I found David Wurmser’s speech last week frightening. He said that he was able to read "the code" on Ahmadinejad, which revealed that the Iranian president is a messianic Hitler who wants to destroy the west. Wurmser was Vice President’s Cheney’s code-reader for the Middle East, serving in the White House for many years, and in that capacity he said the same thing about Saddam Hussein, too–another Hitler. As I reported last week, Wurmser’s evil empire has shifted over ten years from Arab nationalism (Iraq) to Islamic "theofascism" (Persia). Whoever is Israel’s enemy.
As a Jew, I understand Wurmser in Jewish terms: He is a Zionist paranoid. All Jews know this type. We’ve been around them all our lives, they’re our cousins, our brothers. And from the time that the neoconservatives began promoting the Iraq war, the challenge has been to Jewish liberals and lefties to openly label the neocons’ feverish concern for Israel’s security. As I’ve said repeatedly on this blog, America won’t be healed from Iraq, and American Jewry won’t recover from neoconservatism, until these intellectual/cultural currents are identified and repudiated.
There have been some real profiles in courage on the Jewish left–among them, the late Norman Mailer, Jim Lobe of Interpress, the author Joel Kovel and Rabbi Michael Lerner. All have used their Jewish knowledge to state that there was a Zionist component to the neoconservative revolution.
Here is Kovel, before the war even began, in Wrestling With Zion:
This is one of those very difficult moments. Certainly one would not say that Jews have ‘taken control of U.S. foreign policy,’ but it’s certainly the case–and I think a very ominous case–that the Bush administration, to a much greater degree than any previous administration, has people in it who are ardent right-wing Zionists and who have actually been advisors in upper echelons of government. We don’t want to talk about ‘The Jews.’ But I think it is important to talk about people with a very strong militant imperialist sort of Zionist mentality.
The fact of the matter is that these people are substantially more powerful in this administration than they have been in any other. These are also the same people who are leading the United States into a kind of preemptive mode, which is so appalling and terrifying to the whole world. [Emphasis Weiss’s]
I disagree with what Mitchell [Plitnick] just said on that subject. I think we have to learn ways to speak about the actualities of Zionism without falling into the abyss of anti-Semitism. That’s a very, very difficult question. It’s something that’s inhibited critique of Israel for many, many years. We have to be very forthright and say that this kind of rational critique of the Zionist project is really necessary. It’s necessary in order to prevent anti-Semitism, among other things.
Brilliant, prescient statements. Mitchell Plitnick works for Jewish Voice for Peace. His belief is that the Iraq war was launched for U.S. "global interests" and that the neocons were just riding in a sidecar. He told me this when I interviewed him for the Nation about Walt and Mearsheimer two years ago. "It is absolutely crucial that mainstream Americans come to
grips with how powerful Aipac is and how much they do to stifle debate on
American policy," Plitnick said. "But they don’t decide what the American policy is." That policy is made by "American leaders." I.e., some nebulous nexus of corporate bosses and oil men. I believe Plitnick’s analysis is born of Jewish fear, the desire he stated in Wrestling With Zion to "steer" the left away from a Jewish conspiracy theory, "this idea that Jews or the Zionists or the Israelis…have taken control of U.S. foreign policy…I think it’s only going to be Jews who can stem that [view]."
Plitnick et al have succeeded in the years since the war began. He and Stephen Zunes, Norman Finkelstein, and Noam Chomsky among others, have stemmed the belief that Zionists had a crucial role in the Iraq war policy–I believe out of fear that Jews would be persecuted if the connection were made. Other liberal Jews have gone along with this anti-intellectual claim. Smart guys like Jerrold Nadler and Glenn Greenwald have fingered the neocons for their authorship of the war but declined to link their fervent Zionism to the war project. Jacob Heilbrunn came close to saying that many Iraq-planners were motivated by Israel’s security in his book on the neocons, They Knew They Were Right, but he has seemed to back away from any such suggestion in his public statements on the book. Washington Post diplomatic correspondent Glenn Kessler bravely wrote, in his Condi Rice bio,
that the Iraq war was planned in part to "help Israel," but has this assertion ever been explored in the pages of the Washington Post? When Walt and Mearsheimer made that claim in their groundbreaking book, the Post repeatedly attacked them as antisemites, while the liberal Forward editorialized, "In Dark Times, Blame the Jews." Plitnick’s concern.
And so, amazingly, this "really necessary" conversation that Kovel spoke of five years ago, before the war, has never taken place. And Hillary and Alan Greenspan, those beacons of peace, can go around saying that it was a war for oil, and the left echoes this, stupidly. (Yes, I imagine oil played a part; but Israel was a crucial part of the thinking…)
The reason that the left cannot perform this intellectual chore so necessary to an understanding of the war, is that the Jewish left is also bound up in the Zionist narrative.
The DNA of Zionism, inscribed in the movement by Herzl, is that Jews are ultimately unsafe in western democracies and
therefore need a state of their own. The Holocaust gave proof to the theory; and Israel was born. Now 60 years have passed, and modern pluralistic America is providing complete opportunities to Jews (even to be presidential advisers), and the
Zionist premise is weak. Still, this ideology remains engrained in the emotional makeup of liberal American Jews: at any moment things could turn, we need Israel for that reason alone. Such fears were Jeffrey Goldberg’s motivation to move to Israel, he writes in his memoir Prisoners, while in his new book, Aaron David Miller writes that his father continually asked his children, Who will hide you when the Holocaust comes to the U.S.? My liberal editor used to ask me that question–in the hoary old days of 2005 and ’06.
What distinguishes Kovel is that he is a post-Zionist. He has interrogated his Zionist inscription and found that it doesn’t address the realities of life here or in Palestine. Jews are safe here, and unsafe there. Until the Jewish left comes to terms with these realities, and accepts that Jews won’t be persecuted for naming the Israel-first agenda of their Likudnik neocon cousins, the left will continue to avoid the great chore that Kovel assigned five years ago, and continue to provide cover to reactionary extremists.