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The thesis of Knowing Too Much is simple: American Jews are distancing themselves from Israel. An ethnic identification, combined with a belief that Israel and the US shared both interests and liberal values, led to a great love-in after 1967 when American Jews fell head over heels for Israel. But as the evidence piles up it is increasingly difficult to reconcile liberal values with continued support for Israel. And, rather than the predominantly liberal values of American Jews buckling, it is support for Israel that is giving way.
What has caused the change, argues Finkelstein, is that there is now too much information out there. The myths of the past and the early academic work in support of Israel’s foundational myths (‘Exodus with footnotes’) has given way to serious scholarship, much of it by critical Israelis. Increasing numbers of American Jews no longer buy Israeli policies, however strong their primal attachment to Israel. And among younger Jews, even that is not as strong as it was. The evidence of this alienation is carefully chronicled by Finkelstein. How to explain it?
Is it that the US’s national interests are diverging from those of Israel, and American Jews, forced to choose, are choosing the US? Not so, argues Finkelstein, demolishing the arguments of those like Mearsheimer and Walt whose book The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy presented the Iraq war as foisted on the US by the Israel lobby. National interests still coincide, he argues convincingly. It is Israeli policies, and especially human rights violations, that are increasingly offensive to liberal Jews.
In the face of accumulating evidence some supporters of Israel try to reground past myths. Most of Knowing Too Much is a forensic dissection of writers – Michael Oren, Jeffery Goldberg, Julius Stone, Dennis Ross, Benny Morris and others – who, in the face of the evidence, still try to justify Israeli actions past and present. But as Finkelstein says: ‘It is doubtful a new generation of American Jews can be inspired by the slogan: “Israel: Not the world’s only human rights violator.”’
Though occasionally too splenetic for my taste, Knowing Too Much is a carefully argued critique, and a mine of valuable information and argument. Definitely worth reading.