Printer Friendly

The Star and the Stripes: A History of the Foreign Policies of American Jews.

The Star and the Stripes: A History of the Foreign Policies of American Jews. By Michael Barnett. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016. 368 pp.

Michael Barnett offers a comprehensive, insightful, and well-written account of the way American Jews have positioned themselves vis-a-vis the wider world, shifting between internationalism, particularism, and cosmopolitanism over time. With thought-provoking insight, he traces the American Jewish community's fluctuations between a more tribally concerned outlook and a more cosmopolitan stance. While that cosmopolitanism partially derives, he argues, from prophetic Judaism, it in turn has "many of the elements that define what international relations scholars call liberal internationalism," emphasizing the state as the embodiment of "liberal values and actively promoting] the expansion of markets, democracy, and the rule of law around the world" (46).

The author persuasively argues that the experience of being a minority in the United States and the influence of prophetic Judaism led to a broader concern for minority rights and civil rights. As over time American Jews began to fare better, they could turn their attention beyond their own community to engage with the similar plights of other minority groups around the world. This movement was particularly facilitated by the perception of world neglect which allowed the Holocaust: in this view the League of Nations had failed, the protection of minority rights worldwide had failed, and immigration had failed to provide a solution to the threat of antisemitism. This in turn led many American Jews to recognize the need for the creation of Israel.

Barnett emphasizes identity politics and cultural explanations for foreign policy preferences. For example, the American Jewish community's growing affiliation with Israel coincided in some way with that of the U.S. government's, but for different reasons. In the run-up to the 1967 war, Jews felt that the UN and U.S. had abandoned Israel and, reliving in some sense the trauma of the Holocaust, feared Israel would be destroyed. Thus from 1966 to 1967 aid to Israel from American Jews grew sevenfold. The book also illuminates how American Jews shaped and influenced the UN Declaration of Human Rights but later felt more comfortable with "humanitarianism" than "human rights." "American Jews did not abandon international human rights and the United Nations he argues, "it turned on them"--a sentiment substantiated by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon's recent public admission that the United Nations unfairly and disproportionately condemns Israel (188).

Along with its many strengths, one of the book's challenges is in the conception of the titular "Jewish foreign policy." Barnett defines Jewish foreign policy as "the attempt by Jewish individuals and institutions to mobilize and represent the Jewish community for the purpose of protecting Jewish interests and advancing a vision of global justice inspired by Jewish political and religious thought" (10). At times, though, the argument focuses more on the beliefs of individual American Jews, while the causal relation between those individual views and their institutional expression is less thoroughly worked out. Barnett claims that American Jews are more cosmopolitan but also that the American Jewish "establishment" is more tribal than are most American Jews (40). At times American Jews are treated as a monolithic bloc (although he admittedly does not include Orthodox Jews). More rigorous use of public opinion polls might have helped draw finer distinctions about foreign policy preferences. It remains unclear where most Jewish Americans are today on many pressing foreign policy questions. Are they more likely than other Americans--or more likely than other Democrats--to vote for increased foreign aid? For humanitarian intervention?

The book's comparisons between American Jews and Israeli Jews are overly simplistic. Barnett repeatedly contrasts what he calls American Jews' outward-looking cosmopolitanism and Israeli Jews' inward-looking nationalism. However, he himself admits at times that these concepts are not mutually exclusive. Barnett's analysis of both Zionism and nationalism pay little attention to the complex history of Zionism, with its widely varied strains, and tends to associate "Jewish Israelis" as a whole with those on the political right in Israel. Israeli politics are usually polarized, and for many years Knesset seats have been relatively evenly divided between centrist and left parties and parties on the right. Several parties on the right have adopted positions favoring a two state solution, shifting toward the center. To make his case about Israeli "tribalism," he seems to downplay the competing political cultures and diversity of identities within Israel. The result is a series of comparisons in which American Jews seem to occupy the moral high ground while Israel is mired in its ethnonational state, but these comparisons are based on very little data about Israelis. He argues with certainty that Americans are more "universalist" yet cites little data to back this claim. He provides no data that American Jews travel more abroad, much less volunteer more abroad or work more on aid projects through government or non-government organizations than do Israelis. When Barnett does draw legitimate contrasts, he explains them mainly through political culture, rather than on a combination of political culture and concrete differences in geopolitical context.

Some of Barnett's arguments are simply factually inaccurate. He argues that the U.S. is committed to civic nationalism and Israel to ethnic nationalism and cites as proof that only Jews (with the exception of Druze) can serve in the Israeli army. In reality, all Israelis are allowed to serve in the army, although only non-ultra-Orthodox Jews are required to do so; some Bedouin and Palestinian Israelis choose to serve, while most do not. Conversely, the case for a pure U.S. civic nationalism has certainly been complicated by the ethnic nationalist rhetoric that has surrounded the rise of Donald Trump. Similarly, his claims that American Jews' supposed cosmopolitanism is enabled by the "virtual disappearance" of antisemitism in the US is belied by recent FBI hate crime statistics and data collected by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League.

Even with these caveats, Barnett's is an insightful and thought provoking book that grabs one's attention, and I would strongly recommend it to all those interested in identity politics, political culture and its influence on foreign policy and cosmopolitanism.

Yael S. Aronoff

Michigan State University
COPYRIGHT 2017 American Jewish Historical Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2017 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Aronoff, Yael S.
Publication:American Jewish History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Apr 1, 2017
Previous Article:Sulzerism, Sulzermania, and the shaping of the American Cantorate.
Next Article:The Salome Ensemble: Rose Pastor Stokes, Anzio Yezierska, Sonya Levin, and Jetta Goudal.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters