Analysis: 'Un-American' children of the Constitution

Analysis: American Jewry increasingly feeling the sting of the accusation.

US israel 88 (photo credit: )
US israel 88
(photo credit: )
Malcolm Hoenlein has been telling everyone who will listen that something dangerous is happening among the American elite. A short version of his view holds that pro-Israel positions among American Jews are being delegitimized by being defined as "anti-American." The concern was also raised Tuesday in the Knesset when the ADL's Abe Foxman told MKs that, according to a 2007 survey, 31 percent of Americans say US Jews were more loyal to Israel than to America. Now, with Mearsheimer and Walt's campaign against the "Israel lobby" and Jimmy Carter's righteous indignation (but refusal to debate), American Jews are increasingly feeling the sting of the accusation as it enters the mainstream of American political discourse. In supporting Israel, are they in fact disloyal Americans? Is support for what they see as the "Jewish interest" - supporting a safe haven outside America for their brethren worldwide - somehow against the interests of America? This reporter recently raised the question of Jewish lobbying for Israel with some American Jewish leaders - members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (of which Hoenlein is executive vice chairman) - on a trip to Georgia. The Jewish leaders were there to learn about the Caucasian country and work to strengthen its ties to both the US and Israel. It would be an exaggeration to say they are nervous, but it is not an exaggeration that there is a sense that the accusation leveled at them is abusive. "The Armenians can lobby against the Turks, but we can't lobby for the Jews?" asked one Jewish leader. "The crisis with Turkey [resulting from the Congressional near-recognition of the Armenian genocide last year] wasn't against America's interests? Who says what America's interests are?" The debate over legitimate interests inevitably revolves around the question of what legitimate interests for an American might be. In Federalist Paper No. 51, James Madison, chief architect of America's constitutional system and later its fourth president, presents an argument for the new Constitution by rejecting the very existence of a unified national interest - something which must result in oppression of those deemed outside the consensus: "It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure." In order to prevent the oppression of the minority by the majority, Madison argues for an America that is "broken into so many parts, interests, and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority." Only in "the multiplicity of interests" can minorities and individuals be secure. To remain free, America must be a mosaic of self-interested parties loyal only to one shared premise - the institutions established by the Constitution. This is Madison's understanding of national unity. Jewish interests are not complicated. They are democrats (lower-case "d"). For over two hundred years, Jews have fared dramatically better under republics than autocracies, so it is no wonder they generally tend to support the growth of free societies, and to express pride not over Israel's alleged messianic significance, but over its liberal Supreme Court. Second, they are, well, Jews. In defending Israel's right to exist, American Jews say they are pursuing the Jewish interest of providing safe haven to fellow Jews. In the view of the "Father of the Constitution," this interest does not have to be shared by other Americans in order to be legitimate. That one could find Americans who believe Israel's existence may go against what they see as their own interests does not make Jews "un-American" in pursuing Jewish interests. This isn't an argument for a "better" American policy vis-à-vis Israel, but an accusation that the Jews are not pursuing an "American" policy at all. It is impossible to know - particularly for Israelis - what the Founding Fathers would have said if confronted with the issues faced by modern America. But surely Madison is rolling in his grave at the thought that a minority is being chastised for not pursuing an "American" policy - especially if someone told him how often Jews, one of America's most affluent communities, vote, contribute and campaign against their own economic interests in favor of what they perceive as the interests of America generally. Could it be that the anti-"Israel lobby" rhetoric growing among the American elite is hardly an American idea at all, but one born of another continent, one whose nearly-simultaneous liberal revolution posited a "national interest," and soon discerned "enemies" of that national interest? Unlike the American Revolution, that revolution ended rather badly.