One day last week this newspaper’s banner headline wasn’t about pressing news. Prompted by George W. Bush’s memoir Decision Points, it informed us that the former US president “rejects claim that Israel was behind Iraq war.”
Cause for celebration? Are we vindicated at last?
It’s not that we didn’t know that Israel’s security was hardly uppermost on Bush’s scale of priorities. It’s not that we ever suspected him of going to war for us. Still, it’s nice, perhaps for the sake of keeping the formal record straight, to have Bush’s denial of yet another anti-Jewish conspiracy theory.
Yet it’s not as if the propagators of such trash would be convinced. They’re likely the last who’d take Bush’s word for much, just as they wouldn’t take ours. Truth is hardly their paramount preoccupation. If anything unites America’s Left and Right – and lots in between – it’s the uncommon alacrity to blame Jews for whatever ails the world, though few would admit this in our era of political correctness.
Already during the first Gulf War uber-conservative Jew-baiter Pat Buchanan insisted America attacked Iraq at Israel’s behest (although Israel was Scudded as a result of a war it had nothing to do with and although the elder Bush scarcely disguised his antipathy to Israel).
Buchanan wasn’t alone. In early 2004 then-soon-to-retire senator Fritz Hollings (D-South Carolina) wrote an op-ed for Charleston’s Post and Courier charging that the war in Iraq was fought for Israel, to win Jewish votes for Bush. He pinpointed the cabal to three latter-day Elders of Zion: Defense Policy Board member Richard Perle, deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz and columnist Charles Krauthammer. Hollings went on to defend his article in a congressional speech. To put things into context, he once called fellow-Democrat Howard Metzenbaum “the senator from B’nai B’rith.”
It may have been tempting to dismiss Hollings’s rants about Jewish neoconservatives brainwashing Bush were it not for the powerful echoes his diatribe set off. Retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, whom Bush himself incredibly dispatched to this region in the role of honest broker, had to be taken more seriously.
Like Hollings, Zinni maliciously suggested that Israel was guilty of hijacking American foreign policy through its neocon strike force, which instigated the invasion of Iraq in order to bolster Israel’s position. Zinni homed in exclusively on Jewish names: Wolfowitz; Perle, undersecretary of defense Douglas Feith; National Security Council member Elliott Abrams; and vice president Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby.
“I think it’s the worst-kept secret in Washington, that everybody – everybody I talk to in Washington – has known and fully knows what their agenda was and what they were trying to do,” ex-envoy Zinni expounded on 60 Minutes in May 2004.
Unsurprisingly this spurious Jewish connection attracted instant knee-jerk support from neo-Nazi David Duke. But more disconcertingly, others were coming out of the woodwork too – on the opposite side of the political spectrum. Cindy Sheehan, the American antiwar activist whose soldier son fell in Iraq, quickly joined the screeching chorus. She first charged that Jewish neocons sent her son to die for Israel in a letter to ABC’s Nightline, from which she later unpersuasively appeared to somewhat backtrack in an interview with CNN.
Sheehan of course gave neocons way too much credit for championing Israel. Their neocon agenda was apple-pie American. Israel might have benefited indirectly on the premise that what’s good for America may by necessity also be good for Israel. From Israel’s perspective, however, it ain’t necessarily so – certainly not always.
Could Sheehan proffer a single even tenuous shred of evidence supporting her accusation? She didn’t even try. Yet her calumny was resonated eagerly by sympathetic scribblers, ultraliberal propagandists, populist pacifists and political provocateurs.
INEVITABLY HARANGUES like hers and Zinni’s were injected into our own public discourse and portrayed as portents of escalating displeasure with Israel. In order to deflect it and preempt excruciating pressure, hectored our own left wing, Israel must yield and cede territory.
So what else is new? Pogrom-sponsoring czars routinely exhorted the masses to “beat the Jews and save Russia.” All too many in the US – from Duke and Buchanan to Sheehan – intuitively sense that “beat the Jews and save America” is an irresistible battle cry.
Many in Washington are chronically predisposed to subscribe to any paranoid conspiratorial canard about Jewish manipulations of American opinion and White House occupants. It’s indistinguishable from the pre-World War II hysteria of US isolationists alleging nefarious Jewish plots to drag America into war.
Fearing the backlash of assorted xenophobes, nativists and anti-Semites, FDR avoided any show of sympathy toward persecuted Jews. The last thing he could countenance was American troops believing they were fighting – heaven forefend – to save Jewish lives (many servicemen did anyway thoroughly imbibe this prevalent falsehood).
Roosevelt’s chilling callousness toward the Jews, whom Hitler screamed he was going to annihilate, harmonized with prevailing sentiments. That’s why in 1939 the liner St. Louis was turned away from Florida and returned to Europe with 907 desperate German-Jewish refugees, hundreds of whom (children included) were thereby doomed to perish in the Holocaust. Their blood forever dishonors America’s legacy.
This same bloodstained Judeo-phobic mantle was sported by those who dissuaded the Allies from bombing rail tracks to Auschwitz and the crematoria therein (though industrial targets only five miles eastward were attacked).
Jews and the Jewish state were never popular among the US’s political or military elites. Anybody in the mood to be shocked needs only peruse Joseph Bendersky’s exhaustively researched The Jewish Threat to realize how snugly Zinni, Sheehan et al. fit this mold.
Things didn’t improve postwar. Bombastic General George Patton regarded displaced and traumatized Holocaust survivors as sinister scum. He confined these Jews in DP camps under his command, within barbed-wire enclosures, in stark contrast to his treatment of German civilians – admiration for whom he never bothered to conceal. When Dwight Eisenhower ordered him to drop his overtly anti-Jewish measures, Patton brashly retorted: “Why should I?”
Nowhere as uncouth and vulgar, General George Marshall nevertheless espoused identical sentiments. He vigorously opposed American recognition of the Jewish state, lest it alienate oil-rich Arabs and abet the dreaded Reds. This outlook predominated throughout the Cold War. When Henry Kissinger furthered détente, those who whispered about “the secret forces of Judaism” undermining America had no qualms branding him a KGB agent.
Perle and Wolfowitz couldn’t be accused of secretly serving communism, so they were accused of serving Israel’s cause and of sending Americans to die for a new generation of foreign Jews.
These aren’t esoteric episodes dredged from the dark recesses of a distant irrelevant past. What was continues to be what is. Even in a seemingly changing world, some things never change. Even if Bush hotly denies that nasty neocons pulled his strings, there will be those – especially in the Obama administration – who’ll swear the neocons did and who’ll demand that sinful Israel pay.