Stephen Walt on Dennis Ross

Stephen Walt has once again raised the issue of dual loyalty of American Jews — this time in the context of the role of Dennis Ross in shaping Obama Administration policy in the direction of Israel. As I have argued previously, I think that Walt (and Mearsheimer) tend to underestimate the problem of Jewish dual loyalty. It’s often been said of Jews that they are just like everyone else, only more so. In the case of dual loyalty, it’s certainly true that other people have various loyalties, but no other group has had such a passionate attachment to a foreign country. As The Israel Lobby shows, the American Jewish community is galvanized around doing the bidding of a foreign government. Dissent within the Jewish community has been effectively silenced, and the most energized, radical elements of the Jewish community determine the direction of the entire community.

Given all that, it is certainly not surprising that issues of loyalty would be raised. And, because of their status as a wealthy, powerful elite, Jews, far more than other minority groups, have been able to influence American foreign policy in the direction of Israel despite making up less than 3% of the population.

The charge of dual loyalty is an ancient one (reviewed here under the heading “The Theme of Disloyalty”), present in Jewish religious writing. In the Book of Exodus, Pharaoh states, “Behold, the people of the children of Israel are too mighty for us; come, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there befalleth us any war, they also join themselves unto our enemies, and fight against us, and get them up out of the land” (Exod. 1:9–10).

Walt writes that the accusation of dual loyalty was “a nasty anti-Semitic canard in old Europe.” But, then as now, dual loyalty accusations had much more than a grain of truth. For example, between the mid-19th century and the Bolshevik Revolution, there can be little doubt that the Jewish Diaspora throughout Europe and America opposed the Russian government and often influenced policy in other countries to oppose Russia — often in opposition to the governments of those countries. In 1911, long before Jews attained the level of power in the US that they have now, there was a successful Jewish campaign to abrogate a US trade agreement with Russia aimed at getting Russia to change its policies on Jews in opposition to the views of the Taft Administration.

The similarities to today are striking: AIPAC has rammed through punitive trade restrictions on Iran not because such restrictions benefit the US, but because Iran is seen as threatening Israel. And now there is a major push to get the US to bomb Iran — again promoted by Israel’s friends in the US. (Here’s Bill Kristol stating that it’s better for the US to attack Iran than for Israel to have to do it.)

Walt writes:

Needless to say, in a melting-pot society like the United States, it was inevitable that many Americans would also have strong attachments to other countries. These different attachments may reflect ancestry, religious affiliation, personal experience (such as overseas study), or any number of other sources. The key point, however, is that in the United States it is entirely legitimate to manifest such attachments in political life.  Americans can hold dual citizenship, for example, or form an interest group whose avowed purpose is to shape U.S. policy towards a specific country. This is how the American system of government works, and there is nothing “disloyal” about such conduct.

Dual loyalty issues therefore mesh with America as a multicultural society. Jewish dual loyalties are no different, say, from Mexican dual loyalties. But, whatever its legitimacy in multicultural America, dual loyalties are surely not ideal for the country as a whole because they detract from cohesion and sense of common interest and purpose. Whereas in the past assimilation was the norm (and was easy because the vast majority of immigrants were European ethnically), immigrants now are encouraged to retain their own language and culture, and they are encouraged to retrain powerful ties to their countries of origin.

Historically, this ideology of multiculturalism was the product of Jewish intellectuals (prominently Horace Kallen) designed to legitimize Jewish separateness in America while at the same time legitimizing the continuing ties between American Jews and the rest of the Diaspora. (Kallen, for example, was a strong Zionist and activist on behalf of Jews in Eastern Europe.) In the future we can expect that the US will be increasingly Balkanized as different ethnic and national groups jockey for political power in the US and seek to influence foreign policy in favor of the countries they left behind.

But I have to agree with Walt that even accepting the legitimacy of a multicultural model, people like Dennis Ross should not be allowed to have a voice within the administration. Walt points out that Ross has a long involvement with pro-Israel activist organizations, such as being director of WINEP.

But Ross’s ties to Israel are even deeper than that. Until his appointment as Middle East envoy in the Obama Administration, from 2002–2009 Ross was Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute. This organization has assumed the role of long term planning for the Jewish people, not only in Israel but also the Diaspora. The JPPPI is an independent think tank that reports to the Israeli government and has close ties with other Jewish organizations. Its mission is “to promote the thriving of the Jewish people via professional strategic thinking and planning on issues of primary concern to world Jewry. JPPPI’s work is based on deep commitment to the future of the Jewish people with Israel as its core state.”

The JPPPI’s report Facing Tomorrow 2008 is interesting because it focuses on the threat of Iran and but also because it sees people like Stephen Walt as a threat to Israel:

The Jewish people must, as the highest priority, develop an appropriate response to the Iranian nuclear threat to Israel and to global stability as a whole. While there is no ambiguity about the need to do so in Israel, it is necessary to mobilize Jewish opinion around the world as well. The American Jewish community cannot be intimidated either by a post Iraq syndrome in the United States, or by the false and pernicious allegations of Professors Walt and Mearsheimer, or former President Carter.

In other words, Jews around the world are encouraged to mobilize to combat the threat to Israel represented by Iran. The assumption is that Jews have common interests as Jews no matter what country they happen to live in. Dennis Ross is doing his best to promote exactly this view within the Obama administration.

One might think that such a view would leave Jews in the Diaspora open to the charge of disloyalty, but the problem is easily finessed: Jews in the Diaspora are told to frame Israel’s concerns about Iran as a global threat, not simply as a threat to Israel.

Of course, that’s what we are seeing now. But we needn’t be naïve. Jews like Dennis Ross are clearly far more loyal to Israel than to the US. Speaking as a psychologist, they wouldn’t be able to see a conflict of interest between the US and Israel if it was staring them in the face. Indeed, as Gore Vidal said of Norman Podhoretz, they are unregistered agents of a foreign government.

In a sane society, there would be a huge groundswell of public opposition to Ross’s appointment–as there has been for a number of Obama’s appointments. But that won’t happen.

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