EDITOR’S NOTE: Please see this correction.
Discussing Iraq last month on Washington Journal, C-SPAN’s live call-in program, two callers–one American and one British–telephoned to ask whether I was Jewish. I am and said so. Both suggested that Jews were responsible for sending American soldiers into harms way. This was ironic since I volunteered for duty in Iraq, and then lived outside the security parameters enjoyed by other Coalition employees. One questioned whether I was part of a secret cabal operating for other than American interests. At the suggestion that his question might be anti-Semitic, the caller insisted my religion was a valid subject for a segment dedicated to a discussion of the situation in Iraq.
Discourse has changed. While e-mails pointing out any grammatical errors are a staple of think-tank work, anti-Semitic hate mail is becoming more commonplace. “While you’re touting the glories of War, it’s noticable [sic] that you don’t put your own neocon ass on the line. You just want young American to fight and die to ’secure the realm,’ make the world safe for Israel. You’ll be the buzzard…who licks up the blood on the carcasses later,” said one e-mail. While I am often critical of aspects of the Coalition’s policy implementation, I do try to keep perspective. On May 4, I spoke on CNN about what has been going right in Iraq. Despite the press coverage on Fallujah and Najaf, there have been a number of improvements over the past year. I returned home to an e-mail stating, “Caught your thoroughly disgusting Jewish perspective on what Iraqis are going through,” its author stated. “I am sure there are plenty of bridges reserved for the likes of you,” he said, referring to the mutilation of civilian contractors in Fallujah.
That racists, anti-Semites, and other hate-mongers substitute threats for discourse is not new, although a number of Jewish journalists and analysts remark on the increasing virulence of their hate mail. The trend may be national and spread across fields. Hate crime directed toward both Jews and Muslims has increased in recent years. According to Federal Bureau of Investigation, in 2002, the latest year for which statistics are available, there were 931 anti-Jewish hate crimes and 155 anti-Muslim attacks; neither is acceptable.
What is new, however, is the infection of mainstream discourse with anti-Semitic references. The Bush administration is perhaps the most diverse in American history. There are blacks, whites, Hispanics, and Asians. There are Christians, Jews, and Muslims. The White House does not trumpet its diversity because it based nominations on ability rather than skin color. But, rather than applaud its diversity, many self-described progressives seek to attack the administration by targeting its officials on the basis of color and sectarian belief.
The anonymous intelligence officer alleged that many Washington insiders had a secret agenda “hewing to the Likudnik and Pax Americana lines.” That Jewish colleagues might advocate for the same no-nonsense approach to terrorism as their Catholic, Presbyterian, or Muslim colleagues is irrelevant to him. The article implied that Jews serve two masters while others do not.
Karen Kwiatkowski, a former Pentagon official, is another anonymous source who has used a cloak of anonymity to peddle falsehoods. Her writing betrays her bias and fringe ideology. She has claimed, for example, that there was a “neo-conservative coup” within the Pentagon and that officials strove to build a “greater Zion.” Kwiatkowski has bragged that she was the anonymous source for exposes by The New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh, Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff, and for Knight-Ridder’s Washington bureau. She claimed insight into events and offices in which she has no first-hand knowledge. Much of what Kwiatkowski told these publications was innuendo or outright fabrication.
By publishing an article based on anonymous sources, bizarre interpretation, and cherry-picked data, The Nation legitimized a conspiracy theory that powerful and high-ranking American Jews were somehow duping elected officials to pursue an Israel-first policy. Britain’s left-wing Guardian broadsheet seized The Nation’s allegations and expanded upon them. On September 3, 2002, Brian Whitaker, Middle East editor of the Guardian, wrote, “For the hawks, disorder and chaos sweeping through the region would not be an unfortunate side-effect of war with Iraq, but a sign that everything is going according to plan. In their eyes, Iraq is just the starting point…for remoulding the Middle East on Israeli-American lines.” The Guardian later reported that the Iraq desk at the Pentagon bypassed the White House and instead forged ties to a secret unit “inside Ariel Sharon’s office.” This claim is fictitious. But, once in print, such allegations become laundered into legitimacy.
Louis Farrakhan subsequently adopted the theme. “All of the agenda of the neo-conservatives was to bring President Bush in line with Israel and use the power of the American military to destroy the real and perceived enemies of Israel,” said Farrakhan on May 3, 2004. Pat Buchanan and Justin Raimondo have pursued the theme in the pages of The American Conservative.
Most disappointing has been the ease with which the questioning of Jewish officials’ motivations has infiltrated some in the academic community. University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole has accused several Bush administration employees of having “strong ties to the Likud.” In an April 16, 2004 Salon.com essay, Cole went further, alleging that Bush advisers were “mapping the Iraq conflict onto the Likud Party agenda in Palestine.” A similar theme is common among academics participating in some specialist e-mail lists which maintain a non-attribution policy. In a recent essay in Survival entitled “The End of the Neo-Conservative Moment,” Georgetown University professor G. John Ikenberry equated neoconservatism with fundamentalism, equating religious terminology with political belief.
The allegations of dual loyalty have become so legitimate that they have even crept into U.S. government interagency discourse, catalyzed by the shrillness of the policy debates between the Defense and State Departments. One recent State Department appointee to the National Security Council has described policy opponents as “the Israel Amen crowd” to her colleagues. In the run-up to the war, one State Department official telephoned several Iraqi Americans prior to a Jewish U.S. official’s visit to Dearborn and urged them not to attend a forum. According to the Iraqi Americans, the State Department official accused the visiting official of “working for the Zionists.” The Iraqi Americans were dumbfounded; they had fled Iraq to escape such baiting and had focused on policy instead of religion. This autumn, a Coalition Provisional Authority colleague suggested that my questions surrounding an Islamist effort to exclude Jews from Iraqi nationality during an early stage of the Iraqi Governing Council debate was the result of my own religious beliefs. He made no mention of similar questions raised by a Catholic colleague, or the fact that I pestered the Coalition hierarchy with regard to questions surrounding the rights of Iraq’s Yezidi population and its Christian communities. Many U.S. soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of Iraqi liberty; to cut corners on religious freedom would be a betrayal of their sacrifice and Bush administration policy. It is a matter of principle, not religion.
American Enterprise Institute scholar Joshua Muravchik has also lent historical perspective to the myth of Jewish dual loyalty, in his important article, “The Neoconservative Cabal,” published in the September 2003 edition of Commentary. But scholarship in journals of the field, and recognition among the mainstream media are two very different things.
In 1996, I was living in Iran, studying Persian and working on my dissertation. I would sometimes visit a small historical center for assistance with documents and advice on navigating Tehran’s labyrinthine bureaucracy. One day, an employee of the center came up to me and, after apologizing ahead of time for her question, asked whether I was Jewish. I confirmed I was. “Good,” she said. “A friend from elementary school is Jewish. Do you want her to show you the synagogue?”
It is disturbing when the backlash to anti-Semitic discourse comes from an Egyptian newspaper rather than the pages of the Washington Post and the New York Times. It is likewise troubling when the “Are you Jewish?” question is far more malicious in the United States than it is (sometimes) in Iran. But, then again, times are changing.
–Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.