The Star and the Stripes: A History of the Foreign Policies of American Jews. By Michael Barnett. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016. 368 pp.
Michael Barnett offers a comprehensive, insightful, and well-written account of the way American Jews have positioned themselves vis-a-vis the wider world, shifting between internationalism, particularism, and cosmopolitanism over time. With thought-provoking insight, he traces the American Jewish community's fluctuations between a more tribally concerned outlook and a more cosmopolitan stance. While that cosmopolitanism partially derives, he argues, from prophetic Judaism, it in turn has "many of the elements that define what international relations scholars call liberal internationalism," emphasizing the state as the embodiment of "liberal values and actively promoting] the expansion of markets, democracy, and the rule of law around the world" (46).
The author persuasively argues that the experience of being a minority in the United States and the influence of prophetic Judaism led to a broader concern for minority rights and civil rights. As over time American Jews began to fare better, they could turn their attention beyond their own community to engage with the similar plights of other minority groups around the world. This movement was particularly facilitated by the perception of world neglect which allowed the Holocaust: in this view the League of Nations had failed, the protection of minority rights worldwide had failed, and immigration had failed to provide a solution to the threat of antisemitism. This in turn led many American Jews to recognize the need for the creation of Israel.
Barnett emphasizes identity politics and cultural explanations for foreign policy preferences. For example, the American Jewish community's growing affiliation with Israel coincided in some way with that of the U.S. government's, but for different reasons. In the run-up to the 1967 war, Jews felt that the UN and U.S. had abandoned Israel and, reliving in some sense the trauma of the Holocaust, feared Israel would be destroyed. Thus from 1966 to 1967 aid to Israel from American Jews grew sevenfold. The book also illuminates how American Jews shaped and influenced the UN Declaration of Human Rights but later felt more comfortable with "humanitarianism" than "human rights." "American Jews did not abandon international human rights and the United Nations he argues, "it turned on them"--a sentiment...