In the Arena

Likudnik Paranoia

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Uh-oh, there’s another wave of attacks–both here and in Israel–on those of us who support Israel, but not in the mindless, aggressive way that neoconservatives do and not at the expense of America’s national interests. Over there, Bibi Netanyahu has proclaimed the New York Times and Haaretz the “biggest” enemies of Israel. Over here, my old buddy Abe Foxman and assorted other declaimers of anti-semites and anti-semitism have added the Center for American Progress and Media Matters to their blacklist  for using a term I’ve used in the past, “Israel Firster.” What we have here is a problem of conflation.

Over there, Bibi Netanyahu conflates the best interests of Israel with the best interests of Bibi Netanyahu. Over here, we have a small but noisy group of people who conflate the American national interest with what they (mistakenly) perceive to be Israel’s national interest.

Let me make two points:

1. The U.S. and Israel are allies, and I’m sure we always will be. But our national interests and priorities don’t always coincide. Iran is certainly a high priority for Israel–less so for its nuclear program than for the fact that Iran is arming far more immediate threats to Israel’s security, Hizballah and Hamas. Iran is less of a national security threat to the United States. It does sponsor terrorism, which makes the regime our enemy; it may well be trying to produce a nuclear weapon, which isn’t good news, either–although the Iranians are not crazy and would only want a bomb as a deterrent against neighbors like Israel and Pakistan who have nukes. Iran is certainly less of a threat to our national security than Pakistan, which already has 100 nuclear weapons, an unstable government and a military with a history of Islamist coups (and has been funding Taliban factions that are killing American troops in Afghanistan). And a pre-emptive war with Iran would be an unnecessary disaster, although I do not underestimate the possibility that such a war may take place if Iran crosses some bright line and initiates it.

It seems to me that more than a few of those Americans who are pushing for war with Iran place Israel’s national defense priorities above own own–not just neoconservatives, but evangelical Rapturians and politicians like Newt Gingrich (funded by Sheldon Adelson–a classic Israel Firster, in that, by all reports, the only issue that motivates his largesse is a Likudnik view of Israel), and Rick Santorum, who has actually said that he wants to bomb Iran. They’re dangerously wrong; they have an inalienable right to be foolish; they even have the right to place Israel’s national security concerns first. But  such people go disgracefully overboard when they designate those of us who disagree with them as “anti-Semites.”

Which brings me to my second point: I remember when the Anti-Defamation League had better things to do–during the civil rights movement; and during the period when Jews were discriminated against in college admissions, housing and a whole host of other areas. The ADL was an iconic institution back then; I considered Abe Foxman a hero. He is not anymore. He wantonly accuses people like David Petraeus, and me–and institutions like the Center for American Program and Media Matters–of anti-Semitism. He has debased a very important currency.

I’m not carrying water for CAP or Media Matters. I’ve disagreed with both in the past and both have criticized things I’ve written (although neither accused me of being a bigot). Calling them anti-semitic is absurd, though. Calling David Petraeus anti-semitic because he implied that Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories made life more dangerous for U.S. troops in the region–well beyond absurd, since he was implying an obvious truth.

And I must say that being called an anti-semite by these people is surreal. Elliott Abrams launched a gross attack on me in the Weekly Standard based on a misinterpretation of something I wrote. I clarified that misinterpretation here. But Abrams never acknowledged that he had gotten it wrong. This is the sort of neoconservative thuggery that has become too familiar to those of us who disagree with these self-appointed defenders of Israel (or their perverse fantasy of Israel).

Israel is in perilous place right now, more isolated than it has been in years. The Arab Spring has pretty much ended the cold peace with Egypt. It has ended the stable standoff with Syria. The alliance with Turkey is over, too. Hamas still lobs rockets from Gaza; Hizballah has grown even stronger–and better armed by the Iranians–since the 2oo6 war. I support Israel’s right to defend itself against such threats. But I don’t support everything Israel does, certainly not its expansion of illegal settlements on the West Bank, certainly not the increasing influence of religious zealots who want to impinge on the rights of secular Israelis.

Those are the real threats to Israel’s existence–not the New York Times, Haaretz, CAP, Media Matters, Tom Friedman or me. The attempts to turn us into “enemies of Israel” are paranoid, demagogic and obnoxious.