Is It Good for the Jews?: The Crisis of America's Israel Lobby [NOOK Book]


In 2005, two then-officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee were indicted for handing over classified information to a foreign power. That the power in question was assumed to be Israel brought fresh credibility to a conspiracy theory that had been floating around Washington for years: that a powerful “Jewish lobby” controls U.S. policy in the Middle East.

The run-up to the Iraq war had provided new grist for this theory. A ...
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Is It Good for the Jews?: The Crisis of America's Israel Lobby

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In 2005, two then-officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee were indicted for handing over classified information to a foreign power. That the power in question was assumed to be Israel brought fresh credibility to a conspiracy theory that had been floating around Washington for years: that a powerful “Jewish lobby” controls U.S. policy in the Middle East.

The run-up to the Iraq war had provided new grist for this theory. A group of largely Jewish neoconservatives were among the architects of the war, and their motivations for removing Saddam Hussein were alternately ascribed to oil interests and the need to protect Israel. The allegations against these neoconservatives—especially former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz—echoed the case of the notorious Jonathan Pollard who pled guilty of spying for Israel in 1986.

In this biting and incisive polemic, journalist and author Stephen Schwartz confronts the myth of a Jewish lobby head on, asking questions that no one else has dared to pose. What is the “Jewish lobby”? How powerful is it? What was its involvement in the preparations for war in Iraq? Was there really a “cabal” of neoconservative Jews in the administration of George W. Bush? How did AIPAC officials come to be accused, in 2004, of espionage? Above all, what is good for the Jews, and who decides it?

Many of us forget that in the 1930s, a genuine home-grown fascist movement arose in America. At that time, Schwartz reminds us, it was not the official representatives of the Jewish community that stood up to the fascist goons of New York City, but Jewish socialists—the antecedents of today’s neoconservatives. Likewise, today, it has not been the meek and timid leaders of the supposedly all-powerful Jewish Lobby that have defended the Jews but the reviled “neocons” in the Bush Administration. Their strategic vision projects a foreign policy that is both good for America and good for the Jews. As a result, Schwartz predicts an increasing turn for Jewish voters away from their dysfunctional marriage with the Democratic Party and toward the Republicans.

Ultimately Schwartz concludes that in today's America, a “Jewish lobby” may no longer be necessary. In the face of the threatened collapse of the Lobby, he argues, American Jews should openly and proudly assume their proper role as moral and religious exemplars for their fellow Americans and cease acting like a frightened minority.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this broadside against conventional American Jewish political thinking, Schwartz (The Two Faces of Islam) repeatedly poses the question "is it good for the Jews?"-concluding that neoconservativism would be, but the Democratic Party isn't. Schwartz (a convert from Judaism to Islam) argues that the community's leadership, including pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC, has let down its constituency by failing to embrace neoconservativism's "universal, humanistic and liberal values" and inadequately responding to the "tidal wave of Jew-baiting" he believes preceded the Iraq war. Yet he backs his claims with speculative statements, while dismissing others' positions as "mak[ing] no sense" or insulting the messengers (e.g., "incompetent Western journalists and bought-off policy experts" are behind the dubious notion of an al-Qaeda/Saddam Hussein connection). The last sentence declares AIPAC to be "on the edge of its demise," but Schwartz provides no data to support such a prediction. He offers only an account of the spy scandal in which AIPAC has been embroiled since 2004, which led to tension with the administration, but which, Schwartz admits, also led to "an exceptional upsurge in donations" to the organization. Though the book has little to recommend it, it's likely to make waves regardless. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385518949
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/19/2006
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 288
  • File size: 718 KB

Meet the Author

stephen schwartz was staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle from 1989 to 1999. In 2000–2001, he was Washington bureau chief for the Forward. He has also been a frequent contributor to The Weekly Standard and a writer-expert for the National Endowment for the Arts. He resides in San Francisco, Washington, and Sarajevo.
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Read an Excerpt


Jewish Self-Defense Before the Lobby

He was seventeen, sensitive, with brooding eyes, and wept easily; little more than five feet tall, slender and dark, but handsome. He felt alone, angry, and confused, and outrage overwhelmed him.

He was a Jew. And he had a gun.

