It’s fitting that Omri Ceren is just a dissertation away from having a doctorate in communication. The author of Mere Rhetoric—a blog popular with Republican Jews that deals mainly with American foreign policy, Israel and anti-Semitism in the Muslim world—Ceren is a many of many words.
Throughout the campaign Ceren blogged with concern about the prospect of Barack Obama winning, and as Obama earned a seemingly insurmountable lead during the final weeks of October, Ceren became a bit more of a prophet of doom then usual. The day before the election he churned out an epic post titled “70 Percent Of American Jews Ready To Say “We Didn’t Know” When Obama Detonates US-Israel Alliance (Plus: They Most Definitely Know).”
In the end, Obama actually received 78 percent of the Jewish vote. It turned out Ceren had undershot.
Though he comes from a very different place on the political spectrum than Philip Weiss, Ceren bases his feelings about Obama’s plans from Israel on the same premises. For Ceren they cause fear, for Weiss excitement. Coincidentally, I disagree with both of them and think Obama won’t be all carrot and no stick with rogue nations and will stay the course, for lack of a better expression, on U.S.-Israel relations.
Over the weekend I e-mailed Ceren a handful of questions about Obama, the president-elect’s fans in unfriendly Muslim countries and the path to peace. His responses are after the jump; like I said, he’s never at a loss for words:
On the eve of the election, you wrote “70 Percent Of American Jews Ready To Say ‘We Didn’t Know’ When Obama Detonates US-Israel Alliance (Plus: They Most Definitely Know).” In the end, Obama got 78 percent of the Jewish vote. What happens now?
The fundamental lesson of this election - predicted almost to the decimal point by cutting-edge social scientific research that came out at the end of October - is that American Jews are voting Democratic for reasons other than sound argument and good policy. That’s not exactly how the North American Jewish Data Bank described it in the study. They made it an issue of party identification: Jewish Democrats “respond to their identities… [and] their long-held, multi-generation attachment to the liberal camp in America, and to the Democratic Party.” But it’s the same thing.
The NAJDB took everything that pollsters know how to measure. Political views. Values and interests, Major socio-demographic variables. Everything. They crunched the numbers. They looked at the results. Then they concluded that the only way to explain how American Jews vote is by admitting that they’re Democrats mostly because they’re always been Democrats. They even went so far as to subtly mock American Jews for the way that they pretend to be “driven” by “rational and… carefully considered values.” Political considerations are largely just excuses that Jewish Democrats give themselves for voting how they were always going to vote. So those Jews emailing me that they were going to vote Republican until McCain picked Palin: either the world’s most comprehensive study of Jewish American voting patterns is flatly wrong or those people are lying.
Now: the consequences of this hard fact differ depending on who you are. If you’re someone who wants to swing American Jews over to the Republican side, I don’t know. You can’t reason people out of what they haven’t been reasoned into. The people who latched on to Bob Wexler’s transparent anti-Palin smears are just particularly pathetic examples of a broader demographic reality: American Jews will latch on to even the dumbest excuse to vote Democratic. I study rhetoric, argument, and communication - but I don’t know how you fix that.
But all these activist groups face the same problem that partisan Republicans do: finding a way to approach Jewish Democrats. This is a political community that, as of the last election, both refuses to change their political preferences and refuses to debate and justify those preferences in public forums. I wouldn’t be surprised if you begin to see activist groups giving up on the Jewish community and shifting their resources elsewhere.
It concerns you that Obama has fans in countries unfriendly to the U.S. and Israel. But Bush had allies in countries unfriendly to Israel—Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt—and most hawkish Jews would say Bush has been good for Israel.
I have two quibbles with that question.
