Putting Israel’s Interests First

Former New York Mayor Ed Koch and other neocons are backing the Republican candidate in a special New York congressional race in September to punish President Obama for suggesting that Israel’s 1967 borders be a starting point for peace talks. Lawrence Davidson suggests that it’s time to start putting American issues first.

By Lawrence Davidson

On July 27, the New York Times had a front page article about the upcoming Sept. 13 special election for New York City’s Ninth Congressional District seat. The article opens a window on the political use of Israel as a campaign touchstone.

The Ninth District, the most heavily Jewish District in the nation, is the one recently vacated by Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner who was, of course, a loyal supporter of Israel. Alas, he was also a man with a strong libido and no discretion. He was forced to step down after electronically sharing obscene pictures of himself with at least six women.

The Democratic and Republican candidates who seek to fill this seat are not known for gross indiscretion in their private lives (though who knows what skeletons lurk in which closets), yet in their public pursuit of this Congressional seat they seem to be drawn, as by an irresistible political force, to follow Weiner’s lead and do obeisance at the altar of Zionism. Is this yet another form of folly?
Both candidates, Democratic Assemblyman David I. Weprin and his Republican opponent, Bob Turner (a retired cable television executive), are involved in a process of “one-upmanship on who is more pro-Israel.”

One would think that Turner would have no chance in such a competition seeing as how Weprin is an “Orthodox Jew who keeps a kosher home, observes the Sabbath, and has been to Israel at least eight times.” Nonetheless, he is playing this game with some serious support.

“On Monday [July 25], former Mayor Edward Koch, [a Jew and] a Democrat, endorsed the Republican candidate” on the basis that a Democrat, even one who is a strong supporter of Israel, cannot be strong enough as long as President Obama holds the White House.

Koch argues that only the election of a strong Republican supporter of Israel will “rebuke” the president for saying “that Israel’s pre-1967 border should be the basis for a peace agreement.” Koch seems not to care that a Republican candidate may end up supporting domestic positions that can ruin the United States. He is obsessed with a single issue, Israel.
You would think that this obsession with Israel and its 1967 borders is pretty crazy in an election for someone to represent the interests of parts New York City that have names like Queens, Kew Gardens, Flatbush and Sheepshead Bay.

And aren’t there numerous other issues, vital to the health of the nation, such as the federal budget and deficit, the fate of Medicare and Social Security, etc. that ought to hold voters’ attention? So who cares about some foreign country approximately 6,000 miles away?

Well, according to Cynthia Zalisky, the executive director of the Queens Jewish Community Council, it is not only Ed Koch who is obsessed. She tells us that “how the candidates feel about Israel and the president’s concept of the pre-1967 borders is going to resonate in this district.”

Donald Schwartz, an Orthodox Jewish activist from Kew Gardens, agrees. He says the Democratic candidate is not a sufficiently “fierce advocate” for Israel and Weprin’s election would allow President Obama to “take the Jewish vote for granted.”
All of this should raise eyebrows. Just how many Jewish voters are we talking about? And, how do we know that most care about what the Zionist activists care about? Why should it always be assumed that the Jewish vote turns on the question of Israel?

The New York Times article answers the first of these questions. The Jewish voters in the Ninth District are numerous. Almost half of the population is Jewish, many of them observant, and a significant number of them, 30 to 35 percent, regularly turn out to vote.

Thus, as political consultant Jerry Skurnik puts it, “you can’t get wiped out in the Jewish vote and expect to win a district like this.” Ok. But why assume most of those 30 to 35 percent of Jewish voters prioritize Israel when they vote, or are dissatisfied with President Obama on the issue of Israeli borders?

You know, Mr. Weprin did endorse same sex marriage and that has upset some of the Orthodox community. Yet the New York Times really has its focus on the question of loyalty to Israel and takes it for granted that those Zionist activists who shout loudest know what the silent majority is thinking.

On the other hand, maybe the Ninth is somehow special. Maybe Israeli settlements do top Social Security for American seniors. It is depressing to think so, but it is possible.
Just for argument sake, let’s go with the notion that the Ninth District is indeed special.