Herschel Feibel Grynszpan was born in Hannover, Germany, but held Polish nationality. In 1938, he had undergone three years of chaos. The Nazis were in power, and he was not allowed to become an apprentice or otherwise gain employment. He wanted to go to Palestine but found no way to get there, even after a year spent studying Hebrew. A visa to the Promised Land was refused him. Finally he went to Belgium, then crossed the border to France without authorization.

He was a refugee, an illegal immigrant, non-Christian, unemployed, a troubled youth.

He had an uncle and aunt, Abraham and Clara Grynszpan, in Paris. Abraham Grynszpan was a tailor; the family spoke Yiddish better than French. France was unfriendly to Jews fleeing Germany. Herschel could not obtain legal permission to stay, and eventually the French authorities ordered him deported and began, unsuccessfully, to hunt him down. He hid in an attic. He wrote to American president Franklin D. Roosevelt appealing for help for himself and his family.

Then, late in 1938, came the expulsion of his father, Zindel, along with his mother, sister, and brother, who, having stayed behind in Germany, were dragged from their Hannover home and sent to Poland. The Poles, in a typical fit of anti-Semitism, had threatened to revoke the passports of Polish citizens–mainly Jews–residing in Germany. The Nazis retorted by deporting some 15,000 Jews, including the Grynszpans. The Jewish victims were refused entry into their alleged Polish homeland, and massed in misery at the border.

In Paris, the agitated Herschel argued with his aunt and uncle. He had received a note from the German-Polish frontier describing the conditions his family suffered. He had fantasies of joining the French Foreign Legion, but he had probably been refused a visa to Palestine because of bad health, and it was unlikely he would succeed as a soldier of France. He threatened suicide, then slammed the door of his uncle’s house and was not seen for a night and a day. He had gone to stay in a hotel on the Left Bank, under the name Alter Heini.

On November 7, 1938, Grynszpan went to the German embassy on the rue de Lille and asked to see ambassador Johannes von Welczek. An undersecretary, Ernst vom Rath, was sent to the anteroom to find out what the visitor wanted. Grynszpan pulled his gun out and shot at vom Rath repeatedly. Two bullets struck the Nazi diplomat, who later died.
Grynszpan was seized by other embassy personnel, but surrendered and laid down his gun. He was turned over to the French police.

He told the press, “Being a Jew is not a crime. I am not a dog. I have a right to live and the Jewish people have the right to live on this earth. Wherever I have gone I have been hunted like a beast.”

By a terrible coincidence, the shooting came on the twentieth anniversary of imperial Germany’s capitulation to the Allies and the proclamation of the Berlin monarchy’s end–which the Nazis and other German anti-Semites blamed on the Jews, who allegedly “stabbed the nation in the back.” Nazi leaders ordered that the controlled press in Germany focus on Grynszpan’s act. The Nazis claimed that Grynszpan represented a powerful conspiracy of all the world’s Jews against Germany. Newspapers and radio broadcasts in Berlin and every other German city denounced him as a tool of the British “war party,” and printed his picture alongside that of Winston Churchill.

On the night of November 9, the Nazis used his reckless protest as a pretext for retaliation. The date would forever be known as “Kristallnacht”–the “night of broken glass.” Violence began in the city of Kassel and spread throughout the country, to nearly every town. The windows of almost 10,000 Jewish stores were smashed and their inventory stolen; packs of adults and children followed after and repeated the pillage until the shops were empty. Nazi “wrecking crews” rushed to blow up and set fire to synagogues, destroying as many as 2,000. Firemen put out the flames in the shops but only prevented the fires in houses of worship from spreading to neighboring structures. Some non-Jewish enterprises were devastated as the gangs careened through the cities. American-owned stores, one displaying the Stars and Stripes in its window, were demolished. Foreign diplomats and tourists who tried to observe or photograph the disorder were harassed and arrested. An incident of surrealistic madness featured a piano moved to the sidewalk, where the vandals, in jolly German style, entertained the mob by playing popular tunes.

Some in the crowds that watched the attacks were displeased with the violence; some even helped Jews escape. Indeed, foreign newspapers reported that poor and working people were not involved in the crimes. A man in Berlin, in a laborer’s outfit, shouted, “Arson is arson!” when he saw a synagogue burning. Uniformed Nazi storm troopers clearly incited the participants, who were then protected by police.

