The other day, I posted this bit about a column by Cornel West and Michael Lerner. The unsavory duo had accused the Democrats of bowing to Jewish power and money when they allegedly stifled a debate that Howard Dean had mooted about Israel. I argued that debate failed to break out for the same reason it hasn’t broken out over affirmative action or power-sharing with Saddam Hussein — the position favored by West and Lerner on Israel is a non-starter.
To some extent, though, my analysis begged the question. Sure, the West/Lerner view is a non-starter. But why? Is it for reasons that validate stereotypes about Jewish power and money, as West and Lerner claim?
Here’s a hint — no. There are two reasons why the debate West and Lerner yearn for won’t occur in this year’s Democratic presidential primary campaign. The main reason is that Jews, for the time being at least, are still valued members of the Democratic coalition. Other members of the coalition include African-Americans, feminists, teachers and trial lawyers. Accordingly, we don’t hear a debate among the presidential contenders about affirmative action, abortion, school choice, or tort reform. This isn’t because there aren’t Democrats who oppose affirmative action and abortion on demand, for example. It’s because the Democrats who feel most strongly about this issue favor those concepts, and because the party wants to respect the members of its coalition on the issues that are most important to them. There is nothing “unfair” or nefarious about this — it’s just politics. What is unfair, and I contend anti-semitic, is to invoke stereotypes about the Jews to explain an ordinary political phenomenon. It seems that West and Lerner do not believe Jews have the right to engage in ordinary politics.
The second reason why a Democratic debate over Israel isn’t in the cards this year is that it makes no sense for the U.S. to tilt away from Israel. There are plausible (I would say strong) cases to be made against the tradtional Democratic positions on affirmative action, abortion, school choice and tort reform. By contrast, from the standpoint of U.S. military interests, U.S. values, and the war on terrorism, the case for tilting away from Israel is weak and always has been. That is why (unlike on the other issues mentioned) Republicans take basically the same stance as Democrats when it comes to Israel, and always have, even when they had no hope of obtaining measurable Jewish support. Now it is true that U.S. military interests, U.S. values, and the war on terrorism cut much less ice these days with Democrats than with Republicans. But, to the chagrin of West and Lerner. they still cut some.
Regrettably, as I have suggested in the past, we probably are not many election cycles away from an open debate among top Democrats about Israel. When that debate occurs, will West and Lerner say that it invalidates stereotypes about Jewish power and money?
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