Henry Feingold: On the state of Jewish lobby in America

Source: Jerusalem Post, 4-16-09

…..Your book is called: Jewish Power in America: Myth and Reality. In short: what’s myth, what’s reality?

The general myth of Jewish power which thrives despite the genocidal murder of one out of three Jews during World War II is that Jews conspire to gain power that they intend to use for demonic purposes.  In the middle ages it spoke of poisoning the wells. In America it speaks of the Jews controlling the nation’s Middle East policy. The real story of American Jewish power is that it has been able to retain its high level whereas other ethnic constituencies, Greek Americans regarding Cyprus and Cuban Americans, have faded from the foreign policy stage. They have been able to sustain their influence despite a decline in the Jewish proportion of the population from about 3.5% during the Holocaust years to less than 2.3% today.  American Jewry might have followed the same declining path had they been able to perceive that the threat they faced was also declining.  In the case of Israel it is in fact rising.

The reality is that Jews do have power in America which sometimes seems inordinate but is in fact legally and practically circumscribed and of a “soft” long-range character.  At the historic juncture when an urgent need existed to bring that power into play American Jewish leaders were unable to mobilize it for immediate need.

Jewish political power in America feeds the anti Semitic imagination because Jews exercise the power inherent in citizenship with considerable skill and have in addition developed supplementary means to amplify it.  Jews are probably America’s most politically engaged and activist ethnic group. From the civil rights campaign to leadership of the women’s liberation movement, from the movement to halt the Darfur genocide to concern about secondary smoke, it is unlikely to find a group advocating “progressive” change which does not have a disproportionate number of Jews in its leadership and among its activists. In addition Jews have used their comparatively high per capita income to fund expensive political campaigning.  Despite the McCain Feingold campaign funding law Jews continue to fund about 60% of the Campaign needs of the Democrat party. They are disproportionately involved in the profession of politics as pundits and strategists, campaign planners and organizers and pollsters.  They display great skill in using the public relations instrument so crucial in the American political game. Jewish voters are more likely to vote and to send letters to their congressmen and newspapers expressing their opinions.  A trend to move from its customary behind the scenes role to actual office holding has sharply accelerated while old Protestant representation in the legislature (Episcopalians and Presbyterians) has declined. Jews have become an important part of the operational elite that manages America. Paradoxically the rise in Jewish representation on all levels of government and in university faculties occurs as its proportion of the general population declines.  That decline in numbers coupled with the weakening of affiliation is bound to affect the ability of American Jews to mobilize its political power. The myth of great power is balanced by the reality of its eventual decline.

In reality it is a power that is all dressed up without knowing where to go.  Jews are politically active but mostly about local issues such as zoning, education and so on.  Most of the Jewish philanthropic dollar is not spent on funding Jewish causes and a far more numerous African-American and Hispanic constituency with an urgent agenda looms in the wings. In years to come it may overshadow Jewish concern regarding Israel.

When the myth of Jewish power confronts the reality there is little to set a concerned mind at ease. The continued projection of Jewish influence or power is contingent on maintaining a degree of Jewish communal cohesiveness and coherence.  But that is problematic when most American Jews identify themselves as “just Jewish” and are otherwise unaffiliated.  Jews have exercised political power with considerable skill. One of its high points was the campaign for the recognition of Israel in 1948. Recently they achieved more in their efforts to gain the release of Soviet Jewry than they were able to do for European Jewry during the Holocaust. But the kind of power they wield has two weaknesses.  Soft power here described cannot ward off an immediate physical threat and there is no assurance that American Jewish power based on communal unity and focus will be available indefinitely….