There are precedents. France has had three Jewish leaders. The first, Adolphe Crémieux, jointly led the provisional governments of the Second Republic (1848) and the Third Republic (1870-1). Leon Blum led the Socialist Party to power on and off between 1936-40. Pierre Mendes-France led the Fourth Republic in the 1950s. (He's the guy who got France out of Vietnam.) But these precedents are ambiguous. On one hand, it's a real testament to France that Jews achieved such heights (1848!). On the other, all three incidents had negative ramifications both for Jews and for French democracy. Everyone knew that they were Jews, and people either chose not to make much of the fact because they approved of their policies, or made a really big deal of it because they were opposed to them. In all three instances, the Jewishness of such prominent leaders of French republicanism was used to attack republicanism itself. Anti-republicans made assaults that were ad hominem and, of course, anti-Semitic. The Dreyfus Affair and Vichy were direct consequences.
The result? French democracy arguably suffered more than French Jews. In the late 1930s anti-Semitism was a major factor behind France's inability to re-arm, intervene in Spain, or take a hard-line against Nazism. Blum certainly wanted to do all three things, but too many Frenchmen preferred to think of Blum's attempts as being in the interest of Jews rather than France. By 1940, even before German troops showed up, the French Republic was discredited as too Jewish. When it collapsed, France blamed Blum and all other Jews with the result that it collaborated in their mass murder.
Of the three French-Jewish leaders, only one, Crémieux, actively and openly participated in Jewish-community matters (Blum publicly backed Zionism and helped the movement, but I am not aware of any other involvement with the community). He was in fact the leader of France's Jewish community, sometimes officially and sometimes not, for much of the 19th century. In addition, he was active in the foundation of the first major international Jewish organization, the Paris-based Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU). The AIU, founded in 1860, instantly confirmed for the world's Jew-haters all their conspiracy theories. It was greatly feared and universally assumed to hold great power. Even its name suggested ominous power. And indeed, AIU representatives and contacts were able to wield power by taking advantage of anti-Semites' fears and forcing world leaders to grant them audiences. The AIU made the Protocols of the Elders of Zion seem plausible, for it appeared to prove that Jews like Crémieux were pushing their own agenda.
The point is that the election of Jews to power in France was bad for both France and for Jews. The election of Jews to power in the United States, particularly now, could potentially be catastrophic. First, there are the obvious problems associated with a President Lieberman trying to deal with Israel. The Arab press and that of much of the world already assumes that American policies are dictated by Jews. Now imagine if they really were. Already the United States looks awkward in its refusal to join the planetary mob in its rush to destroy Israel. Already the country's fondness for Jews damages its credibility abroad. Second, imagine what might happen on the American left, which is already flirting with anti-Semitism. Or the religious right, whose philo-Semitism already bears a double edge. (There's a very fine line between Christian philo- and anti-Semites, a fact that becomes evident when one recognizes the assumptions and the apocalyptic expectations of the former.) Third, America in 2004 is very different from France in either 1848 or 1936. The American president is not just the most powerful man on the planet, powerful on a scale not seen since Hadrian, but he is for better or for worse the leader of the Western world at a time when that world is challenged from without and from within.
God Likes New Things
Abraham Joshua Heschel
You are God in Drag
Davening with Joe
Josh almost gets cancer
Our 440 Back Pages
Zeek in Print
Winter 03 issue now on sale
From previous issues:
Zionism and Colonialism
On Being a Leftist and a Zionist
The Mall Balloon-Man Moment of the Spirit