Monday, September 17, 2007

Doesn't Look Like an Anti-Semite To Me

I’ll be the first to admit that Jim Moran sometimes suffers foot and mouth disease and makes statements that even his most loyal supporters cringe at. And I’ll also grudgingly give Colbert King the benefit of the doubt. He’s supposed to be a highly respected Washington Post columnist. But he’s dead wrong about Jim Moran in last Saturday’s column.

King asserts that Moran’s criticism of the powerful AIPAC Israel lobby, made in an interview Moran gave to Tikkun magazine, which appears in their September October issue, is tantamount to anti-Semitism. Ok, let’s look at exactly what Jim Moran said to Tikkun:

“AIPAC is very well organized. The members are willing to be very generous with their personal wealth. But it’s a two edged sword. If you cross AIPAC, AIPAC is very unforgiving and will destroy you politically. Their means of communications, their ties to certain newspapers and magazines and individuals in the media are substantial and intimidating. Every member knows it’s the best-organized national lobbying force. The National Rifle Association comes a close second, but AIPAC can rightfully brag that they’re the most powerful lobbying force in the world today. Certainly they are in the United States. Not in Europe obviously…
Then in answer to another question, Moran continues:

You’ve touched on a quandary, and it particularly applies to the Jewish American community. Jewish Americans, as a voting bloc and as an influence on American foreign policy are overwhelmingly opposed to the war. There is no ethnic group as opposed to the war as Jewish Americans. But AIPAC is the most powerful lobby and has pushed this war from the beginning. I don’t think they represent the mainstream of American Jewish thinking at all, because they are so well organized and their members are extraordinarily powerful – most of them are quite wealthy – they have been able to exert power.
King and others imply that because Moran criticizes a powerful lobby that happens to be comprised of wealthy Jews, he is playing into the ugly stereotype that all Jews are wealthy and control the media and the government. And that they put the interests of Israel before that of their own country, the United States.

But is that what he is really saying?

I don’t think so. If you read the interview carefully, Moran goes to great lengths to point out that AIPAC does not represent most of the Jewish community and that most mainstream American Jews have been in the forefront of opposition to the war in Iraq.

I happen to disagree with Moran and some other progressive Jews about how influential AIPAC really is, but you can’t fault those AIPAC critics for anti-Semitism. They are simply criticizing one group of rich citizens who have undue access to media and government because of their wealth. That they happen to be a Jewish group that supports right wing policies in Israel is beside the point. The fact is there are many Israelis who also disagree with AIPAC.

But most telling is the context from which Moran’s quotes were taken – I always say context is everything. Moran was giving an interview to a very liberal Jewish publication whose editorial policy agrees with Moran. Jim Moran was speaking freely to friends, who, by the way, happen to be Jewish progressives. The Tikkun crowd dislikes AIPAC and considers them rivals. Tikkun, and its affiliates, have a different view of Israel and Middle Eastern policy, one which seeks reconciliation with Palestinians and a humane, two state solution that protects Israel’s sovereignty while also being mindful of Palestinians’ legitimate rights to self-determination.

I personally think they have a beautiful, idealistic, and naïve point of view. Without believing for a minute that Israel is some blameless, perfect society, I could argue that the biggest stumbling block to peace in that region is Palestinian intransigence. Incrementalism and building trust just aren’t part of Hamas’ plan. All or nothing – victory over Israel and pushing it into the sea versus utter defeat – is their agenda. The problem with some liberals is they don’t pay attention to what groups like Hamas actually say. They should.

But while disagreeing with them about the odds of a genuine reconciliation (I’m just more skeptical by nature) I’d hardly call them self-hating Jews or anti-Semites.

King, however, challenged Moran to name specific names and cite specific examples of AIPAC's undue influence and power. Ok, Jim Moran didn't do it. But I will right here.

Let me give you one more quote – and I’m not going to tell you up front by whom it was said:
Let's zero in on AIPAC. It is controlled by right wing, rich Jewish neo-conservatives. As one manifestation of the truth of this assertion one merely has to look at its annual meeting this past month. At a time when Vice President Cheney's popularity has dropped below 20 percent, the 4,500 delegates to the AIPAC convention gave him a standing ovation for almost a minute before he even opened his mouth and then proceeded to give him 48 rounds of applause in a 35-minute speech. (As my colleague Leonard Fein pointed out, that's once every 43.7 seconds). Considering that 75 percent of American Jews voted for Kerry, it is obvious that these people are out of the mainstream of Jewish thought.

At the same conference, preceding the recent Israeli elections, these delegates were addressed by Ehud Olmert (Kadima), Amir Peretz (Labor) and Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) by video link from Israel. Olmert and Peretz received polite applause. The AIPAC delegates cheered enthusiastically for Netanyahu, especially when he presented his hard line that was overwhelmingly rejected by the Israeli electorate. Once a great organization, today AIPAC does not even represent the feelings of the average Israeli, let alone the average American Jew.

