by James Taranto
Hat tip: Jean-Charles Bensoussan
What we increasingly can't stomach-and feel obliged to speak out about right now-is the use of Jew-baiting and other blatant and retrograde forms of racial and ethnic prejudice as tools to sell a political deal, or to smear those who oppose it.
Tablet, which describes itself as "a daily online magazine of Jewish news, ideas, and culture," has not taken an editorial position on President Obama's deal with Iran. "Some of us support the deal," the editors explain, "because-like a majority of American Jews-we support the president, and we sympathize with his aims of ending Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons while keeping America out of another Middle Eastern war." Others oppose it as unlikely to achieve those goals, while still others "are less concerned with the specifics of the deal than with the prospect of an American alliance with the theocratic Iranian regime."
Last week New York's Chuck Schumer became the first Senate Democrat to oppose the deal. That complicated the president's campaign to push it through Congress, which, as we noted last week, has been characterized by a partisanship vicious even by his standards. (The deal is structured in such a way that Congress will "approve" it if it sustains a veto, something Democrats are numerous enough to do on their own.)
The ensuing attacks on Schumer prompted the Tablet editorial, which is unequivocal in its repugnance for the rhetoric Obama and his supporters have employed:
What we increasingly can't stomach-and feel obliged to speak out about right now-is the use of Jew-baiting and other blatant and retrograde forms of racial and ethnic prejudice as tools to sell a political deal, or to smear those who oppose it. Accusing Senator Schumer of loyalty to a foreign government is bigotry, pure and simple. Accusing Senators and Congressmen whose misgivings about the Iran deal are shared by a majority of the U.S. electorate of being agents of a foreign power, or of selling their votes to shadowy lobbyists, or of acting contrary to the best interests of the United States, is the kind of naked appeal to bigotry and prejudice that would be familiar in the politics of the pre-Civil Rights Era South.
This use of anti-Jewish incitement as a political tool is a sickening new development in American political discourse, and we have heard too much of it lately-some coming, ominously, from our own White House and its representatives. Let's not mince words: Murmuring about "money" and "lobbying" and "foreign interests" who seek to drag America into war is a direct attempt to play the dual-loyalty card. It's the kind of dark, nasty stuff we might expect to hear at a white power rally, not from the President of the United States-and it's gotten so blatant that even many of us who are generally sympathetic to the administration, and even this deal, have been shaken by it.
This sort of rhetoric has started at the top, as the New York Times reported last week. In a meeting with two leaders of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, "the president accused Aipac of spending millions of dollars in advertising against the deal and spreading false claims about it, people in the meeting recalled":
So Mr. Obama told the Aipac leaders that he intended to hit back hard.
The next day in a speech at American University, Mr. Obama denounced the deal's opponents as "lobbyists" doling out millions of dollars to trumpet the same hawkish rhetoric that had led the United States into war with Iraq. The president never mentioned Aipac by name, but his target was unmistakable.
Obama's supporters in the media have parroted this line. Here's CNN's Fareed Zakaria, in an exchange with hostess Brooke Baldwin noted by HonestReporting.com:
Zakaria: If you look at somebody like Sen. Schumer, if you ask yourself what does he gain by supporting the deal? Not very much. What does he gain by opposing the deal? If he were to support President Obama on this, if he were to support this deal, he knows it would create a firestorm of opposition, particularly among, perhaps, you know, wealthy supporters; he wouldn't be able to raise as much money
Baldwin: So it's money.
Zakaria: It's money, it's the possibility that you lose support of a core group of supporters. There's a very strongly organized campaign against the deal. There isn't a particularly strong campaign organized for the deal, so there's an asymmetry of cost. So if you vote for this deal, you don't get a lot. But you get a huge opposition against it.
More subtly-which we suppose isn't saying much-the New York Times tagged Schumer as Jewish before even delivering the news of his opposition: "Senator Chuck Schumer, the most influential Jewish voice in Congress, said Thursday night that he would oppose President Obama's deal to limit Iran's nuclear program." A few paragraphs down, there was this:
As if on cue, Representative Eliot L. Engel of New York, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who was widely expected to oppose the deal, announced his opposition Thursday night.
"As if." Subtler still was the Washington Post's Friday report on the White House's "swift backlash" against Schumer:
Schumer, who is Jewish, said he had decided not to support the agreement out of concern that it would strengthen Iran by boosting its economy and ultimately may not prevent the country from developing a nuclear bomb. . . .
Sens. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Barbara Boxer (Calif.), the most senior Jewish Democrats in the Senate, both backed the deal. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) had been a target for opponents of the accord, in part because his state is home to powerful Jewish figures. Instead, in a floor speech Tuesday, Nelson embraced the pact.
The deal has also won critical backing from a new generation of Democrats who have raised their profile by focusing on global affairs: First-term Sens. Timothy M. Kaine (Va.), a potential vice presidential pick for 2016, and Chris Murphy (Conn.).
To recap, Schumer "is Jewish." So are Feinstein and Boxer. Supporters of the deal are "focusing on global affairs," except Nelson, who is defying "powerful Jewish figures."
Stephen Walt, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, tweeted this odd appeal to authority: "Sellout Sen. Schumer thinks he knows more about pros/cons of #IranDeal than 29 nuclear scientists." You may remember Walt as a co-author of a 2006 polemic titled "The Israel Lobby," whose views, as we noted at the time, "dovetail disturbingly with those of unquestioned anti-Semites."
