Wilsonian meddling in world affairs produces a corollary that other nations must abhor. American citizens not only take an active and sympathetic interest in the welfare of the “old country”—whether England or Poland or Haiti—they also insist on instructing the uneducated folk who stayed home on how to conduct their affairs in accord with the highest ideals of American democracy. This produces anomalies in foreign policy that, as usual, Jews exemplify in a striking way.
Specifically, Jewish Americans, particularly on the left, undertake to instruct successive Israeli governments on how to make peace with the Arab states, what to say to the PLO, and when and where to show that sterling trait of rationality when sorting out the irrational affairs of the Middle East. If I were the Israeli cabinet, whether on the left or on the right, I would curse Columbus. Here these overseas pressure groups presume to dictate policy, but then never undertake to bear its consequences.
Don’t get me wrong. Voluntary action is as American as bagels and cream cheese, or pizza and beer. There is nothing odd about strong Jewish-American concern for the future of Israel, a country under siege for nearly a half-century now. The PACs under Jewish sponsorship concerned with Near and Middle Eastern matters and those (also under Jewish sponsorship) with strong interests in public policy at home together constitute a formidable Jewish political presence in Washington, and in New York as well.
American Jewry comprises not only a religious, cultural, ethnic, and social entity; it is very much a component in the politics of the American power-system. In their use of power Jews are like others of their class, which is to say, distinct subdivisions within the American social system. Just as Israel is like other states, so American Jewry is like other American ethnic and social entities: similar to others in many ways, different in some, distinct through and through.
But American Jews have also undertaken to negotiate on behalf of Israel with the sworn enemies of that nation. And that represents the Jews’ adaptation, to their own circumstance, of Wilson’s notion of an interventionist foreign policy. It is one thing for the United States to counsel its clients and friends on both sides as to how to make peace. But what we have seen in the Jewish instance is something else, namely, citizens of one state negotiating with representatives of another (soi-disant) state concerning the affairs of a third state, and we must regard such action as highly irregular.
In affairs of state, third-party intervention is ordinarily deemed an offense and may be construed as an act not of treason or sedition but of war. When, for example, in 1938 the French and British negotiated with the Germans over the fate of certain Czech territories, the Czechs deemed that action an intervention and a betrayal. When American citizens flew to Hanoi to lend aid and comfort to North Vietnam in its invasion of America’s ally and co-belligerent, South Vietnam, many construed that action as treason and sedition. The two actions are, of course, different, since Chamberlain returned not to Prague but to London, while Fonda came home to California. But the somewhat mixed analogies serve to make the simple point that third-party intervention is odd and offensive.
Yet, over the years, American Jews have made the pilgrimage to Tunis to negotiate with the PLO over Palestinian policy toward Israel. Take, for example, the Stockholm Five, five Jews who some years back met, without Israeli authorization or mission, with officials of the PLO to negotiate the terms under which verbal recognition would meet the conditions set by the United States for legitimation of the PLO as a negotiating partner. Whom did the Stockholm Five represent? And what empowered them to enter into the political process? They are not Israeli citizens, so they cannot stand for any political faction in that state, let alone the foreign ministry of that state. They are not American diplomats, so they cannot claim to negotiate on behalf of a party to the issue, American recognition of the PLO being what was at stake. Do they speak for a deeply concerned party, American Jewry or world Jewry? Their sponsor, moneybags Philip Klutznick, perennial officeholder and self-promoter in world Jewish organizations, certainly thought so; but he cannot be accorded more standing and authority than his money can buy him.
Some years back, then, Stockholm presented the spectacle of citizens of one country negotiating with a second country about the most vital concerns of a third country, which is unprecedented in world affairs. American Jews care deeply for what happens in and to Israel, just as American Roman Catholics of Italian origin are engaged by the affairs of the Church and the Italian state and polity, just as American Roman Catholics of Hispanic origin care deeply about what happens in Mexico and Central America. But caring for other Americans ordinarily does not spill over into meddling, and the intense and unrelenting engagement of American Jews in Israeli public policy ordinarily does.
I see two solutions. First, American Jews have to recognize that, if they want to tell Israel how to do its business, they should relocate there, pay taxes, serve in its army, and vote in its elections. Second, Israelis have to declare their independence from world Jewry. Both sides need to recognize the simple fact that Jewish Americans are not Israelis, that Israelis can be left to make their own mistakes. For, after all, their political process, democratic and just, must be free to do its work—and will do its work. We who live far away from Israel must give up our prophet’s cloak and cease to condemn the slightest Israeli infringement upon our heightened and selective sensitivity to the requirements of justice.
It is time for Israelis to recognize that the cost of the special relationship with world Jewry exceeds the benefit. Insisting that they form the center of world Jewry, proposing to utilize Jews throughout the world in the achievement of their national goals, subjects Israel to a politics it cannot accommodate: constituencies in not only Holon but also West Hartford. Just as the Israelis have built a normal state, so they now have to rethink the requirements for the normalization of relationships with Jews outside of Israel. No other country in the world today manipulates its overseas friends in the way the Israelis do, and 1 wonder when they will see the heavy price they pay in overseas meddling.