Israel Firster’ gets at an inconvenient truth
(Mondoweiss) -- by Philip Weiss --
The new battleground in the argument over Israel's influence on American policy is the idea that some of those pushing an attack on Iran are "Israel Firsters."
The term has been used by MJ Rosenberg of Media Matters and Zaid Jilani, formerly of Center for American Progress. Israel supporters have struck back hard. They claim that using the term is anti-Semitic because it calls on a long history of questioning Jews' loyalty to western countries.
Yesterday Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street bravely defended the use of the expression in an interview with the Washington Post. "If the charge is that you're putting the interests of another country before the interests of the United States in the way you would advocate that, it's a legitimate question," Ben-Ami said. (And today Ben-Ami, evidently summoned by commisar Jeffrey Goldberg, apologizes for misspeaking.)
I think "Israel firster" is a perfectly legitimate term in a wide-open American discourse-- especially a debate about attacking another country. Obviously, it's loaded. It's a comment on a person's motivation, and it can be wielded as a form of redbaiting. But as an intellectual and political question, it has a long and honorable pedigree.
Its legitimacy can be demonstrated by three factual arguments:
1, Israel supporters routinely make frank professions of loyalty that raise the issue. 2, Students of US policy, including many mainstream (and Jewish) writers, have blurted frank comments in recent years about dual loyalty, so it must be a useful term. 3, It was useful historically for three important theorists of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, Hannah Arendt, and Rabbi Elmer Berger. If they get to talk about it, why can't we?
1). Public declarations of loyalty.
Senator Chuck Schumer went to AIPAC and declared that his name means guardian in Hebrew and then he cried, "Am Yisroel Chai." The people of Israel live! MJ Rosenberg caught this:
Schumer: "I believe Hashem [Orthodox for God] actually gave me that name. One of my roles, very important in the United States senate, is to be a shomer -- to be a or the shomer Yisrael. And I will continue to be that with every bone in my body ..."He's hardly alone. Neoconservative Elliott Abrams wrote in a book on Jewish identity that “Outside the land of Israel, there can be no doubt that Jews, faithful to the covenant between God and Abraham, are to stand apart from the nation in which they live.” Alan Dershowitz has written that American Jews have a "sacred mission" to protect Jewish lives in Israel, and The Forward has lately stated that Jewish university presidents have "loyalty" to Israel...MORE...LINK
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