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Influence Of Jewish Neo-Cons Provokes Debate

by Jim Lobe

Beating the war drums loudest
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- The prominence of neo-conservative Jews in George W. Bush's campaign for war against Iraq and the perception that Israel has much to gain from the ouster of Saddam Hussein are fuelling a debate about anti-Semitism and the power of the pro-Israel lobby in the United States.

The issues are extremely sensitive if only because charges of anti-Semitism are among the most serious that can be made against public figures in the country, as can attest right-wing columnist Patrick Buchanan, who never regained his political stature after major newspapers and fellow politicians denounced his remarks in opposition to the first Gulf War against Iraq in the early 1990s as anti-Semitic.

Jesse Jackson got into similar trouble in 1984 for calling New York City "Hymietown" in a private conversation.

The latest stage of the debate has come in reaction to a statement by Virginia Democratic congressman James Moran, who suggested while addressing an anti-war forum outside Washington last week that American Jews were pushing for war.

"If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this," he said. "The leaders of the Jewish community are influential enough that they could change the direction of where this is going, and I think they should."

While Moran immediately apologized for the statement after it was published in the local newspaper, pointing out, among other things, that his daughter was marrying a Jew and converting to Judaism, half a dozen local rabbis called on him to resign from Congress.

They argued that the implications of his remarks -- that Jews not only wanted war, but exerted decisive control over the U.S. government -- amounted to traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes of the kind usually espoused by rightist militants, who routinely refer to Washington as "ZOG," or the Zionist-occupied government.

The perception of Jewish support appears to derive mainly from the prominence of neo-conservative Jews both within the administration and outside it who are pushing for war.

Within the administration, neo-conservative Jews include Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, as well as his deputy, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Douglas Feith, and several other top Pentagon civilian officials.

In the National Security Council, the best-known Jewish neo-conservative is the pardoned Iran-contra criminal Elliott Abrams, who currently oversees policy on the Middle East. Vice President Dick Cheney's extremely influential national security staff is headed by I. Lewis Libby and soon-to-be ambassador to Turkey, Eric Edelman, both prominent Jewish neo-conservatives.

Outside the administration, those who have been beating the war drums loudest virtually since the collapse of the World Trade Center towers are Jewish neo-cons, especially Richard Perle at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), who doubles as chairman of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board (DPB); William Kristol, the editor of the influential 'Weekly Standard;' Kenneth Adelman, also of the DPB; and Charles Krauthammer of the 'Washington Post.'

Several of Perle's colleagues at AEI, including Michael Ledeen, who advises Bush's top political aide, Karl Rove, and Reuel Marc Gerecht, are also prominent hawks. Among Democrats, Sen. Joseph Lieberman has been among the most enthusiastic supporters of war.

But any implication that the majority of U.S. Jews are united over the impending war in Iraq -- or even over Israel, let alone its Likud government -- flies in the face of most polling results since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and the Pentagon. Jews, who voted overwhelmingly against President George W. Bush in 2000, are divided over attacking Iraq, with almost 60 percent in support of ousting Hussein provided that the UN Security Council or U.S. allies approve it. That is roughly comparable to U.S. public opinion as a whole.

Moreover, major Jewish organizations also report divisions, which have made it impossible for the Jewish community as a whole to forge a clear position, as have, for example, the mainstream Protestant denominations which, with the exception of the pro-Israel Christian Right, oppose the war.

Jews are playing prominent roles in the growing anti-war movement across the United States. Rabbis Michael Lerner and Arthur Waskow, have spoken out strongly against the war, along with Jewish writers and commentators, such as Eric Alterman of 'The Nation', Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies, Ben Cohen, the former head of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, and Noam Chomsky, the former MIT linguistics professor and international affairs dissident.

But because national Jewish organizations are divided on the issue, most anti-war Jewish activism is taking place at the level of local congregations, community organizations, or professional sectors, such as academic associations, lawyers and business groups, and philanthropies.

In contrast, the Jewish neo-conservatives in or around government, who are extremely well organized and have worked together for many years, are much better able to claim the national spotlight, especially in the mainstream media, than the anti-war Jews. Their frequent appearances on television talk shows, and the usual exclusion of Arab and progressive spokesmen, adds to the general impression, especially in rural communities or towns where relatively few Jews reside, that most Jews favor war.

A second factor that contributes to this notion is the close ties that have developed between the Washington neo-cons and the Likud-led Ariel Sharon government in Israel, which has made no secret of its desire to not only see Saddam ousted from Baghdad but also a larger U.S. commitment to waging its anti-terror campaign against other regional foes, particularly Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syria, and Iran.

The same Jewish neo-conservatives who favor war against Iraq were quick to denounce much of the European criticism directed against Israel's re-occupation of West Bank areas last spring as motivated by anti-Semitism, a charge they have repeated many times since then.

Last month, the same charge was levelled against U.S. academics and columnists, who have pointed out the well-documented ties between many of the most prominent Jewish neo-conservatives in government and the right-wing Likud Party. They indicated in particular a 1996 memorandum by Perle, Feith and another Jewish neo-con, David Wurmser, who now holds a high State Department post dealing with Iraq, to Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu on a strategy for backing out of the Oslo peace accords and transforming the balance of power in the Middle East in Israel's favor, beginning with Saddam's ouster.

Eliot Cohen, a Wolfowitz protege, protested in the 'Wall Street Journal' that suggestions that "neoconservative hawks" were doing Israel's bidding smacked of anti-Semitism, while a 'Post' column by Lawrence Kaplan, co-author with Kristol of a new book on why Washington should invade Iraq, argued that anti-war critics were implying that Jewish neo-conservatives harbour "dual loyalties."

That provoked a furious reply by 'Post' columnist Robert Novak, who insisted that the similarities between current U.S. Mideast policy and the strategy laid out in the 1996 memo "have nothing to do with the ethnic origins of its supporters but rather constitute something that should be explored without being attacked."

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Albion Monitor March 11, 2003 (

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