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Walter C Uhler » Foreign Policy, Iran, Iraq War » When Does Opposition to Israel or the Israel Lobby Indicate Anti-Semitism?

When Does Opposition to Israel or the Israel Lobby Indicate Anti-Semitism?

Writing for the New York Times online on March 4, 2007, Stanley Fish asked the question, “Why Does Anti-Semitism Persist?” Quoting Professor Charles Small of Yale University, Professor Fish notes, “Increasingly, Jewish communities around the world feel under threat,” and he blames three words for that feeling: “Israel, Iraq and anti-Semitism.”

Here’s how Professor Fish explains the connection: “Much of the world has been opposed to the Iraq war from its beginning, and now after four years 70 percent of Americans share the world’s opinion. Some who deplore the war believe that those who got us into it and cheered it on did so, at least in part, out of a desire to improve Israel’s position in the Middle East. Those who hold this view (and of course there are other analyses of the war’s origins) fear that the same people — with names like Wolfowitz, Perle, Feith, Abrams, Kristol, Kagan, Krauthhammer, Wurmser, [the convicted felon] Libby, and Lieberman — are pushing for a strike against Iran, arguably a greater threat to Israel than Iraq ever was. Why, they ask, should our foreign policy be held hostage to the interests of a small country that is perfectly capable of defending itself and is guilty of treating the Palestinians, whose land it appropriated, in ways that are undemocratic and even, in the opinion of many, criminal?”

Well put. But, when it comes to the origins of Bush’s Iraq war, readers of James Bamford’s book, A Pretext for War, and Ron Suskind’s book, The Price of Loyalty, know that improving Israel’s position played a key role. Readers of Bamford’s book also will recall his indictment of the arguably treasonous activity of three American neoconservative Jews, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith and David Wurmser.

In their 1996 policy paper, “A Clean Break: A Strategy for Securing the Realm” – written for Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, no less! — Perle, Feith and Wurmser recommended that Israel find pretexts for waging wars of aggression that would roll back its Arab neighbors. “The centerpiece of their recommendations was the removal of Saddam Hussein as the first step into remaking the Middle East into a region friendly, instead of hostile, to Israel.” [Bamford, p. 262]

Arguably treasonous? Yes, especially when you consider the following observations by Bamford: “It was rather extraordinary for a trio of former, and potentially future, high-ranking American government officials to become advisers to a foreign government. More unsettling still was the fact that they were recommending acts of war in which Americans could be killed, and also ways to masquerade the true purpose of the attacks from the American public.” [p. 263]

Bamford also devoted a few pages to Douglas Feith, noting his friendship with Joseph Churba, an associate of Rabbi Meir Kahane of the terrorist Jewish Defense League, as well as his worsening pro-Israel and anti-Arab extremism, which he brought into the Department of Defense under President George W. Bush. [pp. 278-82]

Thus, was it an accident that the Pentagon’s Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group, headed by Feith (and derisively called Feith’s Gestapo Office by Colin Powell), seized upon shards of evidence already discounted by the officially responsible intelligence agencies in order to claim that Saddam Hussein had ties to al Qaeda? Was it mere coincidence that, by providing such bogus intelligence to justify regime change in Iraq, Feith was able to advance the centerpiece of his “Clean Break” recommendations for Israel from inside the Department of Defense?

Even worse, there’s evidence to suggest that the “Clean Break” proposals shaped the Bush administration’s obsession with regime change in Iraq. Consider the eyewitness testimony of former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, who attended the very first meeting of Bush’s National Security Council. Beyond being devoted to the Middle East, even that very first meeting was scripted.

Scripting explains why Bush would ask National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice: “So, Condi, what are we going to talk about today? What’s on the agenda?” [Ron Suskind, The Price of Loyalty, p. 72] As if he didn’t know! And Rice responded on cue: “How Iraq is destabilizing the region, Mr. President.” [Ibid]

But, that’s not all. According to Secretary O’Neill, Bush stated that he was going to tilt toward Israel by pulling out of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Moreover, when Secretary of State Colin Powell objected that such a pullback “would unleash Sharon and the Israeli army,” Bush responded: “Sometimes a show of strength by one side can really clarify things.” [Ibid] According to Bamford, it was “Clean Break” Perle and Saddam-obsessed Paul Wolfowitz, who were able to fill Bush’s “sympathetic ear” with such pro-Israel ideas. [Bamford, p. 282]

To his credit, by listing “Wolfowitz, Perle, Feith, Abrams, Kristol, Kagan, Krauthhammer, Wurmser, [the convicted felon] Libby and Lieberman,” Fish has identified many of the American Jewish neoconservatives, whose pro-Israel warmongering has brought great harm to the U.S. and Israel — not to mention Iraq. They are, indeed, part of the powerful Israel Lobby in America.

Moreover, although Fish accurately summarizes the views of the war’s critics, when he says, “The war was a huge mistake and is causing us no end of trouble at home and the world at large,” I believe the war was a crime — for which Bush and Cheney should be impeached, tried and convicted, before being subject to criminal prosecution.

I believe they deserve a Nuremberg-type trial that also would examine the supporting role played by America’s neocons – Jewish or not. After all, wars of aggression are still illegal under international law.

