Who's saying what about 'the elephant in the room'--Israel's role in the conflict with Iraq.
BY: Rebecca Phillips
A joke currently circulating around the internet tells the story of Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush sharing their dreams with each other.
Saddam Hussein phoned President Bush. "I had a dream about the United States," he said. "I could see the whole country, and over every building and home was a banner."
"What was on the banner?" asked Bush.
"LONG LIVE SADDAM!" answered the dictator.
"I'm so glad that you called," said President Bush, "because I too had a dream. In my dream, I saw Iraq and it was more beautiful than ever; totally rebuilt with many tall, gleaming office buildings, large residential subdivisions with swimming pools in every yard; and over every building and home was a big, beautiful banner."
"What did the banner say?" asked Saddam.
I don't know," answered President Bush, "I can't read Hebrew."
The joke may offend some, but it underscores a growing debate over the role of Israel--and American Jews supportive of Israel--as the U.S. moves further toward war with Iraq. In recent months, everyone from Slate's Michael Kinsley to former U.S. presidential candidate Gary Hart to "Hardball" host Chris Matthews has commented about the problem of "dual loyalty" in this conflict--the question of whether some Americans--especially certain Jewish members of the Bush administration--are supporting war with Iraq because they believe war is in Israel's interests.
The debate surfaced in public March 3 when Congressman James Moran, D-VA, told a church forum that "if it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this." The
White House condemned
Moran's comments and Congressman Moran has since
apologized for his comments
American Jewish groups
have not endorsed
the war, and many Jews
have been active
in the antiwar movement. As
the Forward reported
, Jewish members of congress are deeply divided on the issue. But, as evidenced by Moran's recent comments, the debate continues over Israel's role, American Jewish support of the Iraq war, and a perceived dual loyalty.
Slate columnist Michael Kinsley
wrote in October
that there has been a "lack of public discussion about the role of Israel in the thinking of President Bush." The Moran flap was the first time the White House has gotten involved. Before this, the discussion has stayed in the realm of political magazines and op-ed pages. Below we break down the debate:
The 'Elephant in the Room'
In his October column, Kinsley wrote that in discussion about Iraq, Israel is "the proverbial elephant in the room"--the topic that everyone agreed was an issue but that no one wanted to talk about, for fear of sounding anti-Semitic. But writers recently have been more willing to ponder how much Israel, or at least those concerned about Israel's security, influences U.S. Iraq policy.
February opinion article
in the Washington Post, New Republic senior editor Lawrence Kaplan explained that Israel's role in the impending conflict is a legitimate concern. "How the Bush administration has arrived at the brink of war with Saddam Hussein, and to what extent Israeli influence has brought it there, is a legitimate question about which there is ample room for disagreement," he wrote.
Kaplan explained that it's an important question, but one that is often addressed in illegitimate ways (and anti-Semitic ways--though he doesn't use the word 'anti-Semitism'). He quoted Paul Schroeder, writing in Pat Buchanan's revived American Conservative magazine that a plan for invasion of Iraq "is being promoted in the interests of Israel." Kaplan wrote that this "socialism of fools" (which, Slate columnist
Mickey Kaus points out
, is the same thing as anti-Semitism) has also invaded the antiwar left.
Buchanan himself added fuel to the fire in the March 24, 2003
issue of The American Conservative
. In his cover story attacking both Jews in the Bush administration and Jewish writers like Kaplan, David Brooks, and Washington Post columnist Robert Kagan, Buchanan asserts, "We charge that a cabal of polemicists and public officials seek to ensnare our country in a series of wars that are not in America's interests. We charge them with colluding with Israel to ignite those wars and destroy the Oslo Accords. We charge them with deliberately damaging U.S. relations with every state in the Arab world that defies Israel or supports the Palestinian people's right to a homeland of their own. We charge that they have alienated friends and allies all over the Islamic and Western world through their arrogance, hubris, and bellicosity."
Buchanan has a history of making anti-Semitic comments, but other critics of U.S. Iraq policy, on the right and the left, have drawn accusations of anti-Semitism for asserting that certain members of Bush's administration (namely Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz; Richard Perle, chairman of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board; and Douglas Feith, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy) have dual loyalty--interests in both the U.S. and Israel.
Many of the pro-war members of Bush's administration, like these, were in fact advisers to the administration of Benyamin Netanyahu, a member of the Likud Party, when he was Prime Minister of Israel from 1996 to 1999.
As Mickey Kaus has mentioned in his column, the issue first gained attention when Robert Kaiser wrote a
front-page Washington Post article
in early February which noted, "For the first time, a U.S. administration and a Likud government in Israel are pursuing nearly identical policies."
Conservative Americans under Pat Buchanan's wing and
writers for leftist publications
are not the only ones who have brought this issue to light. Former presidential candidate Gary Hart was chided recently for comments he made about dual loyalty. He said, "We must not let our role in the world be dictated by ideologues...who too often find it hard to distinguish their loyalties to their original homelands from their loyalties to America and its national interests." However, he
told the Forward
, a weekly national Jewish newspaper, that his comments did not refer to any particular group.