I’m talking about Jewish establishment organizations like the Jewish Federation, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Jewish community centers, lobbying groups like the American Jewish Committee and American Jewish Congress, and explicitly political groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. According to Harold Weisberg of B’nai Brith, many of these organizations explicitly saw their mission in the United States as a substitute for “the great religious discipline which in the past permeated every aspect of individual and communal life” in the Old Country.
And now we may be facing the end of this organizational life…
The development of the post-World War II American Jewish establishment was a process of consolidating a fractious and diverse community into a limited number of organized groups. But it was also a matter of defining a particular set of consensus politics for that community. Historian Arthur Goren has defined it as the “functional consensus” of postwar American Jewish politics, focused first and foremost around two particular political commitments: “assuring Israel’s security and striving for a liberal America.” This “consensus of support for Israel, coupled with a liberal domestic agenda,” would define American Jewish politics for two generations.
Of course, there was a certain amount of tension built into this political consensus from the beginning. American political liberalism defines itself in explicitly non-sectarian terms, as an ideology of civil equality that applies equally to all Americans, regardless of race, ethnicity, or creed. For this reason, Jewish interests in the United States were, in the words of Jack Wertheimer, expressed in explicitly universal terms, “as part of a larger campaign of social action, rather than solely as a parochial cause, to insure that no group in America suffered unfair treatment.”
In other words, American Jews were domestic political liberals because, as a small minority community with a long history of persecution and ethnic oppression, we had an explicit interest in promoting equality for all, in assuring that the white Christian majority did not impose its will over minority communities in the United States.
For this reason, the American Jewish Committee defended its decision to work on behalf of the Black civil rights movement on the grounds that “there is the closest relation between the protection of the civil rights of all citizens and the protection of the civil rights of the members of particular groups.”
The state of Israel, meanwhile, was explicitly founded as a state designed to promote the interests of the Jewish people above those of other communities.
As Daniel Gordis has explained, the state of Israel was never intended to be “an ethnicity-blind, religiously-neutral liberal democracy,” as was the United States, but rather “was always intended to be an ethnic democracy, meaning that one people would be at the center of the country’s commitments.” While the Israeli Declaration of Independence did include a clause insisting the new nation would “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex,” this clause only came after the clause declaring that the state of Israel would “be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles,” defining the safeguarding of one particular ethno-religious community as the state’s reason for being.
So there was a certain amount of conflict built into the postwar American Jewish consensus of supporting liberal democracy at home and ethnic democracy abroad from the start.
Going forward, American Jews are going to have to choose: We can either support a political liberalism of equal rights for all, here in the US, in Israel, and all over the world — or we can support ethnic nationalism. But we can’t have it both ways.
The United States was not founded as a racially blind country. Until the 1960s, Americans saw themselves as dominantly white with a 10-20% black minority. Jared Taylor writes:
Today, the United States officially takes the position that all races are equal. Our country is also committed―legally and morally―to the view that race is not a fit criterion for decision-making of any kind, except for promoting “diversity” or for the purpose of redressing past wrongs done by Whites to non-Whites.
Many Americans cite the “all men are created equal” phrase from the Declaration of Independence to support the claim that this view of race was not only inevitable but was anticipated by the Founders. Interestingly, prominent conservatives and Tea Party favorites like Michele Bachman and Glenn Beck have taken this notion a step further and asserted that today’s racial egalitarianism was the nation’s goal from its very first days.
They are badly mistaken.
Since early colonial times, and until just a few decades ago, virtually all Whites believed race was a fundamental aspect of individual and group identity. They believed people of different races had different temperaments and abilities, and built markedly different societies. They believed that only people of European stock could maintain a society in which they would wish to live, and they strongly opposed miscegenation. For more than 300 years, therefore, American policy reflected a consensus on race that was the very opposite of what prevails today.
Those who would impute egalitarianism to the Founders should recall that in 1776, the year of the Declaration, race slavery was already more than 150 years old in North America and was practiced throughout the New World, from Canada to Chile. In 1770, 40 percent of White households in Manhattan owned Black slaves, and there were more slaves in the colony of New York than in Georgia. It was true that many of the Founders considered slavery a terrible injustice and hoped to abolish it, but they meant to expel the freed slaves from the United States, not to live with them in equality.
Thomas Jefferson’s views were typical of his generation. Despite what he wrote in the Declaration, he did not think Blacks were equal to Whites, noting that “in general, their existence appears to participate more of sensation than reflection.” He hoped slavery would be abolished some day, but “when freed, he [the Negro] is to be removed beyond the reach of mixture.” Jefferson also expected whites eventually to displace all of the Indians of the New World. The United States, he wrote, was to be “the nest from which all America, North and South, is to be peopled,” and the hemisphere was to be entirely European: “… nor can we contemplate with satisfaction either blot or mixture on that surface.”
Jefferson opposed miscegenation for a number of reasons, but one was his preference for the physical traits of Whites. He wrote of their “flowing hair” and their “more elegant symmetry of form,” but emphasized the importance of color itself:
Are not the fine mixtures of red and white, the expressions of every passion by greater or less suffusions of colour in the one [whites], preferable to that eternal monotony, which reigns in the countenances, that immovable veil of black, which covers all the emotions of the other race?
Like George Washington, Jefferson was a slave owner. In fact, nine of the first 11 Presidents owned slaves, the only exceptions being the two Adamses. Despite Jefferson’s hope for eventual abolition, he made no provision to free his slaves after his death.
James Madison agreed with Jefferson that the only solution to the race problem was to free the slaves and expel them: “To be consistent with existing and probably unalterable prejudices in the U.S. freed blacks ought to be permanently removed beyond the region occupied by or allotted to a White population.” He proposed that the federal government buy up the entire slave population and transport it overseas. After two terms in office, he served as chief executive of the American Colonization Society, which was established to repatriate Blacks. Read on.