Blogs > Cliopatria > American, Jew, Liberal, Nervous

Aug 29, 2004 10:03 am

American, Jew, Liberal, Nervous

Juan Cole's analysis of theAIPAC spy issue is chilling reading, particularly for a non-Likudnik American Jew like myself. It is, in a sense, the analysis that should have been in Adbusters. First of all, it is clear that he is trying very, very hard to be fair, and makes clear that: American Jews, a productive and positive element in American society generally, are not all supporters of Israel, particularly the increasingly hard-line leadership; not all Israelis support the hard-line leadership, either; the US has a legitimate interest in defending Israel from serious enemies; and it is very hard to talk about this openly due to the close connections between corporate and political interests at high levels, and the ability of money to distort politics. Fundamentally, though, his argument is that policy in both the US and Israel is increasingly in the hands of a small, self-reinforcing band of aggressive (he calls them proto-fascistic, at one point) nationalistic and militaristic thinkers who do not have the best interests of either Israel or the US at heart.

That last point needs some emphasis, I believe. If there is a flaw in Cole's analysis, it is that he understates the degree to which Israel serves US needs in the Middle East, and the degree to which Israeli policy is detrimental to Israeli interests in the long- or short-term. Also, nobody commenting, as far as I know, has pointed out the blazingly obvious fact: the US spies on Israel constantly, via satellite, via electronic intercept, and probably via actual spies; even if Israel discovered a spy, they wouldn't be in a position to openly make charges. Cole mentions sub rosa meetings between Israeli and US military officials: does he really think that the flow of information was one-way?

Cole argues, towards the end, that the US could shift towards non-democratic rule with just another push or two (like a repeated al Qaeda attack). I've been thinking about that myself. The human tendency to prefer order over freedom is pretty strong, but it hasn't been really tested in the US in a while. The assumption that increased government power equals increased security is not entirely warranted. The dictum that information equals power is making lots of people as nervous as much as it is giving them hope: it's possible that a government with more access to private information would provide greater security through good analysis of that data; it's also possible that a government with more access to private information would be more partisan, and would excessively exercise 'cautionary' but nonetheless punitive authority against people who both match badly drawn profiles of terrorists and who are not administration-friendly. As much as it is natural to want more power and authority for yourself and your allies, it is also natural to be cautious about giving power to your enemies, and to people you don't know. But I digress.

I detest tribal thinking. It is irrational (at best, reductive), unhelpful (in the long run), corrosive. And yet it is ingrained in my reactions, and I have to think carefully and clearly to move past it. I know there are plenty of people out there who will not put forth that effort.

Jews have been in America for 350 years (as of 7 September 2004), have been full citizens in a legal sense for quite some time, but nonetheless remain a somewhat uncomfortable minority. Not a uniform one, by any means -- theology/praxis and geography/culture divide us deeply. Politics is increasingly fractious, as well: AIPAC's alliance with Republican partisans is a part of the decreasing Democratic affiliation of American Jews, and the gap between the social progressive and social conservative strains of American Jewry is growing. One thing most of us agree on, though, is that we have enemies who do not distinguish between us. It is a Catch-22, of course. If some Jews pursue power and influence and succeed, then Jews are a threat. If Jews eschew power and influence, then those who despise us will have all the power and influence they need to move against us.

I apologize if these issues are a bit confused. I'm still sorting all this out myself. I'd managed to put Jewishness aside, for the most part, in my analysis of the political season, but it seems to have been thrust back upon us. With luck, it'll pass. Or I'll see strong evidence that alleviates my fears. That'd be nice.

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Jonathan Dresner - 8/31/2004

Actually, there's nothing wrong with multilateral talks. It's one of the few areas in which I actually agree with the Bush administration: North Korea is not our problem alone, and its neighbors need to be actively involved in the process. But I do think that our stance is needlessly rigid (which makes the talks effectively meaningless) and the pace of talks is absurdly slow. I also think that we have more power to solve the problem than the other participants in the multi-lateral talks, and some mix of bilateral and multi-lateral discussions would serve everyone better than all-or-nothing.

Here's what I wrote over a year ago:

E. Simon - 8/31/2004

Well, judging by your context, it sounds like someone in a position of authority, (including the Democratic nominee or someone working for him), isn't listening. So what's wrong with pitching your idea here? Surely you believe or at least hope that there are among your readers people with brains.

And what's wrong with multilateral talks between regional governments which surely have more at stake in this than us, even if as a diplomatic forum? Kim Jong Il wants to concentrate his disputes against us; why give in to his conviction that this problem is ours alone?