First, you seem to equate “fans” - which I take to mean popular support - with “allies” - which in the context of this question can only mean support from political leaders. Those two things aren’t the same at all. You’re certainly right that populations in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Egypt - to say nothing of Iran, Syria, and the Gaza Strip - are “fans” of Obama who are hailing his election as “an apology from the American people.” But Bush is obviously reviled by those popluations. So I don’t think it’s at all contradictory to note that Bush is close to pro-American leaders in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Egypt despite their anti-Western, anti-Israel publics and that those anti-Western, anti-Israel publics adore Obama.
But perhaps even more to the point: I’m not really all that concerned that Obama has fans in contries unfriendly to the US and Israel. I just think it’s worth pointing out that those people support Obama because of the same vapid slogans that US Obama supporters found so appealing. And they’re all going to be disappointed in the same way. And when the new era of Obama-led global peace fails they’re all going to scapegoat the same groups. The US-Israel alliance is already being set up to take the blame for failed US-Iranian negotiations - not least of which by some of Obama’s own advisers.
While we’re discussing who supports Obama and who doesn’t, it’s probably worth noting that our European and Asian allies are pretty pissed off about Obama’s economic policies. So I’m not sure it’s fair to say - as many have been saying - that “the world” is cheering Obama’s victoy. Anti-Western populations throughout the Arab and Muslim world? Definitely. The economic and poliical leaders of our historical allies? Not as much.
What do doves not get about hawks?
There’s really no way I can answer that without alienating your readers. And since I’m still hoping they’ll stick through the end of this interview, I’ll demure.
The California director of the RJC is fond of saying that the Democratic Party of Joe Lieberman and Scoop Jackson is dead. Do you agree?
Of course he’s right. This isn’t even a debate any more. I’m sorry to people who think it is - I teach undergraduate Argument and I’m usually the first to say that there are two sides to every controversy. But this isn’t close. I’m not talking about Biden’s unprovoked attack on AIPAC or Obama’s weird smear of “pro-Likud” Americans, both of which sound
an awful lot like the euphemisms of anti-Semitic academics. And I’m not even talking about the way Democratic leaders are comfortable with anti-Semitic Muslim leaders and terrorist-supporting Muslim groups but won’t support Britain against Iran in ”>even the most symbolic way.
I’m talking about how the Democratic party is stacked with old school anti-Semites: American leaders who scapegoat American Jews when something goes awry.
Take a look at the Democrats’ top military and foreign policy minds. This is a community that genuinely believes that their elegant plans for Pax Americana would be working but for the schemings of American Jews. Wes Clark - top Democratic military strategits and one time leading Obama VP candidate - thinks that “New York money people” spurred the Iraq invasion. Top Obama military adviser Tony McPeak basically agrees except he thinks that we need to remember to also blame Miami Jews. Carter’s NSA Chief Zbigniew Brzezinski - whom the Obama people finally claimed as an adviser long after Obama called him “one of our most outstanding thinkers” - was blasted by Obama supporter Alan Dershowitz for endorsing “bigoted attacks on the American Jewish community.” Senior Democratic Congressman James Moran accuses rich American Jews of undermining the US by spurring the Iraq invasion on account of their sneaky dual loyalties. Jimmy Carter is too anti-Semitic for liberal Jewish groups but Clinton and Obama still couldn’t bring themselves to forcefully condemn him after he met with genocidal Hamas leaders. John Edwards echoed Carter by calling Israel “the greatest threat to world peace.” And so on and so on.
This isn’t just the standard Walt and Mearsheimer nudge-wink about how specific neo-conservative Jews are to blame for the Iraq War. Even committed anti-Israel leftists concede that those statements are disgusting and false, but whatever. Democratic foreign policy experts are even more vulgar. They blame American Jews as a whole for starting the Iraq War on Israel’s behalf - even though Jews are the most consistently anti-war community in America and even though Sharon was against the invasion! Smart people can’t be that wrong without something else - something very, very ugly - going on beneath the surface. And those people are in control of Democratic foreign policy.
