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Role of Sharon Government and Its American Friends in Promoting War with Iraq Is Subject of Controversy

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
March - April 2003

As the debate over the merits of conflict with Iraq increased across the U.S., the role of the Sharon government and some of its American friends in promoting war became a subject of widespread controversy.  

On “Meet The Press,” host Tim Russert read from a Feb. 14 column by the editor-at-large of the Washington Times, Arnaud de Borchgrave, who wrote of a “Bush-Sharon doctrine,” declared that “Washington’s Likudniks have been in charge of U.S. policy in the Middle East since Bush was sworn into office,” and argued that the “strategic objective” of senior Bush administration officials was to secure Israel’s borders by launching a war to democratize the Arab world.  

Russert then turned to one of his guests, Richard Perle, chairman of the Defense Policy Board, a key advisory panel to the Pentagon, and one of the most outspoken proponents of war with Iraq, and asked: “Can you assure American viewers across our country that we’re in this situation against Saddam Hussein and his removal for American security interests? And what would be the link in terms of Israel?”  

The fact that some architects of the administration’s policy toward Iraq have close ties with Israel’s right-wing has been widely publicized. A 1996 paper prepared by Richard Perle, Douglas Feith and David Wurmser and published by the Israeli think-tank, the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, was entitled, “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.” It was intended as a political blueprint for the incoming government of Benjamin Netanyahu.  

The paper stated that Netanyahu should “make a clean break” with the Oslo peace process and reassert Israel’s claim to the West Bank and Gaza. It presented a plan whereby Israel would “shape its strategic environment,” beginning with the removal of Saddam Hussein and the installation of a Hashemite monarchy in Baghdad, to serve as a first step toward eliminating the anti-Israel governments of Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Iran.  

Written when they were private citizens, the paper was about securing not U.S. but Israeli interests. Now Perle heads the Defense Policy Board, Feith is Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy, and Wurmser is special assistant to State Department chief arms control negotiator John Bolton. In 1996, they advised Israel to “shape its strategic environment” by removing her enemies. Now, they are proposing that the U.S. shape the Middle East environment by removing these same enemies.  

Discussing Tim Russert’s question, The Forward (Feb, 28, 2003) noted that, “It was a startling question, especially when directed at Perle, the poster boy - along with Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith - for anti-Semitic critics who insist that the U.S. is being pulled into war by pro-Likud Jewish advisers on orders from Jerusalem ... Russert ... is generally regarded as a balanced, first-rate journalist in sync with the zeitgeist of Washington’s media and political elite. If Russert is asking the question on national television, then toothpaste is out of the tube: The question has entered the discourse in elite Washington circles and is now a legitimate query to be floated in polite company.”  

The Washington Post (Feb. 9, 2003) in a front page story by Ronald Kaiser headlined “Bush and Sharon Nearly Identical on Mideast Policy,” included a paragraph outlining the rightward shift among American Jewish organizations: “Over the past dozen years or more, supporters of Sharon’s Likud Party have moved into leadership roles in most of the American Jewish organizations that provide financial and political support for Israel.”  

With regard to the organized American Jewish community, The Forward (March 14, 2003) reports that, “The most audible voices are pro-war, and they’re making themselves heard ... It’s true, as countless commentators have pointed out ... that America’s 6 million Jews are divided on the war, like other Americans. But the organized Jewish community tilts heavily toward war ...”  

Professor Stanley Hoffman of Harvard, wrote that among those promoting war “is a loose collection of friends of Israel, who believe in the identity of interests between the Jewish state and the United States ... These analysts look on foreign policy through the lens of one dominant concerns Is it good or bad for Israel?”  

Rep. James Moran (D-VA), answering a question at a community meeting in Reston, Virginia, said that, “If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this.” Six Northern Virginia rabbis called upon Moran to resign, stating that, “At issue is not mere political disagreement ... Rep. Moran has regularly singled out the Jewish community and its historical support for the state of Israel for criticism that echoes the most scandalous rhetoric of the last century.” American Jewish Committee Washington-area director David Bernstein said, “Jim Moran’s past record indicates that he has a problem with Jewish political power.”  

Moran apologized for his remarks and declared that he had no intention of resigning. He said that his remarks, while regrettably phrased, were not “anti-Semitic” and reported that his daughter was about to marry a Jewish man and was converting to Judaism, The Washington Jewish Week (March 13, 2003) declared that Moran “completely ignores the canard he has raised, never directly addressing the anti-Semitic implications of his remarks - that Jews are powerful enough to control the government, the typical rhetoric of conspiracy theories and anti-Jewish extremism.”  

In The Forward’s view, “It might be argued that the Jewish community, having entered America’s political debate as a visible player during the last generation, ought to be ready to take the heat when its consensus views - on the Middle East, foreign aid, church-state separation or any other matter - are contested. There’s merit in that. Once you’ve weighed in you can’t go crying anti-semitism every time someone disagrees with you. It’s something else entirely, however, when opponents raise dark specters of excessive Jewish influence on the fate of the world. That sort of talk plays into ugly bigotries that are too fresh in memory and all too ready to re-emerge.”  

In a column in Slate, columnist Michael Kinsley, citing the activities of a number of American Jewish organizations, poked fun at them for rushing to condemn Rep. Moran while posting laudatory comments on their own Web sites hailing the pro-Israel lobby’s potent ability to get things done. He writes “You shouldn’t brag about how influential you are if you wanted to get hysterically indignant when someone suggests that government policy is affected by your influence.”

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