Chris Matthews Should Talk About the Israel Lobby Because It’s All He Thinks About

I have a fantasy about Chris Matthews. It’s the 1980s and the height of the violent “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, and Hardball is on. Matthews goes to political turf he knows well, Irish Boston, and gathers a group of American Catholic activists on air. Then he screws these guys to the wall. He asks them what being Irish-Catholic means to them, he grills them about whether they are sending money to the Sinn Fein or the Provisional IRA. He shows us from the inside out why an American interest group feels as passionately as it does, and how it is heating up a hot zone overseas.

But here’s the rest of my fantasy: Matthews does the same thing now, for Jews and Israel. Only this time he isn’t gathering Catholic corner boys like himself, he is gathering neocons at think tanks and publications and White House offices.

Chris Matthews should do this because as he now demonstrates nearly every night, he believes (as I do) that devotion to Israel on the part of socially- and politically-empowered hawkish Jews helped to distort our leaders’ definitions of American interests. He should stop hinting, and put his money down on the counter. Matthews is probably the smartest guy about politics—if not ideas—on air, and if he is holding himself back, it just demonstrates the influence of the Israel lobby. People are afraid to take it on.

Matthews is losing his excuses on this. As it is, night after night, Matthews goes after the Iraq hawks for their deluded Middle East agenda. On Hardball on Friday night he kept shaking his head and saying WHY did they believe this line of nonsense? He seems to have just woken up to the tremendous imposture that Israel-centric right wingers represent

Matthews’s understanding of how policy works is that after 9/11 a group of feverish thinkers, working in conservative magazines and thinktanks, and at Dick Cheney’s elbow, took the Administration’s thinking by storm. As he has said now, these guys were pounding the drum for removing Saddam way back when, and the realists in the first Bush Administration had the wisdom not to do it.

MATTHEWS: They just wanted us to invade Iraq, period? People like Wolfowitz, Feith, people that–the vice-president’s office, the vice-president himself, they just wanted to go in for so many reasons that they just thought up–they couldn’t think of anything that wasn’t going to be nice about it?

General GARD: They were looking for a pretext. They have had long wished for the overthrow of Saddam, regime change in Iraq. Part of a grander plan.

MATTHEWS: And what was the plan? What is their goal? If it wasn’t the true belief in WMD, and it certainly wasn’t the true belief in a nuclear threat, what was their ambition in Mesopotamia?

GARD: It was to get in, establish a presence, develop a democracy, which would be contagious and would, in a sense, neutralize other threats in the area, as they became more democratic.

MATTHEWS: Well, that sounds like Napoleon.

GARD: It sounds like a…

MATTHEWS: That’s what Napoleon did, went around the world, starting wars with every country in Europe, supposedly spreading democracy by gunpowder.

GARD: I’m not supporting it. I opposed it.

MATTHEWS: Well, why did they think this would work?

At times, Matthews has accused this Jacobin mob of trying to make the Middle East safer for Israel. And gone about so foolishly, turning the Middle East into a terror incubator. He’s worried they’re about to double the bet, using Iran.

Then Matthews says that the same deluded thinking has a home in the Democratic party, and is preventing the Dems from being an antiwar party.

MATTHEWS: Here’s where I don’t get it. If 80 percent of the Democratic party, four out of five Democrats, are totally against us even being in Iraq, it’s got to be that one quarter out there, the fund raisers, the more hawkish people. Somebody is putting their thumb on the scale here and stopping Democrats from being Democrats. What is it?

Talk of “fundraisers” is code. Matthews means the Lieberman faction, of hawkish Jews, making up the financial base of the traditional Democratic Party. He should say as much. He should have John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt on air tomorrow, to explain how they think the Israel lobby distorted American policy in the Middle East.

But Walt and Mearsheimer are intellectuals. Matthews is a tough guy from the wards. He knows ethnic politics, he knows about human motivation. He should explore the dream of Israel cultivated in liberal American Jews who have never gone there to see the anti-Arab policies. He should explore the shadow of the Holocaust in American Jewish hearts and how it affects their allegiance to Israel.

Most important, Matthews should put a panel together of influential Jews to ask them about what they did to thwart the Oslo peace process. He should ask Doug Feith why he has a photograph of Herzl on his study wall and how that affects his view of invading Israel’s enemey, Iraq. He should ask Elliott Abrams why he believes that Jews stand apart in every society they live in except Israel—Abrams, Bush’s Middle East adviser! He should ask Irving Moskowitz, a California doctor who funded David Wurmser and Lynne Cheney when they were at the American Enterprise Institute, before they went into the White House together, he should ask Moskowitz why he has funded an illegal colony in the West Bank of the Jordan, thereby helping to turn Israel into an apartheid state and frustrating the hopes of Palestinians and spurring rage across the Arab world. He should ask Bruce Kovner, chairman of the American Enterprise Institute and chairman of Juilliard and part owner of the New York Sun, why his thinktank has paid Israeli rightwinger Dore Gold—who is opposed to Oslo—$96,000 a year as a “scholar” in Jerusalem, and why his newspaper said that people who demonstrated against the Iraq war were guilty of “treason”? He should ask Bernard Lewis about the antisemitic discrimination that he suffered in his early academic career and why he thinks Arabs only respect force. He should ask Kenneth Pollack, the Brookings “liberal” who as much as anyone got us into this war, why he NEVER mentions the occupied territories in his book The Threatening Storm, which presumed to explain Arab rage toward the west even as it said that that invading Iraq was going to be a walk in the park, if we used 250,000 troops. (We used 263,000—so much for the ex-post-facto Democratic argument that Rumsfeld planned it wrong).

Matthews should demonstrate to Americans that not all Jews tried to stand athwart Oslo peace process. He should ask JJ Goldberg why his paper The Forward has editorialized that American Jews should give money for the rebuilding of Lebanon (shocking notion that!). He should ask Henry Siegman why he thinks that Israel and the U.S. should talk to Hamas, as opposed to bombing and imprisoning them.

But he should show how marginalized the Siegmans and the Goldbergs are by the Wurmsers, Cheneys and Kovners and Lewises. He should show who has power and how it is exercised. In short, he should take on this ethnic lobby as straightforwardly as he would have taken on the Irish Catholics during the Troubles. Troubles that were not about to start world war 3.