Naming Neocons

“It is anything but an anti-Semitic canard to label neoconservatism a largely Jewish phenomenon. Neoconservatism is ‘ineluctably Jewish.’” Jacob Heilbrunn, quoted in Evan R. Goldstein, “Fight Makes Right,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 18, 2008

Just last week, in my first TOO column, I wrote that we were never going to hear about the Jewish nature of the neoconservative movement from a heavily Jewish paper like the New York Times.  I cited a December book review on central neocon operative Richard Perle that had utterly failed to notice he or others were Jewish.

Noting the long list of names like Elliott Abrams, Douglas Feith, Michael Ledeen and David Frum mentioned in the review, I argued that no one at the Times was going to mention their ethnic identity or that of editor Andy Rosenthal, who had just appointed neocon superstar William Kristol to the Times’ op-ed page.

Well, now I’m confounded in that claim because here, a month later, the very same Times Book Review has reviewed Jacob Heilbrunn’s They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neoconsanother book on neocons written by a Jewish author. But this time, the reviewer, Timothy Noah, could not be more blunt about the Jewish nature of the movement: “There’s no doubt denying it: neocons tend to be Jewish.”

For a decade now we’ve been witnessing a kind of schizophrenia within the Jewish community regarding the wisdom of admitting that the most powerful and active purveyors of neoconservatism have in fact been Jewish.

Initially, many prominent Jews and publications that are considered to be heavily Jewish were quite proud of the above fact and were not shy about sharing this information publicly.  As the “cakewalk” in Iraq turned sour, however, there was a concomitant turn toward silence about this fact.  When respected sources such as former President Jimmy Carter or elite scholars Mearsheimer and Walt came out with books that uncomfortably pointed to Zionist power in America, one could witness a circling of the wagons in many venues.

Such comfortable homes to neoconservatism as The Public Interest, The National Interest, and Commentary (published by The American Jewish Committee) began to ignore any connection between Jews and neoconservatism. For example, the Winter 2004 issue of The Public Interest has an essay titled “Conservatives and Neoconservatives.” Yet author Adam Wolfson offers not even an oblique reference to Jews. Never mind that journal co-founder Irving Kristol is considered by many to be the father of neoconservatism, or that the other three editors over the forty-year life of the magazine have also been Jews.

Over at its more foreign-policy oriented sister publication, The National Interest, Francis Fukuyama, in “The Neoconservative Moment” (Summer 2004) also fails to mention this connection. And in the October 2005 issue of Commentary, Joshua Muravchik does likewise in his article “Iraq and the Conservatives.”

This phenomenon is also now visible at The American Conservative, which was created to resist a major neocon initiative—the war in Iraq.  Pat Buchanan and Taki in particular verged on bellicosity in their comments on Jewish power.  Last year, however, Taki left the magazine and Jewish businessman Ron Unz took over as publisher.

This change gives one pause when reading a cover article on Rudy Giuliani that appeared in Jan. 14 issue.  Author Michael Desch duly notes that “Team Rudy is all neocon all the time” but fails to say more than that when referring to Giuliani advisors Norman Podhoretz, Martin Kramer, Stephen Rosen, Daniel Pipes and Peter Berkowitz.

To be sure, Desch notes that Giuliani’s platform is favorable to Israel and in turn is appreciated by Israelis.  Giuliani, Desch notes, tried to close the PLO’s New York office and had Arafat thrown out of a Lincoln Center concert.  Further, at the 2004 Republican National Convention, Giuliani is quoted as saying “Israel’s war is our war.”  But throughout, Desch ascribes this only to ties to neoconservatism, never referring to the strong ties between neoconservatism, pro-Israel activism, and the organized Jewish community.

Which brings us back to the Times.  Noah’s review of Jacob Heilbrunn’s They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons returns to the unapologetic practice of tying Jews to the rise of neoconservatism, noting, for instance how “neoconservatism’s priorities, which range from strong support for Israel to vehement opposition to affirmative action, are heavily influenced by the values, interests and collective historical memory of the Jewish people.”   Heilbrunn even divides his book into sections with Old Testament names such as “Exodus,” “Wilderness,” “Redemption” and “Return to Exile.”

This month, another mainstream forum, The Chronicle of Higher Education, also has a forthright review of Heilbrunn’s neocon book.  Reviewer Evan Goldstein quotes Heilbrunn as saying neoconservatism is “ineluctably Jewish.”  Therefore — again quoting Heilbrunn — “It is anything but an anti-Semitic canard to label neoconservatism a largely Jewish phenomenon.”

Perhaps this brings us full circle back to 2004, when Kevin MacDonald wrote that “neoconservatism is indeed a Jewish intellectual and political movement.”  “The current situation in the United States is really an awesome display of Jewish power and influence.”

And the future of this movement?  Some have claimed that the quagmire in Iraq has seriously discredited the neocons, but Evan Goldstein, in summing up his views on Heilbrunn’s book, feels otherwise:

They are in it for the long haul; they have been at this for decades. None of these people are going away. They remain energized. This is not a movement that is on its heels. And though the professionalization of the neoconservative movement was in part its undoing as a vibrant intellectual force in American life, the very fact that it has been so institutionalized in Washington guarantees that it will remain an influential force well beyond Iraq.

Edmund Connelly is a freelance writer, academic, and expert on the cinema arts. He has previously written for The Occidental Quarterly.

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