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Joe Beare

American Jews: Embrace Your Power

American Jews have a complicated relationship with power.

In July 2020, White nationalists created the hashtag #JewishPrivilege to spread ideas of subversive Jewish influence — that we exercise cabalistic control over the international media, the banks, and even the weather. Meanwhile, the Israel-Hamas war has unleashed a torrent of antisemitic conspiratorial thinking, primarily from the left. Many Jewish students have been excluded from progressive spaces on campus under the assumption that they are just too privileged as a community to join the international struggle against injustice. We are too rich, they say. Too strong. Too successful. Too influential when it comes to the policy-making process. 

That American Jews cringe in response to accusations of power is not entirely unsurprising. After all, the Jewish people are well-acquainted with the perils of power when used to marginalize, oppress and persecute. Indeed, the Jewish worldview is the product of twenty centuries of religious and ethnic persecution. No minority in history has been so unremittingly conditioned to regard power as a normative evil and the world as an essentially vicious place; the Holocaust was merely the latest and most brutal chapter in a long struggle. 

It is precisely because of our history as a people that Jews in the diaspora must never abuse their power or take it for granted. To the extent that Jewish Americans now have power and influence over the public debate and subsequent policy, we should use it responsibly and with deep concern for the human rights of all peoples, including Palestinians. But we should never minimize or apologize for it. 

The simple fact is that power is not intrinsically evil. When a disenfranchised community prioritizes education and achieves prominence within society, it is something to be celebrated – not lamented. It is a blessing that American Jews today serve in positions of leadership in almost every industry. In the decades that have passed since the liberation of Auschwitz, American Jewry has not sulked in self-pity but contributed disproportionately to a panoply of fields – including medicine, business, the arts and even politics. I applaud the fact that AIPAC—and a whole range of Jewish organizations and individuals—are respected players in Washington and have been able use their influence to serve the national interests of both Israel and the United States. 

In the Federalist Papers, James Madison noted that American society must function as an open market-place of ideas – where different interest groups battle it out until the common good emerges. All healthy democracies depend on intense disagreement amongst communities who share the objective of influencing public policy. American Jews have embraced that tradition through careful organization and moral appeals to our fellow citizens. And if we exercise more clout than our numbers suggest, that is to our credit. 

American Jews have earned the right to influence the national discourse and public policy. Along with other immigrants, Jews have helped change the country for the better. At home, we have advocated reforms to make the US a more tolerant and just society; a disproportionate number of the NAACP’s founders hailed from Jewish families. In terms of foreign relations, we have pushed for policies that would strengthen America’s defenses against enemies vowed to the country’s destruction — and, yes, that necessarily includes a robust US-Israel alliance. 

Israel is America’s only democratic ally in a precarious and strategically-important neighborhood. It is home to a key US missile-defense base and stands as America’s closest ally in containing Iran’s fledging nuclear-weapons program. George Keegan Jr, who served as the chief of US Air Force Intelligence, went so far as to say that America’s military defense capability “owes more to the Israeli intelligence input that it does to any single source of intelligence,” the worth of which, he estimated, “exceeds five CIAs.” In other words, America’s security is inextricably intertwined with Israel’s. This is part of the reason why most American Jews support increased US military and diplomatic assistance to Israel, though it is far from the only reason. 

History has demonstrated—in horrific terms—that Jews need more power and influence. On far too many occasions, Jews have had justice on their side but not the requisite power to ensure their safety. If Israel had existed at the time of the Holocaust, with the same military power and international backing as it has today, the fate of European Jewry would have been appreciably different. Likewise, had American Jews wielded more power during the 1930s and 40s, the frontiers of our country would not have been shut to refugees and many more of our European brethren would have been saved from the gas chambers. 

A lot has changed over the past century, but Jewish influence over policy, especially foreign policy, remains imperative.

Israel’s founding inaugurated an entirely new epoch in Jewish history. Formerly disempowered Jews, who had been oppressed for thousands of years, now have agency. No longer victims on call, subject to the whims of the host-nations that persecuted us, Israel is a powerful, if small, country where Jews can exercise the same rights and privileges as all other nations. To be sure, there are still segments amongst our community that are either uncomfortable with the idea of Jewish power or intent on reverting the condition of world Jewry. Despite their seemingly disparate ideologies, anti-Zionists on college campuses and fundamentalist religious groups such as Neterei Karta have found common cause in demanding Israel’s annihilation. They are motivated by the same raison d’être: to resuscitate the impotent caricature of the shtetl, preoccupied with either leftist dogma or Talmudic learning and subservient to the implacable antagonists who seek our destruction. But this is no time to relinquish power — not when we confront the likes of Iran and its proxies. 

To survive in the Middle East, Israel must have more military power than all of its enemies combined — and US aid is a central component of the equation. If Israel were withheld the necessary weapons, this would encourage its neighbors to wage further attacks, thus increasing the specter of warfare and Jewish genocide. It would also deprive the US of one of its most effective regional allies. 

There is nothing devious or malignant about American Jews using their leverage to elect officials that are more favorable to our agenda, however broadly-defined. Anti-Israel zealots such as Jamal Bowman and David Duke can accuse American Jews of “dual loyalty” or subversive influence, but they will not—or rather should not—change the way in which American Jews perceive themselves. We are patriotic Americans who care deeply for the security of the Jewish people and all American citizens threatened by the same illiberal regimes. There is no dissonance between our loyalty to our country and our fervent will to protect our ethnic clan. 

So the next time someone challenges Jewish power, remind them of the truth: that Jewish power is the strongest bulwark against genocide and the surest way to defend America. Jewish power is not something to be denied or denounced. It should be worn as a badge of honor. 

About the Author
Joe Beare is an alumnus of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. He served as the President of Emory's Meor club and worked with the Institute for the Study of Modern Israel on a range of Israel-related papers, articles and educational initiatives. Along with his commitment to Israel advocacy and scholarship, Beare captained Emory's Varsity Soccer Team and won a gold medal at the European Maccabi Games in 2019.
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