Why American Jews turned right – into the abyss of tea-party rage?

June 24, 2014
Sarah Benton

Folllowing Jay Michaelson’s article is a partial list of American Jewish neo-cons largely drawn from a list of those who agitated for the war against Saddam Hussein/Iraq.

The enduring picture of Abraham Joshua Heschel, Polish-American rabbi and theologian, and active in American civil rights, marching with Martin Luther King, Jr.Photo by Getty Images.

Death of the Jewish Left

There’s Reason To Think Liberalism of American Jews Fading Fast

By Jay Michaelson, Jewish Forward
June 23, 2014.

For as long as contemporary American Jews can remember, our community has voted liberal, marched radical, and, to varying degrees, found ourselves on the left side of the political spectrum. But for those who favor this state of affairs, recent shifts in Jewish culture and identity offer reason to worry.

First, Jewish solidarity with other oppressed groups appears to be on the wane. Two generations ago, Jews, racial minorities, and other disfavored groups were all excluded from the same country clubs, professional associations, and schools. We didn’t have to work very hard to see the links between racism, anti-Semitism, and classism; they were shoved in our faces.

Now, however, Jews have far less “outsider” consciousness than even two decades ago. While anti-Semitism still exists, it is largely on the fringe, even as anti-immigrant, Islamophobic, and other biases rise in the mainstream. We can still imagine what it’s like to be on the wrong side of power and privilege — but for more and more of us, it is an imaginative rather than experiential reality

Still, sociologists have noted, Jewish liberalism seems uniquely untethered to economics. As a group, we vote against our economic interests more than any other slice of the American pie. Some of this is cultural. According to the old joke, our immigrant ancestors knew three worlds: the alte veldt, the neue veldt, and Roosevelt. Politics is social, and these ties are strong.

But they are also frayed. Neo-conservatism — basically, Jewish conservatism — has now existed for half a century. Organizations like the Republican Jewish Coalition, Commentary magazine, and the Tikvah Fund have labored to create a Jewish conservative culture, and they have largely succeeded. It no longer feels goyish to vote Republican.

President GW Bush bestows the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004 on Norman Podhoretz, author of Why Are Jews Liberals? AP Photo

And what about those Jewish values, like tikkun olam and the ethical injunctions of the Torah, including paying fair wages and communal redistribution of wealth? They are too flexible. For every liberal value Bend The Arc might find in Scripture, conservatives can cite texts that emphasize “free enterprise” (anachronistically, but still), not to mention occupation and ethnocentrism. The Passover story may be one of liberation from bondage, but these days, Tea Partiers feel “bound” by the regulatory state.

Anyway, how many Jews even know these texts? As Jewish literacy and identity grow thinner, the resonance of these Jewish values diminishes.

In addition to the decline of these three historic sources of Jewish liberalism — oppression, identity, and values — there are new trends pushing Jews rightward.

 Irving Kristol

First, money. Imagine you’re a Jewish billionaire with money to spend. The more liberal and universalistic you are, the more likely you’ll spread the money wide: some to Jewish causes, perhaps, but some to medicine, art, progressive charities, and so on. The more particularistic you are the more likely you’ll give more to your tribe. Thus without any malice, Jewish philanthropy tends toward the particularistic — and overall, that means right-wing politics in Israel and the United States.

And then there’s the money that’s meant to convert us: magazines, fellowships, academies, and websites funded by neo-conservatives to promote a neo-conservative agenda. Because it’s bad form for one newspaper to call out others, I will refrain from specifics here. Suffice to say the Republican/neo-con kiruv operation is the largest intra-Jewish proselytization this side of Chabad.

Second, Jewish demographics are changing. American Jews are growing more Orthodox, as a matter of percentage, and Orthodox Jews have voted and given conservative for a century now, bucking the wider Jewish trends. Meanwhile, the Jewish Left is rapidly turning into the Jews who left. Progressive Jews are naturally more likely to assimilate: We’re less parochial, less interested in us/them binaries, less ethnocentric. We value diversity and multiculturalism — and so, percentage-wise, we not only marry out but educate out, when it comes to raising our kids.

