I've been growing increasingly irritated by both blog and MSM coverage of Cheney's visit to the AIPAC conference. Most of what I read shrieks some version of the following:
"Israel (the Jewish lobby) is dictating American foreign policy! AIPAC (Jews) is in bed with Bush/Cheney! They are going to take us to war with Iran! Why do we let Israel (Jews) dictate our foreign policy!?"
I know that people who oppose our close relationship with Israel reassure us constantly that they are not anti-Jewish, and I mostly believe them. But sometimes it's hard to figure out where the "we don't support Israel's actions" starts and "we think Jews have too much power in America" begins. Like, if we do go to war with Iran, will American Jews be blamed? And on what basis? That Jews "control" our foreign policy?
First of all, the US Congress and the executive branch dictate US foreign policy, if what we have can even reach the definitional benchmark that the word "policy" would imply. How precisely can Israel affect the policy of the United States? What? Will they cut off the billions of dollars they give us? Will they lead a coalition against the US? Invade us? Go it alone as the only democratic nation in the Middle East? The only reason the "Israel lobby" is seen as having so much influence is because there appears to be a critical mass of officeholders receptive to the message. Officeholders who are responsible for their own votes on Iran, Iraq and a hundred other issues. The NRA is not responsible for the gun laws we have in this country, as much as I love to demonize them. The people who voted for those laws are responsible. And that is where I choose to focus my energies, on unseating officeholders who don't share my views on fundamental issues, including unilateral pre-emptive wars.
But getting back to the Aipac conference. There is no question that Aipac speaks for a certain segment of the pro-Israel crowd, one that sees conflict with Iran as a viable option, one that likes to partner with evangelical Christians, one that is more hawkish. But that segment is just that: a segment. And not just of Jewish people. The organizers invited evangelical pastor John Hagee to speak, to apparently wild applause.
Urgh. It's a difficult issue because the rest of the country and world sees "the Jewish community" as a monolith when in political reality there is no such thing. A poll last month by Gallup showed the following:
An analysis of Gallup Poll data collected since the beginning of 2005 finds that among the major religious groups in the United States, Jewish Americans are the most strongly opposed to the Iraq war. Catholics and Protestants are more or less divided in their views on the war, while Mormons are the most likely to favor it. Those with no religious affiliation also oppose the war, but not to the same extent that Jewish people do. The greater opposition to the war is not simply a result of high Democratic identification among U.S. Jews, as Jews of all political persuasions are more likely to oppose the war than non-Jews who share the same political leanings.
While it supports my thesis that Aipac does not represent all Jewish people or even all pro-Israel people, it bugs me because it once again makes a statement that "Jewish people think X." On one hand we have Aipac lobbying to get the President broad powers to act on Iran, on the other we have the Union for Reform Judaism--the largest synagogue denomination in the US--recently approving a resolution to oppose a troop surge and start a withdrawal timetable in Iraq. All of which bring me to my point: how do people of good faith support Israel without having that simultaneously mean that I support Dick Cheney or George Bush, without having that mean that I support war with Iran, without having that mean that I'm accused of "controlling" American foreign policy? How do we dial down the rhetoric so that people who support Israel can also participate in movements that hope to achieve peace in the Middle East? Why does it have to be AIPAC or ANSWER?
I don't always support Israel's political decisions but I fundamentally support her right to exist, much as I do with my own country. I want to work to end the war in Iraq, contain Iran, find a peaceful solution to the Palestinian situation. But I won't engage in self-hatred to do it. I'm not gonna partner with organizations that think "Sharon = Hitler" or "Olmert = Nazi" is a fair statement to make. I once stopped a marcher with that sign and asked her to explain it to me. She couldn't. She just said, "you know, he's responsible for so many deaths." Do you know what a truly horrific thing that is to say, from the perspective of a Jewish person? And you wonder why I'm not out marching with you?? My self-hatred only runs so deep, and mostly toward issues of ass size, so there seems to be nowhere for me--and people like me--to go.