Joe Klein is being attacked by John Podhoretz on Commentary’s blog for a piece he has up on Time’s Swampland. In that piece, Klein points out that there is a small group of American Jewish neoconservatives who have been important players in forming the intellectual underpinnings of the Bush administration’s unremitting reliance on belligerence in the Middle East. He observes that this group has been advocating for war in the region since 1996 (when some of them were already advocating that Israel overthrow Saddam), and continues to do so today, except that their current target is Iran (since the Iraq war has worked out so well).
He notes further that their hawkishness has been accepted by too many as representative of Jewish opinion in the US, because they have had the most fiercely held views on issues pertaining to Israel, and because they have succeeded in intimidating those who disagree with them by calling them anti-Semites.
I’ve certainly had plenty of occasions to make fun of Klein’s op-ed pieces, and plenty of opportunity to gnash my teeth that his all-too-often all-too-conventional wisdom is regularly accepted as representative of liberal thinking on a variety of issues (a proposition that is often laughable), but in this case he’s absolutely right.
Such polling of Jewish opinion in the US that I’m aware of regularly shows sentiments that are considerably less hawkish about Israel than that which supports the persistent saber-rattling of the Bush administration, and it’s wrong to represent that hostility to negotiation as typical of American Jews in general, or even avid supporters of Israel. In point of fact, it’s even wrong to portray it as representative of Israeli opinion, which is itself considerably more complex and nuanced that it is most often described as being in the American media.
What’s more important is Klein’s observation that any disagreement with this neoconservative view of the Middle East is persistently portrayed by both the neo-cons themselves and by a regularly sloppy press as being driven by anti-Semitic sentiment. I don’t know enough about the situation to be absolutely sure which opinion is right about Israel’s security, and I don’t doubt that those hawks are advocating out of a sincere belief that the interests of Israel and the US are best served by their belligerence in the region, but based on the performance of the strategy of persistent US confrontation in the Middle East so far, I have very substantial doubts about its wisdom. It looks to me a lot like fighting fire with gasoline, and it ain't working.
Those doubts don’t make me an anti-Semite, any more than my doubts about the value of belligerence in US policy make me anti-American. To portray them as such is jingoism masquerading as patriotism, is intellectually dishonest, and wrecks any chance for productive policy discussions about any of these issues. Those who are making such accusations need to be called on their dishonesty – every time, until they either stop it or are wholly discredited for the rhetorical tactics they employ.
Update: Klein elaborates his positions in a colloquy with Jeffrey Goldberg on Goldberg's Atlantic Monthly blog, and in that exchange, links his exchange of letters with the Anti-Defamation League's Abraham Foxman. In that exchange, Foxman makes the point that there is no inherent connection between neoconservatism and Jewishness, and that the phrase "Jewish neoconservatives" is therefore inflammatory and misleading.
That might be a fair point, except that a) those "Jewish neoconservatives" have often been given special consideration as knowledgeable and interested in Middle East policy by virtue of their religious beliefs, b) part of Klein's point is that those guys don't speak for either all American Jews or all Zionists (so their Jewishness is relevant), and c) the accusations of anti-Semitism have come thick and fast from neoconservatives of all religions when the wisdom of their belligerence is questioned, and part of that accusation has rested upon the religious persuasions of some neoconservatives.
I understand Foxman's concern, but in the context of these facts, his accusations seem something of a stretch, particularly when leveled at someone who is himself Jewish, and angry at those who would presume to speak for him simply because of that fact. Foxman's argument may make some sense in a vacuum, but it isn't made in one, and it serves as a classic bloody shirt in context. There is enough blood on enough shirts already in this discussion, without adding to it in rhetorical terms.