Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Would You Buy A (New) War From These People?

The column got edited while I was 10 time zones away in Istanbul. My suggested title was “The ‘People of the Book’ Need a New Political Playbook” but that got cut. Unfortunately, the editor’s choice uses “Neocon” as shorthand for “Jewish,” which is a debate I don’t want to get into. (Yes, there apparently are Gentile Neocons.) Hey, JTP (Jewish Thought Police), I don’t write the headlines.

I’m also slightly upset about having the copy editor, despite my asking, change my “beyond the Pale” to a lower case p; my effort to get an Ashkenazic joke into the Tribune was foiled by my non-Yiddish-speaking editors. So it goes in the East Valley. The editor also changed “Bush and Cheney” to “President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney” in case somebody might think I was referring to a different Bush and Cheney. Newspaper version here for another week or so.

East Valley Tribune, Aug. 3, 2008

For politically-active people who talk of the importance of remembering history, Jewish voters must enjoy playing Charlie Brown with one particular political football, the location of the U.S. Embassy to Israel.

For my non-observant readers, the Israeli government sits in Jerusalem, but because of the city’s disputed international status, foreign embassies remain in Tel Aviv while Israel and the Palestinians inch closer to talking about trying to discuss the grounds upon which they’ll negotiate the future of Jerusalem.

The embassy will be in Jerusalem eventually, but “eventually” in Middle Eastern terms can be a long time, and a symbolically charged action like an embassy move could make Israeli-Palestinian relations even more difficult. (Yes, things could get worse.) It’s not a huge priority to Israel, either.

Republicans first pushed the idea in 1980, to embarrass Jimmy Carter. Democrats then postured during the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. In 1995, in a move seen as seeking to bolster Bob Dole’s support among Jewish votes and donors, he pushed the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act through Congress. But the act has a loophole; the president can quietly sign a waiver every six months to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv.

Bill Clinton signed those waivers, so in the 2000 campaign, George W. Bush promised to begin moving the embassy immediately. As president, however, Bush has only signed more waivers. Now John McCain has said that he’ll move the embassy “right away” if he’s elected -- despite the sorry history of this issue, and despite not saying a thing about Bush’s 8 years of waivers. How many times will Jewish voters buy a used car that doesn’t run?

I recalled the embassy relocation debate while reading Time magazine columnist Joe Klein, who was impolite enough to write that several Jewish neoconservatives have tried to push U.S. policy toward their (sincere but mistaken) belief of what’s best for Israel. It’s usually OK to attack motives in U.S. politics -- as a Democrat, I’m beholden to trial lawyers and teachers unions, right? -- but writing that support for Israel might motivate Jewish neos is somehow beyond the Pale.

Klein noted that these people now “plumping” for war with Iran also fiercely supported the war with Iraq, believing that removing Saddam Hussein would benefit both America and Israel. He didn’t say that was an impermissible argument; Israel is a solid U.S. ally, and there are plenty of reasons for supporting it. He didn’t say that this group started the war, only that they encouraged it and provided intellectual window-dressing for President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney (and helped browbeat the majority of U.S. Jewish voters, a majority of whom opposed the war, into silence). Klein just said that these guys consider supporting Israel hugely important, and they thought the Iraq war would be good for the U.S. and good for Israel. That’s just plain wrong, and Klein believes that war with Iran would be a bigger disaster, for both countries.

Instead of arguing the merits (what, they didn’t want to argue that the Iraq war’s merits?), the response from the neoconservatives has been to accuse Klein of being anti-Semitic, of shamefully talking of “divided loyalties.” (They’ve also accused him of saying shameful things that he didn’t say, but that’s standard for these guys; their outrage needn’t be “reality-based.”)

So here’s the recap. Klein argues that the neos’ policy prescriptions are colored by their support for Israel; they were wrong about the war with Iraq, so don’t listen to their calls for war with Iran. His opponents argue that Klein is an “intellectually unstable” self-hating Jew who should be fired from his job. You tell me who’s being rational here. And, of course, these same people interrupt their playing of the anti-Semite card only to decry Obama supporters seeing racial motives in recent McCain TV ads.

I’m not sure how we got to the position where Joe Klein is a self-hating anti-Semite while Rev. John Hagee is such a wonderful friend of the Jews, but it sure doesn’t make much sense to me.

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