Yeah, I’m late to this story, but talk about shaking a hornet’s nest. Last week, Time’s Joe Klein made claims about the Iraq war that has bloggers buzzing, burning,foaming, fuming and, a few, applauding. The reason: his blog post’s penultimate paragraph included some juicy charges of Jewish dual-loyalties prompting an unnecessary war. The Commentary folks—the clearest target of Klein’s attack—took particular issue, and Anti-Defamation League chief Abe Foxman has since chastised Klein.
Here is what Klein, who is Jewish, wrote in that Swampland paragraph:
The notion that we could just waltz in and inject democracy into an extremely complicated, devout and ancient culture smacked—still smacks—of neocolonialist legerdemain. The fact that a great many Jewish neoconservatives—people like Joe Lieberman and the crowd over at Commentary—plumped for this war, and now for an even more foolish assault on Iran, raised the question of divided loyalties: using U.S. military power, U.S. lives and money, to make the world safe for Israel. And then there is the question—made manifest by the no-bid contracts offered U.S. oil companies by the Iraqis—of two oil executives, Bush and Cheney, securing a new source of business for their Texas buddies.
Later that day, Klein added this response to his critics:
You want evidence of divided loyalties? How about the “benign domino theory” that so many Jewish neoconservatives talked to me about—off the record, of course—in the runup to the Iraq war, the idea that Israel’s security could be won by taking out Saddam, which would set off a cascade of disaster for Israel’s enemies in the region? As my grandmother would say, feh! Do you actually deny that the casus belli that dare not speak its name wasn’t, as I wrote in February 2003, a desire to make the world safe for Israel? Why the rush now to bomb Iran, a country that poses some threat to Israel but none—for the moment—to the United States…
First off, the drumbeat for war with Iran, which I would argue had a lot more to do with protecting Israel than invading Iraq, has cooled. As for the issue of dual-loyalty, maybe Klein was ignorant about how sensitive Jews are to this charge, a major source of global anti-Semitism, long before Jonathan Pollard and even 1948. That, however, is not the question that needs to be answered. The real question is: Was Klein’s assessment correct?
Clearly, most of President Bush’s closest defense and foreign-policy advisers were neoconservatives. Many also were Jewish. But to say that Wolfowitz and Feith were neoconservatives because they were Jewish is as strained an argument as saying Tonya Harding became a screwed up skater/person because her mom allegedly dragged her off the ice by her hair (and as strained as that analogy). The Joint Chiefs of Staff, not Jewish. Donald Rumsfeld, not Jewish. Dick Cheney, not Jewish. You get the picture.
More importantly, American foreign policy for the past almost four decades has held that Israel’s best interest is in the U.S.‘s best interest. In other words, if the protection of the Jewish state from Saddam’s whims played a role in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq—an ill-advised act at that—it likely has as much to do with American policy as American Jewish interest or, as Joe Klein called it, dual loyalty.
This foreign-policy finger-pointing makes a column my editor wrote in 2002 seem all the more prescient. It was titled, “The Jewish War,” and it wasn’t about Judas Maccabeus. It was about my editor, Rob Eshman, noticing a lot of mainstream voices—not just conspiracy theorist Pat Buchanan but “Hardball’s” Chris Matthews and The Nation, for example—referring to Bush’s pro-war advisers mainly as Jews.
Whether you agree with the planned invasion of Iraq or not, to call it a war fomented by American Jewry to serve Israel’s interests is ludicrous. For one, American Jewish legislators are divided on the issue. While Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) is a strong supporter, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who chairs the important Senate Armed Services Committee, has consistently urged caution. Jewish groups are divided as well. All strongly oppose Saddam, but no major group has reached a consensus on the use of force to bring about his downfall or on unilateral action against him. And it’s fair to point out—as long as Matthews and others are checking IDs here—that the focus on Iraq is the policy of a Christian president, his mostly Christian advisers, his Christian Cabinet and a largely Christian Congress acting at the behest of a majority of their Christian constituents.
But should America get sucked into a debilitating conflict, if Israel appears to have gained strategic ground at the expense of large numbers of American lives, the fringe will move onto center stage, and the calls to label Bush’s policy a Jewish war will rouse us, sharply and painfully, from our couches.
As I’ve written before, Jews clearly have mixed emotions when it comes to the place they call home. This is not a radical statement; it is reality. American Jews since the time of Haym Solomon have been blue-blooded patriots. But Israel, for many, will always be their spiritual home. Does this mean American Jews are loyal to both this country and that country? Of course. But does it mean that, as a point of policy, that Jews sacrifice one for the other? I don’t believe that for a minute—unless we are talking about giving up on Israel for the U.S. That is a quite common phenomenon.