March 13, 2003
Jewish leaders call for the ouster of the Virginia congressman following an anti-Semitic comment.
A furor over comments by a U.S. lawmaker is highlighting the resurgent trend of blaming Israel and the Jewish community for the impending war against Iraq.
Six rabbis from northern Virginia have asked for the resignation of Rep. James Moran (D-Va.), after he told constituents last week that the Jewish community is behind the Bush administration's push for war.
Moran is apologizing to the Jewish community and is planning to meet with area rabbis later this week.
While Moran's comments specifically linked the organized American Jewish community with a push for war, an increasing number of people are blaming the looming Iraq war on Jewish officials in the Bush administration.
The sentiments echo those made in 1991 by conservative commentator Patrick Buchanan, who said the Persian Gulf War was being touted by "the Israeli Defense Ministry and its amen corner in the United States."
Given widespread skepticism of the U.S. motives for a strike on Baghdad, some Jewish leaders say there is potential for the "amen corner" comments to gain as much -- if not more -- traction than they did a decade ago.
"There is a greater potential for mischief on this issue now than 11 or 12 years ago," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.
In a March 3 town hall meeting with constituents, Moran said, "If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this," according to the Virginia-area Connection newspapers.
Moran said Jewish leaders were motivated by discussions they had with Israeli Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the hawkish former prime minister.
Rabbi Jack Moline, rabbi at the conservative Agudas Achim Congregation of Northern Virginia, is leading the charge for Moran's resignation.
Moline, who spoke with the congressman for 45 minutes last Friday, said the lawmaker's remarks are comparable to the comments of Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who was forced to vacate his leadership post last year after making racially insensitive comments at a birthday party.
The Jewish community has had problems with Moran for years, because of his outspoken comments against Israel. They have also been frustrated by the lack of a primary challenger against him in congressional races.
"We have attempted to bridge the gap with Congressman Moran," Moline said. "And we have attempted to persuade the Democratic Party that he wasn't the best representative for us."
Moran told JTA on Monday that he didn't intend to single out the Jewish community, but was responding to a question from a woman who identified herself as Jewish. He said he was trying to make the point that all faith communities could affect the administration's choice to go to war.
"I slipped up and I said something that has been properly taken as offensive," Moran said. "I wish I had caught myself and reflected on it before I said it."
Ever since military action against Iraq became a possibility, the American Jewish community has been treading lightly so as not to fuel criticism that the war would be for Israel's benefit.
Many are cognizant of the discomfort the Jewish community felt after Buchanan made his comments in 1991 and want to keep Israel as much out of the mix as possible.
Israel, too, has taken a low profile, though the widespread view is that Jerusalem supports U.S. efforts to dismantle a regime that is a threat to its security.
But some have pointedly noted that some of the strongest advocates for war in the Bush administration are Jewish, implying that their support for Israel is the rationale.
Among those being targeted are Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense; Richard Perle, chairman of the Defense Policy Board; Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy, and Dov Zakheim, the Pentagon's comptroller.
The comments are predominantly in the international media -- specifically in Europe and the Arab world -- but are also finding their way into print in the United States.
And, in contrast to 1991, the attacks on Jewish officials have come from the liberal as well as the conservative media.
"They use code words," Lawrence Kaplan, senior editor of The New Republic, said of the commentators.
"Very rarely does anyone come out and say it's a bunch of Jews," said Kaplan, co-author of a new book with William Kristol, "The War Over Iraq: Saddam's Tyranny and America's Mission."
In a Washington Post op-ed last month, Kaplan chastised University of Illinois professor Paul Schroeder for comments he made in Buchanan's magazine -- The American Conservative -- that suggested the war would be fought for Israel's benefit and is being pushed by Jewish neo-conservatives.
Schroeder says he is trying to walk the fine line between criticizing policy that can benefit Israel and being viewed as anti-Semitic. He wants Americans to realize that Israel has more to gain from this war than the United States.
Kaplan says the problem is not that people are saying a war with Iraq would help Israel, it's the insinuation that Jewish and Zionist members of the Bush administration are drumming up the war for Israel's benefit.
He notes that there are many non-Jewish advocates for war in the Bush staff, such as Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, but they are never mentioned in these articles that speak of Israel's interests.
Jewish leaders are reaching out to senior Bush administration officials, asking them to think about the ramifications their comments related to a war could have for the Jewish community.
But because Jewish leaders do not see the rash of remarks as a conspiracy, they say it is easier to address each comment individually, rather than speaking out publicly.
Israel's interests are not the only rationale given by anti-war protesters for the impending military action. They also cite Iraq's oil reserves, as well as the personal vendetta Bush may have -- both because of his father's last go-round with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and because Saddam later tried to assassinate his father.
But the comments about a war for Israel could cause an anti-Jewish response if the war goes poorly, Jewish officials say.
Kaplan said even if the war is successful, the statements lead to a perception that the United States is placing the interests of another country ahead of its own.