Jerusalem Post, March 21, 2003, Stephens/Radler

The Jerusalem Post

March 21, 2003 Friday

The Zionist cabal

BYLINE: Bret Stephens; Melissa Radler


LENGTH: 4460 words

HIGHLIGHT: Are comments by American political and media figures fanning anti-Semitic embers? Two boxes at end of text by Melissa Radler.

Though he would wind up a rabid nationalist and die a darling of the Nazi establishment, the German sociologist Werner Sombart (1863-1941) got at least a few things right. In The Jewsand Modern Capitalism he argued that wherever Jews traveled, with them came prosperity. And in Why Is There No Socialism in the United States? he observed that “on rafts of beef and apple pie, socialist utopias of every description go down in destruction.” The United States, a country in which Jews have always been a presence and socialism has never been a force, is also one in which anti-Semitism - the proverbial socialism of fools - has never found fertile ground.

And yet as the US marches on Baghdad, suggestions - some intimated, some explicit - that Jews are driving Bush administration policy are being made with increasing frequency, at increasingly higher levels, and from both ends of the partisan spectrum. A sample of recent quotes:

* Democratic Congressman Jim Moran: “If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this.”

* The New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd: “Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and Bill Kristol [are]… the clique of conservative intellectuals pushing the war.”

* Conservative commentator Patrick J. Buchanan: “For whose benefit these endless wars in a region that holds nothing vital to America save oil, which the Arabs must sell us to survive? Who would benefit from a war of civilizations between the West and Islam? Answer: one nation, one leader, one party. Israel, Sharon, Likud.”

* Hardball host Chris Matthews: War is being driven by “conservative people out there, some of them Jewish, who… believe we should fight the Arabs and take them down. They believe that if we don’t fight Iraq, Israel will be in danger.”

* Meet the Press host Tim Russert, to Richard Perle: “Can you assure American viewers… that we’re in this situation against Saddam Hussein and his removal for American security interests. And what would be the link to Israel?”

* University of Chicago Professor Fred Donner in The Chicago Tribune: “The Bush administration paints a rosy scenario for the upcoming war against Iraq. It is a vision deriving from Likud-oriented members of the president’s team - particularly Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith.”

* The Washington Times columnist Georgie Anne Geyer: “The ‘Get Iraq’ campaign… emerged first and particularly from pro-Israeli hard-liners in the Pentagon such as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and adviser Richard Perle…”

* Former (and prospective) Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart: We “must not let our role in the world be dictated by Americans who too often find it hard to distinguish their loyalties to their original homelands from their loyalties to America and its national interests.”

This is by no means an exhaustive list. It is a representative one. As political bedfellows go, Dowd and Buchanan, or Geyer and Hart, are the oddest couplings imaginable: Dowd has called Buchanan a “bully,” and there can hardly be two publications further apart editorially than The Washington Times and The Nation. Yet on this topic their views come into eerie proximity. Are they widely shared? Are they anti-Israel, anti-Semitic, or both? If so, are they wittingly anti-Israel and anti-Semitic? And what does it portend for America and American Jews?

'The idea that this war is about Israel is persistent and more widely held than you may think,” writes Bill Keller in an essay in The New York Times. Just how widely held Keller doesn't say, nor is there current polling data to give any sense of its scope. The nearest proxies - American attitudes toward Israel and toward a prospective war against Iraq - suggest it's a minority position: Americans consistently hold a “favorable” view of Israel by two-to-one margins, and support for war now runs close to 60%. At the same time, a poll last year by the Anti- Defamation League found that 20% of Americans agree with the view that “Jews hold too much power in the US today.” It is here the idea that the war is being conducted at Israel's behest most likely takes root.

The idea takes two general forms. The first is that the war is the work of the American-Jewish community generally acting out of concern for Israel. This, says the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman, is “the classic anti- Semitic canard that Jews are responsible for everything.” Implicit in it, too, is the notion of dual loyalty to which Hart alludes, the idea that American Jews confuse or conflate Israel’s interests and America’s, or otherwise suborn the latter to the former.

The second is that it is the handiwork of a select group of neoconservative thinkers - “some of them Jewish,” as Hardball host Matthews puts it - in the service of Ariel Sharon and his cohorts. This plays to another traditional anti-Semitic trope: the “court Jew” manipulating a government he pretends to serve in order to fulfill some ulterior personal or political objective.

