A mushrooming media controversy pitting neoconservatives against a prominent Jewish-American political commentator could mark a new stage in the growing , particularly regarding the Middle East.
TIME columnist Joe Klein’s accusations that Jewish neoconservatives, who played a particularly visible role in the drive to war in Iraq and have since pushed for military confrontation in Iran, sacrificed "U.S. lives and money…to make the world safe for Israel" have spurred angry charges of anti-Semitism and personal attacks from critics at such neoconservative strongholds as the Weekly Standard, National Review, and Commentary.
But the fierceness of the controversy surrounding Klein, generally considered a political centrist, highlights the growing antagonism between neo-conservative hardliners and prominent U.S. Jews whose more moderate views are aligned more closely with those of the foreign policy establishment.
The controversy began Jun. 24, when Klein argued in a TIME blog post that the "fact that a great many Jewish neoconservatives — people like [independent Democrat Sen.] Joe Lieberman and the crowd at Commentary — plumped for this war [in Iraq], and now for an even more foolish assault on Iran, raised the question of divided loyalties." ..
In its broad contours, the controversy is a familiar one, as critics accuse neoconservatives of exercising pernicious influence on U.S. Middle East policy and neoconservatives reply with charges of anti-Semitism and conspiracy-mongering.
What distinguishes the recent furour over Klein, however, is that it involves someone who is widely regarded as an exemplar of the centrist political establishment…
In March 2006, the well-respected and staunchly realist international relations scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt published the article "The Israel Lobby" in the London Review of Books. That article, which charged that the lobby had for decades skewed U.S. policy towards Israel in a direction detrimental to U.S. interests, became the basis for their 2007 book "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy".
Mearsheimer and Walt’s thesis was instantly controversial. Like Klein, they were accused by critics, including the ADL and Commentary, of anti-Semitism and of perpetrating stereotypes about shadowy Jewish conspiracies.
But as a result of their stature, the two authors’ work clearly created political space for those, both within the foreign policy establishment and within the U.S. Jewish community, who had been long privately critical of the neo-conservatives but had been worried about the consequences of going public with their misgivings.
More recently, AIPAC has come under fire for its close alliance with right-wing Christian Zionists, particularly controversial pastor John Hagee and his organisation Christians United for Israel (CUFI).
Hagee views an undivided Israel as a precondition for precipitating the Armageddon, and his group has accordingly pushed for hawkish U.S. policies in the Middle East that have been consistent with the neoconservatives’ own preferences.
Matters came to a head earlier this year, when Republican presidential candidate John McCain was compelled to repudiate Hagee’s endorsement after comments came to light in which the pastor suggested that the Holocaust was biblically ordained in order to force Jews to resettle in Israel.
Nonetheless, Hagee and CUFI have maintained close ties with the neo-conservatives, and a collection of prominent Israel hawks, including Senator Lieberman, spoke at CUFI’s summit in Washington earlier this month.
The belief that AIPAC has failed to accurately represent the views of the U.S. Jewish community led to the foundation earlier this year of J Street, a Jewish lobbying group that aims to push for a more moderate stance on Middle East issues.
In the wake of these developments, many observers have taken Klein’s comments — and particularly his refusal to back down in the face of withering criticism from neo-conservatives — as a sign that new political space is being created for the public airing of more moderate views on Middle East policy.
M.J. Rosenberg, a former AIPAC staffer now associated with the moderate Israel Policy Forum, expressed the hope that commentators would stop equating neo-conservatism with Judaism and start treating it as a political movement subject to political criticism.
"Although most neocons are Jews, few Jews are neocons," he wrote Wednesday. By equating the two groups, "[the neocons] want Americans not to follow the trail of war-mongering that leads not to Jews but to them".
..There is a small group of Jewish neoconservatives who unsuccessfully tried to get Benjamin Netanyahu to attack Saddam Hussein in the 1990s, and then successfully helped provide the intellectual rationale for George Bush to do it in 2003. Their motivations involve a confused conflation of what they think are Israel’s best interests with those of the United States. They are now leading the charge for war with Iran.
Happily, these people represent a very small sliver of the Jewish population in this country. Unhappily, their views have had an impact in the highest reaches of the Bush Administration–and seem to have an influence on John McCain’s campaign as well…