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Blog Post Sparks Latest Furor, Won’t Be Last

Debating Israel in an election year

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Joe Klein.(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

A blog post has set off the shtetlsphere and illustrated the increasing rancor and touchiness as well as polarization of the Israel debate. (Before going further, I should add that I am generally complicit in this and specifically was in this case.) Yesterday, Joe Klein, the longtime Time correspondent, posted briefly about Rep. Ron Paul’s surge in Iowa:

Ron Paul has gained ground after a debate in which his refusal to join the Iran warhawks was front and center. Indeed, in my travels around the country, I don’t meet many neoconservatives outside of Washington and New York. It’s one thing to just adore Israel, as the evangelical Christians do; it’s another thing entirely to send American kids off to war, yet again, to fight for Israel’s national security.

I read this and thought it fairly remarkable. Was he saying Ron Paul was preferable to the rest of the Republican field? And that “yet again” was even more bizarre. I wanted to press Klein and ask him if he meant what he seemed to be saying: not only that an attack on Iran would be fought “for Israel’s national security” but that this would not be the first time—presumably, that Iraq was the same thing. The notion that Iraq was invaded for Israel’s sake, I personally believe, feeds into some of the weirdest and least accurate theories of Jewish neoconservatives pushing George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld into an ill-advised war.

Tablet Magazine contributing editor Jeff Goldberg noticed the same thing and had also emailed Klein, and our emails prompted Klein to respond. As in an email to me, he said that we were misunderstanding his “yet again” (“Jeff had jumped to a silly conclusion,” he wrote; I think the notion that it’s a silly conclusion is itself silly). He then expanded on his beliefs, arguing that while there were Jewish neocons pushing for the Iraq war, they were not actually responsible for it (he fingers Cheney, as would I). All in all, I think Klein’s original post was sloppy at best and likely pretty intemperate; and while his follow-up is helpful, language like “Israel First/Likudnik bloviators,” specifically in reference to people who aren’t actually Israeli or actually members or primary supporters of Israel’s Likud Party, makes me uncomfortable, conjuring as it does charges of dual loyalty that Jews really shouldn’t have to hear anymore.

But I know why Klein feels, as it seems he does, like his back is against the wall, and why he would be frustrated by “the crazed intolerance of many right-wing Jewish commentators.” I brought up in my email with him the fact that no less than Michael Oren had responded to Thomas Friedman’s column last week, with its already-notorious “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby” line. [UPDATE: Friedman clarified the line today.] “This allegation is profoundly disturbing,” Oren said. Whether or not he’s right, Oren is not an intellectual-without-portfolio (anymore). He is Israel’s official envoy to the United States. If criticism of Israeli policy—even when, as in Friedman’s case (or Douglas David J. Rothkopf’s, or Joe Klein’s), it is sloppy, or intemperate, or even worse—garners you an official condemnation from the Israeli government as well as the wrath of ostensibly nonpartisan PACs as well as accusations of anti-Semitism, then we are looking at a stifling of debate that isn’t in the interests of anyone except the Jewish right, which is attempting to turn Israel into a wedge issue in the American Jewish community.

I’m not sure Elliott Abrams warrants the label “sometimes, a feckless shmuck,” which is what Klein called him after this post. But I do wish Abrams had restricted himself to disagreeing with Klein and Friedman on the policies rather than bringing up the blood libel; and what I really wish is that he had urged his readers to, you know, disagree with Klein and agree with him rather than urged various Jewish institutions to rescind their awards and generally cut Friedman and Klein off.

We have a long election year ahead of us, and it could be a useful occasion of hashing out differences on the Mideast. Who knows, if it’s done right, a new consensus—more to the right or to the left of the current one—may actually emerge. But poorly chosen, sloppy, and just plain clownish accusations (and then defenses that are predicated on comma placement) as well as responses that head straight for anti-Semitism and call for communal shunning are not going to get it done.

(By the way, I tried to find a clip of Samuel L. Jackson telling everyone in Do The Right Thing to cool that shit out, but none are embeddable. But the line is “Y’all need to chill that shit out! And that’s the double-truth, Ruth.”)

15 Days Til Iowa: Travel Day [Time Swampland]
Clarification: Israel’s National Security [Time Swampland]
Israeli Officials Escalate War of Words With N.Y. Times [JTA]
Blaming the Jews—Again [Weekly Standard Blog]
Earlier: Ron Paul Moves Into Iowa Lead

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Bill Pearlman says:

So Friedman says that congress is bought and paid for by the international zionist conspiracy. And Klein says that the conspiracy will use that power to sacrifice American soldiers on the altar of Israel. And somehwo they’re the victims of some sort of what, persecution. If Klein is looking for feckless schmucks he should look in the mirror.

“I’m not sure Elliott Abrams warrants the label “sometimes, a feckless shmuck,” which is what Klein called him…”

Look, not everyone can be as consistent as Klein himself is.

It seems like Marc Tracy is the one trying to do the stifling (though hipster pseudo-intellectuals – fortunately – do not yet have real stifling power). When Friedman, Klein, and others make statements with anti-Semitic undertones, it is the responsibility of the Jewish community to call them out.

And what are we defining as the Jewish right? Mainstream orgs like AIPAC, AJC, and the ADL, all of which have similar positions on Israel? J Street and other self-hating organizations may enjoy popularity within certain media publications, but poll after poll shows that the mainstream organizations truly represent the community.

