Part I - Stereotyping in Congress 1922
In the year 1922 the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives held hearings on a joint resolution in support of the Balfour Declaration. The committee chairman, the pro-Zionist representative from New York, Hamilton Fish, called an array of witnesses, including a few who did not favor a “Jewish home” in Palestine. This did not mean that the committee’s support for the Balfour Declaration was ever really in doubt, but rather their apparent openness resulted from the political influence of certain academics, as well as American Christian missionary societies, who were sympathetic to Arab nationalist aspirations.
Among those who testified against the resolution was Fuad Shatara, a Palestinian-born American citizen and successful physician who led an organization called the Palestine National League. Among the points he made to the committee was that a good number of Palestine’s Zionist community were devoted socialists. This information, given to congressmen who feared leftist “red scares” in the U.S., was dynamite. If accepted, it could have scared the committee members enough to derail the resolution.
But Shatara’s quite accurate assertion was not accepted by Fish and his committee. It was not even investigated, because it appeared utterly counterintuitive. Why so? We learn the answer from committee member Representative Henry Allen Cooper of Wisconsin, a successful lawyer with a college education, and also an imperialist who had supported the retention of the Philippines as an American colony following the Spanish-American War. According to Cooper, the assertion that socialists were active among the Zionists in Palestine could not be true, because all the world knew that the Jew is “proverbially a believer in private property.” In other words, at least some members of the U.S. Congress had bought into the stereotype that a capitalist orientation is a congenital part of Jewish culture.
There was, of course, a racist undertone to this stereotype, and in Europe such a belief, conjuring up the figure of Shylock, had contributed to widespread anti-Semitism. Nonetheless, there it was coming out of the mouth of a U.S. politician with a seat on the Congressional Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Part II – Stereotyping in Congress 2013
We now fast-forward 91 years. Representative Duncan D. Hunter of California, a college graduate holding the rank of major in the Marine reserves, is a member of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities. He appeared on 4 December 2013 on C-Span, a cable network that largely concentrates on government affairs. The program concerned the negotiations of the P5 + 1 powers (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) with Iran seeking a limitation on that country’s nuclear energy program in exchange for a lessening of international sanctions.
Representative Hunter, a “tea party” Republican, is suspicious of these negotiations because he feels that even if there is a positive outcome, Iran cannot be trusted. Why so? Iran is part of the Middle East and, according to Representative Hunter, “In the Middle Eastern culture it is looked upon with very high regard to get the best deal possible, no matter what it takes, and that includes lying.” In other words, at least some of members of the U.S. Congress have bought into the stereotype that lying is a congenital part of the Middle Eastern personality.
Once more we can readily identify the racist undertone of this stereotype. It presently feeds into an islamophobia that has led to hysteria and violence among some elements of the American population. And now we see it coming from the mouth of a U.S. politician with a seat on the Congressional Subcommittee for (of all things) Intelligence.
Part III – Consequences
These beliefs reflect ignorance bordering on stupidity and, despite their wide spacing in time, they both feed into behaviors with large destructive potential. In1922 Henry Allen Cooper probably gave little or no thought to the fact that his endorsement of the Balfour Declaration would contribute to the displacement of millions, the destruction of an entire culture, and all the death and misery that goes along with such a process. If he thought about this at all he would probably have agreed with his fellow committee member Representative W. Bourke Cockran of New York, who saw Jewish immigration into Palestine as akin to the white man’s arrival in the New World.
Representative Hunter, on the other hand, is much more a conscious militarist. His vision of the Middle East is not overlaid with misplaced idealism. The Iranians are liars and if their their duplicity results in a face-off on the battlefield, the United States should use “tactical nuclear devices” so as to “set them back a decade or two or three. …That is the way to do it with a massive aerial bombardment campaign.” Hunter has done several combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He knows what dead and maimed Middle Easterners look like and it apparently does not bother him. Indeed, with his glib reference to the use of tactical nuclear weapons laid alongside his stereotype of all the region’s people as congenital liars, who knows what horror the baby-faced Representative from California is capable of.
Part IV – Conclusion
The Greek poet Homer, who lived around the 8th century BCE, once bemoaned, “Would that strife might perish from among gods and men.” I don’t know about the gods, but today among men there seems little hope of Homer getting his wish.
The ignorant, the ideologues, and the stereotypers call out to each other decade after decade, and Henry Allen Cooper and Duncan D. Hunter thus belong to the same dangerous fellowship. As they echo their menacing ideas, the rest of us, mostly ignorant of all that is not local, bend our ears and listen intently. Indeed, presently it may only be the weariness of 70 years of off-and-on war that has led us to a momentary reluctance to buy into Representative Duncan’s warmongering nonsense.
Momentary reluctance or not, I’ll take it. Unmasking the disastrous consequences of the Balfour Declaration on the one hand and on the other, achieving that elusive comprehensive settlement with Iran, can’t help but be good for the planet. Even if the next slippery slope to conflict is around a near corner, these are rational, sensible, sane goals for the present.