Thursday, February 23, 2017

The DNC election and allegations of anti-semitism

Anti-semitism.  It's not just for the alt-right!

You may have heard that there is some interesting business going on at the DNC, with a leading candidate having been accused of anti-semitism.  Specifically, Keith Ellison, who made some remarks about US foreign policy basically being controlled by Israel.  So, is that really anti-semitism?

There is some academic history here.  About ten years ago, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt published an absolutely atrocious book called The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy.  Normally, I link to books, but this one, nope.  I ain't linkin' to that piece of shit.  Walt and Mearsheimer were actual academics rather than your usual nazi scumbags, but if you want an idea of what they did, here it is:  take a neo-nazi screed about how the jews and their filthy, filthy money run the world and replace "jews" with "Israel lobby," and there you go.  The "Israel lobby" controls everything.  With their filthy, filthy money.  Instant classic in the realm of pseudo-intellectual, anti-semitic, conspiracy theorizing.

If you want to go deep down the rabbit hole Googling critiques of that garbage, that's your wasted time.  Mearsheimer and Walt were never actually scholars of interest groups in American politics, though, and they never bothered to dig deeply into the literature, so they never bothered to learn anything about how shit actually works.  If you want the short version about why US foreign policy is so pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian, here it is:  there is a relatively large contingent of Americans who are pro-Israel.  The pro-Palestinian contingent is tinier than Donald Trump's hands and support for their cause among the public is thinner than his skin.


1)  Americans don't like terrorists.  It's sort of an open question what public opinion would be if Palestinians went the Gandhi route, but they haven't.  The rest of the world gets their hackles up when Israel responds with asymmetric force.  That kind of argument doesn't hold weight with Americans.

Americans cheer for this kind of stuff.

2)  Evangelicals support Israel.  This is a weird thing that people don't want to talk about, but it has something to do with bringing about the apocalypse.  Yes, seriously.  Back when we had an actual evangelical in the White House, this led to some complicated politics.  Here is a fun, but quick old read.

3)  Neo-conservatives oppose the non-democratic (small-d) states throughout the Middle East based on the "democratic peace hypothesis."  Democratic states don't fight each other, so we should spread peace in the long run by toppling non-democratic states, even if that means fighting wars in the short run.  So, neo-conservatives back Israel as an opponent to the worst states in the Middle East, and it is more democratic than they are, even if you object to its treatment of Palestinians.  (Many don't.)

4)  Anti-islamic sentiment.  Yeah, this is mixed in here too.  Let's not pretend otherwise.

So, yes, American foreign policy has a clear pro-Israel slant.  And it doesn't have a fucking thing to do with the power of AIPAC, or lobbyists, or money, or any of that nonsense.

Mearsheimer and Walt (nice, German-sounding names) wrote a horrible book that simply didn't bother to do any real reading on how interest group politics work, or how policy-making works, so they wrote something that sounded like what happens if you take an anti-semitic screed and replace "jews" with "the Israel lobby."

Funny, but people got upset about that.  I still remember the dust-ups.

Now, for context, here's what got Keith Ellison in trouble:  "The United States foreign policy in the Middle East is governed by [emphasis added] what is good or bad for a country of 7 million people."

In the context of Walt and Mearsheimer, this sounds a lot like "AIPAC runs our country," which sounds a lot like "we are controlled by the jews and their filthy, filthy money."

We have long since accepted the concept that anti-black racism has gone into code because simply throwing around the n-word just doesn't work anymore.  What Ellison said was basically what Walt and Mearsheimer said.  Walt and Mearsheimer have basically been ex-communicated from real academic discourse for writing a book that was anti-semitic and stupid.

I didn't pay money for Walt & Mearsheimer's book because, FUCK them, but I've read it, so I've heard Ellison's schtick before.  If you want to read that fucking book, that's your choice, but at least now you know some history behind the kind of shit Ellison says.


  1. But....

    when you add up #1-4, toss in a little bit of Zaller/Brady (sheeple being led by elites), and you get....

    somebody acting as if they're the spokesman for apple pie, who many people treat as if they are the spokesman for apple pie, de facto IS the spokesman for apple pie.

    The idiots can believe its all about the campaign money. I'll go with "they're the designated go-to in the media as spokespeople for a popular group" for 200, Alex.