In the current crisis, the court Jew par excellence is Richard Perle, chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, a staunch advocate of military action against Iraq, and a director of Hollinger International, this newspaper’s parent company. Last October, Dowd wrote a column in which Perle played the part of a sinister, if slightly ridiculous tutor to “boy emperor” George Bush. In the current issue of The New Yorker, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh alleges that a venture capital firm in which Perle is managing partner “may gain from the war.” (Perle disputes the allegation and plans to sue Hersh; see box.)

In his article, Hersh describes the Defense Policy Board as a secretive group of about 30 advisers, none of whom are actually members of the government, with “access to classified information and to senior policymakers, [giving] advice not only on strategic policy but also on such matters as weapons procurement.”

This is formally accurate. At the same time, it plays into the classic Elders of Zion canard that Jews use shadowy groups to shape policy. In other words, not just one court Jew, but a cabal of like-minded Jews, acting in unison to advance their agenda. Take, for example, Jason Vest’s description in The Nation of JINSA, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs: “For this crew,” he writes,

“‘regime change’ by any means necessary in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority is an urgent imperative. Anyone who dissents - be it Colin Powell’s State Department, the CIA or career military officers - is committing heresy against articles of faith that effectively hold there is no difference between US and Israeli national security interests, and that the only way to assure continued safety and prosperity for both countries is through hegemony in the Middle East…”

Vest also writes of the close relationship between JINSA and the military-industrial complex, as well as “the influence of… far-right Zionist dollars.”

The Nation sees itself as a “progressive” magazine. But Vest’s case is all but indistinguishable from Buchanan who, in The American Conservative, charges “a cabal of polemicists and public officials…. [with] colluding with Israel to ignite those wars and destroy the Oslo Accords.”

Yet if the anti-Semitic pedigree of these remarks is plain, it remains a question whether Moran, Dowd, Vest, and Buchanan speak or write with anti-Semitic intent. “One of the peculiar features of contemporary anti-Semitism,” says neoconservative writer Norman Podhoretz, “is that it almost never admits to being what it is.”

Thus Moran, in rebutting the charge of anti-Semitism, notes that his daughter is marrying a Jew and that she and her son intend to convert. And Buchanan, near the conclusion of his lengthy article, writes that “The Israeli people are America’s friends and have a right to peace and secure borders.”

In saying this, Buchanan plainly means to inoculate himself against the charge of being anti-Israel. He is not against Israel per se, but - like many Jews, Israelis, and other people of good faith and clear conscience - against the policies of the Sharon government. He does not object to Perle or Wolfowitz or Kristol as Jews, but as American citizens who put their allegiance to their ethnic homeland ahead of the interests of the US. As for charges of anti- Semitism, these, he writes, are “designed to nullify public discourse by smearing and intimidating foes and blacklisting them and any who would publish them.”

For better or worse, however, Buchanan’s anti-Semitism is not much in doubt. He has consistently defended accused Nazis living in the US. He has described Adolf Hitler as “an individual of great courage.” He has written that “Holocaust survivor syndrome involves ‘group fantasies of martyrdom and heroics.’” He has denounced efforts by the Catholic Church to make amends with Jews, writing, “If US Jewry takes the clucking appeasement of the Catholic cardinalate as indicative of our submission, it is mistaken.”

These and other comments have led Buchanan - once considered a mainstream figure on the Right - into the cultural and political wilderness. But aside from protests from the ADL, the same has not been true even of Moran. Thus, while The Washington Post editorialized that Moran is “unfit to serve in Congress,” Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote that “what I read in Moran’s remarks is not enmity or bigotry but rather a tin ear.” In the letters published by the Post on the subject, views on Moran were evenly split, with one reader calling Moran’s “a sinless remark” and another adding that “Moran was only saying out loud what a lot of people think.”

Nor has there been much protest over the comments by Hart, Russert, or Matthews, or over the writings of Vest, Donner, or Dowd. In part, this owes to the fact that none of these people have any documented record of patently anti-Semitic remarks. In the case of Russert, he was simply asking a provocative question; Dowd seems guilty of little more than flippancy. The fact that so many of the most prominent and articulate advocates of the war are Jews, with open and established ties to Likud party figures, acquits Vest, Donner, and Matthews of outright fabrication.

What it does not acquit them of, however, is a suspicious selectivity. When President Bush named his cabinet, it was widely commented that, unlike the Clinton administration, it included no Jews. As deputy defense secretary, Paul Wolfowitz is the most prominent Jewish member of the government, yet never before has so much influence been ascribed to someone in a deputy position. One is moved to wonder why equal attention has not been paid to deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who has, by most accounts, seen his views prevail in the Oval Office far more often than Wolfowitz.