Anyway, both Harry Reid and Dick Durbin have gone crawing to the cretins at Daily Kos - the ones who called Lieberman a “Likud Jew [and] German/Jew Fascist… [who] makes it bad for the ‘good Jews’” and takes his orders from “Tel Aviv” - so they can literally help set Congressional Democratic policy. So if you’re asking me “is it true that the Democratic Party of Lieberman no longer exists,” yeah - I don’t really think that’s an open question.
How did Obama’s selection of Rahm Emanuel, whose father was a member of the Irgun and whose middle name is, in fact, Israel, change your outlook on an Obama presidency?
Wait? We’re allowed to use people’s middle names as arguments now? When did that get put back on the menu?
If you’re asking “am I glad that Obama didn’t appoint a virulently anti-Semitic Democrat as his Chief of Staff when he has so many options” - yeah I guess that’s nice. But I don’t see that Emanuel is having any effect on Obama’s foreign policy, vague as it is. Just a small example: the scuttlebutt is that there are four frontrunners for Secretary of State: John Kerry, Bill Richardson, Richard Holbrooke, Gen. James L. Jones. As I wrote last week on Mere Rhetoric, those choices are: a person who wants to send Carter to coerce Israel, a second guy who wants to send Carter to coerce Israel, a guy who thinks that the US should “put more pressure on Israel,” and a State Department general who is currently in the Middle East creating a paper trail that blames Israel for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I also think that the conventional wisdom on the Emanuel pick is right in this case - he was brought in as a domestic legislative enforcer.
What do you think will bring peace to the Middle East?
That’s a really broad question, so let me start off with a really broad answer before getting to specifics. I’m very conservative on the question of “peace”, especially in the philosophical sense that we used to use “conservative.” I’m not sure when this fanciful notion of “perpetual peace” gained public traction. The phrase is Kant’s but until recently no one really thought we could do better than “quiet” for anything longer than “a reasonable amount of time.” Certainly there’s nothing in recorded history that justifies that. And I don’t know of any deep theory in Sociology or Communication or Psychoanalysis that makes it a possibility.
Listen - when we paint Western history in the broadest brushstrokes we talk about a tension between two poles: Athens and Greece on one side and Jerusalem on the other side. Those two approaches to the world agree on only one thing: civilization is among the most fragile things. It’s constantly under assault. The barbarians are perpetually at the gates. At the risk of being a little too glib - lazily Hope for this to Change is dangerously naive.
I know what won’t bring peace to the Middle East. This absurd idea - which is the basis for Obama’s foreign policy and the goal State Department public diplomacy - that we can make the Muslim world like the West by explaining ourselves. This belief that they hate us because they just don’t understand our values - when the exact opposite is the case. They understand us only too well.
What will work? Well that doesn’t really seem like a theoretical question. I certainly stop short of saying that this will be a civilizational hot war - the Iranian political and military hierachy aside, not everyone in the Middle East is apocalyptic. But quiet has only ensued after wars. When did Egypt establish a cold peace with Israel? After it tried three wars in 6 years and failed. When did the PLO stop crossing the Lebanese border? When they were expelled from the Middle East by Israel. When did Libya give up their nuclear material? After the Bush Administration liberated Iraq from a tyrant who reminded Qaddafi very much of himself. Even Iran halted their nuclear program for a few years after the Iraq invasion. They only started it up again after the strong electoral showing of anti-war Democrats.
As Israeli President Peres reminded us during his inauguration, bringing peace to the world is an old man’s dream. Fair enough. He was echoing the prophet Joel, and I don’t like the matchup of Omri vs. someone who’s in the Bible. But it’s still a piss-poor basis for a foreign policy. The best we can hope for is to convince anti-Western forces that it’s not in their interest to attack us and our allies. That, unfortunately, sometimes requires demonstrations of force. I really hope that I’m wrong about this. Maybe Obama will charm our way to global peace. But I doubt it.
I am confident, though, that American and Israeli Jews will get the blame when Obama’s impossible promises spectacularly fail.