Abe Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, would be unemployed if he couldn’t demonstrate that the world is awash in anti-Semitism. In his latest foray in self-justification, he was interviewed by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on June 12.
Foxman states that 30% of Americans believe that Jews are more loyal to Israel than they are to the United States. He does not cite the evidence for that statement and fails to indicate how exactly the question was phrased or the poll conducted. There are many possible ways to frame the issues related to the connection that American Jews feel with the state of Israel. Was the query really “Are Jews more loyal to Israel than to the United States?” That is a question that deliberately elicits an answer without any nuance.
One wonders why anyone should be asking these types of questions anyway and to what purpose, and it might well be that Foxman himself commissioned the polls to keep support for his organization at a high level. If anything has become clear over the past several years, it is that there is a diversity of Jewish opinion, most particularly about the relationship of Jews to the state of Israel. Many Jews do not relate to Israel at all, while others, like Foxman, are unbalanced in how they regard it. I suspect that if Foxman’s poll had been conducted with questions that were more nuanced, a large majority of Americans generally would agree that most American Jews put U.S. national interests first even if some do not, and the polling might also reveal that most understand that there is no such thing as a monolithic Jewish viewpoint on the subject of Israel.
Foxman, of course, represents an organization that is a major component of the Israel Lobby. Jewish organizations, like their Christian Zionist counterparts, tend to line up behind what the Israeli government does no matter what. Foxman’s simplistic polling and the Haaretz interview have a political purpose, which is to suggest that Israel and the Jewish people are constantly under threat, a contention that inter alia supports the existence of Foxman’s organization. It also enables Foxman to avoid the sometimes devilishly difficult task of defining national interests in terms that everyone will accept. A different series of questions, breaking down the U.S.-Israel relationship by various interests or priorities, would have revealed that many Americans — both Jews and Gentiles — believe that Israel and the United States have largely identical concerns, at least in foreign and security policies. That result would not be surprising, given the narrative that has prevailed in the United States since 9/11, and it makes the issue of loyalty itself somewhat fuzzy. The “we are fighting terrorism together” argument is certainly a wedge issue that the Israeli political leadership and its supporters in Congress and the media have exploited to the fullest to paper over the idiosyncrasies in the Israel-U.S. relationship.
There is certainly strong evidence that the United States does not exactly embrace anti-Semitism. Jews are the best-educated and wealthiest segment of the U.S. population, statistically overrepresented in the arts, professions, media, universities, and politics. Thirteen senators and 27 representatives are Jewish. The head of the Democratic National Committee is Jewish, as is the majority leader in the House of Representatives. There are three Jews on the nine-member Supreme Court. Four out of six Federal Reserve Board governors and seven out of 12 Fed District Bank presidents are Jewish. If there is rampant anti-Semitism in the U.S., it is difficult to discern from the numbers.
And lest there be any confusion, Foxman also explained to Haaretz how he defines an anti-Semite. It is someone who criticizes Israel but doesn’t say anything good about it. By that standard, he calls Professor John Mearsheimer, co-author of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, an anti-Semite. He has also stated that former President Jimmy Carter has been “engaging in anti-Semitism.” Foxman conveniently conflates most criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. And by Foxman’s (il)logic, anyone who criticizes any politician or political party without saying something good is “not sincere, not honest … certainly biased.” Half the punditry in Washington would fail the Foxman litmus test on any one of a number of issues.
Foxman is also reportedly appalled that people are discussing everywhere and even in the mainstream media whether American Jews control the country’s foreign policy and “that Israel and the Jews are pushing American into a war with Iran.” Well, Foxman has basically set up a straw man, as I don’t know anyone respectable who claims that Jews control U.S. foreign policy. Many observers do claim that the Israel Lobby, which is not all Jewish, essentially defines what is acceptable in terms of U.S. policy in the Middle East. Effectively promoting a special interest, which has been demonstrated in books like The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, is not the same as controlling U.S. foreign policy. And as for Israel pushing America into war with Iran, one would have to ask if Foxman has listened to repeated demands coming from the Israeli government? Or has he attended the annual AIPAC conference recently? If he has done either, he knows that is precisely what the organized Israel Lobby is doing even though many American Jews themselves oppose the call for war.
Foxman sees prejudice against Jews everywhere he looks, but has trouble seeing bias within himself. He was one of the leaders in the fight against an Islamic center being located near Ground Zero in New York City. He defended his opposition by saying that “survivors of the Holocaust are entitled to feelings that are irrational. Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would characterize as irrational or bigoted.” He later called his statement an “inarticulate quote,” but he has never backed away from his contention that he believes himself to be not exactly bound by the rules in place for the rest of us because of his unique suffering.
More recently, Foxman has criticized race riots in Tel Aviv targeting Africans, who have been described by leading Israeli politicians as “infiltrators” and a “cancer,” while carefully and repeatedly noting that the violence was in response to crimes committed by the refugees, his way of always exonerating Israeli actions while delivering the mildest possible slap on the wrist. In contrast to his generous understanding of what he sees as the Israeli dilemma on immigrants, he is tough on his fellow citizens who oppose illegal immigration in the U.S. In May 2010 he referred to Arizona’s illegal immigrant legislation as an example of “nativism” and “bigotry,” manifestly “mean spirited” and xenophobic. He has not commented on the recent statement by Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai that Africans must learn that “Israel is for the white man.” Even Foxman might find it difficult to explain that one.