McCain Misspeaks, Confuses American Jews With Israelis

johnmccainSenator John McCain was part of the first panel of Day Two of AIPAC, along with Senator Kristin Gillibrand and Israeli General Amos Yadlin. He talked about Iran, Egypt, and doing “the Lord’s work in the city of Satan.” But it was something Senator McCain said at the very end, right before standing up to leave, that stuck with me.
He said, “By the way, your ambassador is doing a great job.”
Was he referring to Daniel Shapiro, the United States’ ambassador to Israel? Maybe he meant Susan Rice, the United States ambassador to the UN? Surely he wasn’t referring to Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States.
I understand how the Senator could’ve been confused; Ambassador Oren was the featured speaker of the first plenary session of the conference. He grew up and lived in the United States before making Aliyah to Israel in 1979, so he doesn’t have an Israeli accent. That might have confused Senator McCain during the times they’ve worked together on issues.
But Ambassador Oren is Israeli. The attendees of AIPAC are, by and large, Americans. Ambassador Oren does not represent American Jews just like Boston Red Sox first baseman David Ortiz does not represent the Minnesota Twins.
Sure, all the AIPAC attendees are proud supporters of Israel, many have visited Israel, and some even have family in Israel; but don’t be confused Senator, you made that comment to a roomful of Jewish Americans living in America.
Maybe this isn’t that big of a deal, but it really stuck in my craw. To conflate American Jews with the Israeli ambassador to the United States is to fundamentally misunderstand American Jews’ relationship to Israel and their identity in America. Senator McCain built up a lot of goodwill with the crowd with his unequivocal support of Israel, but he ruined all that with his throwaway remark, confusing 10,000 of his fellow American citizens with residents of a different country.
It harkened back to the days when Jews weren’t allowed in WASP-dominated country clubs, law firms, and other social groups of consequence. It was like McCain was saying, “I support you, I do, but you’re not like me. We’re not American in the same way.”
I’m glad that Ambassador Oren is doing such a great job. I’m sure that his service to Israel helps the perception in Washington of ALL Jews — Israeli, American, and otherwise. But while I am a proud Zionist and supporter of Israel, the ambassador certainly does not represent me, or my government. Regardless of whether we identify as Jewish Americans or American Jews, we still identify as Americans.
Senator McCain, please remember that.
(Photo: soggydan)