From Roumania to Syria: The Jewish Lobby’s Role in Promoting U.S. ‘Human Rights’ Foreign Policy
By Maidhc Ó Cathail
The Passionate Attachment
November 7, 2012
The foreign policy of Ulysses S. Grant was “remarkable” for its concern about human rights issues, according to the author of a new book on the 18th president of the United States. “America, prior to the Civil War, had been very reluctant to call out other countries on issues of human rights,” said Jonathan Sarna, the author of When General Grant Expelled the Jews, during a discussion of the book presented by the National Archives and the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington in celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month in August this year.
The book’s title refers to General Order No. 11, issued by General Grant on December 17, 1862, during the American Civil War, in which he ordered the expulsion of all Jews in his military district, comprising areas of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky, as part of a Union campaign against a black market in Southern cotton, which Grant explained was being run “mostly by Jews and other unprincipled traders.” General Order No. 11 stated that “The Jews, as a class, violating every regulation of trade established by the treasury department, and also department orders, are hereby expelled from this department upon the receipt of this order.” Following protests from Jewish community leaders, President Abraham Lincoln ordered it revoked a few weeks later.
When Grant ran for president in 1868, the charge of anti-Semitism emerged during the campaign as a contentious issue among Jewish voters, some of whom saw him as a latter-day Haman. While it didn’t prevent the successful war general from winning the election by a large margin, it apparently gave the nascent Jewish lobby considerable leverage over his presidency. Presumably anxious to redeem himself in the eyes of the influential Jewish community, President Grant, as Sarna put it, “went out of his way to appoint Jews.” One of these “unprecedented” appointments was Benjamin Franklin Peixotto, a B’nai B’rith leader and protégé of the great grandson of the founder of Lubavitch Hasidism. Thanks to the intervention of Rabbi H. Z. Sneerson and the powerful Seligman banking family, Peixotto was appointed unpaid consul to the newly established independent principality of Roumania.
Peixotto was appointed by Grant, Sarna said, “with the full understanding that is he going to go and largely be involved in helping the Jewish community, which indeed is what he does, and he gives him an astonishing letter. This is probably, I couldn’t prove it was the first so I didn’t say it, but probably the first such expression of human rights, and we’re still debating now — think of Syria — the extent to which America should be concerned about the internal affairs of other countries.”
In this seminal statement of U.S. human rights policy given to the man remembered by the Jewish Virtual Library as “American Jewry’s Man in Roumania,” President Grant wrote in part:
“The United States, knowing no distinction of her own citizens on account of religion or nativety, naturally believe in a civilization the world over which will secure the same universal liberal views.”
Almost a century and a half later, Americans are, as Sarna observed, still debating whether their country has a responsibility to promote human rights the world over. And just as in the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant, the leading advocates of an aggressive humanitarianism today are to be found in the organized Jewish community. The major difference, however, is that instead of helping their Jewish brethren as Peixotto did, today’s so-called humanitarians are devoted to “helping” their Muslim cousins. As William Kristol, chairman of the Emergency Committee for Israel, explained in a March 2011 Weekly Standard op-ed piece:
Our “invasions” have in fact been liberations. We have shed blood and expended treasure in Kuwait in 1991, in the Balkans later in the 1990s, and in Afghanistan and Iraq—in our own national interest, of course, but also to protect Muslim peoples and help them free themselves. Libya will be America’s fifth war of Muslim liberation.
And as Kristol and his fellow Israel partisans continue to pressure President Obama to adopt their “Options for the United States and Like-Minded Nations to Further Assist the Anti-Regime Syrian Opposition,” Syria is well on its way to becoming America’s sixth war of Muslim liberation.