This American Jewish neo-conservatism is unhealthy not only for America but for Israel as well. A prime example: The Israeli press reports that Israel is trying to find a way to deal with the Palestinians while not dealing with Hamas. Official public statements aside, they realize that they cannot cut off all contacts with the Palestinians and that the world cannot discontinue financial help; otherwise Israel will find a million starving Palestinians on its border, and this will not lead to peace or security for Israel. Privately, the Israeli government was against the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act (the Ross-Lehtinen-Lantos bill) which recently passed the House of Representatives. It would cut off all American contacts with the Palestinian Authority, even with its president Mahmoud Abbas, who is a moderate seeking peace. Despite Israel's private reservations, AIPAC not only pushed this bill, it was instrumental in writing it. Even though the AIPAC candidate lost in Israel, he won in the U.S. House of Representatives. Hopefully, the Senate and the White House will correct this.

Another example: 400 rabbis, including myself, signed a letter sponsored by Brit Tzedek v'Shalom that appeared in the Forward this past month. It was a mildly liberal statement that proclaimed that "we are deeply troubled by the recent victory of Hamas," but went on to urge "indirect assistance to the Palestinian people via NGO's, with the appropriate conditions to ensure that it does not reach the hands of terrorists." Pretty mild stuff. Yet pulpit rabbis across this country who signed the letter have reported a concerted effort to silence them. The letter has been branded a "piece of back-stabbing abandonment of the Jews of Israel." Synagogue boards have been pressured to silence their rabbis by that loose coalition called the "Israel Lobby."

Just another example of the Jewish establishment stifling any discussion of Israel that does not conform to the neo-conservative tenets of AIPAC and its cohorts. Beware of these self-appointed guardians of Israel and Jewish values. In the end they will destroy everything that makes Judaism a compassionate religion, and if in their zeal they do not destroy Israel, they certainly will not make it more secure.
Satisfied yet, Mr. King? Because basically, the author of those words backs up Jim Moran’s contention. And I’d be willing to bet that King, in his take no prisoners style, would love to accuse him of anti-Semitic remarks too.

Unfortunately, Rabbi Bruce Warhsal, publisher emeritus of the Broward Jewish Journal, respected rabbi and still a columnist for that paper, wrote those words. He felt that pressure from AIPAC first hand. He’s a Jewish progressive to be sure. But anti-Israel – never!

He is, in fact, one of the most respected rabbis and writers in Broward County, Florida, home to one of the nation’s largest Jewish populations.

Indeed, there is a debate going on in the Jewish community between neo-cons, who comprise a minority, and progressives, who, as Rabbi Warshal pointed out, voted in droves for John Kerry in 2004, about what is the best policy to secure Israel’s security, as well as the most moral position on the Middle East. Many Jews argue that rapprochement and reconciliation with Palestine and an equitable two state solution would stabilize the Middle East and provide the real security that Israel and a Palestinian state need to prosper. It may be an unattainable goal. And it’s certainly fair to argue about it.

But AIPAC and its allies – often unwitting allies at that – would rather resort to ad hominem attacks on their opponents than engage in a real dialogue about the best solution. But its opponents – and those who are critical of the so-called Israel lobby, i.e., AIPAC – are not anti-Semites. Just as Democrats, and the vast majority of Americans who oppose our involvement in Iraq are not cut and run defeatists. But the sad thing is that those who resort to slurs, smears and attack have already admitted that they’ve lost the real argument, the one based on facts, evidence and logic. They are up the proverbial creek with only one paddle. When confronted with arguments they can’t respond to, their answer is to batter their critics over head.

Unfortunately, Colbert King took that paddle to Jim Moran. But as I said, he’s dead wrong this time. Because if he’s not, that makes the 75% of Jews, who as Rabbi Warshal noted, voted for John Kerry, consider themselves Democrats, and oppose AIPAC, equally anti-Semitic. And that’s not true.

Mr. King, I respectfully submit that AIPAC is not the Jewish community and represents only a minority view even among Israelis. And, yes, they do assert undue pressure on their perceived opponents. If you haven't felt it personally, it's because you've never been one of their critics. That's ok. But it doesn't make you more pro-Israel than those who don't share AIPAC's particular viewpoint.


Mike said...


Thanks for setting the record straight on the Cantor/Moran non-issue. The Richmond Times-Disgrace once again smears a good man with lies and innuendo. Cantor is just playing to his base and has little else of substance to talk about. He must be getting ready to run for Gov in '08.

Hahahahaha. He'll never make it. We won't let him.

Louis said...

He brings up an excellent point though. There is a wealthy minority in this country which uses its wealth to accomplish its own goals, and it misrepresents what the people really want. I talk a lot about this symbiosis of the elite with the government on my own blog, (not to put out a shameful plug for my own rants! ^_^).

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Louis, you are allowed to put up shameful plugs. And Mike, keep fighting the good fight!

As for the wealthy minority that uses its wealth to accomplish its goals, I believe they are called neo-cons, both Jewish and non-Jewish. They include wealthy Evangelicals, Wall Street and corporate types, Cuban-American lobbies, the NRA, and even the sugar lobby.

Yes, Virginia, there are special interests with lots of money and yes, AIPAC is one of them. Jim Moran was careful to make the distinction between a well-heeled lobby and the larger Jewish community that often doesn't agree with AIPAC. But AIPAC is by no means the only large, wealthy and overly-influential lobby out there.

Oh, anybody mention big PHARMA yet. They impact the well-being of every American who has to take medication. Isn't that most of us?

We need government by the people and for the people again. Not government for and by the special interests who mostly fund and support Republicans.