Jerusalem Post | 31.05.2004 21:39 | Anti-militarism
Janine Zacharia May. 29, 2004
With a majority of Americans now saying the war in Iraq has not been worth the costs and most of Americans doubting Iraq can be rebuilt successfully, some American Jewish officials are expressing concern that recent comments by a prominent US senator and others blaming Israel for the war could spark a new wave of anti-Semitism.
A widely reported May 6 newspaper column by Senator Ernest Hollings (D-South Carolina) in the Charleston Post and Courier, in which he wrote that President George W. Bush ousted Saddam Hussein to protect Israel, and that Jewish officials and pundits were to blame, continues to be the subject of discussion among Jewish groups.
"With Iraq no threat, why invade a sovereign country? The answer: President Bush's policy to secure Israel," wrote Hollings, who throughout his lengthy Senate career has made comments of a similar ilk. In 1993, Hollings referred to former Senator Howard Metzenbaum, who was a Jewish Democrat, as "the Senator from B'nai B'rith." He also, in 2002, likened Prime Minister Sharon to Saddam Hussein.
Hollings added in the column: "Led by Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and Charles Krauthammer, for years there has been a domino school of thought that the way to guarantee Israel's security is to spread democracy in the area."
Hollings also said Bush, who "came to office with one thought – re-election" felt "spreading democracy in the Mideast to secure Israel would take the Jewish vote from the Democrats."
Hollings' comments recalled those last year by Rep. Jim Moran (D-Virginia), who told a church crowd, "If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this."
The idea that Jews are somehow responsible for this war, or that it was carried out on behalf of Israel, has been a recurring subject of discussion on cable news talk shows and in various media. Some pundits have questioned the alleged "dual loyalty" of American Jews to both the US and Israel.
"The accusation about Jews and Jewish interests is being aired almost daily, on the airwaves, in the nation's editorial pages and from a range of pundits who want to pin the blame for this war on the Jews," Abraham Foxman, national chairman of the Anti-Defamation League, wrote in May 2003.
In an interview with CBS's "60 minutes" last Sunday with retired Marine General Anthony Zinni – who served briefly as Washington's special Middle East envoy in 2001 and 2002 and is now a fervent critic of the war in Iraq – the questioner, Steve Kroft, describes "a group of policymakers within the administration known as 'the neoconservatives' that saw the invasion of Iraq as a way to stabilize American interests in the region and strengthen the position of Israel."
Kroft asked Zinni, "You think they're the architects of this?" Zinni replied, "I think they are. I think it's the worst kept secret in Washington. That everybody – everybody I talk to in Washington has known and fully knows what their agenda was and what they were trying to do."
Zinni said he had been accused of being an anti-Semitic for criticizing the war's strategy to remake the Middle East.
Asked to clarify whether he thought the "neoconservatives" were acting in Israel's interests, Zinni told The Jerusalem Post via email, "I don't know what motivates those you mentioned, and I would never speculate that it is other than what they feel is best for the U.S. I disagree with their judgment and strategy, but I have never accused them or anyone of doing what they do for other interests."
After the Hollings op-ed appeared, the ADL wrote to the Senator, "regardless of whether one feels that America's war on Iraq was justified, the charge that it is being fought by the US on behalf of Israel grossly misrepresents the legitimate US interests that are involved in the debate." It asked him "to reconsider these comments." Hollings has not replied to the letter and has indicated he has no intention of retracting his remarks.
Jess Hordes, Washington director of the ADL, said on Friday that dropping support for the war, and the fact that he is one of only 100 US senators, makes comments like Hollings' even more worrisome than other commentary. He noted that his comments have spread around the globe and have been picked up in newspapers, including in Pakistan, which highlighted the idea that Bush went to war in Iraq on behalf of the Jews.
"What it does is give ammunition or fodder to conspiracy theorists who believe the Jews rule the world," Hordes said.
"It tends to give legitimacy to some of the fringe elements and make it a more acceptable (point of view) to others in the mainstream .The suggestion that the US launched the war on behalf of Israel really is dangerous."
Hollings' comments also continue to be used by Republican and Democratic Jewish political organizations to try to score political points.
The Republican Jewish Coalition's executive director Matthew Brooks, in a May 20 statement, criticized Democratic congressional leaders, Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California for not responding to the Hollings statements. "Democrat(ic) congressional leaders Daschle and Pelosi are trying to reach out to the American Jewish organizations while at the same time saying nothing about Senator Hollings' recent outrageous comments," Brooks said.
Brooks contrasted their silence about Hollings "to the unambiguous support for Israel President Bush demonstrated" when he spoke at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's national conference.
Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, on Friday struck back by challenging Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) to condemn unacceptable remarks by Republican legislators.
Forman noted that Cantor had written to Daschle to tell him he has a responsibility to reject Hollings' "bigoted remarks."
"As a representative of a Jewish Democratic organization that has publicly criticized the remarks you cited, I have only one question: Are you merely playing politics, or are you serious in your assertion that it is time to condemn unacceptable remarks that have no place in civil political discourse?"
"There has been a deafening silence within the Republican Party when it comes to condemning such unacceptable remarks when uttered by Republicans," Forman wrote in a letter to Cantor. He cited, among others, comments by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California who earlier this year called Prime Minister Sharon a terrorist.