Sunday, October 07, 2007

Dawkins and the "Jewish Lobby"

I haven't said anything about the recent Dawkins fiasco in which he said, in a Guardian interview:

When you think about how fantastically successful the Jewish lobby has been, though, in fact, they are less numerous I am told - religious Jews anyway - than atheists and [yet they] more or less monopolise American foreign policy as far as many people can see. So if atheists could achieve a small fraction of that influence, the world would be a better place.


He makes a similar argument in his advocacy of the OUT Campaign:

Atheists are more numerous than religious Jews, yet they wield a tiny fraction of the political power, apparently because they have never got their act together in the way the Jewish lobby so brilliantly has: the famous 'herding cats' problem again.


Partly it's because I think Orac is quite right: it is more probable that Dawkins is simply ignorant of the political situation in the United States, and is being sloppy (as he often in fact is) with distinctions, than that he is deliberately making an antisemitic swipe. There is precious little in the way of a "Jewish lobby" in the United States -- a few organizations like the American Jewish Committee, and little more, which don't have much pull in the halls of power; there is a very strong 'Israel lobby' (such as is represented by organizations like AIPAC), of course, which is strong precisely because it is heavily, even if not exclusively, evangelical Christian, and therefore has close connections with a Zionist voting demographic that massively dwarfs the Jewish population (which is very diverse in its opinions on the issues supported by the 'Israel lobby').

I keep wanting to read the "as far as many people can see" as a crucial qualifier here, but it's difficult to do so. I think one can say that it qualifies the 'monopolises', thus suggesting that Dawkins wouldn't go so far as to commit himself to the claim of monopoly. But his argument requires that the example be a real-life instance of what he's talking about, and that's the problem. There is certainly no basis for suggesting, as Dawkins seems to in the interview, that U.S. foreign policy is profoundly influenced by religious Jews. But it needs to be said the fact that as a claim it is very similar to antisemitic calumnies about Jewish cabals is likely an unfortunate coincidence.

(There is no such excuse for some of the comments that have gone up in response to Orac's post, which are in some cases simply appalling.)

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