Wednesday, February 19, 2003

TNR contributor Lawrence Kaplan has written an op-ed in the Washington Post essentially accusing of anti-Semitism those writers--including Pat Buchanan, Georgie Ann Geyer, Chris Matthews, Robert Novak, and several other lesser-knowns--who blame the Bush administration's militancy against Iraq on the alleged pro-Israel loyalties of an influential group of Jewish "neoconservatives" in the Bush camp. Mickey Kaus calls Kaplan's claim "disingenuous and self-refuting", and attributes some merit to the "dual loyalties" charge. (He also points out a Post analysis piece by Robert Kaiser that pretty much endorses the Buchanan-Geyer-Matthews-Novak view.)

Now, nearly every "anti-war" demonstration on the planet these days is replete with banners egging on the terrorist campaign against Israel. And several prominent American foreign-policy luminaries openly link their opposition to an American attack on Iraq with their desire that the US concentrate on pressuring Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. Under these circumstances, it's certainly odd that somehow the Jews in the Bush administration are the ones whom Kaus has chosen to suspect of loyalty to a foreign cause.

Still, Kaplan's accusation of anti-Semitism is, to be blunt, a misguided and superfluous ad hominem attack. Perhaps some of his targets are anti-Semitic, and perhaps they are not; but their position on the war on Iraq, or on neoconservatives, is pretty weak evidence one way or the other. For example, Kaus and Joe Klein both take the "dual loyalty" charge seriously, and presumably neither of them is a rabid anti-Semite.

The real problem with the Kaus/Klein thesis, though, is that it is every bit as superfluous and irrelevant an ad hominem attack as Kaplan's original anti-Semitism accusation. Perhaps Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and Douglas Feith are deep-cover moles for the Mossad--and perhaps they're not. Perhaps Mickey Kaus and Joe Klein are in Yasser Arafat's pay--and perhaps not. Perhaps Martin Luther King Jr. had Communist sympathies (he did), Nelson Mandela was a terrorist leader (he was), and Margaret Sanger (the founder of Planned Parenthood) was a eugenics enthusiast (she was). But apart from historical interest, these details of the unsavory motivations of certain leaders have no bearing on the justice of the causes which they led. And opponents of those causes who treat the leader's motivations as evidence against the cause (as has often, in fact, been done) are merely demonstrating their inability to mount serious arguments for their oppositional case.

The motives of the Buchanans and Matthews and Novaks and Kauses and Kleins of the world are probably more complex than mere reflexively anti-Israel partisanship--let alone anti-Semitism. Buchanan and Novak do, indeed, have long histories of demonizing Israel, often most unfairly. Matthews, on the other hand, cultivates a working-class Catholic populist perspective, and tends to enjoy picking fights with elite intellectual types like the Pentagon's cerebral neoconservatives. Klein's point of view, judging by his writing, is that of an unreconstructed Peres/Beilin-style Israeli dove, to whom American Jewish neoconservatives' real crime is not support for Israel but rather support for Sharon's hawkish Likud party. And Kaus is an inveterate liberal contrarian who loves taking stances that his ostensible political allies would find irritating.

But their basic argument--that attacking Iraq is bad because high-ranking Pentagon officials are motivated by staunch pro-Zionist views--is self-evidently vacuous. And their corollary--that the US should back off Iraq and start putting pressure on Israel to capitulate to Palestinian demands--is also just plain foolish, for reasons I've amply detailed elsewhere. Moreover, it remains irredeemably dopey irrespective of the loyalties of either the view's proponents themselves, or of the Pentagon officials they excoriate.

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