Blaming Israel First

In May, President Barack Obama donned a yarmulke and spoke in a Washington, D.C., synagogue. He reminded his audience that Jeffrey Goldberg, a member of the congregation, once called him the “first Jewish president.” He claimed to be flattered by the characterization. And perhaps he was-most Jews, after all, voted for him for president, and many Jews of Obama’s acquaintance have sometimes seemed to care more about the well-being of Planned Parenthood than about the survival of the state of Israel.

But recently Obama seems to have soured on the chosen people. At a press conference on July 16, Obama urged members of Congress to make their decision on the Iran deal based “not on politics. Not on posturing. Not on the fact that this is a deal that I bring to Congress, as opposed to a Republican president. Not based on lobbying.”

To which group of Americans exercising their First Amendment rights was the president referring in his strictures against lobbying? Presumably he didn’t mean J Street and other of his allies lobbying on behalf of the deal. Presumably he meant opponents of the deal. And indeed, a few days later on the Daily Show, Obama expressed his confidence that Congress would support the deal despite “the money” and “the lobbyists” working against it. In case you’re new to the murkier waters of American political science: “Money” + “lobbyists” = AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Obama’s secretary of state, John Kerry, has been less subtle. On July 18, Kerry claimed on NPR that if Congress rejects a deal, the United States will face a choice of either going to war or accepting a nuclear Iran: “And then you are right into conflict, with presidential candidates screaming at Obama: ‘What are you going to do now? You’ve got to bomb them! You’ve got to use military force!’ And, you’re going to-and Israel’s saying the same thing-and you’ll see another $20 million spent to convince people that’s what they have to do.”

According to Kerry, then, the pro-Israel lobby is spending a lot of money to defeat the deal, after which Israel and its lobbyists will push the United States to war. He made the point even more directly on July 23 at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing: “People are going to be saying, well, what are we going to do about it? They’re enriching. You’ll hear the prime minister of Israel calling me up: ‘Time to bomb.'”

The prime minister of Israel is going to call up the U.S. secretary of state and say, “Time to bomb”? Really? Has an American secretary of state ever so childishly insulted the prime minister of an ally?

The next day, on July 24, at the Council on Foreign Relations, Kerry returned to his favorite new theme. He asserted that if Congress rejected the deal, “our friends in Israel could actually wind up being more isolated. And more blamed.” In other words, the Obama administration and its allies will see to it that Israel is more isolated. And more blamed. Not because of anything Israel has done. But because the elected representatives of the American people will have rejected John Kerry’s deal.

We are old enough to remember when it was Republicans who sought to blame Israel first. President George H.W. Bush’s secretary of state James Baker was reported to have said privately, when exasperated with Israel, “F- the Jews. They don’t vote for us anyway.” Around that time, right-wing isolationist pundit Pat Buchanan remarked, “Capitol Hill is Israeli-occupied territory.” And the year before, after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, Buchanan famously said, “There are only two groups that are beating the drums for war in the Middle East-the Israeli defense ministry and its amen corner in the United States.” That amen corner included Bush and Baker, one supposes, who ignored Buchanan and expelled Saddam from Kuwait.

Baker could dismiss the Jews because American Jews reliably voted Democratic. Obama and Kerry can denigrate the prime minister of Israel and Obama can denigrate pro-Israel activists because Americans Jews reliably vote Democratic-in other words, “F- the Jews. They vote for us anyway.”

But the all-too-frequent political stupidity of American Jews doesn’t justify a White House held by either party de-legitimizing Israel’s security interests and those Americans who are concerned about them.

Eric Hoffer, the “longshoreman philosopher,” said it well 47 years ago:

The Jews are a peculiar people: Things permitted to other nations are forbidden to the Jews. Other nations drive out thousands, even millions of people and there is no refugee problem. Russia did it; Poland and Czechoslovakia did it; Turkey drove out a million Greeks, and Algeria a million Frenchmen; Indonesia threw out heaven knows how many Chinese-and no one says a word about refugees.

But in the case of Israel, the displaced Arabs have become eternal refugees. Everyone insists Israel must take back every single Arab. Arnold Toynbee calls the displacement of the Arabs an atrocity greater than any committed by the Nazis.

Other nations when victorious on the battlefield dictate peace terms. But when Israel is victorious it must sue for peace. Everyone expects the Jews to be the only real Christians in this world.

Other nations when they are defeated survive and recover. But should Israel be defeated it would be destroyed. Had Nasser triumphed last June [1967], he would have wiped Israel off the map, and no one would have lifted a finger to save the Jews….

Yet at this moment, Israel is our only reliable and unconditional ally. We can rely more on Israel than Israel can rely on us. And one has only to imagine what would have happened last summer had the Arabs and their Russian backers won the war to realize how vital the survival of Israel is to America and the West in general.

I have a premonition that will not leave me; as it goes with Israel, so will it go with all of us. Should Israel perish, the holocaust will be upon us.

Eric Hoffer lacked the pedigree of a John Kerry, the cleverness of a James Baker, the facility of a Pat Buchanan, the glibness of a Barack Obama. He was merely an American patriot, a defender of the West, an interpreter of everyday experience, and an apostle of common sense. If he were alive today, he would not be intimidated when career politicians tried to dismiss him as an apologist for the Israel lobby. He would have worn their scorn as a badge of honor. As should all of us, Jews and non-Jews, who choose to stand with Israel and to “lobby” for the national security interests of the United States.

Originally appeared in The Weekly Standard on August 10, 2015.