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As Asian-Americans Soul-Search Over Va.-Tech Shootings, Liberal Jews Must Soul-Search Over Neocons and Iraq

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A couple weeks ago I watched an Asian-American panel on C-Span talking about responses in their community to the Virginia Tech shootings. The main feeling was, shame; they worried that non-Asian Americans would blame the Asian community for the murders. I heard the same word, "shame," from two Korean-American friends. But in the end, no one blames Asian-American culture for a kid going crazy in Blacksburg. We all know that Cho is not representative.

I think that is the true thrust of my post yesterday on Scooter Libby: Where is the liberal Jewish soul-searching on Iraq? When will the liberal Jewish community dissociate itself from Libby and Feith and Wurmser, and Kristol and Abrams– and say, We understand that they were acting as nationalist Jews in pushing for the Iraq war; we denounce that sort of thinking, it must be discredited. Then discredit it by openly addressing the Israeli occupation. Until that soul-searching takes place, the "connected" liberal Jewish community, by which I mean the political insiders and public intellectuals, can rightly be accused of  some degree of complicity in this horrible war. For by failing to perform that post-mortem, they are failing their jobs, as journalists and intellectuals, to explain to American how this debacle took place.

Let me be clear. I am not singling out rightwing Jews as the agents of
the Iraq tragedy. That responsiblity can be widely shared, with Bush and
Cheney and other American-nationalist militarists, as well as with the
credulous press and the chauvinist element of the American populace
that supported the war. But the Libby letters I wrote about yesterday
underline a crucial fact of this war: that Jewish nationalists who
opposed the peace process in Israel played a key part in
producing the ideas that gave us the Iraq debacle. This is simply
indisputable. They called for an Iraq war for years, and then they were all over the White House, notably Perle, Feith, Abrams, and Cheney’s Middle East adviser David Wurmser. I
imagine that Cheney met a lot of them during his and his wife’s sojourn at
the American Enterprise Institute before 2000. I say "imagine" because the journalism has not been done on Cheney’s
ideological education.

My challenge is to the liberal Jewish community because it has given
cover to these crazed ideologues in a number of ways. First, a lot of
liberals drank the neocon Koolaid on Iraq, and gained prominence for
doing so: Thomas Friedman, Kenneth Pollack, The New Yorker Magazine.
They endorsed the neocon view that the way to respond to the 9/11
attacks was to smash something in the Arab world. As I have noted here
before, Friedman and Paul Berman (as well as neolib Lawrence Kaplan and neocon Bill
Kristol in their book) said going after Iraq was necessary because Saddam subsidized suicide bombers
in Israel–as though Israeli interests and American interests were congruent. More important, in justifying the
war, Friedman and Berman and Pollack all overlooked the Israeli
occupation of Arab lands. Pollack never mentions it in his 500-page war
manifesto, a manifesto which presumes to inform us how the Arab "street"
will respond to an invasion of Iraq.

Thus neocon support for a militaristic response to the Arab
world gained wide adherence in the liberal Jewish community. And today
the failure to anatomize the neocon madness for what it was, rightwing
nationalist Jewish thinking, suggests that the liberal Jewish community
is still infected by these ideas, still accepts them, or is in outright
denial of its acceptance. Even as the horrors multiply in Iraq.

I understand why that accounting is not taking place: fears of antisemitism. People will blame the Jews. Leander hints as
much in his comment yesterday on my post about necon social

[Yours] is such a mad line of thought that on the net – at least
considering the propagandists – it easily merges with the larger
extreme right wing conspiracy lore: freemasons, jesuits, jews and
somewhere secretly in the back a black pope pulling strings. I wouldn’t touch any of this stuff, if it wasn’t written by someone
with superior knowledge of European and especially Russian history.

Leander is imposing a literacy test. You have to know European history
before you can offer an opinion about important social and ideological
connections in Washington today. That doesn’t stop the New Republic when it comes to Mormons! And imagine for a moment that there were Muslims all over
the Bush Administration, and the U.S. then blundered tragically in the Middle East. Would
those Muslims escape scrutiny from all but those writers who had studied the
history of the Caliphate? Absurd. Journalists would try to anatomize
Muslim thought (as Paul Berman does, to his great credit, in a piece on
Islamic radicals in the latest New Republic). The same scrutiny should
come to bear on the rightwing Jewish nationalists. And until the
liberal Jewish intellectual community–which knows damn well that
fervid Zionism played a role in the Iraq war planning–undertakes that
post-mortem, it is providing intellectual cover to those nuts. Maybe out of fear of an antisemitic reaction, yes. But, a, how legitimate are those fears? And b, how selfish is it to continually valorize those fears– even as Iraq dissolves in pogroms that have nothing to do with Jewishness..

One of the most revealing pieces of information I learned this year is
that Americans for Peace Now, a noble group that has always called for
a Palestinian state, is a member of the constituent board of the evil
AIPAC. Yes: AIPAC, which bangs the Likud drum in the States, is a
representative organization. It includes rightwing groups like ZOA, but also Americans for Peace Now. Why hasn’t Peace Now broken with AIPAC? Out of fear, I am sure: the Jewish fear that if the Israel lobby in the U.S. is somehow compromised, the breathing tube for Israel will be crushed, and the Jewish state will die. I understand the fear, but look at the consequences: APN has been a party to rightwing lobbying, to an organization that refuses to condemn anti-Arab racists like Avigdor Lieberman.

A very similar complicity has taken place in the Iraq war connection. Liberal Jews have by and large banded with the neconservatives out of fear, in this case fear of reprisals against influential Jews in the U.S., and thereby utterly failed their mission as intellectuals: to tell us how this hateful war came about. Who has failed? I would single out The New Yorker and the Nation Magazines, and on from that The New York Times. If you want an honest description of the neocons as a Jewish movement, you have to go to neocons themselves, to Benjamin Ginsberg and the late Murray Friedman.

I think this entente is at last crumbling at the edges. Why? Because liberal Jews feel discomfort over the fact that they’ve been hijacked for a disastrous Middle East agenda. Three data points:

1. At a recent panel on New York intellectuals at the Center for Jewish History, Eric Alterman of the Nation said that if you look at 30 years of Commentary and The New Republic, neither magazine has "felt free" to criticize the actions of the Israeli government, despite a long history of disastrous policy. Michael Walzer half-agreed: "I do think Commentary is a Bolshevik magazine with a party line."

2. In the New Republic on-line John Judis made the heroic point that dual loyalty is imposed on Jewish intellectuals by the Israel supporters, and by accepting it they are guilty of a kind of "bad faith."

3. Tony Judt, a student of European history if ever there was one, Leander, brought up the same issue at NYU last year, lamenting that trend in intellectual life of "identity intellectuals who ask themselves of a policy, of the law or
of the war, not Is it true, is it just, is it bad or good, but rather
is it good for people like me or people like us, is it good for my
cause?" Judt was talking about leftwing Muslims on campus, yes, but also: Jewish neocons.

These statements are the shadow of the Iraq War. They represent a real discomfort in the liberal Jewish community over the bad thinking of their friends, their college roommates, their cousins: the neocons. Let the soul-searching begin!

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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