Creating people's geographies
… doesn’t himself quite escape the gravitational pull of the Israel-first mentality. At least, so far.
First, credit where its due: Time’s political columnist Joe Klein joins a growing number of journalists (Chris Hedges, Jim Lobe, Justin Raimondo, Eric Alterman) and academics (Walt and Mearsheimer, James Petras) who are speaking up and out about the belligerent and unrepresentative group of neoconservatives in the US who happen to be mostly Jewish, a signal that this elephant in the room has finally moved into the mainstream discourse after the alternative press has long been ahead of the game.
Klein has done well to speak up for the majority of Jewish Americans for whom the neocons and the Likud Lobby (ADL, AIPAC etc) definitely does not speak nor represent. As a friend noted, he starts out like a rocket in a recent Atlantic interview (Joe Klein on Neoconservatives and Iran), standing by remarks that have got the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith (ADL) in such a tizzy. Statements like: “Neoconservatism in foreign policy is best described as unilateral bellicosity cloaked in the utopian rhetoric of freedom and democracy” and observations about the Jewish neoconservatives “divided loyalties”:
“There is a small group of Jewish neoconservatives who unsuccessfully tried to get Benjamin Netanyahu to attack Saddam Hussein in the 1990s, and then successfully helped provide the intellectual rationale for George Bush to do it in 2003. Their motivations involve a confused conflation of what they think are Israel’s best interests with those of the United States. They are now leading the charge for war with Iran.”
I welcome Klein’s comments and hope they do herald the start of a much needed public dialogue in which both Jews and Gentiles can openly and honestly discuss these urgent issues.
Here are my reservations about Klein’s comments.
First, although he refreshingly repudiates the claim that Iran poses an existential threat, he seems to suggest that the Jewish American neocons do genuinely buy their own propaganda and think Israel’s existence is under threat. Klein writes (When Extremists Attack):
“I believe there are a small group of Jewish neoconservatives who are pushing for war with Iran because they believe it is in America’s long-term interests and because they believe Israel’s existence is at stake. They are wrong and recent history tells us they are dangerous. They are also bullies and I’m not going to be intimidated by them.”
While we hear this line propagated enough by the neocons and Bush-Cheney, I do not think the neocons nor Israeli Likudniks believe for a minute Israel’s existence is actually at stake. It is an elementary fact that there is no country in the region equipped to threaten Israel’s existence militarily and the neocons, I’d suggest, are well aware of this. The only thing that might perhaps be challenged is Israel’s regional nuclear hegemony, not its existence. Let us importantly distinguish between these two vastly different things.
Second, while he does not shy away from identifying neocons as Jewish, he does not resile from their essentially bellicose and misleading ‘right to self-defence’ claim that ignores the military occupation and ongoing theft of Palestinian land as crucial causal determinants either:
JG: You seem very angry at people who you specifically identify as Jewish neocons. And you’re using the word “Jewish” in ways that we haven’t seen Jewish reporters and Jewish columnists use.
JK: It’s about time. I think everyone else is too afraid to do it. Let me just make something very clear that you already know about me. I am a strong supporter of Israel. I think Israel had a perfect right in 2002 to go into the West Bank and kick the shit out of those people who were making suicide bombs. I think if they wanted to now go into Gaza and take out the people who were hitting Sderot, they would have a perfect right to do that. I am not a Walt-Mearsheimer guy. I think Jews have a perfect right to have a lobby. I do believe that there is a group of people who got involved and had a disproportionate influence on U.S. foreign policy. There were people out there in the Jewish community who saw this as a way to create a benign domino theory and eliminate all of Israel’s enemies.
Third, he makes a rather curious remark about Israel’s failure in its heinous 2006 war on Lebanon. Having aimed beyond the stratosphere with his truth rockets, again he seems to fall back to Earth with a thud, when, after Jeffrey Goldman states, “But most Israeli politicians, left and right now, seem to be believing that Iran does pose an existential threat to Israel’s existence”, he opines:
JK: That’s because they fucked up the war in Lebanon. The lesson here is, don’t let an Air Force guy run your military.
I would like to know what would qualify as a ‘success’ in destroying a country’s infrastructure and over 1000 of its civilians in a pre-planned war, all on the pretext of a border incident. Were the war a military success, would it have been justified?
As Nicholas Blanford notes meanwhile (Israel and Hizbollah ready to rumble?), Israel’s daily air incursions into Lebanese airspace with Israeli jets and reconnaissance drones have actually been ramped up. According to Timur Goksel, these provocations are aimed at Hezbollah: “The Israeli overflights have increased lately and it looks like the Israelis are provoking Hizballah into showing their deployments.”
Another important quibble comes courtesy of Philip Weiss. While applauding Klein (“Klein … opens up the essential conversation that I have been calling for for years…”), Weiss also takes Klein and Goldberg to task for their subtext suggesting that this is a Jewish dialogue and calls for political inclusiveness in the debate:
“What seems to make Klein not “a Walt and Mearsheimer man” is the religious issue that pervades the interview. He’s Jewish, they’re not. Nah Nah! Klein and Goldberg happily play their Jewish cards in this interview. But what if you’re not Jewish and don’t care for Israel? Or you’re an Arabist, or you’re a Jewish non-Zionist? Well, you’re not really invited to have an opinion that will be taken seriously. Imagine if only Christian evangelicals got to call the evangelicals out on their political agendas!”
Jim Lobe, Philip Weiss and my friend M. Idrees Ahmad rightly applaud Klein’s candour and courage. In a preambular comment, Idrees writes:
“People are now able to discuss this critical issue openly, and the hawks are on the defensive. The likelihood of a new war is diminishing. And none of this would have come to pass without the intervention of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. We owe them — and other courageous men like Philip Weiss, Jim Lobe, Chris Hedges, Alex and Andrew Cockburn, Uri Avnery, Jimmy Carter, Justin Raimondo and Seymour Hersh — a debt of gratitude.”
Similarly, Justin Raimondo (Joe Klein Speaks Truth To Power: but how long will they let him get away with it?) rhapsodises:
“Good for Joe! – and good for “J Street,” and good for Philip Weiss, who has done yeoman’s work in this area: people are finally beginning to stand up in the Jewish community, and say: Enough with the extremism. Enough is enough. Let them join with the overwhelming majority of the American people who want to take back our foreign policy from a small but influential minority of Israeli-centric ideologues, and start putting American interests first, in the Middle East and everywhere.”
For more background on the dust-up, see also Jim Lobe and Daniel Luban’s coverage (Neocon Flap Highlights Jewish Divide) and for a thoughtful psychological profile of the neocons, see Jim Lobe’s Speaking of Humiliation. In his most recent post (Klein-Neo-Con Conflict Gathers Steam), Lobe writes that he hopes the controversy “will hopefully soon move into the mainstream press” where a debate is so sorely needed, not least to prevent another war-disaster.
Joe Klein has gotten us off to a good start.