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Jewish Journal

Whose War?

by Rob Eshman

June 3, 2004 | 8:00 pm

A friend of mine opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning. He predicted it would lead to a deadly morass; that it would create more terror and more terrorists; that President George W. Bush had neither the moral or mental gravitas to prosecute such a war. Over the weekend, he asked me if it was true that the Jews were behind the war. I looked at him dumbfounded. After all, he is Jewish.

In the months leading up to the war, polls showed that American Jews supported it in the same percentages as other Americans. Recent polls have shown a majority of Jews dissatisfied with the way the president has handled it.

But so many pundits and analysts are going around blaming Jews or people-who-happen-to-be-Jewish for the war, you'd think it was downloaded directly from www.eldersofzion.com. No wonder my friend is confused.

This month, the chorus of voices blaming the Jews got a significant lead singer, retired Marine general and former Middle East mediator Anthony Zinni.

In interviews with "60 Minutes II" and elsewhere, Zinni blamed the war on neo-conservatives within the administration who saw the invasion of Iraq as a way to stabilize American interests in the region and strengthen the position of Israel. They include Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith; Former Defense Policy Board member Richard Perle and other. These political ideologues, in Zinni's words, hijacked American policy in Iraq.

This charge is older than the war. But what makes it "60 Minutes"-worthy is who is saying it. Zinni is a former chief of the U.S. Central Command, in charge of all American troops in the Middle East. A Republican and a former Bush supporter, he served as the president's special Middle East envoy in the winter of 2002 and 2003. In the gathering storm of former Bush supporters now turned critical of the president's Mideast policy -- former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke, former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neil, and, um, current Secretary of State Colin Powell -- Zinni was as close to the eye of the storm as any of them.

Here's what Zinni said: "I think it's the worst-kept secret in Washington. That everybody -- everybody I talk to in Washington -- has known and fully knows what their [the neo-conservative's] agenda was and what they were trying to do.... And one article, because I mentioned the neo-conservatives who describe themselves as neo-conservatives, I was called anti-Semitic. I mean, you know, unbelievable that that's the kind of personal attacks that are run when you criticize a strategy and those who propose it. I certainly didn't criticize who they were. I certainly don't know what their ethnic religious backgrounds are. And I'm not interested.... I know what strategy they promoted. And openly. And for a number of years. And what they have convinced the president and the secretary to do. And I don't believe there is any serious political leader, military leader, diplomat in Washington that doesn't know where it came from."

Zinni believes he can say such things and not feed the fantasies of conspiracy kooks. But Jews cannot hear such things and believe the anti-semites don't lap them up.

Obviously sensitive to the charges, Zinni can do more to lessen their anti-Semitic appeal. Here's how:

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•Hold the leaders, not a group of their advisers, responsible. Bush, Cheney and Powell led the nation into war. Whether you agree with the intent or accept the outcome, responsibility rests with these men. On this anniversary of the D-Day invasion, it's useful to remember Supreme Allied Commander's Dwight Eisenhower's last act on the eve of the invasion: he penned a note in which he took full responsibility should the operation fail. In this administration, the idea of such a note, much less the note itself, is passed about like a hot potato.

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•Address the Israel issue head on, and fairly. If you want to point fingers at the neo-cons within the Bush administration -- and they are fair game --then don't pretend it doesn't matter that they many are Jewish, and that they are fierce supporters of a safe and secure Israel. But to say that getting rid of Saddam in order to secure Israel was their chief motive, or even among their top three, is insupportable. The international community had long established Saddam as a regional threat. Sept. 11 was a reminder of how vulnerable America could be to internal attack. And the neo-cons believed U.S. military action could spur positive reform in the Arab world. Agree or disagree with any or all of these assumptions, but Israel doesn't figure into them. Bob Woodward's book "Bush at War" (Simon & Schuster, 2003) makes clear that Saddam had long been in the president and vice president's sights for reasons that had little or nothing to do with Israel.

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•There are Jews, and there are Jews. Understand that the media, especially the international media, by now translate neo-con as "Jew." Face it, and address it. Be clear that you are not speaking of a Jewish cabal, and that, in fact, most Jews oppose the president's handling of the war. Jews were among the war's most vociferous critics at the start. If the war were wildly popular, no doubt The New York Times' Paul Krugman, playwright Tony Kushner, and essayist Susan Sontag would be accused of forming a "Jewish cabal" against it.

The latest Pew research poll shows Jews would vote against President Bush in November by the same margin they voted against him four years ago. That is certainly a strange way to reward a man whom others believe -- quite ludicrously -- is doing your bidding.

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