Mitch McConnell embarks on a sentimental journey that allows him to castigate critical thinking as “sentiment.” The Daily Devil’s Dictionary reports.
An Associated Press article quotes Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s reaction to the what he sees as intolerable criticism of Israel among members of Congress. Focusing on the BDS movement that has called for a boycott of Israeli products — similar to the movement that helped end apartheid in South Africa — McConnell proclaimed that the movement “is a clear example of rising anti-Israel sentiment in our country which is very disturbing and that’s been underscored by comments of some of the new members of the House of Representatives.”
McConnell has good reason to feel disturbed. After the storming of his office by the Sunrise Movement last week, who would be surprised if he wasn’t tempted to hang a “do not disturb” notice on his office door? But what he now finds disturbing is the expression of “sentiments” that may not be in accordance with his own or those of his colleagues.
Here is today’s 3D definition:
Feelings that, when attributed to people with a different opinion or a diverging assessment of an issue, make them appear to be devoid of critical thought, creating the illusion that one’s own unreflecting feelings are the result of reasoning
Pundits and politicians are once more reminding the public of what has suddenly become a cardinal sin: the use of “tropes.” The word now appears to signify a fixed association between two ideas that, by virtue of their association, suggest an unjustified stereotype of a group of people.
The new trope attributed to Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar concerns the very real sentiment of dual allegiance that may understandably be felt by some American Jews. The first trope she was accused of using was the collocation of Jews and money. Both tropes contain some historical truth — centuries ago Christians pushed Jews into banking and Jews have been mistreated in most lands they didn’t control — but neither justifies a blanket attribution of devious intentions or suspect sentiments to an entire group of people.
Similarly, it neither justifies ignoring or denying the reality of history, which, if examined with attention, may reveal avenues of reasoning that can unknot otherwise blocked conflicts.
McConnell wants us to believe that criticism of Israel reflects a sentiment, a mere emotional reaction, rather than an attempt to analyze its actions and the consequences of those actions. In contrast, the eagerness of nearly every member of Congress to express their “unwavering support” of Israel seems to reflect a concerted will to impose a uniform sentiment intended to banish all reasoned thought. Israel alone commands hyperbolic rhetoric from leaders always ready to cite the “indissoluble” or “unbreakable bonds” (Hillary Clinton) or an “eternal alliance” (Barack Obama) between the two nations. This is the language not of diplomacy, but of mystical communion, an expression of pure and intense — if not bullying — sentiment.
In contrast, Omar’s remarks refer to observable facts without applying the criticism to an entire population. Yes, buying influence in Washington is common and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) happens to be good at it. Yes, some people have demonstrated divided loyalties (Joe Lieberman, for example) and many members of Congress echo the hyperbole that justifies it. Their support is both rhetorical and pragmatically legislative, even to the point of infringing the sacred First Amendment by making illegal the expression of opinion against Israel, as the Senate has just done.
Then there’s the special case of Jared Kushner, who, in his apparently illegal secret dealings with Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman, “doesn’t seem to have the strongest allegiance to the US,” according to a former US Defense Department intelligence officer, Naveed Jamali. Whether this is out of loyalty to Donald Trump or to Israel — increasingly allied with Saudi Arabia — or simply to his own financial interests, as the article suggests, McConnell doesn’t seem to find Kushner’s behavior particularly “disturbing.”
During the campaign that led to John F. Kennedy’s election in 1960, some Protestant voters said that, as a Roman Catholic, he would have his policies dictated by the Vatican. Nothing in Kennedy’s past as a senator could have justified that suspicion, but every president before him had been at least nominally a Protestant. Kennedy actually did lose “6.5 percent of the national vote of Protestant Democrats and independents and 17.2 percent of the southern vote because he was a Catholic.” Since no nation on earth claims to be the capital of Protestantism or the source of its (nonexistent) orthodoxy, the concern about loyalty to another nation had never before emerged in a presidential race.
In the year 2000, Joe Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, nearly became Al Gore’s vice president of the United States. Gore and Lieberman should have been elected and indeed would have been had a Republican-dominated Supreme Court not decided otherwise, offering the keys to the White House to a certain George W. Bush, accompanied (and often directed) by Dick Cheney.
Summing up Lieberman’s political career, The Times of Israel approvingly acknowledged that: “Before retiring from government in 2013, Lieberman was known as a steadfast supporter of Israel during his 24 years in the US Senate.” In 2007, he addressed a meeting of Christians United for Israel and praised their fanatical leader, whose views on the Middle East are derived directly from the Book of the Apocalypse or Revelation with these words: “You reject the temptation of moral relativism. You understand that there is a difference between good and evil, between eternal and temporal, between Israel and other nations.”
Lieberman excoriates critical thought and historical reasoning, calling it “moral relativism.” But the exceptionalist view of history that identifies either the US or Israel, or both, as not just exceptional but eternal can only be the result of sentiment, not reasoning. No nation or empire is eternal. And even if they were, that would not justify their actions.
Gideon Levy, writing for the Israeli paper Haaretz, summed up the historical reality this way: “When will Americans and Europeans stop running scared every time someone screams ‘anti-Semitism’? Until when will Israel and the Jewish establishment succeed in exploiting (the existing) anti-Semitism as a shield against criticism? When will the world dare to distinguish between legitimate criticism of an illegitimate reality and anti-Semitism?”
The answer? When politicians learn to elevate reason and historical analysis above sentiment.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
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