And finally, there is Israel. Israel used to be a liberal cause, but for 47 years has been denying the most basic of civil rights — citizenship — to millions of people. This is not something liberals can support, even as conservatives insist that the occupation is necessary for security, that there’s no Palestinian peace partner, or whatever. Whatever the details of this or that political moment, Israel has gone from being a liberal cause to being, at best, a mixed one.

Meanwhile, the hard Left has been moving further left, especially on Zionism. As Israeli conservatives redefine Zionism to mean Revisionist Zionism, with its subjugation of non-Jews and emphasis on strength and militarism, it’s become harder and harder for liberals to defend it. Yes, there’s J Street — but even it is demonized by the Right. On the hard Left, anti-Zionism is now the default assumption.

And it’s easy to see why. It’s not because of anti-Semitism; it’s because Israel is an American-supported, nuclear-armed, anti-democratic occupier. Once again, liberals and conservatives may hasten to explain why all this is necessary and not Israel’s fault. But at a certain point, those of a more leftward orientation don’t buy these explanations.

Is there a future for the Jewish Left? There are reasons to be hopeful — but ultimately I’m not persuaded.

To be sure, there are enclaves. Social Justice is a powerful Jewish organizer. The Reform movement, which tends to the liberal, is stronger than it has been in years. And there are exciting Jewish liberal and further-left communities and organizations around the country. The energy in these pockets of Jewish liberalism is infectious and full of hope.

But if we’re data-driven, rather than inspired by anecdotes, these are exceptions, not the rule. Amidst an awesome Jews for Racial & Economic Justice party, or on an AJWS trip, it can sure feel as though the tide is turning. But in the grim office of the statistician, the waves look more like eddies against the current.

I think what might really save the Jewish Left is, in fact, the Jewish Right. Republicans have moved so far rightward in recent years that many of Ronald Reagan’s principles — let alone Eisenhower’s — would be left of the party line today. You can love capitalism and still be way to the left of the American center right now. We live in a new Gilded Age, with a wealth gap to rival Brunei’s, and with corporate power at its zenith. And yet the flood of corporate-sponsored conservative media insists that we’re on the verge of socialism. This doublespeak energizes the resentful Republican base, but it might also drive moderates to the left. Or so a liberal might hope.

Eric Cantor, former Republican House Majority Leader and the most senior Jewish congressman, was defeated in a primary by Dave Brat whose anti-immigrant, Ayn Rand-influenced beliefs attracted large tea party support.

And of course, when writing or reading a Jeremiad, it’s important to remember that it’s always been five minutes to midnight. Name your cause, and you’ll find someone saying that it’s doomed. I take more than a grain of salt with any ruminations such as these.

Yet it would be a loss if the Jewish Left were to wither. Judaism and Jewish community provide a significant reservoir of power, ideology, identity, and community. When yoked to a politics of liberation, rather than selfishness, Judaism calls on our better nature, prodding and sometimes compelling us to curb the all-too-human tendencies toward the closing of the heart. Some would say this makes us soft. But thousands of years of history strongly suggest the opposite.

Jay Michaelson is a contributing editor to the Forward.

Notes and links

Jewish neocons and the romance of nationalist armageddon
Philip Weiss, Mondoweiss, May 6th, 2014

List of prominent American Jewish neoconservatives. Largely drawn from Who got us into the Iraq war? Sections in double quotes come from this source.

Neo-conservative does not mean Jewish, viz: Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, John Bolton, Douglas Feith, James Woolsey….But neo-conservative ideas on the economy as well as foreign policy were promulgated most actively in publications and think-tanks staffed by Jews who had actively renounced their left-wing heritage and saw ‘liberal’ ideas as a mass delusion, accommodating of Stalinism  and their main enemy. This left-right leap was the ‘neo’ in neo-conservatism.]

