Maureen Dowd recently wrote a column dripping with what is routinely labeled “anti-Semitism” by the ADL and other guardians of political correctness (“Neocons Slither Back“). Most commentators (see here) focused on her claim that Dan Senor is Mitt Romney’s guru on all things related to Israel. Jeffrey Goldberg weighs in:
Maureen may not know this, but she is peddling an old stereotype, that gentile leaders are dolts unable to resist the machinations and manipulations of clever and snake-like Jews. (Later, Hounshell wrote, “(A)mazing that apparently nobody sat her down and said, this is not OK.”)
This sinister stereotype became a major theme in the discussion of the Iraq war, when critics charged that Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, among other Jewish neoconservatives, were actually in charge of Bush Administration foreign policy. This charge relegated George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, Stephen Hadley and the other Christians who actually set policy to the status of puppets.
Of course, no one would say there was anything sinister about saying that Karl Rove had inordinate influence on Bush on domestic issues. It’s only a problem when a Jew is said to have influence; the implicit (ridiculous) theory is that no Jew could ever have a strong influence on a president, especially on issues related to Jewish ethnic interests—prototypically Israel. As usual, the actual facts are irrelevant. Simply saying that a Jew has such influence crosses the line—even though Dowd never mentions that Senor is a Jew.
The fact is that Bush was a naif who had no business being president. The following is from my review of Jacob Heilbrunn’s They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons:
Heilbrunn also has some nice nuggets on George Bush’s naiveté in the area of foreign policy. The first time [Richard Perle] met Bush, he immediately sensed that he was different from his father. Two things were clear to Perle: one was that Bush didn’t know much about foreign policy and another was that he wasn’t too embarrassed to confess it. Like Wolfowitz, Perle admired Bush’s ability, as he saw it, to cut to the heart of the matter rather than become mesmerized by Washington policy talk. (p. 230) The fact that Bush was a babe in the woods on foreign policy was seen as a plus by the neocons. “In August 1999 an excited Wolfowitz told me over lunch . . . that Bush had the ability to penetrate the dense fog of foreign policy expertise to ask a simple question. ‘Tell me what I need to know? [sic]’ Bush, Wolfowitz said, was ‘another Scoop Jackson’” (p. 230)—a comment that certainly doesn’t reflect well on Jackson. Although Heilbrunn states that we can never know for certain what was going on in Bush’s brain in the days and months after 9/11, his comment that Bush “moved further and further into the web that the neoconservatives had woven around him” (p. 235) seems reasonable.
Bush was in way over his head and was a sitting duck for the neocons. And a big part of the web they wove consisted of falsified or cherry-picked intelligence reports engineered by Douglas Feith, David Wurmser and Abram Schulsky, and presided over by Paul Wolfowitz. As to the other “Christians” who actually made the decision to invade Iraq, Heilbrunn notes that “the movement’s non-Jewish members were largely bound to the group by a shared commitment to the largest, most important Jewish cause: the survival of Israel” (p. 69). This may be correct in some cases (quite possibly Henry Jackson). But “it is often quite difficult to separate such sentiments from the personal and professional attractions of being involved in neoconservative networks.”
Quite simply, at least by the time of the Clinton administration, the neocons had become the only foreign policy game in town within the Republican Party. Going with the flow had a lot of benefits and no costs—exactly the reason why the vast majority of politicians support the Israel Lobby. The power of the Lobby stems from their creating a situation where support for their policies is a no brainer for any ambitious politician.
I don’t think that Romney is anywhere near as naive or unschooled on foreign policy as Bush. But neither does he have any strong principles. He is one of the politicians described above—looking for ways to ingratiate himself with the media and the big money, and one-upping Obama on Israel is a natural strategy. I rather doubt it will work. Netanyahu is widely seen as having overplayed his hand in demanding the U.S. wage war on behalf of Israel. As Stephen Walt notes in arguing that the Israel Lobby is still alive and powerful, “That is one hell of an ask, of course, and sometimes when you demand the moon you don’t get it” (“How (not) to hide the elephant in the room.” Wasn’t the 100,000 dead, trillion dollar war in Iraq enough? (BTW, if you think Goldberg is outrageous, check out Walt’s target, David Rothkopf. The good news is that even supposedly sophisticated defenders of Israel (Rothkopf is CEO of Foreign Policy) are so out of touch with reality that they have become deliciously easy targets.)
But there is something else in Dowd’s column that one would think would send the ADL into a tizzy. Describing the foreign policy advocated by Senor, she writes:
A moral, muscular foreign policy; a disdain for weakness and diplomacy; a duty to invade and bomb Israel’s neighbors; a divine right to pre-emption — it’s all ominously familiar.
So an American Jew is demanding a foreign policy where the U.S. has “a duty to invade and bomb Israel’s neighbors.” What happened to all the blather about promoting democracy and freedom that has been the staple of neocon rationales for rearranging the politics of the Middle East in Israel’s favor? You know the line: It’s not about the interests of Israel. It’s about doing good for all humanity.
Dowd clearly crossed a line here, not even mentioning how Senor himself would propagandize his policy recommendations. Instead she implies that Senor is simply trying to advance Israel’s interests. This is a flagrant example of the loyalty issue—that Senor’s main loyalty is to Israel even though he has a powerful position in American politics.
This is exactly the sort of thing that the ADL goes after tooth and nail. We expect to see condemnations and demands that the offending person be fired forthwith. Followed usually by abject apologies.
A search of the ADL’s website does indeed find a complaint about Dowd. It’s a letter to the NYTimes on a column she wrote in 2009 about our predatory financial elite:
While one can agree or disagree with Maureen Dowd’s portrayal of Goldman Sachs and other bankers (column, Nov. 11), her statement that “the bankers who took government money and then gave out obscene bonuses are the same self-interested sorts Jesus threw out of the temple” potentially raises one of the classic themes of anti-Semitism linking Jews and abhorrent money-lending practices.
However unintentional, Ms. Dowd’s invoking the New Testament story to illustrate our current financial mess conjures up old prejudices against Jews.
I rather doubt that the vast majority of Dowd’s liberal non-Jewish readers made the connection. The ADL’s angst was doubtless fueled by the reality that in fact Jews are vastly overrepresented (see here and here) among the predatory financial elite. The ADL operatives are holed up in their bunker assuming that all non-Jews immediately make these connections, when the reality is that such connections are far more likely to be made by Jews than your typical terrified and cowed intelligent non-Jew whose bible is the NYTimes and who loves liberal columnists like Dowd.
So if they were so touchy about any hint that Jews were involved in the financial scandals, why give her a pass on this one?
I don’t know. But it may be that the ADL is hoping the entire thing will just go away. Sometimes the ignoring strategy is best. Since everyone who is paying attention knows full well that in fact Senor and other prominent Jewish neocons are promoting foreign policy that is in their ethnic interest, at some point they lose credibility. And the incredible chutzpah of Netanyahu in more or less demanding that the U.S. go to war with Iran makes it pretty difficult to maintain that Israel has nothing to do with it. Plus the fact that Dowd is notoriously liberal and thus generally on the same side as the Jewish community on domestic issues.
And some people are just too big to bring down easily, so there is a certain risk in attacking Dowd—that such attacks will result in a loss of credibility. There’s definitely an art to continually lying through your teeth that black is white and expecting people to fall in line when the results are completely contrary to their interests. You have to pick your battles and hope that things don’t get too out of control.
But having said that, the fact that they avoided this battle may be a sign that the organized Jewish community is on the defensive on the role of Jews in U.S. foreign policy. It’s about time.