Assaults on Jewish property continued, beginning early the next day, November 10. The New York Times described “a wave of destruction, looting, and incendiarism unparalleled in Germany” since the seventeenth century. Insurance companies soon announced they would not compensate Jewish clients for the damages. All over Germany Jews were arrested–in some cases after searches of non-Jewish homes where it was suspected they were sheltered. Thousands were detained in Vienna, recently occupied in the German annexation of Austria; there some committed suicide. Other Jews were badly beaten; almost a hundred were murdered.

Governments and media in the democratic nations denounced German lawlessness. The United States called its ambassador to Berlin home for emergency consultations on the crisis. On November 15, at his 500th press conference, President Franklin D. Roosevelt expressed himself in restrained but pointed language: “The news of the past few days from Germany has deeply shocked public opinion in the United States. Such news from any part of the world would inevitably produce a similar profound reaction among American people in every part of the nation. I myself could scarcely believe that such things could occur in a twentieth century civilization.” He went on to announce that the United States would, in case of war, prepare a single “continental” defense “from Canada to Tierra del Fuego.”

The Nazi press replied by denouncing Roosevelt for “imperialism” and war preparations to benefit the armaments industry. The Nazis also complained that America had mistreated its black citizens, as if that equaled or outweighed attacks on German Jews. Germany had begun a campaign in favor of the Palestinian Arabs, and the Nazi papers warned that if Britain’s House of Commons condemned Germany, the latter would respond by publicizing British anti-Arab incidents. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, sneered that Kristallnacht was obviously spontaneous, because if he and his colleagues had organized it, ten times as many Germans would have joined in and “the results would have been more radical.”

Goebbels concluded by threatening that Nazi treatment of Jews in Germany would depend on the “good behavior” of Jews outside the country. Air Marshal Hermann Goering, the number-two Nazi after Adolf Hitler, announced a fine of $400 million levied on the German Jews for the assassination in Paris. New legal restrictions on Jews, including curfews and confiscation of radios, soon followed.

Understandably, a Jewish representative inside Germany, whose name has not survived, condemned Grynszpan. Unforgivably, many other Jews around the world saw him as a figure of horror–he had, it was said, justified Nazi cruelties. The World Jewish Congress, never as important as its pretentious title might have indicated, “deplored” Grynszpan’s act before protesting against Nazi “reprisals . . . after the crime” (i.e., of Grynszpan). A French Jewish newspaper, L’Univers Israelite, published a statement addressed to the German diplomat vom Rath’s mother, expressing its “great sorrow” at her son’s death and blaming Kristallnacht on “rabble” rather than the German leaders.

As for the leading American Jewish communal organizations, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and Anti-Defamation League (ADL), they produced no press releases or other emergency statements defending Grynszpan. The American Communist Party, then including a significant Jewish component, treated the events in Germany ambiguously. The Daily Worker, New York’s Stalinist sheet, featured a column by Mike Gold, who had become famous with his 1930 novel, Jews Without Money, renowned in its time but forgotten today except by sentimental leftist academics. Gold described Grynszpan as “mad with grief and shame.” Shame about what? one might ask.

The Communist paper elsewhere referred to Grynszpan as “griefcrazed” and referred in one brief reportage to Goebbels as a member of “the extreme anti-Semitic wing of Nazism”–as if such distinctions meant anything. The American Communists were anxious to draw attention away from their ratio of Jews, and once the brutalities of Kristallnacht began, they loudly warned that the Nazis were about to turn on Catholics in the same fashion. But Stalin had already begun sending discreet messages to Hitler indicating his interest in a pact, which would be consummated in August 1939.

The New York Times, Jewish-owned but sunk in a cowardly attitude of constraint about asserting any Jewish interest, treated Grynszpan with barely concealed contempt. The Times referred to his having studied Hebrew but with “no intention of becoming a rabbi,” and later headlined the young man’s description of the shooting as carried out in “a trance.”