So let’s say that the candidates do have to cater to specifically Jewish opinion to win this district, and that enough Jewish votes turn on the issue of Israel’s 1967 borders that candidates have to play the Zionist card to win. What should those who oppose kowtowing to Zionist influence (and there are organizations of anti-Zionist Jews out there) do about this? Here are three possible approaches:
1. Find a way to increase the non-Jewish voter turnout. The political party that can do this can probably destroy the formula set forth above by Jerry Skurnik.
2. Find a way to get as many of the Jewish voters as possible to shed the single-issue picture painted of them by the Zionists. There is probably an undercurrent of resentment about this one-dimensional representation. Someone should tap into it. To this end, we proceed to #3.
3. Find a way to form a Jewish, but non-Zionist, political cadre to compete for Jewish voter support within the Democratic Party in the Ninth District and others like it. Give the Democratic Jewish voters a democratic choice.
Number one is the least volatile of these efforts. The consequences of pushing numbers 2 and 3 really depend on just how deep the Zionist “Jewish activists” are entrenched.

Depending on that question, one of two things could happen. If the Israeli obsession is in fact only skin deep, that is only an issue for a relatively small, albeit vocal, minority of Jewish voters, it should be overcome pretty easily by insisting on the greater importance of domestic concerns.

Those issues, closer to home, will then come to the fore as candidate touchstones and Israel will recede to the lower end of the list of important factors. If, however, a notable percentage of the Ninth District’s Jewish voters are obsessed with Israel, then concerted efforts as described in 2 and 3 could result in blood in the streets.
Either way, something really should be done to challenge the prevailing assumption that Israel is the touchstone political issue for American Jewish voters.

Whatever might be the case in the Ninth District, this level of concern for Israel is probably not true of Jews nationally. On a national level most U.S. Jews vote Democratic and probably do so regardless of the candidate’s position on Israel.

In fact, my bet is that both political parties don’t really scramble for Jewish votes which, except for rare places like the Ninth District, are minuscule. What they scramble for is Jewish lobby money. And the Jewish lobby is not only obsessed with Israel, for all intents and purposes it functions as unregistered agents of that country. So to get the money you have to do your obeisance at the altar of Zionism.
This situation is potentially more dangerous than most American Jews realize. The Zionist hold over U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East has already cost the country dearly.

It was at least part of the reason the United States was attacked on 9/11 and why the U.S. subsequently invaded Iraq. The Israel connection has alienated America from the entire Muslim world and helped encourage domestic racism in the form of Islamophobia.

What happens if this orientation continues and results in more wars, more terrorist attacks and greater debilitation of the domestic budget? At some point the American public, looking for reasons for these disasters, may well focus on lobby influence and the prioritizing of the interests of a foreign land 6,000 miles away.

At that point it will not be just AIPAC that will pay the price. The Zionist insistence that all Jews support Israel, as untrue as it is, will have stereotyped American Jewry and anti-Semitism will quickly become a serious issue.
Therefore, it is in the best interests of the American Jewish community to shed the image of the single-issue voter, to consciously begin to hold those Zionist activists at arm’s length, and to join with those groups, such as Jewish Voices for Peace, that reject any demand that they do obeisance at the altar of Zionism.

Quite frankly, the leaders of Israel are fanatics, the true believers of the American Zionist lobbies are fanatics, and Ed Koch is a fanatic. Most American Jews are not fanatics and it is time they let the rest of the country know it.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Offical Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

14 comments for “Putting Israel’s Interests First

  1. Morton Kurzweil
    August 3, 2011 at 12:36

    The premise, that Israel’s interest is not that of American interest, defines the ignorance and bigotry of Davidson.
    Nothing in all the years of Muslim, not Palestinian politics has produced a single political group representing the aspirations of the people of the region.
    Israel and the people of the middle east are entitled to lives without fear, with freedom and opportunity to live in peace. The fanatical insanity that drives seventh century tribal vengeance has no place in the modern world. The feeble attempts at revolution against tribal autocrats must be supported by the United States in its own defense. The prospect of diminishing the security of the only democratic state in the area is insanity. It can only lead to more instability and encourage the tribal warfare among Muslim sects for political control by religious Nazis.

