BY SAM SMITH
GEORGE BUSH, with the
concurrence of his purported opponent, John Kerry, has effectively
outsourced his major foreign policy to Israel, thereby creating
a substantially increased risk of further attacks on the U.S.
Both men, however, appear
motivated primarily by domestic political considerations rather
than the safety of their country. It has been clear for a long
time that the single most effective thing America could do to
improve both its relationships and its security in Middle Eastern
affairs would be to end its coddling of the right wing Israeli
government, pressuring it instead to come to a reasonable accommodation
While much of American
'even handedness' in the Middle East over the years has been
a charade, the latest move clearly ends even the illusion of
fairness. As the AP reported, "A senior Israeli official,
speaking on condition of anonymity, said Sharon thought that
no American president had ever made concessions so important
to Israel as Bush did on Wednesday."
Pollster John Zogby told
Dana Milbank and Mike Allen of the Washington Post, "This
is pretty much the final nail in the coffin of the peace process
as far as Arabs are concerned."
Wrote Milbank and Allen:
"[Zogby] said his polling indicates the Palestinian cause
is among the top three issues for 90 percent of Arabs in all
Arab countries he has surveyed. 'It's not even a political issue,
it's a bloodstream issue,'" Zogby said.
Milbank and Allen gave
an unusually frank description of the domestic politics involved:
Domestically, ~~ the move
could enable Bush to chip away a few more of the Jewish voters
who have traditionally been loyal to Democrats. And in a tight
election, the small minority of Jewish voters -- who tend to
have strong turnout levels -- could give Bush an edge in battleground
states such as Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
"Given that Jews
turn out at an 80 percent turnout rate, if you swing the Jewish
vote 10 percent in Ohio, that could give you Ohio," said
Nathan Diament, a lobbyist for the Orthodox Jewish movement.
Though he believes Bush's motive is principle rather than politics,
Diament also notes that the courting of Jewish donors -- hugely
important to Democrats -- could aid the Republican Party. . .
House Chief Deputy Majority
Whip Eric I. Cantor (Va.), the House's only Jewish Republican,
echoed that point. "American Jews see that President Bush
gets the fact that Israel is fighting the same fight against
terrorism that we are," he said. "The very liberal
Jews are not going to be able to put aside their environmental
or abortion politics. But for the mainstream Jewish community,
Israel is of paramount importance."
Republican officials in
Washington said that while they are confident Bush made his decision
for sincere policy reasons, they believe the potential impact
on the politics of 2004 could be substantial. "This will
make it that much harder for John Kerry to win Florida,"
said a Republican aide on Capitol Hill who refused to be identified
because of the sensitivity of the issue. Associates said Bush's
strategists believe that even small inroads into the Jewish vote
could mean the difference between winning and losing Florida,
and several Republicans believe the announcement could further
inhibit Kerry's fundraising in the Jewish community.
David Winston, a pollster
who advises GOP lawmakers, said that the policy change "is
clearly going to generate some favorable reaction from people
who have not been traditional Republican voters."
"This expands the
opportunity for the Republican Party," Winston said.
There is a big price to
be paid for viewing "the special relationship" as a
political asset. Mark Mawozer, writing in the Financial Times,
The tidal wave of anti-American
feeling has eroded its position as an honest broker over Palestine,
while lavish aid has given it scant leverage over Israeli policy.
Other administrations, if not this one, have also resented the
extent of the Israeli lobby's power over Congress and White House
John Foster Dulles, the
late US secretary of state, had underlined the dangers of a situation
in which "much of the world - and the Israeli government
- believed Israel could in crucial moments control US policy".
President Bill Clinton was not pleased when Benjamin Netanyahu,
then Israeli prime minister, once referred - with unnecessary
candor - to the US as Israel's strategic asset.
Here surely is the partnership's
paradox: despite enjoying a global supremacy unprecedented in
history, the US finds itself reacting to events, not shaping
them. Where the Middle East is concerned, the power of initiative
lies not in Washington but in Jerusalem.
Can any great power acquiesce
indefinitely to such a self-limiting posture? President George
Washington had warned Americans in his Farewell Address that
"a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces
a variety of evils". He was referring to their fondness
for the French. One wonders if the current US attachment to Israel
will ever go the same way.
The Jewish electorate
in America has changed dramatically in the past decades. For
much of the 20th century, Jewish activism, along with mid-western
populism, were major sources of the country's progressive ideas.
