Eric Cantor’s Loyalty

It’s a good sign that Rep. Eric Cantor’s pledge of allegiance to Israel has raised eyebrows. Cantor, who will soon be Marjority Leader in the House, released a statement that

the new Republican majority will serve as a check on the Administration and what has been, up until this point, one party rule in Washington.” “He made clear that the Republican majority understands the special relationship between Israel and the United States, and that the security of each nation is reliant upon the other.”

Philip Weiss links to several commentators who were rather amazed that Cantor seemed to think it appropriate that the Republicans in the House would be making US foreign policy. Perhaps the most vitriolic comment is by Mark Perry at Foreign Policy who lumps Cantor’s statement in with the abject behavior of the Obama administration in offering Israel billions of dollars worth of military hardware in exchange for continuing a partial settlement freeze for three (3!) more months. Perry reviews a number of other recent examples of groveling before the Israel Lobby, and even sees fit to mention Elena Kagan’s testimony during her confirmation hearings:

When Elena Kagan testified during her confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court, she cited Israel jurist Aharon Barak as her model, because he was the “John Marshall of the State of Israel.” Kagan might well be a brilliant justice [I doubt it], but I would have thought she would cite Marshall as her model. Reminded that Barak was a judicial activist (and therefore not necessarily acceptable for some committee members), Kagan gave a ready explanation: “Israel means a lot to me,” she explained. Enough said.

Actually, there’s much more to be said about it. Her statement of ethnic commitment to a foreign country and her idealization of an Israeli jurist speak volumes. A reasonable inference is that her ethnic loyalty would trump disinterested application of legal principles. Would she recuse herself in a case involving spying for Israel? What about immigration policy, given that liberal immigration policy is a cornerstone commitment of the organized Jewish community?

But Kagan’s extraordinary statement did not prevent her from being confirmed, and Cantor’s statement has generally not resulted in accusations that his ethnic background may be influencing his attitudes. Only Philip Weiss broached the loyalty issue:

And the reason it’s vital to talk about [Cantor’s dual loyalty] now is that you can’t unpack the disastrous American decision to invade Iraq or the push now to go to war with Iran (or indeed the unending support for Israeli colonization of the West Bank, or the defeat of the right of return in the 40s and 50s when American presidents were demanding the return of the refugees) without talking about the lobby and the construction of Jewish identity.

Right. I suppose that one could argue that quite a few non-Jewish politicians are at least as committed to Israel as Cantor. Sarah Palin’s letter to newly elected Republican congressmen comes to mind: “You can stand with allies like Israel, not criticize them. You can let the President know what you believe – Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, not a settlement.” She must really want to be president.

But at least we know that she is doing it out of crass careerism and opportunism, not ethnic loyalty. The perception that ethnic loyalty is biasing the views of politicians and judges is poison in a society officially dedicated to ideals of abstract justice and impartiality. Any psychologist will tell you that having a strong ethnic identity typically skews one’s perceptions. In my ideal world, people like Cantor and Kagan should place an asterisk next to their pronouncements:

*“You should be cautious in following my advice or even believing what I say about Israel or other consensus Jewish issues like immigration and separation of church and state. Deception and manipulation are very common tactics in ethnic conflict, so that my pose as an American patriot or a dispassionate jurist should be taken with a grain of salt. And even if I am entirely sincere in what I say, the fact is that I have a deep psychological and ethnic commitment to Israel and Judaism. Psychologists have shown that this sort of deep commitment is likely to bias my perceptions of any policy that could possibly affect Israel even though I am not aware of it.”

In fact, the rise of multiculturalism means that (non-White) ethnic identities will play an increasing role in all branches of government and be seen as legitimate. (Whites will have to happy with implicit ethnic/racial identity.) Who would be surprised at this point if a Mexican American legislator advocates more Mexican immigration or acceptance of some aspect of Mexican jurisprudence (“Bribery is a perfectly reasonable aspect of police work and the judicial system”). It’s yet another cost of multiculturalism, and a rather large one at that.

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