  2. rosemerry
    July 31, 2011 at 17:07

    thanks sulphurdunn. I was just staggered by the ridiculous, irrelevant, canting comments of Marc Rogers, and your answer is much more civil than I was starting to make.

    • Marc Rogers
      August 1, 2011 at 02:28

      Make your uncivil response instead of carping. If you follow the professor’s past tendentious and highly slanted essays, you would understand that this essay is a smoke screen for his jaundiced views of Israel.

      Rosemerry, it would behoove you to offer your knowledge with the rest of us,

      • Marc Rogers
        August 1, 2011 at 02:29

        but your invective is evidence that you, hot air and a pinata share more than you know.

  3. sulphurdunn
    July 31, 2011 at 16:04

    Davidson’s article was about whether or not ninth district Jews would be more or less likely to vote for a candidate based upon issues more relevant to their daily lives than the priorities of a foreign power and how that might be accomplished. What exactly did you ad-hominem broadside have to do with that?

    • Marc Rogers
      August 1, 2011 at 02:36

      Sulphurdunn, do you share a political and psychological folie-a-deux with rosemerry?

      You like her do not see, understand or know how to rebut Davidson’s visceral animus that hides behind his seemingly rational words.

      But you and Rosemerry certainly know how to eviscerate a good critique.

      I suggest Rosemerry retire to the bleachers as the political game offends her genteel sensitivities.

      Have the guts of your convictions, Rosemerry, and step out in front of the political curtain.

    • Marc Rogers
      August 1, 2011 at 02:40

      I pulled back the curtain on Davidson’s bordering-on-the-animus views he holds about Israel.

      You and Rosemerry need ad hominem broadsides because your dearth of facts is readily transparent.

    • insanity
      August 1, 2011 at 13:37

      While hiking, a fellow admitted to me after I tried to describe the website Savage developed for Rick Santorum, that he had voted for him because of his support for Israel. This flipped my wig and I shocked the guy I’m sure by suggesting in what I thought to be a perfectly reasonable reply, “in other words, “we” were represented all those years, because you and who knows how many others voted for someone, based not on issues relevant to our state, but because he supports a foreign entity?” He responded, and this rings back to me over and over again, “well, you have to take care of your own.” Excuse me??? I didn’t say much more except to thank him for Pastor Hagey and the evangelical resurgence that Santorum, a Catholic, rallies with to ensure Republicon votes. I’m proud of Professor Davidson and others who are finally – many risking their careers – becoming more vocal regarding the planners of U.S. foreign policy and how key Israel is relative to the blowback that has resulted. This is NOT anti-semitism, but politics gone completely awry when a cabal of individuals assume so much power over an imperial country.

  4. Marc Rogers
    July 31, 2011 at 12:25

    It is hard for me to believe that Dr. Davidson is a professor. His grouping together of different subjects into a stew of facts that remain separate and distinct makes this essay sound a diatribe from a secular ideologue.

    His essay’s nucleus revolves around preoconceived and tendentiously skewered judgments of who and what is a fanatic, what defines and propagates anti-Semitism and seems to have borrowed pages out of The Elders of Zion( the nefarious Russian secret police invective that stated that a secret cadre of international Jews were planning to unilaterally take over the world’s affairs and wealth).

    His essays drip with anti-Israeli venom and his screed just insures what he fears the most, as the more one is maliciously attacked and disingenuously pushed into a cul-de-sac, the more defensive and intransigent one becomes.

    Dr. Davidson’s essays do not deserve the cyberspace that they inhabit. His views are more personal than professional and more subjective than objective, but most importantly of all, his antipathy and animus to an open discussion about Israel precludes his viewpoints from being anything but propaganda.