    AIPAC is routinely rated as one of the most powerful lobbies in DC. The NRA isn't powerful because of their money, but because they have literally millions of people who are REALLY into believing WHATEVER the NRA tells them. AIPAC isn't powerful because of numbers or because of money; but they are powerful because of your reasons.

    Power abhors a vacuum.

    1. So, to sum up your pseudo-logic, AIPAC is powerful because people who rate interest groups’ power think they are powerful. That sounds exactly like Trump-surrogates’ defense of his lies. Whenever Kellyanne Conway, or some other Trump hack was called on a Trump lie on the campaign trail, they would point to polls that showed voters rating Trump as more honest than Clinton. Just because people thought it doesn’t make it true. The point of my post, which you seemed to miss, was that public opinion is powerful when it is completely one-sided, as it is in the case of Israel. If you want to make a case on the NRA, you can at least try because there are divisions. On gun control, you have an intense minority, with the NRA as a spokes-group, versus a less committed majority, and just as Robert Dahl would predict, the intense minority wins nearly every time. That’s not the NRA, though, that’s the intense minority. However, there is virtually no pro-Palestinian constituency in America (Keith Ellison, Walt & Mearsheimer and a few others, but the numbers are tiny), but there is a lot of pro-Israeli sentiment. AIPAC has the easiest job in Washington. They are effect not cause.

    2. Nope.

      They add something to the mix, just as Focus on the Family does for religious zealots. I'll make the case there, because it's simpler.

      For the religious right, why are they all riled up about abortion and gays but not shellfish and adultery? (OK, on gays, they're exploiting already-existing societal biases) Answer: because that's what's been ginned up for them by the leaders of the religious right. Just as Republicans find out that "hey, I want less taxes on the rich because my side told me so", people in interest groups are told what they want by leaders of those groups. The street goes both ways, of course, but look at that list you have of people who are pro-Israel. Do you really think many of those folks are all that sophisticated about foreign policy to tease out things? No. They may know that they are "pro-Israel" but they don't know what that actually entails. That leaves a big ol' opening for some people to lead those unwashed masses.

      Like it (as you do) or not (as sane people do), the NRA has a great deal of political power because they get to define what it means to be "pro-gun," and this means that all kinds of people will vote, and write legislators, and have issue preferences as they are told to. They have choice in who they choose to listen to, yes; but if there's only one game in town for an issue they're vaguely supportive of, that's power.

      People have some of their own preferences. But they're led from those to specific things.

      Take guns in schools. A few years ago, gun owners would have said "that's a stupid fucking idea; kids would get a hold of guns." Now? The NRA has told them that our teachers need to be armed, and they're like "yeah, that's right. Plus, did you hear about the bears?" You haven't changed the general "I like guns" attitude, but you've directed that energy.

      AIPAC gets to direct that pro-Israel energy. They don't create very much of it, no. But my argument is saying that the kid with the magnifying glass has power over the ants. You're saying "but the sun!"

    3. I won't take the bait on your ridiculous gun stuff, but you are missing the point with either of your policy analogies. There is an opposition to social conservatives and to the NRA. There is no organized, pro-Palestinian movement here, and all of the underlying fundamentals are so strongly pro-Israel that AIPAC doesn't have to do jack fucking shit to win. Do you think Trump consulted AIPAC before cozying up to Netanyahu? No. He is just surrounded by antimuslims, neocons and evangelicals. They told him to do it.
      You want a sun analogy? A kid with a magnifying glass won't kill a polar bear in the Saharan desert. The polar bear just can't survive there. The sun is enough, and the magnifying glass won't matter. The kid will just get mauled trying. With all the antisemites in Trump's inner circle, AIPAC is better off staying away. You wanna call that power? I call bullshit.

  2. Note that I'm not saying Mearsheimer & Walt are right. Haven't read the book. But, the statement of "lobbyists arguing for Israel are powerful" is just plain factual.

    1. Watch me put my hand on my car. That car is SOOOOOO HEAVY!!!!! I must be REEEAAALLLLY strong to keep it on the ground like that! Without my tremendous strength, it would obviously fly off into the stratosphere! I’m SOOOOOO strong! That’s just factual.

      Or, wait, maybe we should think about the “counterfactual.” Isn’t that one of them damn social science buzz words? If the underlying cause of US policy is public opinion being one-sided towards Israel, then AIPAC is effect, not cause, and you’re blowing smoke. How’s that new law working out for you in California?