Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Dan Lainer-Vos's "Sinews of the Nation"

Dan Lainer-Vos is the Ruth Ziegler Early Career Chair in Jewish Studies and Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Southern California.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Sinews of the Nation: Constructing Irish and Zionist Bonds in the United States, and reported the following:
My book looks on how the Irish and Zionist national movements used economic transactions, ranging from philanthropic gift giving to the sale of quasi-philanthropic bonds, to regulate their relationships with their supporters abroad. That the Irish Americans and Jewish Americans gave money to their compatriots across the ocean would come as little surprise to anyone familiar with these groups, but we typically think about this support as simply a byproduct of existing sentiments. But it may be more useful to think about these monetary transactions as a medium through which people negotiate social relations. We have an intuitive sense of this from everyday interactions. Gift giving requires no immediate reciprocity but creates ongoing social obligations. Market exchange, on the other hand, creates little or no obligations beyond the immediate payment. Sinews of the Nation uses this insight to explore homeland diaspora relations. It shows that the particular methods used to extract funds from diaspora communities are not simply ways of maximizing resources but also, fundamentally, mechanisms that can sometimes bind together groups and create a sense of belonging.

When it comes to fundraising and social relations, the trajectories of the Irish and Zionist movements in the US could not be more different and this is what I describe on page 99. In order to limit the social obligations associated with being a recipient of philanthropic gifts, in 1920 and 1951, respectively, the Irish and Israeli nascent governments decided to issue bonds and sell them to their supporters in the US. Given the shaky political and economic status of these movements, these bonds were marketed as a hybrid combining elements of gift giving and an investment (this was quite a stretch in both cases). Hundreds of thousands of Irish and Jewish Americans purchased these respective bonds but the outcomes of these transactions were radically different. In the Irish case, arguments regarding the social obligations associated with the bonds (does Ireland owes us only money or did we earn the right to participate in shaping the Irish struggle by buying these bonds?) intensified tensions between Irish American leaders and the republican leaders in Dublin and led to a breakdown of the Friends of Irish Freedom, the most important Irish American organization of that period. In the Israeli case, in contrast, the ambiguity associated with the bonds, helped Israeli and American Jews cooperate. Jewish Americans saw the bond mostly as a gift, after all, if they wished to make money, they would have invested in railroads or General Motors, not in a half socialist country in the Middle East. Israelis, on the other hand, believed that the bond was mostly an investment; after all, they promised to pay it back, with interest.

The different trajectories of the bond projects, I believe, had a lasting impact on Irish Americans and Jewish Americans ties to their respective “homelands.” At the turn of the century, the Irish American community was deeply attached to Ireland. Since the collapse of the bond project in late 1921, Irish American attachments to Ireland became almost exclusively personal and symbolic. To be sure, many Americans still think about themselves as “Irish” but their Irishness is expressed mostly through symbolic gestures like wearing green in St. Patrick’s Day, little more than that. In contrast, the ties between Jewish Americans and Israel strengthened over the years. Today Israel plays an immensely important role in Jewish American communal life and Jewish American dollars affect almost every sphere of life in Israel.
Learn more about Sinews of the Nation at the John Wiley & Sons website.

Writers Read: Dan Lainer-Vos.

--Marshal Zeringue