President Obama secured what might be the biggest foreign policy victory of his six years in office yesterday as forty Senate Democrats and two left-leaning Independents banded together to filibuster a Republican-backed bill to kill the nuclear deal with Iran. Afterward, the President and his supporters waxed triumphant, while those who opposed the deal vowed to continue to raise the issue—although it seems unlikely they’ll get a different result on the filibuster, and certain that they cannot override the President’s veto. The deal will stand.
And because the deal stands, one hoary old myth should fall: that of the “Israel Lobby”, and its supposed secret, malign control over the U.S. government. The Israeli state and major U.S. pro-Israel organizations were foursquare against the deal. Yet, not only did they not defeat it, but they couldn’t even get a bill of rejection to the President’s desk.
But even as late as yesterday, we saw evidence that an insidious form of the old myth seems to be becoming more acceptable in mainstream, center-left sources. Look for instance at the graphic the New York Times ran before yesterday’s vote—now infamous on Twitter as the “Jew Tracker”:
— The New York Times (@nytimes) September 10, 2015
(h/t @Yair_Rosenberg at Tablet, formerly of TAI and an absolute must-follow on Twitter.)
Though one doubts that the misguided NYT staffers and editors who threw this chart up had any bad intentions (update: following criticism, the Times removed this portion of the graphic), the implications of the “Jew Tracker” are obvious, and repulsive. Does a Democrat oppose the deal? Well then—is he Jewish? Are his constituents Jewish? That must be why. Yet, a recent AJC poll showed that as many American Jews support the deal as oppose it. According to a recent Pew poll, only 21 percent of the public at large supports it; the rate of Jewish support for the Iran deal, in other words, is more than double the rate of gentile support.
To those who know their history, this isn’t surprising: American Jews have long had much more shaded and nuanced views about the Jewish state than most non-Jews understand. Before World War Two, the American Jewish leadership was largely anti-Zionist, and the Reform Jewish tradition, the strongest religious force historically among American Jews, has never been completely comfortable with Zionist ideals. From 1945 to 1967, American Jews—whether Zionist or not—tended to rally strongly behind Israel out of concern for persecuted Jews in Europe and the Arab world. After the Six Day War, when Israel no longer was a threatened underdog populated by desperate refugees, many American Jews began to grow more critical. The rise to power of the nationalist and religious right in Israel drove another wedge between Jerusalem and the American Diaspora. Neither Bibi Netanyahu nor the settler movement have majority backing among American Jews, and the American politicians most supportive of the Likud agenda (like Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and Tom Cotton) don’t get a lot of love from most American Jews.
But the myth of the omnipotent Jewish lobby is not rational, and belief in it hinges on feelings more than facts. It rests on anti-Semitic tropes that many people swallow without ever examining: that “the Jews” are a united bloc relentlessly pursuing a single agenda, that “Jewish power” through its control of the media and its vast wealth determines the outcome of political battles on issues of importance to the Jews, that democratic processes are helpless when “the Jews” weigh in.
All over the world, people blame George W. Bush’s policies (perceived as more pro-Israel than they were, but no matter) on “the Jews”, though more Jewish votes and Jewish money went to his opponents. And all over the world resistance to Barack Obama’s perceived “even-handed” policies is blamed on “the Jews”, though he got more Jewish votes and Jewish money than his opponents—and continues to enjoy high levels of Jewish support.
To the extent that they have a political ethos, the ethos (even among very wealthy people) is liberal, but American Jews aren’t a monolithic voting bloc. There are some high-profile wealthy Jewish political activists who donate heavily to conservative, pro-Likud politicians; there are more wealthy Jewish donors who contribute heavily to liberal, anti-Likud politicians like President Obama. But Jewish donors and activists, like other Americans, act as individuals supporting their individual beliefs.
To believe otherwise isn’t “sort of anti-Semitic”; this is exactly how anti-Semitism distorts peoples’ perceptions of reality.