The campaign to demonize Chuck Hagel in the run up to his possible confirmation hearings as Secretary of Defense is going full swing. As I told my readers the other day, “get ready for a mudslide of smears and innuendo as the [Israel] Lobby homes in for the kill.” Twenty-four hours later, there are so many entrants into what appears to be a competition to see who can come up with the nastiest smears that one has a hard time deciding on a winner. After some deliberation, however, I have to give Bret Stephens, the Wall Street Journal’s foreign affairs editor, the prize.
As I predicted, the “Jewish lobby” comment has taken center stage in this manufactured controversy, and Stephens is quick to jump on it:
“Prejudice—like cooking, wine-tasting and other consummations—has an olfactory element. When Chuck Hagel, the former GOP senator from Nebraska who is now a front-runner to be the next secretary of Defense, carries on about how ‘the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here,’ the odor is especially ripe.
“Ripe because a “Jewish lobby,” as far as I’m aware, doesn’t exist. No lesser authorities on the subject than John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of The Israel Lobby, have insisted the term Jewish lobby is ‘inaccurate and misleading, both because the [Israel] lobby includes non-Jews like Christian Zionists and because many Jewish Americans do not support the hard-line policies favored by its most powerful elements.’”
This has to be a first: a former editor of the Jerusalem Post citing Walt and Mearsheimer as an authority. Oddly, Walt’s endorsement of the Hagel nomination is proof enough for Bill Kristol and his band of neoconservative Orcs that Hagel is the second coming of Adolf Hitler — but never mind. Trying to discern an internal consistency in the hysterical ululations of this crowd is like searching for meaning in the squeals and squawks of chickens in the barnyard: it’s just a lot of noise, signifying nothing — nothing but pure malice, in Stephens’ case, with a good dose of paranoia thrown in for good measure.
The hate campaign against Hagel does indeed have an olfactory element, although I would compare it to what may come after cooking, wine-tasting, or similar “consummations.” It is the stench of paranoia, of a touchiness so hyper-sensitive it is nearly debilitating. It does no good to explain to such people that there’s nothing to be afraid of, that the demons they see lurking around every corner are a product of their own insecurities and inner demons, but Peter Beinart tries:
“Stephens is enraged that Hagel uses the term “Jewish” rather than “Israel” lobby. And it’s true that while some hawkish pro-Israel groups—the American Jewish Committee, for instance—are exclusively Jewish, others like Christians United for Israel, are obviously not. So yes, the groups that lobby for America to support the policies of the Israeli government are substantially, but not exclusively, composed of Jews.… Hagel was imprecise. Call the Anti-Defamation League.”
Well, as a matter of fact, Jennifer Rubin did call the Anti-Defamation League, so Abe Foxman could get his two cents in, and, as you might expect, the man who saw anti-Semitism in the campaign to memorialize the Armenian holocaust detects anti-Semitism in Hagel. However, in what must be a disappointment to Stephens and his fellow paranoiacs, he isn’t going to bother opposing the nomination. Abe must be in recovery.
Stephens continues with his olfactory analogy, underscoring his laziness as a writer as well as an analyst:
“Ripe because, whatever other political pressures Mr. Hagel might have had to endure during his years representing the Cornhusker state, winning over the state’s Jewish voters—there are an estimated 6,100 Jewish Nebraskans in a state of 1.8 million people—was probably not a major political concern for Mr. Hagel compared to, say, the ethanol lobby.”
This brings us back to Beinart, who correctly notes the presence of the nutty Christian fundamentalists who are the Lobby’s loyal foot-soldiers, and are surely legion in Nebraska, never mind in the Nebraska GOP. Yet Hagel didn’t pander to them, just as he won’t pander to AIPAC: we call that integrity, a virtue the former Nebraska senator seems to have a good supply of — and of which Stephens, for his part, seems not to have the slightest understanding.
Pouring out his fear and hatred like vomit from a drunk, Stephens continues with the olfactory imagery, as unpleasant as the emotions that drive it:
“Ripe because the word ‘intimidates’ ascribes to the so-called Jewish lobby powers that are at once vast, invisible and malevolent; and because it suggests that legislators who adopt positions friendly to that lobby are doing so not from political conviction but out of personal fear. Just what does that Jewish Lobby have on them?”
I don’t know what dictionary Stephens is consulting, but the word “intimidates” implies the exact opposite of invisibility: indeed, the Israel lobby makes no bones about its efforts to intimidate anyone who opposes their agenda. As Kenneth Marcus, head of something calling itself the “Louis D. Brandeis Center,” put it in a fundraising letter to his supporters just the other day:
“We are hitting a nerve. These [Palestinian student] organizations fear us, because they know we are having an impact.”
