Rules of engagement

Rules of engagement

Felix: How’s your morale, Greshler? 

Murray: Comme ci comme ça, sir. 

Felix: Fellas making fun of your nose? Saying, “Why do we need artillery, we’ve got Greshler’s nose? The Army can’t find a gas mask to fit him. When he looks up, it looks like a two-car garage.” 

Murray: I never heard that one before, sir. 

Felix: I’ve heard it. They’re saying that, Greshler.

The Odd Couple, “That Is the Army Mrs. Madison,” Oct. 26, 1973

At what point do our communal complaints about anti-Semitism plant the very ideas that we are trying to fight?

The debate over the Iran deal ain’t beanball, and both sides have gotten down and dirty to make their points. President Obama has whined about the power of the “lobbyists” lined up against the deal, instead of making the kind of level-headed, fact-based case that has fallen to supporters like Daniel Kurtzer (see page 12) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.). The other side has made crazed Chamberlain and Holocaust analogies, and have even attacked Chuck Schumer, an avowed opponent of the deal (with an explanation that is calm, rational, and well-argued), for not working harder to corral his fellow Democrats. 

And then there were, inevitably, those who played the anti-anti-Semitism card, accusing the White House of “Jew-baiting” and claiming that the deal’s supporters are tagging Jewish opponents of the deal with the “dual-loyalty” charge.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, for example, wrote that the “spectacle of labeling Senator Schumer and other opponents of the controversial Iran Nuclear deal as ‘warmongers’ who are more loyal to Israel than America is the lowest form of gutter politics seen in our country since Joe McCarthy.” 

Their evidence for this line of attack is pretty slim, however. The SWC release cites “eblasts, political cartoons, and sound bites” echoing the dual-loyalty charge, but without specifics. The Anti-Defamation League (see op-ed, page 22) points to the Twitter hashtag #dumpschumer as a “focal point for much of the vitriol,” along with a cartoon on the progressive website Daily Kos labeling Schumer a “traitor.”

But while these lines of attack are ugly and play on classic anti-Semitic stereotypes, they hardly seem mainstream. And in drawing attention to them, defense groups run the risk of making connections that may never have occurred to the general public.

Describing “warmongers” as an anti-Semitic trope is a case in point. No doubt, you can find examples, as recently as the Iraq war, of Jews being accused of dragging their “host” nations into war. But there are plenty of hawks who aren’t Jewish (Hello, John Bolton! Good morning, Mike Huckabee!). And plenty of supporters of the deal fear that its alternative is war. They should be able to make this case without being labeled anti-Semitic.

Similarly, pundits and defense groups see any angry opposition to AIPAC as an attack on Israel and the Jews. They invoke Walt and Mearsheimer, who portray pro-Israel activists as a fifth column. But the pro-Israel lobby is savvy and political, and is using the democratic and perfectly legal tools of political activism to win veto-proof opposition to the deal. Most Americans understand the Jewish connection to Israel; a majority of Americans, and an overwhelming number who are evangelical Christians, actually share it. We can’t let the Walts and Mearsheimers win by protesting too much.

An editorial by the Jewish website Tablet kick-started a lot of this talk of anti-Semitism and dual loyalty. It described “this use of anti-Jewish incitement as a political tool” as a “sickening new development in American political discourse.” A cynic might argue that playing the anti-anti-Semitism card is a way to discredit and neutralize supporters of the Iran deal. Tablet’s attacks on Obama were strained and over the top. But even if well-intentioned, Tablet made the debate less about Iran, and more about the Jews.

Jewish groups can’t be blamed if their anti-Semitism gauges are on a hair trigger. But in this case they are not just crying wolf, but doing the wolf’s work for him. 

It’s too late to keep this debate from running off the rails, but we can at least try to agree on a few principles going forward:

It is not “traitorous” for an American to care deeply about Israel’s security and well-being. Sometimes siding with its government over the White House or Congress is not a question of “loyalty” — it’s a policy disagreement.

To point out the influence of lobbyists is not (necessarily) anti-Semitic; it is acknowledging political reality. If your participation in this rough-and-tumble game makes you uncomfortable when someone points it out, you shouldn’t be in the game. 

Members of any political party do not automatically owe their “loyalty” to their party or president. If more politicians were willing to cross party lines, our political system wouldn’t be as paralyzed as it is. 

It is not anti-Semitic or anti-Israel to suggest that the United States sometimes has national interests that do not align with Israel’s. They are two sovereign countries. 

Finally, we should be able to debate the Iran deal without being accused of being on Team Obama or Team Netanyahu. We should discuss the deal on its merits, even when politicians and activists on both sides insist we pick a side.

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