Friday, January 20, 2012

Chinese lobby, Israeli lobby revisited

Three and a half years ago, I tried to draw a particular parallel, which I think is still relevant today.
Remember how, during the later stages of the Clinton administration, a popular right-wing meme to attack the Clinton White House was to say that the Chinese lobby was too powerful? That the Clinton administration was in thrall to the Chinese, that there was too much Chinese money and influence within the administration and other elements of Democratic party leadership? It was a favorite talking point of Rush Limbaugh et al.

Now, do you remember a hew and cry about anti-Chinese racism following those accusations? Did anyone get pilloried for suggesting that the Chinese government's lobby was overly influential? Did merely asking the question mean that, ipso facto, the asker was an anti-Sino bigot? Was the rise of these questions seen as portending the rise of the "new anti-Chinese racism"? Were there articles full of stern warnings about the great danger to the average Chinese person posed by these questions of Chinese influence on American government affairs?

Of course not. Because there was and is a Chinese lobby, a lobby for Chinese interests, as there is for just about any country of a certain minimum level of power. And it was appropriate to ask whether that lobby's relative strength compared to other lobbies was a detriment to the overall interests of the United States. It wasn't racist to ask because the country of China is a political, governmental body, not a race or ethnicity, and the country of China has interests that (believe it or not) are not always 100% congruent with the interests of the United States. And asking whether or not what the lobby wanted was in the best interest of the USA was no insult to the people of China, or of Chinese descent. It made no statement whatsoever, as a matter of fact, about the merits of the Chinese people at all. Accusing Rush Limbaugh or anyone else of anti-Chinese racism would have been a non sequitur.
I was drawing a connection, of course, with Israel. It's important to say (and I said at the time) that context is everything when it comes to histories of oppression. While there is a long and corrosive tradition of anti-Sino racism in the United States, and that tradition includes the idea that the Chinese are corrupt schemers, this is not the same as American anti-Semitism, particularly where conspiracy theorizing is concerned. However, the major point remains: we generally understand that in the context of international relations it is inevitable and necessary to discuss the conduct of different countries, and that we can and must recognize a difference between criticizing the actions of a country and expressing bigotry against its people. Criticism of a Jewish state is an inevitable byproduct of the existence of a Jewish state. That's life.

Ultimately, the major problems in our discussions of Israel stem from the desire of many defenders of Israel to have it both ways: they want at once to point out (reasonably and righteously) that it is offensive to judge a nation's people for its actions, but also to insist (unreasonably and unfairly) that judging a nation's actions is the same as expressing bigotry for its actions.

If your interest is only in reducing criticism on the Israeli state, the path is the same as it has been for 45 years: end the unconscionable oppression of the Palestinian people.

16 comments:

Ranji said...

I disagree that discrimination against Chinese has been less intense in American history than anti-Semitism. In the 1870's and 1880's there were lynchings of Chinese in California. In 1871 18 were massacred in Los Angeles in an anti-Chinese pogrom. Granted you're saying the distinction is a matter of conspiracy mongering, but I find it hard to accept that spreading a conspiracy is comparable to lynching. By that standard, black Americans could well be more racist than whites when they adhere to conspiracy theories about everything from the crack epidemic of the 80's to the levees in New Orleans.

By contrast, the U.S. has not seen such mass violence against Jews, unlike most European nations.

Sohanstag said...

You're mistaking defense of Israel for rational debate; you're mistaking moral and ethical high ground with policy strength.

If you are a government and your interest is in reducing criticism while accomplishing policy goals, I can think of multiple paths, each of which can be pursued separately and, in some cases, simultaneously:

1) Do the thing that your most vocal critics want. (Not likely, since that's almost always your opposition.)

2) Do the thing that your constituencies want. (Somewhat more likely.)

3) Do the thing that your most powerful allies want. (Most likely.)

4) Do the thing that undercuts your critics: accuse them of bigotry, racism, lie about them, smear them, etc. (Inevitable.)

I'm sure smarter people than me know a few other tricks, as well.

azi said...

You're confusing oppression with an embargo.

Fake Herzog said...

Of course it also matters whether or not you criticize said Jewish state fairly or whether you use flawed evidence and shoddy history like Walt and Mearsheimer did in their book, not to mention Mearsheimer's subsequent descent into plain-old support for anti-Semitic cranks:

http://www.chequerboard.org/2011/09/john-mearsheimer-further-beclowns-self-film-at-eleven/

And Freddie, did you ever stop to think why Israel bothers to "oppress" the Palestinians all those years? Don't they have better things to do with their time and energy? Or maybe "oppression" isn't the right word...

kris said...