Then, too, the fact that neither National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice nor Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld - both administration uberhawks - is Jewish does not seem to garner much notice from Geyer or Vest. JINSA, the group to which Vest devotes such exacting attention, has by his own reckoning a trivial budget of $1.4 million. As for Perle, it is an open question whether his ubiquity on TV is actually matched by real influence at the Pentagon. Nobody seems to have asked whether the Defense Policy Board, far from being a kind of government within a government, isn’t simply a sophisticated appendage to Rumsfeld’s PR operation.

Beyond the issue of selectivity, there is also the matter of improbability. If Jewish interests really are behind this war, evidence of the fact ought to pass the Ockham’s Razor test. Thus, to assume that Perle and Co. have steered the US to war must assume, first, that Rumsfeld, Rice, Powell, Tenet, and Bush would have no better reason to go to war than to do Perle’s or Sharon’s bidding.

Yet if the administration seems to have done anyone’s bidding in recent weeks, it’s Tony Blair’s. Neither Geyer nor Vest nor Dowd have argued that the Bush administration is a shill for Great Britain. The argument is also made that Bush is going to war in order to woo critical Jewish support, particularly in Florida, for the 2004 election. Yet as London Times columnist Andrew Sullivan points out, “In 2000, George W. Bush’s main base in terms of Middle Eastern immigrants were Muslim, a group his political operation did a huge amount to reach out to and co-opt.”

Finally, according to polls, American Jews support the war in equivalent proportions to the American public as a whole; among Jews in Congress, proportionally fewer voted for last October’s war resolution than the body as a whole. “Funny thing about those Jews,” cracks Jonah Goldberg of National Review, “they can get 4,000 tribesmen out of the World Trade Center in time, but they can’t get them to vote for war when they need them.”

The suggestion that American Jews - whether as a class or as a cabal - are behind this war is so illogical, so unhinged from fact, and so peculiarly targeted that it’s difficult not to describe those who make it as anti- Semites. This is not to say that those who suggest as much consider themselves as such. Nor is it to say they wrote or spoke with anti-Semitic intent. But it is the case that the words they authored amounted to anti-Semitic innuendo.

And yet. It is not an anti- Semitic libel, but a statement of fact, to say that on both sides of the political divide, Jewish voices have been, if not decisive, then certainly prominent. If Perle and Kristol are among the most articulate supporters of war, some of its most powerful detractors are essayist Susan Sontag, playwright Tony Kushner, The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, and Tikkun editor Michael Lerner (interviewed below).

On neither side is the welfare of Israel more than an ancillary, if important, consideration. Rather, the arguments waged are a purely American affair; they echo and refine old American debates about how the country should assert itself in the world: the virtuous republic of Patrick Henry vs. the commercial one of Alexander Hamilton; John Quincy Adams’s America-as-paragon vs. the Manifest Destiny of James Polk; Theodore Roosevelt’s big stick vs. Woodrow Wilson’s multilateralism, and so on.

For years American Jews engaged in this debate, usually from one side only. But with the appearance of Jewish neoconservatives in the 1970s and the increasing grip their ideas had on America’s governing elites (though less so on Jewish voting patterns), the idea of a monolithic Jewish political “family” came unstuck. For those who once dominated and spoke for that family, this was bound to be enraging. For those who left (or were excommunicated from) the family, it was only natural that they would find new friendships elsewhere.

Hence, many of the accusations that a “neoconservative cabal” dominates Washington come from mainstays of the old Jewish Left - like The Nation. They are particularly upset with theneoconservative alliance with evangelical Christians, an alliance Harvard professor Shirley Williams calls “a drive that is almost as powerful as fundamentalist Islam itself.” As for the “paleo-” conservatives like Geyer and Buchanan, their hatred of neocons is rather like that of an aging courtesan, no longer in favor with the prince. Thus Buchanan dismisses them as “ex-liberals, socialists and Trotskyites, boat-people from the McGovern revolution who rafted over to the GOP at the end of conservatism’s long march to power with Ronald Reagan in 1980.”

"Though few in number," he adds, "they wield disproportionate influence through control of the conservative foundations and magazines, through their syndicated columns, and by attaching themselves to men of power." [emphasis added]

Aging courtesan, indeed.

