Especially on his own blog, American Prospect staffer Matt Yglesias is admirably frank about how his upper-middle class Jewish identity shapes his political views and those of many similar figures in the media. The comparison to the comic hypocrisy of the "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain" multitudes of pundits who have denounced Mearsheimer and Walt's paper on the Israel Lobby is wholly to Yglesias's credit.
In an informative response to my recent entry on "Jerusalem Syndrome," he offers five reasons Jews work against immigration restrictions. His list seems pretty accurate to me. Note that the second, third, and fourth reasons are largely nostalgic and based on heavily mythologized views of history.
First off, as a high-income, high-education group, most American Jews derive direct financial benefit from high immigration policies.
Correct. The affluent get cheap servants and the like, while suffering zero competition from illegal immigrants.
Second, as a historical matter, nationalism has been Bad For The Jews.
That's certainly the traditional Jewish attitude, which, as Berkeley historian Yuri Slezkine has pointed out in The Jewish Century, is one reason why so many well-educated secular Jews, especially in Russia, became fervent Marxist-Leninists: nationalism was bad for the Jews, so Communism would abolish nationalism.
But American nationalism has been good for the Jews, which is what the American immigration debate is about, rather than, say, Polish nationalism. (And hasn't Israeli nationalism been good for the Jews? Israel has extremely restrictive policies about who gets to immigrate to Israel and has built fences around Israel to keep people out.)
Third, the general understanding in the American Jewish community is that restrictions on immigration and, in particular, the restrictions the USA imposed in the 1920s are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Jews in the Holocaust who otherwise would have followed their American cousins out of Europe (this is perhaps empirically mistaken in some respects, but it's certainly the general understanding).
That's definitely the general understanding among Jewish intellectuals today. By laying the blame for the Holocaust on Congress in 1924 (a year that Hitler spent in jail), they can ignore the extraordinary lack of effort American Jewish leaders made during the 12 years of the Roosevelt Administration (which were coterminous with the Third Reich, 1933-1945) to get European Jews admitted as refugees. FDR was the most politically powerful President in American history and American Jews were, on the whole, wildly enthusiastic for FDR. Even though back then Jews comprised a much larger voting bloc, and one particularly well-situated in big electoral vote states to tip elections, they exerted little effective pressure on their hero to do anything for their co-ethnics. Rather than confront this history, it's so much more enjoyable today to blame it all on Congress in 1924 for not having the foresight to realize that a jailbird in Germany was going to perpetrate the worst crime in history two decades later.
As Yglesias notes, the historical case for this myth is shaky. There was very little immigration to the Depression-ridden United States after the stock market collapse in 1929, below the caps set by the 1924 bill, so the number of European Jews who would have immigrated without the 1924 bill, which came into effect largely in 1928, was quite limited -- basically, just a few years worth at the end of the 1920s. Moreover, a big fraction of future Holocaust victims were unable to immigrate because they were locked up within the borders of the Soviet Union.
Fourth -- and relatedly -- the earlier immigration clampdown is understood by American Jews to have been largely motivated by anti-semitism raising suspicions about the motives of present-day restrictionists.
Right. Of course, in reality, the labor movement, in which Jews were highly activate, was a more powerful force on Capitol Hill in 1924 than inchoate anti-Semitism. Particularly important were the calls for immigration restriction by the grand old man of the union movement, Samuel Gompers, who was himself a Jewish immigrant. Once again, it's less disturbing to blame anti-Semites than to confront history honestly.
Fifth, things might be different if most immigrants to America were Arabs or Muslims but when people think "immigrant" they think about Mexicans and Asians not Egyptians; Jews have no particular beef with Mexicans and identify pretty strongly with Asians.
Right. Of course, lots of Muslims are coming into America, although their numbers are currently small compared to other groups.
And, keep in mind, that back when the Europeans decided to take in millions of Muslims, it seemed like a good idea at the time. It has seemed to upper middle-class Americans as if Mexicans will be happy to scrub their toilets forever, but history suggests that won't always be true. There's a wind from the South, as represented by men like Chavez and Morales, blowing up a tide of anti-white Hispanic populist resentment, which we saw early manifestations of in the recent street demonstrations here.
The assumption that the coming anti-white Hispanic movement in America will distinguish between bad gentile whites and good Jewish whites is optimistic, to say the least.
The crucial question for Jews is:
Is it good for the Jews to obsess over "Was it good for the Jews?" Or should they, when thinking about immigration policy, ask, "Will it be good for the Jews?"
A reader comments:
Your analysis of the "Jerusalem Syndrome" is interesting, but far too broad regarding Jewish attitudes towards immigration. To paraphrase Walt Whitman, "we contain multitudes!" While some prominent Jewish leaders may believe that unrestricted "open borders" immigration is the way to go, few Jews (as it is with most Americans, generally) prefer that course. Most Jews that I know support legal immigration, but want to do as much as possible (for security reasons, mostly) to prevent illegal immigration. The myth of Ellis Island is not as potent for most Jews as you would describe.
In any event, Jews (and their relationship to the right/left divide) are best understood in the same way that you analyze men and math skills: we have a lot of outliers on the extremes, which makes it seem as though a "majority" of Jews believes virtually anything. Also, in our culture, screaming loudly is an effective way to make your point -- argument is valued. Thus, when you have a bunch of people who are acculturated towards debate, and who have strong opinions on most issues (because you need to have things to argue about in a Jewish home), you get a false impression of what the "majority" of Jews believe.
In the immortal words of someone, "two Jews, four opinions." That may be an understatement.