Unfortunately, Professor Fish construes attacks on the Israel Lobby to constitute evidence of anti-Semitism. First, he summarizes the war critics’s views by asserting, “The lobby that led us into [war] is a ‘de facto agent for a foreign government’ – Israel.” Then he suggests that such criticism is anti-Semitic, because, “Members of that lobby are largely, though not exclusively, Jewish. And that’s where the anti-Semitism comes in. Or does it?”

But, curiously, Fish is not content to construe attacks on the largely Jewish Israel Lobby as evidence of anti-Semitism. He also seems to believe that the attacks on the lobby — by critics who do see it as the “de facto agent” of Israel — are indistinguishable from attacks on Israel. And by implying their similarity, Fish is able to invoke a recent study, which demonstrates that “anti-Israel sentiment consistently predicts the probability that an individual is anti-Semitic.” [Edward H. Kaplan and Charles A. Small, "Anti-Israel Sentiment Predicts Anti-Semitism in Europe," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 50 No. 4, August 2006, p. 548]

Moreover, Fish also is impressed with their conclusion that “Those with extreme anti-Israel sentiment are roughly six times more likely to harbor anti-Semitic views than those who do not fault Israel on the measures studied.” [Ibid, p. 550]

What were the “measures studied?” Four statements/questions addressed to five hundred respondents in each of ten different European countries. Three blame Israel for exacerbating Israeli-Palestinian relations and the fourth justifies the attacks on Israeli civilians by Palestinian suicide bombers. Any respondent who answers all four by condemning Israel or exculpating the Palestinians is deemed to be extremely anti-Israel.

According to Kaplan and Small, the more severe a person’s anti-Israel sentiment, the more likely was the respondent to affirm anti-Semitic beliefs, such as “Jews don’t care what happens to anyone but their own kind,” “Jews have too much power in the business world,” “Jews are more loyal to Israel than to this country,” or deny that “Jews are just as honest as other business people.” [Ibid, p. 551]

And, as their data shows, “only 9 percent of those with anti-Israel index scores of 0 report harboring anti-Semitic views, but the fraction of respondents harboring anti-Semitic views grows to 12, 22, 35, and 56 percent for anti-Israel index values of 1 through 4, respectively.” [Ibid, p. 555] Thus, their conclusion: “When an individual’s criticism of Israel becomes sufficiently severe, it does become reasonable to ask whether such criticism is a mask for underlying anti-Semitism.” [Ibid, p. 560]

Wow! Even if we put aside questions about Professor Fish’s weak links connecting attacks on the Israel Lobby to attacks on Israel and, thus, the Kaplan/Small study linking severe anti-Israel sentiment with anti-Semitism, the Kaplan/Small study still has some explaining to do.

And, no, I’m not disputing their contention that individuals who agree with disparaging generalizations about Jews are anti-Semitic. Were someone to tell me, “Jews don’t care what happens to anyone but their own kind,” I’d want to immediately disabuse that individual of his anti-Semitism, if he was a close friend or relative, or try to avoid his company in the future.

But, I’m troubled by the Kaplan/Small data that shows: “Even among Jewish respondents, one sees an increase in anti-Semitic responses as the anti-Israel index increases.”[p. 555] Do they really mean to suggest that, if you are a Jew and you are troubled by Israel’s behavior toward the Palestinians, you’re probably an anti-Semitic Jew?

More significantly, let’s imagine how the Kaplan/Small conclusion — “When an individual’s criticism of Israel becomes sufficiently severe, it does become reasonable to ask whether such criticism is a mask for underlying anti-Semitism.” – would stand up, were Israel to do something absolutely despicable.

Let’s imagine — simply to test the Kaplan/Small conclusion — that Israel not only acted on the “Clean Break” recommendations made by Messrs. Perle, Feith and Wurmser, but actually rolled back Arab forces by using nuclear weapons. Could the predictably enormous and relentless anti-Israel outcry that followed be dismissed as merely “a mask for underlying anti-Semitism?” I don’t think so.

Getting back to reality, would the world be engaging in widespread anti-Semitism, were it to respond very negatively to an Israeli preemptive nuclear attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities? Or, put another way, would Kaplan and Small ever be justified in using negative answers to the question, “Would Israel ever be justified in launching a preemptive nuclear strike on Iran’s nuclear program?” to record anti-Israel sentiment as a predictor of anti-Semitism? As soon as one contemplates that question, it becomes painfully obvious that it really does matter how precisely questions purporting to measure anti-Israel sentiment are crafted. Yet, nothing found in the Kaplan/Small study demonstrates such precision.

Such, then, are the limitations of the Kaplan/Small study and Stanley Fish’s embrace of it. But Professor Fish would also do well to keep one additional consideration in mind. Many of the critics (including this critic), who opposed the Bush/Cheney invasion of Iraq and who were disgusted by the Israel Lobby’s role in promoting it, were the same critics who gladly acknowledged that the majority of American Jews opposed going to war.

Thus, one can hardly be considered an anti-Semite for excoriating the policy advanced by a handful of American Jews while applauding the policy supported by the majority of such Jews.

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