Dawkins and the Jewish Lobby

Ah, that’s a provocative title, isn’t it?

[tag]Richard Dawkins[/tag] is setting up an organization to help lobby for atheists. Despite my many serious disagreements with him, I don’t think that’s a bad idea, because atheists are viewed very negatively, and I think unfairly so. In fact, in many ways Dawkins himself is unfairly viewed in a negative light.

But in this Guardian unlimited story, the following paragraph is not going to help, especially here in the United States:

In an interview with the Guardian, he said: “When you think about how fantastically successful the Jewish lobby has been, though, in fact, they are less numerous I am told – religious Jews anyway – than atheists and [yet they] more or less monopolise American foreign policy as far as many people can see. So if atheists could achieve a small fraction of that influence, the world would be a better place.”

Now I would put this in perspective simply because Israel is viewed very differently here in the United States than it is in Europe, and the conversation is very different. But to a whole bunch of people I know personally, and a whole bunch more I know of, them’s fightin’ words!

As soon as you talk about “the Jewish lobby” and claim that they are monopolizing some aspect of American society you’ll be seeing the anti-Semitism charge come up pretty soon after. I’m moderately pro-Israel myself, and I think it’s extremely easy to overstate the influence of Jewish groups on the government. It’s also very easy to see “Jewish groups” where there are only groups with Jewish members.

All of this combines with a very real anti-semitic movement, and a prejudice that lies just under the surface in many places. I’m assuming that Dawkins is merely taking a more European view and is not himself anti-Semitic. I know many people don’t believe that’s possible, but I have encountered that position and respect it while disagreeing. But such language is going to provide ammunition for his opponents.

You think I’m overstating it? Joe Carter has already put it in his 33 things post today as “shades of anti-Semitism”. Oh well, I guess it’s fun harvesting questionable quotes from atheist speakers.

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  1. I respect Dawkins’ opinion on a few issues as well, but he does go off the deep end sometimes. Those are typically the incidents that make it into the media.

  2. I suspect this looks worse rather than better in a European perspective. People over here are not so concerned about Israel today, but may have clearer memories of how anti-Semitism led to the holocaust. So complaining about the extent of Jewish influence is considered seriously bad form, especially in more liberal circles like those of the Guardian. Dawkins may suddenly find himself no longer these people’s darling. (In fact their new darling may be Alistair Darling who has just cut their inheritance taxes.)

  3. I suspect this looks worse rather than better in a European perspective.

    I hadn’t thought of it this way. Here anti-Israel and anti-Semitic are extremely closely tied in many people’s minds.

    I appreciate your insight on how this might be read. I still haven’t figured out precisely how he meant it, but it was clearly not a good idea for him to write it that way.

  4. Oddly enough, here in the UK, especially in more liberal circles, it is good to be anti-Israel but bad to be anti-Semitic. Material critical of Israel or its government often contains implicit disclaimers that the author is not really anti-Semitic, just against Israeli policies.

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