The Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman is taking on General David Petraeus for what Foxman calls the "dangerous and counterproductive" linkage that Petraeus made between American support for Israel and the United States’ security.
During a recent Senate hearing, Petraeus, the commander of American troops in the Middle East and South Asia, said that the Israel/Palestine conflict "foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel." You can read the full testimony here (pdf).
Some mainstream news outlets have reported on the testimony, and the New York Times had a "news analysis" that included the above quote from Petraeus, though it was buried at the end of the article.
Petraeus’ testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee followed a March 13 report by Foreign Policy’s Mark Perry that has caused a lot of buzz all over the Internet. Perry reported that Petraeus had dispatched a team on Jan. 16 of senior military officers to brief Admiral Michael Mullen on the fact that "there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM’s mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region, and that Mitchell himself was (as a senior Pentagon officer later bluntly described it) ‘too old, too slow … and too late.’"
Here’s the full statement from Abe Foxman:
The assumptions Gen. Petraeus presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee wrongly attribute "insufficient progress" in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and "a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel" as significantly impeding the U.S. military mission in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and in dealing with the Iranian influences in the region. It is that much more of a concern to hear this coming from such a great American patriot and hero.
The General’s assertions lead to the illusory conclusion that if only there was a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the U.S. could successfully complete its mission in the region.
Gen. Petraeus has simply erred in linking the challenges faced by the U.S. and coalition forces in the region to a solution of the Israeli-Arab conflict, and blaming extremist activities on the absence of peace and the perceived U.S. favoritism for Israel. This linkage is dangerous and counterproductive.
Whenever the Israeli-Arab conflict is made a focal point, Israel comes to be seen as the problem. If only Israel would stop settlements, if only Israel would talk with Hamas, if only Israel would make concessions on refugees, if only it would share Jerusalem, everything in the region would then fall into line.
The Israel lobby is extremely worried that a decorated military officer has explicitly made the connection between Israeli policies and the safety of the United States at home and abroad. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt made the argument in their 2007 book on the lobby, and three years later, it’s hitting the mainstream.
In Perry’s report, he argues, rightly, that the Israel lobby can’t take on the military’s power. Foxman seems foolhardy to attempt to disparage Petraeus, who is highly respected in establishment circles. It will be interesting to see if AIPAC and other lobby groups pile on Petraeus now that Foxman has taken the first step, or if they will realize it’s an issue where they can’t win.
Earlier, Foxman told the Jerusalem Post that making a link between U.S. security and Israeli actions is a "particularly ‘pernicious’ argument that ‘smacks of blaming the Jews for everything.’" As Matt Yglesias, Spencer Ackerman, and Andrew Sullivan have pointed out, Foxman was calling Petraeus an anti-Semite.
Over at Jim Lobe’s blog, Eli Clifton has some good commentary:
Foxman’s decision to criticize Petraeus’s testimony seems foolhardy in two ways. First, it throws down a gauntlet for American supporters of Netanyahu. Foxman is forcing them to choose between a highly decorated U.S. General who, until recently, was a darling of neoconservatives for his “Surge” in Iraq and, on the other hand, AIPAC and the ADL’s belligerent condemnations of the Obama administration for taking offense at Netanyahu’s snubbing of Biden. An interesting strategy indeed!
Second, Foxman’s assertion that Petraeus, “erred in linking the challenged faced by the U.S. and coalition forces in the region to a solution of the Israeli-Arab conflict, and blaming extremist activities on the absence of peace and the perceived U.S. favoritism of Israel,” is simply not supported by recent polling data and news reports.
“The 2009 Arab Public Opinion Poll” (PowerPoint) found that 39% of respondents in the Arab world believe that “Israel decides its own interests and influences the U.S.” Twenty-five-percent believe that, “Israel is a tool of American foreign policy,” and 32-percent believe that, “The U.S. and Israel have mutual interests.”
Thirty-eight percent of respondents said the Palestinian issue was the most important issue for them, while another 38-percent said it was in their top three priorities and 23-percent said it was in their top-five.
The polling appears to corroborate Petraeus’s assertions that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is very important in the region and that the U.S., all too often, is seen as exhibiting favoritism towards Israel.
(H/T to Spencer Ackerman at the Washington Independent.)