The Times, it must be said, had not always been so craven; decades before, it had served with outstanding valor in exposing atrocities against the Jewish masses in the Russian empire. But the horrors of tsarism had only temporarily broken through a basic fear of identification with Jewish ambition. That reluctance had transformed the Times into a deplorable exemplar of what, in Europe, was known as the shtadlan mentality. In the shtadlan pattern–deeply rooted in the history and culture of the Old World ghettoes–“court Jews” influenced Gentile rulers by deferential influence behind the scenes at the highest level, for whatever ends the Jewish leaders deemed to be good for the community. In the Christian kingdoms, this attitude had a history of alternating achievement with disaster.

Jews could attain great influence in Christian Europe, but narrow access to power and lack of autonomy made whatever security the Jews gained a fragile matter. Jews flourished in Christian Spain and Portugal but were expelled; they were tolerated in Italy, where they could print their holy books, but then saw the Talmud burned by order of the Roman Curia; they had exalted financial relations with the rulers of England, France, and the German lands, which did not prevent their eventual banishment. They flooded into Poland, where enlightened, Renaissance-era kings favored them, but this stirred the resentment of the impoverished Christians; frightful outbreaks of violence culminated in the Cossack massacres of 1648, in which hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed.

With the coming of the Christian Reformation to the Netherlands, Amsterdam and other Dutch cities welcomed the Jews and provided a unique example as places where the shtadlan strategy was consistently successful. The Dutch Protestants honored the religious tradition and admired the piety of the Jews and were willing to let them live, pray, and work among them largely unmolested. But until the Napoleonic era and the emancipation of Jews by Bonaparte’s armies, Holland was a magnificent exception in Western Europe. Although Jews were permitted to reside in England after the mid-seventeenth century, they did so under numerous legal handicaps and in fear, as they did in the German dominions.

In a situation that would seem ironic to twenty-first-century readers, Jews in the Ottoman Empire and other Muslim lands enjoyed a better civil condition, including the unimpeded right to print their holy books. They paid a tax known as cizye, which exempted them from service in Muslim armies but also guaranteed their security. When the Jews were forced out of Spain, they were welcomed in Morocco and Turkey. But the Muslim states in which Jews formed colonies never produced a shtadlan tradition. Rather, their rabbinical jurists, alongside Christian clerics and courts, participated in a rational system of community administration. The hahambashi or chief rabbi of the Ottoman lands, for example, was a high court official and valued adviser of the Turkish sultans. In contrast, shtadlan representatives in the Christian states were episodically appointed and occasionally effective, but their status was always uncertain. Above all, shtadlan Jews in Christendom avoided public exposure, which they feared would inevitably excite anti-Jewish prejudice. Shtadlan habits were therefore essentially those of meekness and subordination.

Grynszpan, after his impetuous act, was an unfortunate victim of such attitudes. As the years went by, the Stalinists who described him as driven insane were habitually echoed by others. No less a figure than Hannah Arendt, author and former lover of the philosopher (and temporary Nazi) Martin Heidegger, described Grynszpan as “a psychopath, unable to finish school, who for years had knocked about Paris and Brussels, being expelled from both places.”

Yes, Grynszpan had been unable to finish school under the Nazis and had “knocked around” Paris and Brussels–although Arendt made him sound like a Bohemian literary vagabond rather than a Jewish refugee. And yes, he had been ordered expelled from Paris. One wonders where she thought he could have gone. Certainly, he would not have found a place in the exalted company of Heidegger.

Today Jews remain ambivalent about Grynszpan; he is still seen by most as a warped and tormented figure whose only significance is that he helped bring about the tragedy of European Jewry–as if the Holocaust would not have occurred if Grynszpan had not murdered the Nazi diplomat vom Rath. Of course, if the intention of the Nazis to exterminate all the Jews in the world had been understood at the time, he might have been seen as a hero.

Then again, maybe not. For the treatment of Grynszpan by history, including by Jewish chroniclers, raises the issue of Jewish self-defense and the morality to which it must be held. Jews had previously employed violent direct action to protect their communities in Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century. They would do so again after the foundation of the independent state of Israel. Yet such acts have almost always been greeted with disquiet by Jews and non-Jews alike. Under what circumstances is it permissible for Jews to commit acts of assassination, terror, and even military conquest in the name of self-defense? This would become the great question of the twentieth century for the Jews, and a major challenge for the world– and so it persists.

From the Hardcover edition.
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