Michael Barnett offers a comprehensive, insightful, and well-written account of the way American Jews have positioned themselves vis-à-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 promot[ing] 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," [End Page 309] he argues, "it turned on them"—a sentiment substantiated by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon's recent public admission that the United Nations unfairly and disproportionately condemns Israel (188).
Along with its many strengths, one of the book's challenges is in the conception of the titular "Jewish foreign policy." Barnett defines Jewish foreign policy as "the attempt by Jewish individuals and institutions to mobilize and represent the Jewish community for the purpose of protecting Jewish interests and advancing a vision of global justice inspired by Jewish political and religious thought" (10). At times, though, the argument focuses more on the beliefs of individual American Jews, while the causal relation between those individual views and their institutional expression is less thoroughly worked out. Barnett claims that American Jews are more cosmopolitan but also that the American Jewish "establishment" is more tribal than are most American Jews (40). At times American Jews are treated as a monolithic bloc (although he admittedly does not include Orthodox Jews). More rigorous use of public opinion polls might have helped draw finer distinctions about foreign policy preferences. It remains unclear where most Jewish Americans are today on many pressing foreign policy questions. Are they more likely than other Americans—or more likely than other Democrats—to vote for increased foreign aid? For humanitarian intervention?
The book's comparisons between American Jews and Israeli Jews are overly simplistic. Barnett repeatedly contrasts what he calls American Jews' outward-looking cosmopolitanism and Israeli Jews' inward-looking nationalism. However, he himself admits at times that these concepts are not mutually exclusive. Barnett's analysis of both Zionism and nationalism pay little attention to the complex history of Zionism, with its widely varied strains, and tends to associate "Jewish Israelis" as a whole with those on the political right in Israel. Israeli politics are usually polarized, and for many years...