Elliot Abrams
American lawyer. During the Reagan administration, Abrams gained notoriety for his involvement in controversial foreign policy decisions regarding Nicaragua and El Salvador. During Bush’s first term, he served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director on the National Security Council for Near East and North African Affairs. At the start of Bush’s second term, Abrams was promoted to be his Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy, in charge of promoting Bush’s strategy of advancing democracy abroad. His appointment by Bush was controversial due to his conviction in 1991 on two misdemeanor counts of unlawfully withholding information from Congress during the Iran-Contra Affair investigation.

“He was one of the signatories of the 26 January 1998 PNAC letter sent to President Bill Clinton which called for regime-change in Iraq.”

Max Boot
Son of Russian Jewish immigrants.
“He has been a prominent advocate for neoconservative foreign policy, once describing his own position as support for the use of “American might to promote American ideals” throughout the world.”

“He is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, a weekly columnist for the Los Angeles Times and a regular contributor to other publications including the Financial Times and The New York Times. “

“He is also a consultant to the U.S. military and a regular lecturer at U.S. military institutions such as the Army War College and the Command and General Staff College.

Stephen Bryen

“Bryen is closely connected to various high-profile neoconservatives like Richard Perle, under whom Bryen served when Perle was President Ronald Reagan’s assistant secretary of defense, and has supported the work of a number of hardline pro-Israel groups like the Center for Security Policy (CSP) and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA).”

Eliot A. Cohen

“Cohen is the Director of the Strategic Studies department at SAIS and has specialized in strategic studies, the Middle East, Persian Gulf, Iraq, arms control, and NATO. He is a member of the Project for the New American Century and was called “the most influential neoconservative in academe” by energy economist Ahmad Faruqui. He is currently serving as Counselor to the U.S. State Department.”

“Cohen was one of the first neoconservatives to publicly advocate war against Iran and Iraq”

From wikipedia Cohen attacked the paper The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy by Walt and Mearheimer which criticised the Israel lobby for influencing U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East away from U.S. interests and towards Israel’s interests. In an op-ed piece in The Washington Post Cohen dismissed the academic working paper as bearing all the traditional hallmarks of anti-Semitism: “obsessive and irrationally hostile beliefs about Jews”, accusations toward Jews of “disloyalty, subversion or treachery, of having occult powers and of participating in secret combinations that manipulate institutions and governments”, as well as selection of “everything unfair, ugly or wrong about Jews as individuals or a group” and equally systematical suppression of “any exculpatory information”.(Mearsheimer and Walt have denied Cohen’s assertions as false, dishonest and ridiculous, noting that criticism of Israeli state policy and influential American advocates of that policy, such as Cohen, is not the same thing as demonization of Jewish people.)

Alan Dershowitz

He is “”an American political figure and criminal law professor at Harvard Law School”
Regular and belligerent defender of the Israeli government and opponent of BDS.

David Frum

“David J. Frum (born 1960) is a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush”
“Frum is widely cited as having authored the phrase “axis of evil,”

from wikipedia David Joel Horowitz is an American conservative writer. He is a founder and current president of the think tank the David Horowitz Freedom Center, editor of FrontPage Magazine, and director of Discover the Networks, a website that tracks individuals and groups on the political left. Horowitz founded the organization Students for Academic Freedom, whose self-stated goal is combating what it calls the “leftist indoctrination” in academia.[2]

Horowitz was raised by parents who were members of the Communist Party USA. Between 1956 and 1975, Horowitz was an outspoken adherent of the New Left before rejecting leftism completely. Horowitz has recounted his ideological journey in a series of retrospectives, culminating with his 1996 memoir Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey.

