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Undernews: Playing Ethnic Politics At Ground Zero

Playing Ethnic Politics At Ground Zero


One of the reasons Rep. Jim Moran thinks Jewish leaders are powerful is because the ones he sees are. Jews outside of Washington - like gun-owners, doctors, and Chamber of Commerce members outside of Washington - don't have a strong sense of just how precisely their "community" is defined daily by capital lobbyists.

There is no doubt - if one considers the 'Jewish community' as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and various large Jewish campaign contributors - that Rep. Moran was quite correct in saying that they could have a significant effect on the course of our policy in the Middle East. For example, it took only three days for them to have a significant effect on the course of Rep. Moran's career, getting his cowardly colleagues to force out of his House leadership position. Earlier, they helped to have a similar effect on Rep Cynthia McKinney, who went down to defeat thanks in part to an influx of pro-Israel money.

The fact that this Washington leadership may not accurately reflect the diversity of its national constituency is not uniquely a Jewish problem; it is part of the displacement of democracy from the consensus of the many to the will of a select few that is speeding the decline of the Republic. And never have the selected been fewer than under the present Bush.

In talking about all this, politicians and the media use two different approaches. One is the sanitized patois of ethnic sensitivity as in this from the perpetually predictable Eleanor Clift: "Moran apologized, but the historical echoes that he awakened are so antithetical to what Democrats claim to stand for that he might as well bid goodbye to his political career."

But in the same article in which he quotes Clift, Greg Pierce of the Washington Times also writes, "One political analyst said he counseled two Democratic presidential campaigns to call for Moran's resignation. 'It would be a cheap way to reassure Jewish voters,' he said. 'I don't understand why they haven't done it yet.'"

In other words, what is considered anti-Semitic when stated at a town meetings, becomes in another context just your standard keen political analysis.

When you look at the facts rather than the Washington rhetoric, you find that Moran was even more right than it appeared at first. A study by Belief Net found that only Jewish groups and the South Baptist Convention supported the military approach and every other major domination listed opposed it. True, the Southern Baptists were unequivocally in favor of war while the Jewish groups - Orthodox Union, Union Of American Hebrew Congregations (Reform), and United Synagogue Of Conservative Judaism - wanted to exhaust other alternatives first, but every other religion Belief Net checked opposed the war including the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Episcopal Church, Greek Orthodox Church in America, Mormons - Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Presbyterian Church (USA), Quakers - American Friends Service Committee, United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Unitarian Universalist Association. The Catholics weren't included but the Pope has taken a clear stand against the war.

So why go to such efforts to deliberately conceal and prevaricate concerning the role of key Jewish organizations in supporting the Iraq invasion?

Part of the answer can be found in none other than the hypocritically outraged Washington Post, in an article written by its White House correspondent, Dana Milbank, last November:

"A group of U.S. political consultants has sent pro-Israel leaders a memo urging them to keep quiet while the Bush administration pursues a possible war with Iraq. The six-page memo was sent by the Israel Project, a group funded by American Jewish organizations and individual donors. Its authors said the main audience was American Jewish leaders, but much of the memo's language is directed toward Israelis. The memo reflects a concern that involvement by Israel in a U.S.-Iraq confrontation could hurt Israel's standing in American public opinion and undermine international support for a hard line against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. . .

"The Iraq memo was issued in the past few weeks and labeled 'confidential property of the Israel Project,' which is led by Democratic consultant Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi with help from Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg and Republican pollsters Neil Newhouse and Frank Luntz. Several of the consultants have advised Israeli politicians, and the group aired a pro-Israel ad earlier this year. 'If your goal is regime change, you must be much more careful with your language because of the potential backlash,' said the memo, titled 'Talking About Iraq.'

"It added: 'You do not want Americans to believe that the war on Iraq is being waged to protect Israel rather than to protect America.' In particular, the memo urged Israelis to pipe down about the possibility of Israel responding to an Iraqi attack. 'Such certainty may be Israeli policy, but asserting it publicly and so overtly will not sit well with a majority of Americans because it suggests a pre-determined outcome rather than a measured approach,' it said."

This is not the first time this strategy has been tried. For example, in January 1991, David Rogers of the Wall Street Journal wrote:

"When Congress debated going to war with Iraq, the pro-Israel lobby stayed in the background - but not out of the fight. Leaders of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee now acknowledge it worked in tandem with the Bush administration to win passage of a resolution authorizing the president to commit U.S. troops to combat. The behind-the-scenes campaign avoided Aipac's customary high profile in the Capitol and relied instead on activists-calling sometimes from Israel itself-to contact lawmakers and build on public endorsements by major Jewish organizations. "Yes, we were active." says Aipac director Thomas Dine. "These are the great issues of our time, If you sit on the sidelines, you have no voice. . . "

"Rarely have the stakes been higher-or has a case of money and ethnic politics been more sensitive and complex. The debate revealed a deep ambivalence among Jewish lawmakers over what course to follow, pitting their generally liberal instincts against their support of Israel. Friends and families were divided. And even as some pro-Israel advocates urged a more aggressive stance, there was concern that the lobby risked damaging Israel's longer term interests if the issue became too identified with Jewish or pro-Israel polities.