But with the rise of Israel as an symbol and the upward mobility
of succeeding generations, the Jewish electorate became increasingly
conservative, much of it now a part of a SUV liberal right that
is no longer much interested in populist politics.
While Muslims are an increasingly important voting bloc, they
are poorer, less well organized, and less concentrated than the
Jewish vote and thus less appealing to politicians.
What is amazing about
all this is that under discussion is a policy that could easily
lead to another disaster of the scale of 9/11. It is hard to
find a parallel for such a negligently reckless foreign policy
in recent American history.
While politicians have
repeatedly catered to ethnic groups with a foreign agenda, it
is unusual for such behavior to cost so much in money, goodwill,
and national security.
For example, some such
causes - such as Northern Ireland and South Africa - have offered
positive outcomes. Some - as with efforts to please the Cuban
right - have been negative but not causing any major damage.
Israel is, however, in
a lonely class with Taiwan, both with a long history of directly
interfering in American politics against the larger interest
of, and at significant risk to, our country.
Beyond these two examples,
you have to go back to New York City during the rise of Mussolini
to find something somewhat comparable. Mussolini not only got
significant support from the Italian-American right but in 'Friendly
Fascism,' Bertram Gross notes that Mussolini also won "the
friendship, support or qualified approval" of the American
ambassador, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Thomas Lamont, many newspapers
and magazine publishers, the majority of business journals, and
quite a sprinkling of liberals, including some associated with
both the Nation and The New Republic.
This combination of ethnic
and elite support has a familiar ring today and raises some of
the same issues.
Writing a review for the
history site, H-Net, Stanislao G. Pugliese notes that "[Philip]
Cannistraro shows how the fascist government made strident efforts
to recruit both leading prominenti such as Generoso Pope (publisher
of Il Progresso and other Italian-language newspapers) as well
as the masses. Mussolini's representatives in America shrewdly
played on the anxious (and new-found) nationalism of the Italian
Americans. Fascist rhetoric appealed to Italian Americans, many
of whom were suffering from overt discrimination; harking back
to the glories of ancient Rome, Italo Balbo's flying squadron,
and the Duce's declaration of an 'African Empire' were powerful
ingredients in an ideology of compensation."
True, there was an Italian-American
left far more vigorous than today's Jewish counterpart. It would
help elect the likes of Fiorello La Guardia and one of the most
progressive representatives ever to sit in Congress, Vito Marcantonio.
But it also ran into plenty of trouble, including major clashes
between black shirts and anti-fascists and
the assassination of its major newspaper editor, Carlo Tresca,
by members of the pro-Mussolini Mafia.
The Mafia would eventually
join the American cause but with the questionable payoff that
the Americans - because of its utility in fighting European communists
- helped it regain control of Sicily after the war and looked
the other way as it strengthened its position in the U.S.. The
bargain curses us to this day.
In 1979 the Fifth Estate reported: "Upon his arrival in
Italy, [Carlo] Gambino gave Mussolini a gift of $100,000 and
asked if there was any favor he could do for the dictator. The
Duce replied that there was an anarchist in New York City who
caused much trouble for Italy by his "lies." Mussolini
and Gambino both agreed that it would be best if the source of
the problem was eliminated. Galante was a capo in the NYC Gambino
family who functioned as an enforcer.
"In Naples, one of
[Lucky] Luciano's lieutenants, Vito Genovese, was appointed to
a position of interpreter-liaison officer in American army headquarters
and quickly became one of AMGOT's most trusted employees. It
was a remarkable turnabout; less than a year before, Genovese
had arranged the murder of Carlo Tresca, editor of an anti-Fascist
Italian-language newspaper in New York, to please the Mussolini
In the end, even Generoso
Pope later joined in supporting Franklin Roosevelt but to this
day the city's Italian American politics is marked by divisions
symbolized by Mario Cuomo and Geraldine Ferrero on one side and
Alphonse D'Amato and Rudolph Guiliani on the other.
Today, but without a healthy
left, Jewish-American politics presents some of the same dangers
that Italian-American politics did in the 1920s and 30s: a misbegotten
conversion of love of one's roots into loyalty to a government
that is a betrayal of much of what those roots are meant to mean.
And, as a result, all
Americans, regardless of their roots, are placed in danger. -