Donald Kagan

“became one of the original signers to the 1997 Statement of Principles by the neoconservative “think tank,” Project for the New American Century”

Frederick Kagan

“Frederick Kagan and his father Donald Kagan, who is a professor at Yale and a fellow at the Hudson Institute, together authored While America Sleeps: Self-Delusion, Military Weakness, and the Threat to Peace Today (2000). The book argued in favor of massive military spending and warned of future threats, including from a potential revival of Iraq’s WMD program.[1] Frederick along with his brother Robert Kagan, who is a member of the Aspen Strategy Group, and their father Donald are all signatories to the neoconservative Project for the New American Century manifesto titled Rebuilding America’s Defenses (2000)”

Robert Kagan

“American neoconservative scholar and political commentator.”

“Kagan worked at the State Department Bureau of Inter-American Affairs (1985-1988) and was a speechwriter for Secretary of State George P. Shultz (1984-1985). “He is a co-founder of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC)”

Henry Kissinger

“In 2002, President George W. Bush appointed Kissinger to chair a committee to investigate the events of the September 11 attacks. “

“In 2006, it was reported in the book State of Denial by Bob Woodward that Kissinger was meeting regularly with President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to offer advice on the War in Iraq. Kissinger confirmed in recorded interviews with Woodward”

Charles Krauthammer

“Neoconservative columnist and commentator. Krauthammer appears regularly as a guest commentator on Fox News. His print work appears in the Washington Post, Time magazine and The Weekly Standard.”

“Krauthammer asserted that Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction was certain”

Bill Kristol

“He is the son of Irving Kristol, one of the founders of the neoconservative movement”

“Kristol was a strong advocate of the Iraq war”

Irving Kristol
A founding father of neoconservatism who characterized a neoconservative as a “liberal mugged by reality.”

“Kristol is the founder of the politics and culture journal The Public Interest and the foreign affairs journal The National Interest.”

Michael Ledeen

“Ledeen was a founding member of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs and he served on the JINSA Board of Advisors. In 2003, the Washington Post alleged that he was consulted by Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s closest advisor, as his main international affairs adviser.”

“Michael Ledeen had been accused of being involved in the forgery which claimed that Saddam Hussein had bought yellowcake in Niger.”

“Writing in The Nation, a left-wing magazine, Jack Huberman, who describes Ledeen as “the most influential and unabashed warmonger of our time”,

Scooter Libby

From Wikipedia American lawyer, a prominent Republican and former adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney. Libby was disbarred after being convicted of a felony in relation to the Plame affair.

From 2001 to 2005, Libby held the offices of Assistant to the Vice President for National Security Affairs and Chief of Staff to the Vice President of the United States and Assistant to  President George W. Bush.  Libby was  actively involved in the Bush administration’s efforts to negotiate the Israeli–Palestinian “road map” for peace; for example, he participated in a series of meetings with Jewish leaders in early December 2002 and a meeting with two aides of then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in mid-April 2003, culminating in the Red Sea Summit on June 4, 2004. Former British Foreign Secretary (2001–2006), Jack Straw said of Libby: “It’s a toss-up whether [he] is working for the Israelis or the Americans on any given day.” In their  “Working Paper” entitled “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy”, Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt argue that Libby was among the Bush administration’s most “fervently pro-Israel … officials” . Libby was part of a network of neo-conservatives known as the “Vulcans”—its other members included Wolfowitz, Condoleezza Rice, and Donald Rumsfeld. While he was still a managing partner of Dechert Price & Rhoads, he was a signatory to the “Statement of Principles” of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) (a document dated June 3, 1997). He joined Wolfowitz, PNAC co-founders William Kristol, Robert Kagan, and other “Project Participants” in developing the PNAC’s September 2000 report entitled, “Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces, and Resources for a New Century”

Richard Perle, American political advisor and lobbyist who worked for the Reagan administration as an assistant Secretary of Defense and worked on the Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee from 1987 to 2004. He was Chairman of the Board from 2001 to 2003 under the Bush Administration.”

Daniel Pipes

“American historian and counter-terrorism analyst who specializes in the Middle East.”

