‘The Forward’ Allows Jewish Liberals to Rewrite Their Support for Iraq Debacle

The deepening political crisis surrounding Iraq has generated fears in the Jewish community that Americans are going to blame Jews for the failure—because so many Jewish leaders supported the invasion of a country that had many times attacked Israel, but never attacked the United States. Detailing that support was of course a theme of Walt & Mearsheimer’s paper, to which The Forward responded with an editorial, “In Dark Times, Blame the Jews.” This week The Forward publishes another attack on Walt/Mearsheimer, by Israeli liberal Yossi Alpher, who claims that then-P.M. Ariel Sharon vigorously opposed the invasion ahead of time, and warned the U.S. not to do it.

Had Sharon made his criticism public, citing the dangers posed to vital Israeli interests, might he have made a difference in the prewar debate in the United States and the world? Certainly he would have poured cold water on the postwar assertions of critics, like professors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, who have fingered Israel, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and pro-Israelis in the administration for instigating the war…

There were, of course, neoconservative types in Israel who did encourage the United States to occupy Iraq and advocated democratic elections wherever possible in the Middle East. But there were also many Israelis, this writer included, who spoke out openly and publicly against the American scheme.

This is rank misrepresentation. Whether or not Sharon warned the U.S. in a back channel, Israeli leadership opinion and U.S. Jewish leadership opinion was 4-square for the invasion. Leftwing Jews like Tony Kushner and myself demonstrated against the war and spoke out forcefully, and were marginalized for doing so. Alpher is either lying or deluding himself when he says he opposed the war. Why did he write this in bitterlemons before the war, in October 2002:

Israel is and will be cheering on the American effort, while the sentiments of the Palestinian population, as well as its key institutions, will be with Saddam Hussein

Or this just before the war:

Removing Saddam is good enough

An American-led attempt to conquer Iraq, remove the Saddam Hussein regime and destroy its weapons of mass destruction will almost certainly succeed. An American occupying force in Iraq will almost certainly pressure neighboring Syria and Iran to reconsider some of their more hostile and repressive actions. For Israel and other moderate countries in the region, this is good news. And it is good enough…. we shall have to suffice with the destruction of a regime of psychopaths who finance Palestinian terrorism and pontificate about the destruction of Israel.

Or this as the war began:

The American war on Iraq, however problematic for much of the world, is for most of us in Israel a welcome attempt by a friend and ally to deal with a strategic danger that we have been struggling to cope with on our own for decades.

Or this, about the power of the neocons (whom he treats as a sideshow in his latest article):

But [the] willful alienation by Washington of the global community and the multilateral approach also bespeaks an extraordinary sense of power in the US, cultivated particularly by the neoconservative lobby.

The sad fact is that many Jewish liberals joined the neocons in pushing the Iraq invasion: Pollack, Friedman, Berman, Alpher, the hits go on and on. I’ve said before that the war represents a crisis for Jewish identity: it reveals the degree to which Jewish identity is now built upon the demonization of Arabs, hundreds of thousands of whom are now dying and fleeing and suffering in incomprehensible ways in part because of crazy ideas hatched in thinktanks. The Forward is responding with cowardice to an intellectual chore: What was the Jewish role in this mess? Progressive Jews have a part to play in this soul-searching. As LRB editor Mary Kay Wilmers, a progressive Jew herself, who published Walt and Mearsheimer, said to me months ago: “It seems that the American left is also claimed by the Israel lobby.”