Why I’m Right About Liberal Jews and the Antiwar Movement

First off, let’s be clear about something: It’s easy to be against the war now; everyone is against it. Three and four years into Vietnam, more than half the country was for it—probably 60 percent. Right now no one with any sense in America thinks this war was a smart idea. Figuring out how to get out has been a moral and pragmatic nightmare.

The point Ken Brociner makes below is true: pro-Israel libs don’t want any part of the left’s anti-Israel rhetoric. He proves my point. The traditional left is divided. On the one side are Dem. liberals who say Israel is not the issue. On the other are lefties like myself who says, It’s pointless to talk about this war unless you talk about the role of the Israeli Occupation. We each represent real blocs. And we’re at loggerheads. You couldn’t build a movement (when it mattered most in ’02-03) with such profound disagreement between essential constituencies over a central issue

Two of my Jewish heroes during Vietnam were Norman Mailer for his book Why Are We In Vietnam, and David Halberstam for his book The Best and the Brightest. Neither a radical (ala Mark Rudd, in my last post). But both of them were concerned with a very important question; How did we get into this mess? Who were the idiots who thought this was a good idea? It wasn’t hard for liberal Jews to enter into this analysis, because they were critiquing Establishment gentiles.

The problem this time around is that the same sort of analysis leaves many Jews deeply conflicted. Lefty progressives like myself are saying, It’s the occupation, stupid, and Clintonite liberal Jews (Moveon.org) are saying, That has nothing to do with it! One commenter points at Dan Fleshler’s piece in which Fleshler (a noble guy who has put in years working for the likes of Americans for Peace Now while I was sitting on my hands) describes the effort to pin the blame on this war on Jewish neocons as a conspiracy theory. He would seem to regard the neocons as a bunch of adjutants who were merely carrying out the wishes of a tunnel-vision President and evil vice-president. I disagree: I think high-placed advisers have real power. JFK mentioned Peace Corps in campaign speeches, sure, but it took a dozen committed idealists and intellectuals to get the executive order on his desk in 1961 and then build Peace Corps—guys who wear laurels to this day for their work. A dozen committed, brilliant (and twisted) intellectuals in high positions built the Iraq war. Many of them Jewish Likudniks. Ideas have influence.

I don’t think that you can understand this war, and where America went wrong, without understanding the roles of: Israel’s policy in the Occupied Territories, U.S. support for that policy, the strength of the Israel lobby, and the historic rise of the neoconservatives to real advisory power over 30 years. We were attacked on 9/11 in part because of our support for a (hateful) Occupation, and we invaded Iraq partly because of the neocons’ foolish idea that you can remake Arab dictatorships as democracies—and forget about Israel’s apartheid-style Occupation of Palestinian territories. These claims captured the Clintonite liberals: Ken Pollack stated emphatically that the “troubles” in Israel/Palestine had nothing to do with the strategic wisdom of going into Iraq; the issues were not linked. His advice re Iraq turns out to be brutally misguided, and we have to consider that he couldn’t even utter the word “occupation” in his book. Just “troubles” in Israel/Palestine. The fact that Brookings’ Saban Center where he works is underwritten by an Israeli is not a conspiracy theory; it is a fact of American public life. Pro-Israel money has transformed the culture of the thinktanks. Walt and Mearsheimer have written about this, Anatol Lieven, formerly of Carnegie, has spoken about it. Blankfort says that the Democratic party gets 60 percent of its money from Jews (which is consistent with the Washington Post’s estimate of over half), which makes Jewish money a Matterhorn in the American political landscape. Last summer when Ned Lamont beat Lieberman, a lot of those big Jewish givers told the JTA or the Forward that they would stick with Lieberman no matter what, because of Israel. Didn’t trust leftish-lib Lamont.

Jewish liberals tend to find this type of analysis upsetting and scary. They don’t want to go there. Myself, I am motivated by the moral horror of Iraq: foolish ideas have turned it into a charnel house in which good people are terrified day and night and anyone who can has left. Like Lieven and Mearsheimer, I didn’t go near this stuff till 9/11 happened. But back then Clintonite liberals were running around saying, “Our Israel policy has nothing to do with the attacks.” This was foolish and defensive. Now that I’ve gone and seen what the Occupation is doing to Arabs—thanks to great Israelis like Yehuda Shaul and Elik Alhanan—I understand the rage it has generated across the Arab world. And as an American I say: we Americans have to address our part in that. I do so as a lefty Jew, and there are plenty of lefty Jews in the discussion. We’re making an alliance with Protestant liberals, like the Presbyterian church, like Jimmy Carter. Do we think that if the Occupation ended tomorrow, the problems in the Middle East would end? Hell no. But ending the Occupation is an essential step in guiding the Islamic world toward (inevitable) reformation.

My liberal critics are right when they say I’ve been too blanket. I ought to acknowledge that moveon.org, the Reform rabbis and others are doing important work when they maintain pressure on Bush and other war-supporters, to the point where they at last come out of their bunker and admit what a mistake they made. Such an admission might help bring about a resolution to Iraq’s horrors. But let’s unpack the ideology that generated Iraq. By refusing to include the Occupation in thier analysis, liberal Jews are reducing their understanding to the crude idea that It’s the evil oil companies and cowboy George, and deluding themselves about how the world works.