“regular columnist for the New York Sun and The Jerusalem Post. He contributes regularly to David Horowitz’s online publication FrontPage Magazine, and he has had his work published by many newspapers across North America, including the Washington Post, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal.[citation needed] He is frequently invited to discuss the Middle East on American network television, as well as by universities and think tanks, has appeared on the BBC and Al Jazeera”

“Pipes and the organization were accused of attacking academic freedom in 2002 by publishing a list of academics critical of Israel and U.S. foreign policy”

“Pipes has served in various capacities at the Departments of State and Defense, while his father served on the National Security Council, and he has testified to the United States Congress”
“Pipes is an outspoken Zionist.”

“In 1987, Pipes encouraged the United States to provide Saddam Hussein with upgraded weapons and intelligence,[30] ostensibly to counterbalance Iran’s successes in the Iran-Iraq War”

“Pipes was a strong backer of the Iraq War, saying that Saddam Hussein posed an “imminent threat” to the United States. In a New York Post article published April 8, 2003, Pipes expressed his opposition to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s concerned prediction that “[the] war [in Iraq] will have horrible consequences…Terrorism will be aggravated…Terrorist organizations will be united…Everything will be insecure.” Though this concern was echoed by various other politicians and academics cited by Pipes in his article, Pipes argued that “the precise opposite is more likely to happen: The war in Iraq will lead to a reduction in terrorism.””

John Podhoretz

“Podhoretz has been one of the most steadfast supporters of U.S. president George W. Bush, and even wrote a book extolling Bush as “the first great leader of the 21st century”.”

“Podhoretz is emphatic in his defense of Israel”

“However, Podhoretz was critical of the tactics used by Israel’s leadership in the recent Lebanon conflict, and argued that the Olmert government should have been more forceful in its efforts to weaken Hezbollah as a political and military force.”

Norman Podhoretz
from Wikipedia Editor Commentary magazine, 1960-95. Norman Podhoretz was one of the original signatories of the “Statement of Principles” of the Project for the New American Century which sent a letter to President Clinton in 1998 advocating the removal by force of Saddam Husein in Iraq. Podhoretz’s 2009 book Why Are Jews Liberals? questions why American Jews for decades have been dependable Democrats, often supporting the party by margins of better than two-to-one, even in years of Republican landslides.

“He asserts that the War on Terror is a war against Islamofascism, and constitutes World War IV (World War III having been the Cold War), and advocates the bombing of Iran to pre-empt their acquisition of nuclear weapons.”

“Project for the New American Century, PNAC, original signer”

“Podhoretz is the father of John Podhoretz, a columnist for the Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post, who also acts as a ubiquitous booster of the hawks”

Paul Wolfowitz
“As U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense during the Presidency of George W. Bush, he was “a major architect of President Bush’s Iraq policy and, within the Administration, its most passionate and compelling advocate” (Boyer 1)”

David Wurmser

“David Wurmser is a Swiss-American dual citizen and the Middle East Adviser to US Vice President Dick Cheney. Wurmser, a neoconservative, previously served as special assistant to John R. Bolton at the State Department and was a former research fellow on the Middle East at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).” On September 4, 2004, the Washington Post reported that FBI counterintelligence investigators had questioned Wurmser, along with Feith, Harold Rhode, and Paul Wolfowitz about the passing of classified information to Ahmad Chalabi and/or the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. [4]”

“British Secretary of State for Justice Jack Straw said of Libby: “It’s a toss-up whether [he] is working for the Israelis or the Americans on any given day.”

Dov Zakheim

“During the 2000 U.S. Presidential election campaign, Zakheim served as a foreign policy advisor to George W. Bush “

“appointed to be Undersecretary of Defense and Comptroller from 2001 to 2004 under the George W. Bush administration, and served in this capacity until April 2004. During his term as Comptroller, he was tasked to help track down the Pentagon’s 2.6 trillion dollars ($2,600,000,000,000) worth of unaccounted transactions”

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