The Politico Episode, Part II

Phil Weiss at his blog Mondoweiss sums up the state of play surrounding Ben Smith’s Politico story aimed at Ali, Eli, Matt Duss, and others at CAP here as of the end of this week.

Unlike Phil, however, I think the most important quote by Lanny Davis is this one: “People can disagree about Israel’s policies without being anti-Semites. In fact I think it’s a terrible mistake to blur the two.”

That’s exactly what the neo-conservatives and the right-wing leadership of the Israel lobby have been trying to do for the past decade: conflating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. While some that criticism is indeed motivated by anti-Semitism, most of it is directed at specific policies pursued by the Israeli state (a political entity and actor); not because the Israeli leadership is Jewish (whether defined culturally, religiously, ethnically, or racially). The ability to play the anti-Semitic card is perhaps the single strongest weapon in the lobby’s arsenal of arguments its critics, and the fact that Lanny Davis, a not insignificant member of the lobby establishment, is now calling for everyone to use that deadly epithet with much greater care and discrimination seems quite remarkable, particularly in these circumstances.

It could also not be more timely, given the brouhaha (whose origins, we just learned from Tablet, lie in anti-Semitism) over a recent speech delivered by the U.S. ambassador to Belgium, Howard Gutman, in which he suggested, among other things, that Israel’s actions in the Middle East, and especially with regard to the Palestinians, may contribute to the rise or decline of anti-Semitism elsewhere. For this, he was excoriated (as anti-Semitic, of course) by the lobby establishment, as well as, predictably, Republican presidential candidates whose egregious pandering to the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) this week was brilliantly satirized by John Stewart Thursday.

Paul Pillar has a good (and more sober) analysis of the Gutman controversy here.

In any event, I think one of Ben Smith’s theses in his original piece on the impact of Eli, Ali, and others at CAP on the debate on U.S. Israel and Middle East policy — may be even more correct today than when it was first published last Wednesday:

The differences are ones of tone – but also of bright lines of principle – and while they have haven’t yet made any visible impact on Democratic policy, they’ve shaken up the Washington foreign policy conversation and broadened the space for discussing a heretical and often critical stance on Israel heretofore confined to the political margins.

One would certainly hope so, in any event.

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.