A neoconservative sounds off
Is It Good for the Jews? The Crisis of America’s Israel Lobby
Stephen Schwartz has a unique background for providing a perspective on American Jewry and United States foreign policy. Although he does not write about it here, he is the product of a mixed marriage (Jewish-Protestant) and is a convert to Sufi Islam. He’s also a journalist who has worked in the Jewish community, serving as The Forward’s Washington bureau chief in 2000-01. Furthermore, he is an ex-socialist, influenced by an ex-Trotskyist (Max Shachtman), and he helped shape what we now think of as neoconservatism. Schwartz occasionally writes for The Weekly Standard, the bellwether of neocon publications.
Although Schwartz is not averse to slapping down a fellow neocon or two, his theme seems to be, at least in part, that the neoconservatives are the Jews’ best defenders. He denies that this is central to the neoconservative agenda, but he distinguishes between the neocons and the “Israel lobby,” often denounced as one and the same.
Is It Good for the Jews? begins with an impassioned discussion of Herschel Grynszpan, a young German-Jewish refugee who killed a Nazi diplomat in Paris, triggering the 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom in Germany and Austria. Schwartz proceeds to exultantly recount how, in 1939, Jews and non-Jews unionized “shtarkers” (tough guys), Shachtmanites, and “Yipsels” (as Socialist Party youth were known) violently confronted a pro-Nazi German-American Bund rally at New York’s Madison Square Garden. This is by way of dramatizing his view that Jews need to stand up for themselves and not rely on what he scornfully and repeatedly refers to as the “shtadlan” lobbies old-style leaders of American Jewry, whom he mostly associates with the German Jews, a community that arrived earlier in the United States than the Eastern Europeans and who sought influence more quietly and cautiously than the latter. The shtadlan approach is epitomized to him by the American Jewish Committee.
This book can be read as an analgesic for a Jewish community increasingly besieged by conspiracy theories on the alleged role of pro-Israel Jews and Israel itself in fomenting the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Schwartz is at his best in challenging the pernicious notions of Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt whose article “The Israel Lobby,” published last March in the London Review of Books, claimed the undue influence of those entities on American foreign policy by pointing out that AIPAC-the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the old-line Jewish national defense organizations, such as the Anti-Defamation League and the AJCommittee, were fixated, in fact, on Iran. This is a major point of difference between the organized Jewish community and the neoconservatives with whom the “Israel lobby” is conflated. Ironically, Schwartz scorns this very “lobby” for not protesting the anti-Semitic tone of many attacks on Paul Wolfowitz and other necons allied with George W. Bush.
He also distinguishes among key personalities regularly damned in so many quarters as “pro-Likud.” He points out that Wolfowitz, the Bush administration’s highest-ranking neocon in its first term, was known for pro-Muslim and even pro-Palestinian sensitivities. And Wolfowitz was not associated with “A Clean Break,” a document touted by Israel-bashers (and debunked by Schwartz) as evidence of a neocon-Israel conspiracy for invading Iraq. Richard Perle, the Darth Vader of anti-neocon demonology, did not even have a job in the George W. Bush administration and resigned early from his unpaid advisory capacity with the Pentagon.
Yet this book could be hard for a liberal or even a garden-variety Democrat to stomach. One of Schwartz’s common refrains is that the Democratic Party is not “good for the Jews,” while the Republicans mostly are. His only real evidence is a recent Gallup Poll that “shows that three-quarters of Republicans, and less than half of Democrats, now sympathize with Israel rather than the Palestinians.” He also lays the failure of Oslo at Bill Clinton’s, and therefore the Democrats’, feet but there’s no substantial analysis to back this contention.
He explicitly excludes the likes of right-wing isolationist Pat Buchanan from the GOP camp that he admires. He is also scathing about the nature of Saudi influence, a focus he shares with most neocons, and this is one reason that he is not positive about the elder President Bush but he largely exempts the younger Bush from this concern.
Unfortunately for Schwartz, his book was published just at the point that the troubles in Iraq and the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan became dramatically obvious. In some ways, Schwartz is the last neocon, still writing as if “democratizing Iraq” really was the best strategic goal of the moment, ignoring how the battle against Al Qaida and the Taliban was sidetracked and how Iran’s influence and its looming nuclear threat have been enabled by the invasion of Iraq which he still defends.
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