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Obama’s ‘Dog Whistle’ Attraction to Critics of Our Israel Policy Brings Reaction From the Lobby

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You remember Merrill McPeak, the tall, lean retired general and military adviser for Obama who said last week that Bill Clinton was behaving like Joe McCarthy? Well in The American Spectator, McPeak is accused of a lack of political correctness on Israel:

In a 2003 interview with the Oregonian,
McPeak complained that the "lack of playbook for getting Israelis
and Palestinians together at…something other than a peace
process….We need to get it fixed and only we have the authority with
both sides to move them towards that. Everybody knows that."

The interviewer asked McPeak: "So where’s the problem? State? White House?"

replied: "New York City. Miami. We have a large vote — vote, here in
favor of Israel. And no politician wants to run against it."
(as if it’s needed): Jews — who put Israel over every American
interest — control America’s policy on the Middle East. And McPeak has
the audacity to accuse Bill Clinton of McCarthyism.

also claims that a combination of Jews and Christian Zionists are
manipulating U.S. policy in Iraq in dangerous and radical ways: "Let’s
say that one of your abiding concerns is the security of Israel as
opposed to a purely American self-interest, then it would make sense to
build a dozen or so bases in Iraq… This is

McPeak also noted: "The secret of the
neoconservative movement is that it’s not conservative, it’s radical.
Guys like me, who are conservatives, are upset about these neocons
calling themselves conservative when they’re so radical."

Guys like McPeak are upset because they think Jews have too much influence.

[In McPeak’s view] American policy is the
product of "religious Jews and neocons" who in McPeak’s mind are just
as much to blame for a lack of peace in the Middle East as are Hamas
and Hezbollah.

I’m gratified to learn this about McPeak! Sounds like he wants to get religious agendas out of our foreign policy. And the attack is interesting for 2 reasons:

1, Despite his own vagueness on Israel/Palestine, Obama clearly is attracting huge support from people like McPeak, Americans who regard the Israel/Palestine issue as absolutely central to our foreign policy and want to end the reign of special interests in this arena.
This is a wide group of sophisticated Americans, including Lincoln Chafee and Zbig Brzezinski and Richard Silverstein (who directed my attention to the attack). All of us know that Obama is going to say the "right thing," but we trust him to approach this issue in the end in an evenhanded way. In this sense, Obama is a political "dog whistle" on Israel/Palestine: the people he wants to hear it are hearing it. And McPeak, a conservative, is echoing a lot of my leftwing politics here: self-determination for the Palestinian people, the neocons as guys with a religious agenda, Israel’s security…

I hear this sort of critique from smart gentiles (and progressive Jews, too) all the time. This political segment is so large that it’s only a matter of time before Obama comes out more publicly on this issue. And not demagogically. The race speech was just a warmup for "the Israel speech." That’s why I think this election cycle and Obama are so potentially earthshaking…

2, the Spectator’s attacker, Robert Goldberg, adopts the aggrieved, vicious tone that is typical of  supporters of Israel when they encounter the groundswell against them. He says that McPeak has "twisted views" –later "bigoted views"– and suggests that Samantha Powers lost her place in Obama’s campaign because of her "belief in the malign omnipotence of the ‘Israel lobby.’"

has a Jewish problem and McPeak’s bigoted views are emblematic of what
they are…. until he accepts
responsibility for allowing people like McPeak so close to his quest
for the presidency, Obama’s sincerity and judgment will remain open

Goldberg is enforcing a code of political correctness, and using the red flag of antisemitism to do so. Sorry– smart Americans have now learned that there’s a difference between criticizing Zionism and being antisemitic. Goldberg is a reactionary in the classic definition of the term: he is lashing out at a progressive movement that is gaining traction in society for real reasons, in this case the awareness among many Americans that the American interest has been sacrificed to a policy of supporting everything Israel does. Let them call us names. When there is an open debate in this country about the 60-year-long policy of over and over denying the Palestinian right to self-determination, inflaming the Arab world, our side will win.

P.S. Silverstein makes the following point:

If McPeak made any sort of mistake here it was trying to use shorthand
to encapsulate a very complex issue. The Jews who prevent the U.S.
government from playing a robust role in lobbying for
Israeli-Palestinian peace are not merely those living in New York or
Miami, of course. But rather, they are the militantly pro-Israel groups
like AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee, ADL, ZOA, etc. who seek to
ensure that the U.S. will exert no pressure whatsoever on Israel to
vacate any of its hardline positions.

True; and all the more reason for Jews to want an open discussion of these matters: so that the diversity, to the extent there is diversity, will manifest and flourish.

Philip Weiss

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

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