As the neocons become increasingly prominent, moving in time from the second-ranks of the government to the first, they will rankle the old Left and the old Right all the more. All the same, their ascendancy might well be taken as a sign of the degree to which they have arrived in mainstream America, not a measure of how far they have to go or how easily they might fall. If this is a portent of a new anti-Semitism, it’s hardly an ominous one.

(BOX #1) ‘Prince of darkness’

What do you think of suggestions that a “cabal” of Jewish neoconservatives is leading the the United States to war for Israel’s interests?

I think the president has been very clear on the reasons for this war, and the Jewish neoconservatives I know are largely arguing on exactly the same basis. I don’t know anyone among Jewish neoconservatives who thinks that this war is beneficial for Israel and not for the US, or that there are even different degrees of benefit. We all think it’s highly beneficial and ideal for the US to remove Saddam.

This has not been the Israeli view. The Israeli view has been that Iran is the bigger problem. Moreover, I think the risks to Israel are not insignificant.

Do these suggestions indicate a serious upsurge in American anti-Semitism?

It’s hard to judge, because you can’t do opinion polls. There is anti-Semitism, there is no question about it, and the prospect of war heightens peoples’ passions and probably increases the blaming and the search for scapegoats. It’s hard to tell whether this has excited anti-Semitism which already exists or whether it is leading to new recruits.

Has anti-Israelism become a new breed of anti- Semitism?

There is no doubt that hostility to Israel is greater than I’ve ever seen it. I have no doubt that in some cases it’s an expression of an anti-Semitism that is less direct and blatant, and therefore more people are willing to engage in it.

You described reporter Seymour Hersh as the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist after Hersh suggested in The New Yorker that there were improprieties in your lunching with Saudi-born businessman Adnan Khashoggi and a Saudi industrialist interested in investing in a venture capital firm of which you are a managing partner.

The article is full of innuendo and quotations, many of which have been denied by the people reported to have said them. I have a four-page letter that amounts to a refutation - a list of remarks without which there would be no story. I think he has twisted things. That will all be laid out in the appropriate way in a legal proceeding.

What do you think was Hersh’s motivation?

I don’t know. The essence of the innuendo is that he purports to know my motivations, so I don’t want to turn it around and claim to know his.

The idea that my view on Iraq is the result of a profit motive is pretty scurrilous, and charges like that shouldn’t be made without a high degree of confidence. I’ve been looking back at his past work and don’t know any investigative reporter who has had so many problems with sources.

Richard Perle is the former assistant defense secretary. A businessman, he is also chairman of President George Bush’s Defense Policy Board.

(BOX #2) ‘The politics of meaning’

In February, as millions of anti-war demonstrators geared up to protest the US stance on Iraq, Rabbi Michael Lerner, the doyen of San Francisco’s ultra-liberal Tikkun community, suddenly, if fleetingly, became the darling of a more hawkish crowd.

In an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal, Lerner, a self-described advocate of the weak and a harsh critic of the US and Israel, announced that he had been banned from his city’s upcoming peace rally. An organizing group, International A.N.S.W.E.R., had declined to let him speak after he complained about their gratuitous Israel bashing on the anti-war stage, and The Wall Street Journal provided him a rare podium for his views.

"There is support on the Left for self-determination for every group in the world except the Jewish people," Lerner wrote. "Fellow progressive Jews, some anxious to speak at these rallies, have urged me to keep quiet about anti-Semitism on the Left. After all, they say, stopping the war against Iraq is so much more important."

Lerner, a disciple of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, rose to national prominence in 1993, when Hillary Clinton quoted his “politics of meaning.” Since then, he’s maintained a certain celebrity as editor of the bimonthly Tikkun magazine and as a pulpit rabbi who espouses an idealistic vision of world peace based on spiritual renewal, healing the world through social justice, and the famous Leviticus passage, “Love thy neighbor.”

In conversation, Lerner, 60, is charming and jovial as he laments the Americans’ obsessions with selfishness and materialism, flawed foreign policy, and success at brainwashing a gullible public. When it comes to Israel, Lerner, who has been criticized by US Jews for his pro- Palestinian stance, is a critic of both sides, denouncing Palestinian terror and Israeli settlements, and calling on Belgium to try Yasser Arafat for war crimes when its legal system is done with Ariel Sharon.

Lerner’s brief ideological love affair with his conservative detractors faded quickly, but as international strife continues to sow discord at home, his vision of the world may yet be embraced by the masses searching for meaning.

How did anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment find a home in the peace movement?

