual pro-war behavior of the
major American Jewish Organizations is found in several of the opinions
not cited by progressive analysts but emphasized by the 52 leaders of
the major communal organizations (Daily Alert, December 13, 2007). Over
eighty percent (82%) of American Jews agree that ‘the goal of the Arabs
is not the return of occupied territories but rather the destruction of
Israel’. Only 12% of Jews disagree. And 55% to 37% do not believe
Israel and its Arab neighbors will settle their differences and live in
peace. On the key issue of a compromise on the key issue of Jerusalem,
by 58% to 36% American Jews reject an Israeli compromise to insure a
framework for permanent peace.

Given the high salience of being pro-Israel for the majority of
American Jews and the fact that the source of their identity stems more
from their loyalty to Israel than to the Talmud or religious myths and
rituals, then it is clear that both the ‘progressive, majority of Jews
and the reactionary minority who head up all the major American Jewish
organizations have a fundamental point of agreement and convergence:
Support and identity with Israel and its anti-Arab prejudices, its
expansion and the dispossession of Palestine.
[my emphasis] This overriding
convergence allows the reactionary Presidents of the Major Jewish
Organizations in America to speak for the Jewish community with
virtually no opposition from the progressive majority either within or
without their organizations. By raising the Israeli flag, repeating
clichés about the ‘existential threat’ to Israel at each and every
convenient moment, the majority of Jews have bowed their heads and
acquiesced or, worst, subordinated their other ‘progressive’ opinions
to actively backing the leaders ‘identity’ with Israel. Their franchise
on being the recognized Jewish spokespeople intimidates and/or forces
progressive Jews to publicly abide to the line that ‘Israel (sic) knows
what is best for Israel’ and by extension for all American Jews who
identify with Israel.

Petras has just about nailed it. The crazy rightwingers are actually speaking in the name of progressive Jews. These rightwingers aren’t fringies. They are supported. They dominate the leadership of Jewish organizations and as I have noted here before, gained support for the Iraq war from an overwhelming majority of anti-Vietnam-war Jewish Democratic congressmen. The Jane Harman type. Which is to say that neoconservatism has been licensed by the larger Jewish community, because secretly or unconsciously that community feels that these guys are standing up for Israel. The neocons are the tough brother-in-law.

When will we disown him? I keep waiting for the Jewish soulsearching over what neocon Jewish ideas about Arabs have done to the Middle East, Jewish identity, and America. But progressive Jews won’t lead that soulsearching until they acknowledge their own agency in the mess. Until they accept that Jerusalem doesn’t belong to the Jews. 58% to 36% against dividing Jerusalem! My god. No wonder Camp David fell apart over that issue…

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