Anti-Semitism’s Long History in America’s Organs of Foreign Policy

September 29, 2017 | Dennis Ross
About the author: Dennis Ross has served in senior positions in several administrations, most recently (2009-2011) as a special assistant to President Barack Obama. His new book is Doomed to Succeed: The U.S.-Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama.

When it came to light last week that the former CIA officer Valerie Plame is in the habit of promoting anti-Semitic screeds via social media, Dennis Ross—who has worked for five of the last six presidential administrations—was reminded of his own experiences at the Pentagon and State Department:

When I began working in the Pentagon during President Jimmy Carter’s administration, there was an unspoken but unmistakable assumption: if you were Jewish, you could not work on the Middle East because you would be biased. However, if you knew about the Middle East because you came from a missionary family or from the oil industry, you were an expert. Never mind that having such a background might shape a particular view of the region, the United States’ interests in it, or Israel. People with these backgrounds were perceived to be unbiased, while Jews could not be objective and would be partial to Israel to the exclusion of American interests.

Sometimes, I would find this view expressed subtly. Other times it would be overt, including well after Secretary of State George Shultz tried to change the culture of the State Department during the early years of the Reagan administration. For Shultz, being Jewish was no longer a disqualification from working on Arab-Israeli issues. . . .

[Despite these improvement], I remember well the time in 1990, when I was the head of the State Department’s policy-planning staff, that I was visited by a diplomatic-security investigator who was doing a background check on someone who had listed me as a reference. . . . At one point, the investigator asked me . . . if this person had to choose between America’s interests and Israel’s, whose interests would he put first? There was nothing subtle about this presumption of dual loyalty.

“Why would you ask that question?” I asked, even though I realized I might not be helping the person using me as a reference. He answered, “Because he is Jewish.” . . . This investigator was not a rookie. And his experience with senior State Department officials led him to believe it was natural to ask this question. Like most mythologies which take on a life of their own, the idea that Jewish-Americans might have dual loyalties was not challenged or questioned, it was assumed.

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