It should be noted that there is a tension, if not an outright contradiction, between the "dual loyalty" charge and the "sellout" one. The former presupposes that Schumer is more interested in Israel's interests than America's. It also presupposes that the deal serves America's interests and harms Israel's-a claim even the president denies. Obama argues that it serves both countries' interests; Schumer's view-with which we agree-is that it is harmful to both.
But the "sellout" charge-or "it's money," in Zakaria's more genteel formulation-doesn't even credit Schumer with sincere concern for Israel. Which raises the question: If his critics think all he cares about is money, why do they keep mentioning that he's Jewish? If you know your anti-Semitic tropes, the question answers itself.
We have one small point of disagreement with that Tablet editorial: The "use of anti-Jewish incitement as a political tool" is a "sickening" development for sure, but it's not a new one. As Elliott Abrams notes in the Weekly Standard:
The president . . . is here feeding a deep line of anti-Semitism that accuses . . . American Jews of getting America into wars. Of course this goes back [to] World War II and the accusations against Franklin Roosevelt, whose anti-Semitic critics called him "Rosenfeld"; the Internet is filled with such accusations. More recently, there was Pat Buchanan and his comments about the 1991 Gulf War: "There are only two groups that are beating the drums for war in The Middle East-the Israeli Defense Ministry and its amen corner in the United States." Buchanan then called Capitol Hill "Israeli occupied territory."
The same accusations were then made about the second Gulf War, in 2003: Jews, and especially Jewish "neocons," dragged America into that war. In their infamous tract The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer wrote that as what to do about Saddam Hussein was debated "there was another variable in the equation, and the war would almost certainly not have occurred had it been absent. That element was the Israel lobby. . . ." And that view is widely spread across the Internet as well, and is a staple of anti-Semitic sites and organizations.
To be sure, there are two important differences. First, Abrams's examples all involve opposition to a U.S. administration, chiefly from the isolationist right. (A more apt example in that regard is the 1981 "Reagan or Begin?" whispering campaign in support of a plan to sell Awacs surveillance planes to Saudi Arabia, noted here in April.) Second and more significant, this time the Jew-baiting rhetoric is coming from people in positions of power, including the president himself.
But there are similarities, too. Consider Buchanan's "amen corner" comment about the Gulf War. In reality, the military coalition that fought that war included several of Israel's Arab adversaries-Kuwait, obviously, but also Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Syria. Israel proved itself a loyal U.S. ally when Saddam Hussein attacked Tel Aviv with scud missiles in an effort to divide the coalition. At America's request, the Jewish state refrained from returning fire. (Historical footnote: Then-Rep. Schumer voted against the 1991 authorization to use military force.)
Last month the Washington Post reported that "Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the United States between 1981 and 2005, has written a damning column in which he compares the Iran nuclear deal to the failed nuclear deal with North Korea-and concludes it will have even worse consequences":
Writing for the London-based Arabic news Web site Elaph, Badar [sic] suggests that President Obama is knowingly making a bad deal, while President Bill Clinton had made a deal with North Korea with the best intentions and the best information he had. The new deal will "wreak havoc" in the Middle East, which is already destabilized due to Iranian actions, Bandar writes. . . .
Bandar says Obama is smart enough to understand this but that he is ideologically willing to accept collateral damage because he believes he is right.
Was Bandar motivated by a concern for Israel or a desire to get his hands on Aipac's money? Again, the question answers itself. Riyadh and Jerusalem are anything but friends; they just happen to have a confluence of interests when it comes to the Iran deal.
That America and Israel are friends does not preclude the possibility that Obama is wrong-that his deal puts both countries' interests in jeopardy.
One peculiar aspect of the dual-loyalty accusations against Schumer is that they frequently do not take the form of questioning his patriotism. Consider this entry from the Atlantic's James Fallows:
What if it came down to a single vote, so that Chuck Schumer himself would determine whether a Democratic president's most important diplomatic effort succeeded or failed? Call me a cockeyed idealist, but in those circumstances I just can't believe he would join [Republican] Senators [Tom] Cotton, [Ted] Cruz, [Jim] Inhofe, et al. in voting "no." Thus any "Schumer-no" signal now may indicate his confidence that enough other people are going to vote "yes."
Fallows is expressing his faith in Schumer's loyalty not to his country but to his party. Cockeyed or not, that's a bizarre idea of what it means to be an "idealist."
Along somewhat similar lines is a column from E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post. Dionne doesn't mention Schumer, though the column was published two days after the senator's announcement. The nub of the argument is this:
In broad terms, this is an argument over whether the foreign policy of George W. Bush, with its proclivity toward unilateral military action, or [Obama's] own approach, which stresses alliances and diplomacy, is more likely to defend the United States' long-term interest.
The president was not wrong when he said that "many of the same people who argued for the war in Iraq are now making the case against the Iran nuclear deal." And in light of the language used by Cleveland's Cavaliers of Unilateralism [the Republican presidential candidates at last week's debate], it was useful that he reminded Americans of the run-up to the Iraq invasion, when "those calling for war labeled themselves strong and decisive, while dismissing those who disagreed as weak-even appeasers of a malevolent adversary."
That echoes Obama's argument to the effect that because he was right about the Iraq war back in 2002, the Iran deal must be a good idea. Even if one accepts the premise, the conclusion does an enormous leap. From the proposition that Obama was once right, it does not follow that he is infallible.
"Mr. Obama finds his own past statements coming back to haunt him," someone observed just under a year ago. "Time and again, he has expressed assessments of the world that in the harsh glare of hindsight look out of kilter with the changed reality he now confronts." The source of that assessment was not some neocon but Peter Baker of the New York Times.
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