The “Brandeis Center” engages in “monitoring” campuses for activism they perceive as being “anti-Israel,” which they equate with “anti-Semitism,” and they are trying to use the power of the State to shut those activists up. Marcus and his crew have been advocating using the 1964 Civil Rights Act to silence Israel’s critics on campus, claiming such activities lead to an atmosphere that supposedly endangers Jewish students. This goes beyond mere intimidation: it is the equivalent of holding a gun to someone’s head while demanding STFU.
What is one to make of Stephens’ inability to comprehend that, when it comes to the Israel lobby, politicians pander, and that their votes and rhetorical support may not reflect their actual convictions — when, just a few paragraphs back, he had no trouble understanding this simple concept as applied to the ethanol lobby? As Daniel Kurtzer, US ambassador to Israel during the Clinton administration, put it to Politico:
“Anybody who has ever talked to senators or congressmen behind closed doors knows you hear a lot of that. A lot of people won’t talk about that publicly, but Hagel talks about it in public. One can question whether it’s good politics from his standpoint, but it’s not a view that’s foreign on the Hill. … A lot of lawmakers resent being called anti-Israel if they don’t sign these letters. Then, they go out and sign these letters.”
Of course they do, because they know if they don’t they’ll be badgered to their political deaths by a fanatic Lobby that sees enemies around every corner and under every bed. They see enemies even among Israel’s friends, such as Hagel, who has declared his friendship on many occasions and yet refuses to forget his primary loyalty, which is to the United States of America. And this is what really rankles Stephens:
“Ripe, finally, because Mr. Hagel’s Jewish lobby remark was well in keeping with the broader pattern of his thinking. ‘I’m a United States Senator, not an Israeli Senator,’ Mr. Hagel told retired U.S. diplomat Aaron David Miller in 2006. ‘I’m a United States Senator. I support Israel. But my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States. Not to a president. Not a party. Not to Israel. If I go run for Senate in Israel, I’ll do that.’”
“Read these staccato utterances again to better appreciate their insipid and insinuating qualities, all combining to cast the usual slur on Jewish-Americans: Dual loyalty. Nobody questions Mr. Hagel’s loyalty. He is only making those assertions to question the loyalty of others.”
If you don’t understand how distinguishing American from Israeli interests is a “slur” of Jewish-Americans then you don’t understand the “logic” of the paranoid style: because nothing but a pledge of allegiance to the Jewish state, even over and above the US, is going to satisfy someone who believes the whole world is out to get Israel. Like a jealous lover whose unreasonable fears of betrayal can never be assuaged, Stephens refuses to believe Hagel when he says “I support Israel”:
“This is the sort of thing one often hears from people who treat Israel as the Mideast equivalent of a neighborhood drunk who, for his own good, needs to be put in the clink to sober him up.”
What can one do in the face of such intransigent paranoia except throw up one’s hands in despair?
Stephens goes on to enumerate Hagel’s many policy sins, such as urging Israel “to show its commitment to peace” — clearly a reference to the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion — and refusing to sign the numerous letters condemning this or that Arab entity routinely circulated by the Lobby. Yet he seems to realize, on some level, how unreasonable his tone must sound to someone not afflicted with a persecution complex, and tries to ameliorate it by writing:
“In fairness to Mr. Hagel, all these positions emerge from his belief in the power of diplomatic engagement and talking with adversaries. The record of that kind of engagement—in 2008, Mr. Hagel and John Kerry co-authored an op-ed in this newspaper titled ‘It’s Time to Talk to Syria’—hasn’t been stellar, but at least it was borne of earnest motives.”
But even while appearing to give Hagel the benefit of a doubt, Stephens can’t quite contain his suspicion that this goy from Nebraska is trying to put one over on him:
“Yet it’s worth noting that while Mr. Hagel is eager to engage the world’s rogues without preconditions, his attitude toward Israel tends, at best, to the paternalistic. ‘The United States and Israel must understand that it is not in their long-term interests to allow themselves to become isolated in the Middle East and the world,’ he said in a 2006 Senate speech. It’s a political Deep Thought worthy of Saturday Night Live’s Jack Handey. Does Mr. Hagel reckon any other nation to be quite so blind to its own supposed self-interest as Israel?”
I don’t know about Hagel, but, come to think of it, I don’t reckon any other nation is quite so blind to its real national interests than is Israel at the present moment. After all, what other American ally utterly dependent on US aid would allow its Prime Minister to openly intervene in our presidential election against the soon-to-be-victorious incumbent? If you were the head of a state which garners $3.5 billion annually from the US Treasury, would you embarrass a visiting American Vice President by underscoring your contempt for him and his government?