Joe Klein is an old media dinosaur lurching around in a digital age for which he is ill-suited to survive, increasingly shrill as opportunities for his relevance grow ever more scarce.

He belongs in an exhibit at the Clinton Presidential Library.

Hershel (Heshy) Ginsburg says:

As provided for by Israel’s Camp David treaty with Egypt, the US maintains a small force in the Sinai to monitor the peace agreement and act as a tripwire of sorts.

The only time that I know of that Israel may have counted on US troops was in the aftermath of the 1956 Sinai campaign. Eisenhower promised Ben Gurion that as a condition withdrawing from Sinai, the USA will come to Israel’s aid should Egypt attack Israel in the future.

During the spring 1967 “waiting period” before the 6 Day War when Egypt was massing its forces in Sinai in preparation for their planned invasion, Israel asked US prez Lyndon Johnson to make good on Eisenhower’s pledge and help defend it against Egypt. LBJ (regretfully?) demurred on the grounds that US forces were already over-committed in Vietnam & elsewhere. So Israel ended up dealing with the Egyptians etc. on their own and the rest is history.

Although the principle of Israel being able to defend itself by itself probably goes back to the early days of the state if not before that, LBJ’s failure to deliver on Eisenhower’s pledge probably embedded this crucial principle deep in the Israeli psyche and is reflected in all existential military planning.

This does not preclude Israeli military cooperation with others. Quite the contrary. But it does mean that Israelis recognize that when the chips are down, we have to have the capability to deal with it ourselves.


Efrata / Jerusalem

Marc R says:

RZS has it right. When confronted with problematic or ugly speech, fight it with speech. That’s what happened here.

Did anybody lose their job? Was any job actually in jeopardy? Was anybody threatened or punished in any way?

Debate wasn’t “stifled” in any way imaginable. It was joined!

Geoff M says:

To progressives, any sort of disagreement with them is equivalent to stifling them. They can dish it out but the poor sensitive souls just can’t take it.

brahmsiam says:

I haven’t followed klein since he began to rampage about Jewish neocons. That he is now plugging for Ron Paul should show where this has led him. Not to an antilikud position – are there really folks in Kadima, Avodah, or even Meretz who are Ron Paul fans? But to somewhere much stranger.

The labyrinth of exile indeed.

brahmsiam says:

and why shouldnt oren say when something is profoundly disturbing? since when have israeli ambassadors held back?

Marc R says:

How was Friedman’s position “clarifying”?

Is there even a difference between “bought and paid for” and “engineered by”? They seem like synonyms to me, or at least equivalent.

Binyamin in O says:

The knudnicks commenting above just don’t get it. Liberal Zionists like Friedman and Klein are giving you guys a friendly warning. The Zionist occupation of U.S. foreign policy is as unsustainable as the IDF’s occupation of the West Bank.

RSZ, yes Mr. Tracey is once again haplessly trying to limit the parameters of debate which in itself is pathetic beyond pathetic. Mr. Tracey and also many of the Likud entrenched obsessed warhawks who have been languishing in a hole of unquestioning fake foxhole for years have not even begun the discourse of the direction in which Israel has been pushing itself in recent years, a direction that disgusts many Jews and a direction that is and never will be above discussion..

Further more RSZ, your statements regarding this silliness of a subliminal subtext of anit-semitism really just sticks like Skippy peanut butter to the roof of your rather petty and paranoid mouth, so do attempt to rapidly mature as personal and panoramic growth warrant that you do.

RSZ, you are totally wrong. He’s a pseudo-hipster pseudo-intellectual. Real hipsters don’t listen to Phish.

Howard says:

Here is the good news.

The attempts to stifle debate work – but they do not stifle criticism – these are only strengthened and encouraged.

We have reached the point where the right wing speaks to itself only.

Loudly, to be sure, but no one else is listening.

Instead of stifling debate, you, Goldberg and the others have given Klein the most attention he’s received in years.

Richard Z. Chesnoff says:

Joe Klein should stick to anonymous novels.

Beatrix says:

Tracy, in order to justify criticism of the left, imagines an intransigent, manipulative right-wing Jewish conspiracy that doesn’t exist. The main difference is that left-wing Jews operate in the midst of increasingly antisemitic liberalism, while the right-wing Jews have Christian support. Welcome to the 21st century.

Klein’s complaints about Americans dying on behalf of Israel is nonsense. We supply money for military supplies to Israel, 75% of which has to be spent in America. We have never supplied soldiers to fight Israel’s battles.

We have increased money to Israel for “security” but I think that’s because Israel has invented 21st century weapons that have greatly benefited America. I’m guessing Drones or the idea of Drones were Israeli and the Stuxnet Worm was thought of by Israel, but largely implemented by America.

I think we’ll be allies in scientific advances, but not on the battlefield. If the left doesn’t get its head out of the 1960s, they won’t have much to offer during the coming century.

Joe Klein is very correct in his comments and conclusions and I congratulate him on his candor and honesty. I am also certain there will be more such candor filled views forthwith as honest debate and discourse cannot be stodgily stifled and is rising to the top in Jewish thought and discussion.


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Blog Post Sparks Latest Furor, Won’t Be Last

Debating Israel in an election year

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