(January 16, 2014 / JNS)
Here are three disturbing memes about Jews and Israel that I’ve noticed in three separate-but-related news stories recently.
Meme Number One: “You’re Ungrateful”
Here’s State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf responding to reported remarks by the Israeli Defense Minister, Moshe Ya’alon, attacking Secretary of State John Kerry. “We find the remarks of the defense minister to be offensive and inappropriate, especially given all that the United States has done to support Israel’s security needs and will continue to do,” said Harf.
Now, one can certainly argue that Ya’alon’s description of Kerry as “obsessive” and “messianic” was injudicious—after all, he’s a government minister, not a newspaper columnist. Rightly, Ya’alon apologized. But what’s striking about Harf’s response is that she doesn’t defend Kerry’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which was what sparked Ya’alon’s overly candid criticism. Instead, she effectively accuses the Israelis of biting the hand that feeds them, a theme beloved of the extremists on left and right who argue that Israel is an unconscionable drain upon the U.S. Treasury.
As Israelis know well, the principal and most valued defender of Israel is not the United States, but the Israel Defense Forces. Additionally, the vital strategic relationship between Israel and the U.S. is much more balanced than Harf’s comments suggest. The United States doesn’t have to risk its troops by stationing them on Israeli soil, in marked contrast to other Middle Eastern countries. Meanwhile, Israel enhances American security by, among other things, exporting more than $1 billion worth of military technology to the U.S. every year.
Meme Number Two: “You’re Warmongers”
The Obama Administration’s trashing of anyone expressing doubts about the deal struck last November with the Iranian regime over its nuclear program contains, of course, an Israeli dimension. Objecting to the new Iran sanctions bill co-authored by Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL), veteran California Senator Dianne Feinstein opined that the proposed legislation was bolstering a “march to war.” And who is directing this heinous agenda? Feinstein once more: “We cannot let Israel determine when and where the United States goes to war.”
What Feinstein’s statement insinuates is that Israel has, in the past, done just that. Those who supported the survival of Saddam Hussein’s barbaric regime in Iraq consistently argued that Israeli pressure was a key reason why the U.S. went to war there in 2003; hence the need to prevent a repeat of that pattern more than a decade later in the case of Iran. In one stroke, all the complexity of the Iran situation—the disquiet among Arab countries over Obama’s Iran policy, the strengthening of Iran as a regional power with dire consequences for Syria and Lebanon, the summary dismissal of successive U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding that Iran end its uranium enrichment activities— simply disappears. All we are left with is the impression that the Israelis are pushing us into another unwanted war, aided by their dupes on Capitol Hill.
Meme Number Three: “You’re Israel-Firsters”
I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve encountered, over the last few years, the slanderous notion that pro-Israel American Jews (the vast majority) are more loyal to Israel than to the U.S. So frequently has this accusation been voiced that it has added a new term—“Israel-Firster”—to the political lexicon.
So do we come to the recent New York Times op-ed by former FBI official M.E. Bowman urging that Jonathan Pollard, who has spent almost 30 years in an American jail after being convicted of spying for Israel, remain incarcerated. Much of the evidence that Bowman cited against Pollard is, at best, tenuous. Nor did he explain why Pollard should not be entitled to clemency, given that he didn’t kill or harm anyone, and that the Cold War is long over (compare that with Israel’s decision to release nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu after he served an 18 year sentence).
It’s therefore difficult to disagree with Tablet magazine’s courageous assertion that “in order to cover their own incredibly damaging mistakes and failures, the national security establishment is keeping Pollard in prison on the apparent grounds that Jews are especially prone to disloyalty.” As the magazine goes on to point out, what’s involved here is “a real injustice whose perpetuation is clearly intended to suggest that all American Jews are, inherently, potential traitors to their country.”
Separately, all these three examples are alarming enough. Taken together, they demonstrate that American public discourse about the Middle East is much more receptive to ideas that we thought had been discredited by history. That’s why, when the next instance of Iranian nuclear duplicity surfaces, get ready for the chorus proclaiming that it’s all the fault of Israel and its supporters.
Ben Cohen is the Shillman Analyst for JNS.org. His writings on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Ha’aretz, Jewish Ideas Daily and many other publications.