Playing Ethnic politics

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed May 10 13:09:25 UTC 2006

>>From the Boston Globe

Playing ethnic politics
By H.D.S. Greenway  |  May 9, 2006

WHEN PROFESSORS John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen
Walt of Harvard wrote their now-famous paper, ''The Israel Lobby and US
Foreign Policy," they knew there would be controversy. Accusations of
anti-Semitism came hard, fast, and unfairly. Virtually no one who follows
these matters denies that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has
considerable influence. Some say AIPAC is Washington's most powerful
foreign policy lobby. Others, such as Marvin Schick, president of New
York's Rabbi Jacob Joseph Yeshiva, writing in The Jerusalem Post, call
AIPAC an overrated ''bunch of shvitzers [showoffs]." The irony is, as
Schick points out, ''AIPAC wants everyone to believe that it is a
powerhouse . . . [yet] we kvetch when others get the message that is
intentionally sent."

Some lobbies are resource-driven. Think of the Saudis and oil. But there
is also a kin-country syndrome, in which nationals of one country care
deeply about the affairs of another because of ties of blood, language, or
religion. Consider Russia's pro-Serbian sentiments when Yugoslavia fell
apart, or the early recognition of Catholic Croatia and Slovenia by
Germany and Austria. In America, diaspora politics has long played a role,
and it's not just about Israel. Lawrence Eagleburger, a longtime American
diplomat who briefly served as the first President Bush's secretary of
state, once told me that ''American foreign policy -- more often than I
think should be the case -- is affected . . . by ethnic politics. Some of
the things we ended up doing or not doing in Cyprus, for example, were
purely and simply because of the Greek lobby."

Eagleburger said that there was no question that we ended up with a Cyprus
policy quite different from what Henry Kissinger wanted. Cyprus had been
an island divided between hostile Greek and Turkish communities when a
Greek faction overthrew the government of Greek patriarch Archbishop
Mikarios, setting off a chain of events that led to a Turkish invasion and
occupation of the northern part of Cyprus in 1974. ''The Greeks created
the mess, not the Turks," Eagleburger told me, and in Kissinger's view US
policy should have reflected that. But a strong pro-Greek effort led by
prominent Greek-Americans, some of them big-time contributors to the
Republican Party and Richard Nixon, closed ranks and put up enough
resistance to tilt US policy toward the Greeks. ''If we were able to have
been more neutral," Eagleburger said, ''we might have been able to keep
the Turks from being as intransigent as they later became, "  and the
island might not have remained divided as it is today. But ''the Turks
could never believe we could have a balance position . . . so the whole
situation got locked in cement." Northern Ireland is another example in
which ethnic politics plays a role.  ''Money and arms were flowing" from
Irish-Americans to the Irish Republican Army terrorists, Eagleburger said.
''There is no question that for a very long time Irish-Americans were able
to keep the US from being effective in stopping weapons," Eagleburger
said. ''Legislation could have clamped down on this, but the legislation
never came. "

At the same time, however, once Britain and Ireland brought the factions
together to make peace, Irish-Americans were in the forefront of helping
to facilitate an agreement. The British government recognizes this, and
today having served in the Dublin embassy has become almost a sine qua non
for British consuls assigned to Boston, among the most Irish cities in
America. The civil war in Sudan had resonance in the United States both
among African-Americans, who saw their kinsmen in the south being
oppressed by the Arab north, and among militant Christians who saw their
co-religionists being persecuted by Muslims. According to Eagleburger,
Armenian-Americans were very influential in tilting American policy toward
the newly independent Armenia in its struggle against Azerbaijan in
Nagorno-Karabakh in the '90s.

Eagleburger is not alone in ranking AIPAC, however, as the most effective
kin-country lobby in America. Some call it the National Rifle Association
of foreign policy. ''AIPAC works 24 hours a day, all year," says
Eagleburger. He said that sometime he and his colleagues at the State
Department would go to AIPAC for help on issues that had nothing to do
with Israel, simply because AIPAC had such power in the American Congress.
Strong support for Israel is not limited to the Jewish community. In
forming foreign policy, ''you ignore ethnic politics at your peril,"
according to Eagleburger. And as Professor Mearsheimer says, that's '' as
American as apple pie."

H.D.S. Greenway's column appears regularly in the Globe.

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