August 25, 2006

Don't Hate Me Because My Homeland Loves Me

by PG

David Bernstein has stirred debate over whether Israel gets grief for policies on which other countries, particularly Japan, get a free pass. The short answer seems to be that a) Japan doesn't get a free pass, Bernstein just hasn't been paying attention; and b) Israel's situation is unique in ways relevant to whether the criticism will have political teeth. (Particularly in Israel's having been formed as a nation on land recently occupied by non-Jews, and having a large minority to contest the racial policies.) I'm more interested in the correlation between a nation's sense of race and how that affects others' perceptions of that race.

For example, I assume Bernstein doesn't like the ethnocentric assumption that any Jewish American must be foremost Jewish, and thus pro-Israel, and that Jewish-Americans will sacrifice American interests to protect Israeli ones. This thinking sometimes underlies criticism of neo-conservative foreign policy; instead of just critiquing the substance of the policy, a few oppose it based on the perception that it was shaped by people who are more concerned about Israel than about the U.S, and therefore suspect on that basis. The Israeli government itself doesn't seem to assume that the Jewish diaspora will be uniformly supportive of its policies, but Jewish organizations do invest in tying Jewish identity to Israel, and some Jews claim if they fail to support Israel's government, they are accused of self hatred.

Yet a common justification for the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII is that the Japanese government thought they would be a fifth column, and therefore it was reasonable for the American government to think the same, especially after the U.S. discovered that this was the Japanese government's view. This was an essentially ethnocentric error on both governments' parts: they didn't believe that American identity could be strong enough, even in people born and raised in the U.S., to outbalance Japanese identity. A similar error seems to be made in discounting Jewish Americans' opinions on Israel.

I think the nation's sense of race, in both Israel and Japan, contributes to misperceptions of people descended from each. (Inasmuch as modern Israel is connected to the Biblical Israel from which all Jews descend.) Because being Jewish or ethnically Japanese is so central to being Israeli or Japanese, regardless of niceties like birthplace, residence and citizenship, the relationship of American Jews or Japanese Americans to Israel or Japan is regarded with more suspicion. The legal regime in another country should not affect how we see anyone in the United States, but the racialist policies themselves are founded on generalizations, and Americans are not always better than other peoples in avoiding discrimination on such a basis.

August 25, 2006 12:35 PM | TrackBack

David also thinks that Lochner v. New York gets too much grief.

Posted by: Shag from Brookline at August 26, 2006 11:05 AM
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