The Role of ‘Israel Firsters’ in US Politics

'New York Jewish Week'

In-depth Report:
A few years ago writers got in trouble for using the phrase “Israel Firster.” Now an outright supporter of Israel, Gary Rosenblatt, uses that phrase in the Jewish Week in a piece titled, “Israel-Firster’s Seen Edging Toward Trump.” Rosenblatt says that some voters care more about Israel than the U.S.

Among “Israel firsters” — those who vote primarily on what they believe is best for Israel — I find more and more people saying they may well vote for Trump, based on their dislike and distrust of Clinton and their reasoning that Trump will stand up for Israel more forcefully and openly than Clinton.

They note that Trump is against the Iran deal, highly critical of Obama, heaps praise on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, wants to see the settlements expand, and pledges to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

This is important because the issue of dual loyalty is inherent in Zionism, especially as Israel has evolved, to be totally dependent on the United States and on Jews inside the United States to compel American politicians to support Israel. And it is good that this issue is coming into the mainstream conversation.

It’s good that American Jews will begin openly saying of other Jews that their first loyalty is Israel. It makes such a stance untenable: it will make it impossible for people who act on “what they believe is best for Israel” to hold high position in foreign policy-making in the U.S. government. It demonstrates that the neoconservatives are losing oxygen slowly. And that those critical of Israel are having greater influence in the discourse.

Talking about dual loyalty was verboten for a good 30 years, ever since Gore Vidal attacked the Podhoretzes for dual loyalty in the Nation, and the scorn turned on Vidal; and the charge was said to be an anti-Semitic canard about the international Jew. (Scott McConnell treats that story in his new book Ex-Neocon). But the problem still exists; the existence of Israel Firsters was an important factor in the drive to go to war in Iraq, and in opposition to the Iran deal; and in order to fight that crowd, you have to be able to state publicly what they’re up to.

A great number of American Jews have pointed out the dual loyalty problem, from Rabbi Melissa Weintraub to Peter Beinart to John Judis to Eric Alterman (list here). Last year Chuck Schumer told a Jewish audience there was a difference between American interests and Jewish interests over the Iran deal, and he had to back the American interest, and then he voted against the deal, and some charged dual loyalty. Of course the issue is inherent in the rise of the neoconservatives, as both Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol said in the 1970s that there was a “Jewish interest” (Kristol’s words) in the U.S. having a big defense budget so that it could help Israel. Some of those advocates became White House aides. Elliott Abrams said that Jews must stand apart from any society they are in except Israel, and he helped make US Middle East policy. And just last month Dennis Ross, the longtime peace processor, told a New York Jewish audience in what was presented as an off-the-record discussion that American Jews “need to be advocates for Israel” and not for Palestinians.

So it’s good an American Jewish publication is acknowledging the question. Maybe we can have a mature conversation about the true agenda of many advocates in the Israel lobby at last. Maybe Dennis Ross won’t be considered to be the next secretary of state.


Articles by: Philip Weiss

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