Is Douglas Feith guilty of a double standard on Israel and the U.S.?

In an e-mail discussion Paul Gottfried mentioned that former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, one of the paleocons’ favorite neocon bęte-noires, had endorsed the highly objectionable idea that Israel should be an ethnically conscious nation, while America must be universal. He sent me an article by Michael Lind in The Nation to back up that point:

Unlike Brooks, Douglas Feith does not lie about the nature of Israeli nationalism. In an address he delivered in Jerusalem in 1997 titled “Reflections on Liberalism, Democracy and Zionism,” written before he became the third-most-powerful official in the Pentagon, Feith denounced “those Israelis” who “contend that Israel like America should not be an ethnic state—a Jewish state—but rather a ‘state of its citizens.’” Feith argued that “there is a place in the world for non-ethnic nations and there is a place for ethnic nations.” Feith’s theory, unlike that of Brooks, permits pro-Likud neocons to preach postethnic universalism for the United States and blood-and-soil nationalism for Israel. While solving one problem for the neoconservative movement, Feith creates others. He legitimizes identity politics, which the neocons despise—how can one justify Israel-centered Jewish ethnoracial nationalism while denouncing Afrocentrism or the sinister neo-Nazi idea of an “Aryan-German” or “Nordic” diaspora in the United States? Even worse, Feith’s theory seems to endorse the false claim of anti-Semites that Jews are essentially foreigners in the nations in which they are born or reside. Indeed, according to the Jabotinskyite ideology shared by Sharon, Netanyahu and many (not all) of their neocon allies, there are only two kinds of Jews in the world: Israelis and potential Israelis. For generations, many if not most Jewish Americans have rejected this illiberal conception.

I replied:

I don’t think it is as damning as you do. The key Feith quote is, “There is a place in the world for non-ethnic nations and there is a place for ethnic nations.” This could be interpreted as simply acknowledging the reality that different countries have different types of identities and philosophies. The fact that America with its 300 million people and continent-wide expanse sees itself as a non-ethnic nation (a belief system that, by the way, is not the work of the neocons or Jews alone but of an entire American ideology embraced by all mainstream Americans, though, of course, neocons have been the leading promoters of it) should not require tiny Israel, which was specifically founded as a Jewish state, to see itself as a non-ethnic nation.

If Feith were actively pushing a non-ethnic nation idea on America against the wishes of Americans, while he was simultaneously supporting the ethnic-nation idea for Israel, then that would be deeply offensive.

Another problem with the paleocon criticism of the neocons on this issue is, instead of consistently supporting Jewish ethnic nationhood AND American ethnic nationhood, they want to impose America’s suicidal non-ethnic style of nationhood on Israel. They give up their own principle of ethnic nationhood, just to stick it to Israel. This is proof that they are motivated not by principle but by bigotry against Israel and neocons (and probably Jews).

Prof. Gottfried wrote back:

I did get the impression that Feith, who is a Straussian, was affirming the neocon-Straussian preferred conception of the U.S. as a propositional nation. He did not in fact offer your qualification that given the way the cookie has crumbled, being a non-ethnic, abstract nation is now the unhappy destiny of Americans. On the other point, that paleos as a form of Schadenfreude want to turn Israel into what neocons are helping to inflict on us here, you are ENTIRELY CORRECT in your accusation.

My reply:

And that is ABSOLUTELY DAMNING on the paleocons.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at April 30, 2006 04:58 PM | Send

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