Andrew Ackerman - 8/31/2004

What are the chances that Dubya will articulate such a plan in his speech this week at the convention. More than even chance that we'll get the standard, "Meet-the-Press"-style explanation: "Amm a war-tyme prezdent. I make decisions."

Jonathan Dresner - 8/31/2004

I think Mr. Simon was refering to me.

"Or will we "talk" with him for decades while crossing our fingers, hoping whistfully for a Soviet-style regime implosion that, by the way, only required a Chernobyl?"

That appears to be the Bush administration policy, though I suspect that East Germany, not Soviet Russia, is their 'best case'. I think they are foolhardy, because it seems to me highly unlikely that Kim Jong Il would suffer through a 'velvet revolution' without firing a shot.

And there may be a foolproof plan, but there is no such thing as a damnfoolproof plan, because, as my father said, those damnfools are so darned clever. I don't have the magic formula, though I have some creative ideas I'd love to pitch to someone with some brains and authority.

Be that as it may, you're not scoring any points with or against me when you point out that we've let the North Korea issue languish too long; I've been saying that for quite some time now.

What we're doing isn't working: is it too much to ask that someone in a position of responsibility have an alternative plan?

Andrew Ackerman - 8/31/2004

Who's nervous?

E. Simon - 8/31/2004

I've yet to hear a logistically sound, fool-proof plan for disarming a nuclear-armed North Korea...

With Kim Jong Il do you advocate conciliation or confrontation? Or will we "talk" with him for decades while crossing our fingers, hoping whistfully for a Soviet-style regime implosion that, by the way, only required a Chernobyl? Will we elevate Kim Jong Il and his tiny isolated tyranny to grand diplomatic overtures at the White House, charming our way to converting him the way we tried with Arafat, whittling away precious foreign policy moments that could obviously be better spent elsewhere?

No wonder you're nervous. Assuming the goal of disarmament is to avoid nuclear war, your timing sounds a bit off.

Andrew Ackerman - 8/30/2004

Clearly a zionist conspiracy.

Jerry Sternstein - 8/30/2004

Boy, I guess that Israeli "cell" must be very busy.

The Washington Post today headlines Kerry's intention "to confront" Iran and force it, with something called a "grand bargain," to give up its nuclear weapon ambition. Otherwise, acting in concert with European allies, the U.S. will threaten Iran with "heavy sanctions." And if the threat of sanctions or sanctions themselves fail to dissuade the Mullahs, would a Kerry Administration resort to force?

Doesn't what Edwards claims a Kerry administration would do indicate that they also believe an Iranian bomb is "unacceptable"? Heavens, they sound just like Condaleeza Rice.

Here's the link to the story:(

Jonathan Dresner - 8/30/2004

Mr. Ackerman,

I think 'cell' simply refers to a covert unit in place: we're so used to the drama of the single spy, or of the terrorist group, but sometimes terrorists act alone and sometimes spies work together.

As far as the invasion of Iran, give them time. We just got done handing over pseudo-colonial-sovereignty to Iraq, and Condaleeza Rice is already talking about how Iran's nuclear ambitions are 'unnacceptable', while North Korea's centrifuges whirl and hum.....

Ralph E. Luker - 8/30/2004

Andrew, I think you are wrong about Cole's use of the word "cell" equating the suspects in the Pentagon with terrorists. A cell would be a small group with alien loyalties -- not a small group with violent intent.

Andrew Ackerman - 8/30/2004

Chilling, indeed, but I wouldn't describe that piece as particularly fair. Franklin, Cole asserts, represents an Israeli "cell" within our Defense Department. I'm no expert in spookspeak, but doesn't that sort of language suggest that Israeli spies are the equivalent of terrorists? Outside my biology classes, I've just never heard anyone talk about "a cell" without refering to homicidal killers who blow up busses. Maybe I'm being too sensitive to the guy's diction.

Also, I think it's silly to argue that our Defense Department has been taken over by these proto-fascists. If they're running the show, why haven't we invaded Iran, yet? Presumably our hesitation suggests that wiser heads prevailed over the zionist conspirators, so at least some in the DoD aren't neoconservatives who put the interest of Israel ahead of America.

Anyway, oviously this guy should be prosectued if he's guilty of spying for another country. And I'm an American Jew who, if given a vote in Israel, would probably pull the level for Sharon, the "hard-liner" who is showing tremendous leadership by abandoning the true hard-liners -- the settlers in the territories.

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