Paternalistic? If anyone has the right to offer Israel fatherly advice, then surely it is these United States of America. Or is that $3.5 billion we’re handing over to them every year considered tribute from a vassal rather than aid to a valued friend?
In a concluding paroxysm of paranoia, Stephens lashes out:
“Now President Obama may nominate Mr. Hagel to take Leon Panetta’s place at the Pentagon. As a purely score-settling matter, I almost hope he does. It would confirm a point I made in a column earlier this year, which is that Mr. Obama is not a friend of Israel. Perhaps the 63% of Jewish-Americans who cast their votes for Mr. Obama last month might belatedly take notice.”
Paranoids are constantly looking for confirmation of their fears, even if they’ll suffer in the process, and Stephens certainly fits that profile in spades: I almost hope he does. That would give Stephens and the neocons who dragged Romney down to defeat the chance to say “I told you so!” And that’s something a crazy person would almost find preferable to victory.
Stephens’ craziness is widespread in the Likudnik community, as this Jerusalem Post column by Caroline Glick — a former Chicagoan turned Israeli — exhibits unashamedly. The Hagel nomination, she avers, echoing Stephens (or is he echoing her?) is a deliberate insult:
“Obama wants to hurt Israel. He does not like Israel. He is appointing anti-Israel advisers and cabinet members not despite their anti-Israel positions, but because of them.”
“Hagel,” she screeches, “will place Israel in his crosshairs”!
They insult us! They hate us! They want to hurt us!
To these people, it doesn’t matter that Hagel has said he values our alliance with Israel and considers them an ally on the basis of shared values. It doesn’t matter that Obama has gone out of his way to reassure the Israelis that “we have your back” — because, after all, a paranoiac’s panic is induced by inner demons who can never be calmed. And the more one tries to reassure them, the more their irrational fears and suspicions are aroused. Trying to appease them only makes them demand more and louder declarations of loyalty. They don’t need reassurance, or even arguments: what they need is therapy.
The paranoid style fits the Lobby like a glove, because Israel is itself the product of the paranoid idea that Jews are unsafe everywhere, and that in order to protect themselves from the ever-present threat of another Holocaust — yes, even here in the United States! — they require a state of their own.
They insult us! They hate us! They want to hurt us! — so come to Israel, commit to aliyah, as Ms. Glick did, and you’ll finally be safe. That’s their message to American Jews, and Jews the world over. Promoting paranoia isn’t just a matter of psychopathology, its also a matter of political pragmatism: by pushing the outdated and frankly ridiculous notion of Israel — and the world’s Jews — as a people besieged, the militarism and growing authoritarianism of the world’s only Jewish state is rationalized and reinforced.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
The Israel lobby’s smear campaign against Chuck Hagel is an absolute outrage: they are hurling every mudball they can get their hands on at him, and of course the main charge is "anti-Semitism" – because he wont’ kowtow to the Lobby and proudly declares that, while he supports Israel, "I’m a United States senator. I’m not an Israeli senator."
To ordinary Americans, of course, such a sentiment is called patriotism: to the Lobby, it’s high treason. Welcome to Bizarro World!
I was on Twitter last night, and I was sickened to see that the "buzz" is that because the evil Washington Post has come out editorially against Hagel, his nomination is supposedly doomed. I thought to myself: Really? Is the editorial page editor of the WaPo, a notorious neocon, really going to dictate the future of American foreign policy? Do these people really have that kind of power – or do we, the people, have the power?
I decided to put this question to the test. So I posted a White House petition on the White House petition web site supporting Hagel’s nomination and urging the administration to fight for him.
We have until January 18, 2013, to get 25,000 signatures – on which occasion the White House will have to respond in some manner.
This is important. If the War Party gets away with this vicious campaign of character assassination, then they can get away with anything. The American people want out of Afghanistan, just like they want out of Iraq – and they overwhelmingly oppose war with Iran, which the War Party is pushing like hell. Hagel opposes their war plans: he has opposed the murderous sanctions on Iran, and has advocated diplomacy over military action. He has consistently and bravely stood up to the Israel lobby, and refused to sign on to their numerous "open letters" urging the administration to kowtow to Tel Aviv.
No, the Washington Post editorial board doesn’t have the last word when it comes to the vital issue of war and peace – not if you speak out and let your voice be heard. Yes, we can have an effect – but only if you act now.
One month – 25,000 signatures. It’s doable – so let’s do it.
Please go here to sign the petition.
You can follow me on Twitter here.
Buy the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Forward by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon, here.
Buy my biography of the great libertarian thinker, An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard, here.
And, don’t forget, I write a monthly column for Chronicles magazine, where I really let loose: you can subscribe by going here.