    • bobzz
      August 1, 2011 at 12:09

      I haven’t a clue what Rosemerry meant by: I am “afra.”
      That said, Marc, your sensitivity on this topic is clear. With respect, I disagree with the foreign policy America has pursued across the globe for over a century. That does not make me “anti”-American. I disagree with Israel’s stance on settlements outside the 1967 borders and in East Jerusalem. Israel has a legal right to land within the 1967 borders; Israel has signed off on that as the whole world, US excepted, recognizes. Contrary to the myth, Arab nations have recognized Israel’s right to exist. How do you characterize someone like Norman Finklestein? I do not have the numbers but more Jews are leaving Israel than are coming in because they see Netanyahu leading to a potentially disastrous end. Again, I do not know how you characterize these people. Do you think of these Jews and the ‘refuseniks’ as traitors, anti-Semites? You may label me “anti’-Semitic, but I reject the label in advance; disagreement is not ‘anti.’ I understand why certain Jews embrace Zionism, but Christian Zionists do not understand the work of Jesus at all.

      • Marc Rogers
        August 1, 2011 at 18:56

        I too disagree with America’s imperialism. I am Jewish, and to be a true Jew, as well as a true Christian, morality, justice and truth supercedes national self-aggrandizement.

        I am in agreement with many of Davidson’s points and my vociferous response is predicated that on the fact that he almost never holds the Palestinian side culpable for their actions- or at least, from all the essays that I have read from his cyberpen, that has been the case.

        All sides to a conflict must be heard, acknowledged and be given a say in any final compromise.

        You heard my message- rosemerry turned a deaf ear, a blind eye, a skewered mind and a closed heart to what I was trying to communicate.

        • bobzz
          August 1, 2011 at 20:59

          Yes, Marc, I was 95% certain you were Jewish. You weren’t just angry like Christian Zionists; you were hurt. Yes, in the past, intifada spilled Jewish blood with their indiscriminate suicide bombings of citizens in public places; yes, there are the occasional rocket attacks. And the world condemned it. But Marc, Israel has overreacted. The panel, led by a Zionist Jew, that issued the Goldstone report said the Gaza invasion went way too far. Yes, Goldstone recanted some of the report, but he was not joined by others on the panel, and one wonders what kind of pressure was put on him. Wikileaks has revealed that Israel, as a matter of policy, is forcing a marginal existence on the Palestinians. The world now knows the Palestinians have given far more than Israel in negotiations, making Israel appear totally intransigent. This is not winning any friends for Israel. Here is what I think, rightly or wrongly. If Israel told the world that, in the interests of peace we shall abide by the Geneva accords and withdraw to the 1967 borders, the entire middle east would relax. Israel would be much more secure—and still have the firepower for self defense, if necessary. My guess is that it would not be necessary. I think Netanyahu is just wrong. Given Palestinian concessions, it is time for Israel to move in the direction of peace. As for we Christians, we should be peacemakers, not agitators—like you Jews taught us to be. Shalom.

          • Marc Rogers
            August 1, 2011 at 23:13

            Beautiful, beautiful and beautiful.

            I was and am hurt- by the bias, animus and hectoring on both the Israeli and Palestinian camps.

            And like Voltaire(even though he was an anti-Semite), I have a panglossian wish, from the bottom of my soles and soul, for each camp to have a place in their own and each others respective hearts.

  5. Charles
    July 31, 2011 at 12:09

    I think you don’t understand the 9th. Even if everything you say would make sense in a nonexistent district made up of ‘average’ Jews, you don’t get that the 9th is heavy on kinds of Jews that are less typical on average, but more in keeping with the stereotypical Jewish voter. Older, more religious, more overtly Zionist, etc. The 9th is the bastion of that sort of Jew, even as they make up a less significant share of the overall Jewish vote.

    In addition, you make the mistake of focusing on votes rather than money. To the extent that money is a predictor of electoral success, and pro-Israel, elderly, tradition minded Jews provide more money, then their power is magnified a great deal. If, in some alternate universe, the less enthusiastically Zionist democrat had some mechanism for overcoming the Jewish vote, they would still have a massive disadvantage in the money primary.

    Whatever you think about the American Jewish community in general, just remember that the 9th represents a particular variant of it. And it doesn’t like you, or the kinds of generic Jews you are talking about.

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