And Freddie, did you ever stop to think why Israel bothers to "oppress" the Palestinians all those years? Don't they have better things to do with their time and energy?

You have an amazing mind.

---

Also, do conservatives wonder if Perry's nuanced criticisms of Turkey are islamophobic? Is criticism of any predominantly Islamic country racism, too?

Ryan said...

I think most (smart) people agree that criticizing Israeli policy, in and of itself, is not anti-Semitic. Likewise, neither is criticizing the pro-Israel lobby. The problem is that, at least in my experience, many (most?) of the people who make these criticisms tend to use language that plays on traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes, or their criticisms of Israel are conspicuously vitriolic and inflammatory relative to their milder or non-existent critiques of other regimes with much worse human rights records.

azi said...

@Ryan - Exactly.

I like to believe that anti-Israel/Zionist doesn't equate with being anti-Semitic, but more times than not a debate about Israel devolves into an attack on Jews, and not even Jews in Israel but this country as well.

Freddie said...

http://www.theatlantic.com/personal/archive/2009/01/race-and-em-the-israel-lobby-em/55877/

edwin said...

Ryan:

And the worst is the Jewish anti-Zionist web sites. ;-)

http://mondoweiss.net/2010/04/feeling-the-hate-in-new-york.html

http://mondoweiss.net/2009/09/feeling-more-hate-in-jerusalem.html

http://mondoweiss.net/2011/05/feeling-the-ignorance-at-aipac-2011.html

http://mondoweiss.net/2010/09/feeling-the-loyalty-to-the-jewish-state.html

http://maxblumenthal.com/feeling-the-hate-in-jerusalem/

or their criticisms of Israel are conspicuously vitriolic and inflammatory relative to their milder or non-existent critiques of other regimes with much worse human rights records.

So, Jewish human rights abuses are ok because you can find something worse somewhere else? Don't hear you complaining that crimes against Jews get more attention than other crimes.

I am also reminded about this post by the Hasbara Buster:

On how Apartheid South Africa was unfairly demonized -- like Israel

Sohanstag said...

I think you're rather missing the point. Freddie, you conclude with this:

"If your interest is only in reducing criticism on the Israeli state, the path is the same as it has been for 45 years: end the unconscionable oppression of the Palestinian people."

That's simply not true, and that's why it hasn't happened. Because of Israel's unique history, it's an easy task to reduce criticism by hurling charges of anti-Semitism, pointing out Israel's vulnerability, and appealing to religion (in the case of the neo-conservative camp). Therefore Israel's defenders and apologists will do so.

The same is true on the other side, of course ("Zionist" doesn't take long to work its way into these conversations.), and your analogy to affirmative action is much more apt.

Why doesn't this happen in criticism of China? Again, because of Israel's unique history, and because the currently dominant component of the identity of China is not the Chinese, or anti-Sino activity in the US (it's been a long time since the 19th century, Ranji), but rather communism. And very few people have any qualms about trashing communism. Few have any sympathy with the Chinese government. Therefore communism and the Chinese government offer much more obvious, far less risky targets than the Chinese people themselves. The nature of the Chinese government (dictatorship rather than democracy) probably plays a role, as well. Contrast the late 1990s treatment of China, for example, with US auto-workers' response to Japan in the 1980s.

Fake Herzog said...

Freddie,

Thanks for that link to Ross -- I agree with him 100% (and note that Mearsheimer's behavior since 2009 just got worse).

Kris,

I don't think most of what the left calls "Islamophobia" exists as such. Likewise, I don't think criticizing Islamic countries, especially when I think the criticism is valid, is racist.

Likewise, I don't think criticism of Israel is necessarily anti-Semitic -- but if you read Ross' response to Freddie, I think Ross is right that a lot of the criticism is just not fair.

Ryan said...

@Edwin
"So, Jewish human rights abuses are ok because you can find something worse somewhere else?"

No, but the language used to criticize Israeli human rights abuses is typically much more couched in inflammatory or even straight-up anti-Semitic terms than criticisms of other countries. In fact, you seem to be in danger of falling into the same trap: they're not "Jewish human rights abuses," they're "Israeli human rights abuses." Your failure to make that distinction is the sort of problem I'm talking about, or at least leads to it.

Peter Shapiro said...

if you dont think there is anti-chinese racism as a response to a chinese-american lobbying ,you haven't been following NYC politics surrounding John Liu. However to correct you there exist at least two chinese lobbies (one for the PRC and one for taiwan)

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