". . . Aipac took pains to disguise its role, and there was quiet relief that the vote showed no solid Jewish bloc in favor of a war so relevant to Israel. "It isn't such a bad idea that we were split," says one Jewish lawmaker. . .

"Pro-Israel PACs have poured money into campaigns for Southern Democrats not immediately identified with their cause. For example, the Alabama delegation voted in a bloc with Mr. Bush in both the House and Senate. At first glance, this can be ascribed to the conservative, pro military character of the state. But pro-Israel PACs have also cultivated Democrats there in recent years."

It is hard to imagine such a frank description of ethnic politics today. Thus it is not surprising that few know that the aforementioned Thomas Dines, then executive director of AIPAC and now head of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty - is a member of the advisory committee of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq.

The Post, which didn't mentioned Dines' involvement in plotting the seizure of Iraq, described the new organization as "modeled on a successful lobbying campaign to expand the NATO alliance."

In fact, the last time the Post even mentioned AIPAC was back in August before the Iraq invasion plot took full shape. So you have to look elsewhere to find out what the Jewish leadership has been up to. For example, the Jerusalem Post reported last October:

"After weeks of debate and consideration, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which represents 52 Jewish national groups, announced its support for US military action against Iraq "as a last resort." In a statement released Saturday, the Conference of Presidents announced that all of its member groups "support President [George W.] Bush and the Congress in their efforts to gain unequivocal Iraqi compliance with the obligation to divest itself of weapons of mass destruction and the means to develop such weapons." The statement also endorsed the Bush administration's "efforts to enlist the United Nations and international cooperation to secure Iraqi compliance, including the use of force as a last resort."

The chairman of the group, Mortimer Zuckerman went a bit further, declaring that the failure to attack Iraq would "ruin American credibility in the Muslim world."

In its news release, the conference of presidents said:

"Mortimer B. Zuckerman, Chairman, and Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations issued a statement today 'reflecting the consensus of the member organizations of the Conference of Presidents,' in which they declare support for "President Bush and the Congress in their efforts to gain unequivocal Iraqi compliance with the obligation to divest itself of weapons of mass destruction and the means to develop such weapons. Iraq must conform to the resolutions adopted by the Security Council and the other standards which President Bush has specified. Such disarmament must not be hindered by Iraqi attempts to continue the pattern of obfuscation and other means of non-compliance.' The statement of the Jewish leaders continues, 'We support the efforts to enlist the United Nations and international cooperation to secure Iraqi compliance, including the use of force as a last resort.'"

Now let us imagine that the 52 Jewish organizations had instead reached a consensus that invading Iraq was illegal, unwise, unconstitutional, and an act of reckless endangerment against the whole world. Would that have influenced American policy? Of course it would.

The irony of all this is that it is primarily worth writing about because the Democratic House leadership, the Washington Post, the White House and some Jewish organizations have lied and tried to pretend it isn't so, not to mention viciously libeling a congress member who wouldn't go along with the gag. At a time when the Post is urging its readers to stock up on several days' food and buy gas masks because of the possible consequences of the internationally criminal policies it so vigorously supports, we should no longer have time or tolerance for such cynical games. If you want to die for your own faith, fine, but you have no right to take the rest of the world with you.

The danger of the dishonest debate about the Middle East was well described by Joan Didion in a recent New York Review of Books, quoted by Bill and Kathleen Christison in Counterpunch:

"[We need to] demystify the question of why we have become unable to discuss our relationship with the current government of Israel. Whether the actions taken by that government constitute self-defense or a particularly inclusive form of self-immolation remains an open question. The question of course has a history.

"This open question, and its history, are discussed rationally and with considerable intellectual subtlety in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Where the question is not discussed rationally, where in fact the question is rarely discussed at all, since so few of us are willing to see our evenings turn toxic, is in New York and Washington and in those academic venues where the attitudes and apprehensions of New York and Washington have taken hold. The president of Harvard recently warned that criticisms of the current government of Israel could be construed as 'anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent.'

"The very question of the US relationship with Israel, in other words, has come to be seen as unraisable, potentially lethal, the conversational equivalent of an unclaimed bag on a bus. We take cover. We wait for the entire subject to be defused, safely insulated behind baffles of invective and counter-invective. Many opinions are expressed. Few are allowed to develop. Even fewer change."

What we are facing is, in major part, a religious war in which bin Laden, Bush and Sharon comprise a triptych of theological terror that is putting everyone at great risk. They are each involved in a vicious heresy, falsely defining their own immoral, sadistic ambitions as their religion's moral faith. This is no time for politeness, politics or silence. And while Jews are far from alone in needing to call their leadership back to sanity, neither are they exempt.



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