I always distinguish between anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Semitic anti-Israel sentiment. There’s a huge difference between strong criticism of Israel, which I believe to be totally legitimate, and anti-Semitic criticism of Israel. If you criticize Israel as a human rights violator in a public setting where the focus is supposed to be on Iraq and you suddenly raise the issue of Israel, the question is, why focus on Israel’s human rights violations separately from 50 other countries that are also human rights violators.

Israel is being blamed for the war in some circles. What are you hearing?

Israel has been the only real cheerleader in the whole world for the war in Iraq. Ariel Sharon is an advocate, many of the people in both Labor and Likud support the idea of such a war and many, many AIPAC-related Jews in this country have played a prominent role in pushing for this war.

The British are also behind the war, yet anti-British sentiment isn’t on the rise.

That’s part of why I’m calling it anti-Semitic. There is a sense that Blair is doing this because he wants to maintain his special friendship with the US, whereas in the case of Israel, there is at least some argument, which I don’t necessarily agree with, that Israel is one of the primary beneficiaries of this war.

In your opinion, what is the motivation for this war?

The Bush administration has a plan for political and economic hegemony over the world. They believe that the only way to make the world safe is to make it a unipower world. And anybody who is standing up to our power is seen as an enemy.

Saddam Hussein is clearly a bad guy. How would you propose to deal with him?

I don’t think you can solve the problem of Saddam Hussein without solving the problem of the American relationship with the rest of the world. This country should be a leading force for three issues: ending global poverty, ending ecological destruction of the planet, and becoming the embodiment of a new ethos of generosity in the world. The Saddam Husseins and the Osama bin Ladens of the world only get recruits because people look at the world and say, ‘Look, this world is being dominated by a power that totally doesn’t care about us and wants to screw us and only get wealth for itself.’

The Bush administration has argued that this is a war of liberation. I don’t think that it’s our business to be liberating the people of Iraq unless the people of Iraq ask us to liberate them. Let’s say that there’s a struggle like the battle of the Warsaw Ghetto. At that moment, it’s certainly appropriate to come in on one side of that struggle. There have been national liberation struggles that were civil wars in the past. There is no such struggle going on there.

Iraqi-Americans aren’t represented in the anti-war movement. What do you make of that?

Are you in touch with this population? I don’t look at people in that way [on the basis of nationality]. I don’t shape my view on it through that kind of conversation. I wasn’t basing my opposition to the war in Vietnam on what Vietnamese living in the US were saying.

I’m in favor of George Bush spending the next six months in Baghdad before he starts anything.

You are advocating a policy that affects the Iraqi people. Should you spend time there?

That’s twisted logic. I think the notion of needing to spend time there is ludicrous. The notion that you should spend time in every place you have a policy is self- defeating.

You’ve advocated sending a multinational force to Israel to separate the two sides. In proposing that, should you spend time in the region?

I don’t think I need to spend any more time there to know that the killing needs to be stopped, and there’s no chance that’s going to happen as long as the current government of Israel is in power and the current government of Palestine is in power.

Have you ever met Yasser Arafat?

I haven’t met Arafat. I think Arafat, like Sharon, should be brought up on war crimes charges before an international tribunal. He’s a disgusting war criminal.

Have you ever considered making aliya?

My son made aliya and served in the IDF. He’s an only child, so in order to serve in a combat unit, the parents must agree. I signed the consent and my son served in tsanhanim [paratroopers].

When I hear these American Jews that are big Zionists criticizing me, saying, ‘You hate Israel,’ I think, when would you risk anything for Israel besides a bit of money.

What about you? Did you ever consider moving to Israel?

My experience in Israel is that no matter how long you’ve lived there, unless you were born there it’s very, very difficult to be accepted as a legitimate voice in the society. It seems as though I could serve the Jewish people much better in the galut [Diaspora] than in Israel.

Is there a political party in Israel that you identify with?

As far as I know, there’s no political movement in Israel that’s based on Judaism, on spiritual values. I am committed to a different voice coming out of Zion, a voice that takes seriously the commandment in Torah that says, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor.’

Your ideological line is more The New York Times than The Wall Street Journal. How did your op-ed piece end up in The Journal?

I sent it out to a list of 100 publications. When they [The Journal] responded, I thought, well, this is a good opportunity to present to The Wall Street Journal crowd some arguments against the war. I think they took it [in order] to use me to hurt the anti-war movement. I would have preferred had The New York Times taken it.