Exactly 60 years before the terrorist attacks of 2001, September 11 became a day of infamy for many Americans because of what Col. Charles A. Lindbergh said to an audience in Des Moines, Iowa, that day.  Speaking as a member of the America First Committee, Lindbergh warned his listeners, in words that immediately became world-famous, that “the three most important groups that have been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jewish, and the Roosevelt administration.”  He did allow that others—“a number of capitalists, Anglophiles, and intellectuals who believe that their future and the future of the world depend upon the domination of the British Empire,” as well as the communists—were the “major war agitators” in the United States.  But ever since, it is not as an Anglophobe, an anticapitalist, an anticommunist, an anti-intellectual, or an anti-Roosevelter that Lindbergh has been known, but as an antisemite.

If the ruin of Lindbergh as a spokes-man for anti-interventionism dates from his Des Moines speech, so does the canard that anyone who opposes American intervention in foreign wars is probably at least as much of an antisemite as he was.  Lindbergh, in the same speech, hastened to add that “It is not difficult to understand why Jewish people desire the overthrow of Nazi Germany” and that “no person with a sense of the dignity of man-kind can condone the persecution of the Jewish race in Germany,” but such qualifiers did not help him, and they do not help those who have followed him more recently in suggesting any significant Jewish role in pushing for U.S. military intervention in the Middle East on behalf of Israel and against Israel’s Arab enemies.

The most obvious targets of the charge of antisemitism have been such paleoconservatives as Pat Buchanan and Joseph Sobran (not to mention, at one time, The Rockford Institute itself), but, in the last few months, the fingers have begun pointing once more.  In the wake of the controversy over Trent Lott last December, neoconservatives David Frum and Max Boot chose to call the demon of antisemitism from the vasty deep in yet another effort to relieve themselves of paleoconservative arguments to which they seem incapable of responding with either relevance or civility.  Mr. Frum, whose taste for ad hominem attacks on paleos marred his first book on the conservative movement, wrote on National Review Online (December 20) of “the obsessive anti-semitism that one finds among the paleos” and claimed that,

In public, they use either transparent euphemisms like “the Israel lobby” or rather more opaque ones like “neoconservative.”  Whatever the terminology, their dislike and fear of what they perceive as Jewish influence and Jewish conspiracies is the foundation of their politics and in some cases the whole of it.

Mr. Boot, an obscure young man who only recently has begun to splatter and splash in the kiddy pools of neocon journalism, leapt to add his own weighty authority to the insights of the learned Frum.  Writing on the Wall Street Journal editorial page last December, he took issue with the whole concept of neoconservatism, claiming that what that term usually describes is really just plain conservatism.  Some who use the term, like Mr. Buchanan, he wrote, “have ulterior motives,” because they want to claim the mantle of the “true faith” of conservatism for themselves, and

When Buchananites throw around “neoconservative”—and cite names like Wolfowitz and Cohen—it sometimes sounds as if what they really mean is “Jewish conservative.”  This is a malicious slur on two levels.  First, many of the leading neocons aren’t Jewish. . . . Second, support for Israel—a key tenet of neoconservatism—is hardly confined to Jews; its strongest constituency in America happens to be among evangelical Christians.

Young Mr. Boot’s fallacies in the above passage are obvious enough: If neoconservatism is not, as he argued, a meaningful term, how can support for Israel be one of its “key tenets,” how could “many of the leading neocons” be identified at all, and, if “many of the leading neocons” are not Jewish, why would the term serve as a plausible code word for Jews?  As for Mr. Frum, he offered no evidence whatsoever for his smear that neoconservative is a “transparent euphemism” to mask antisemitism, and, indeed, the charge ignores almost every criticism paleos have made of neoconservatism in the last 20 years or so—criticism that focuses almost entirely on its ideological content and not at all on the ethnicity of those who espouse it.

The minicampaign to smear as antisemites paleoconservatives and anyone else who uses the term neoconservative in any critical way was a bit of a flop, revealing the intellectual flaccidity of the neos rather than disclosing anything true or important about paleos.  But the hunt for antisemitism was far from over.  Not long after the contributions of Mr. Frum and Mr. Boot to elevated public discourse last December, the discussion was uplifted further by a somewhat similar article in the Washington Post by Lawrence F. Kaplan, senior editor of the New Republic and coauthor with neocon guru William Kristol of a new book pushing for war against Iraq.  Mr. Kaplan avoided flogging the dying horse of the semantics of neoconservatism and struck straight to the heart of the issue of Jew-baiting.  Beginning with the ubiquitous Pat Buchanan, Mr. Kaplan spewed forth an immensely long list of writers, right and left, who supposedly have said publicly (no code words for these chaps) that “the Jews” are responsible for pushing the United States toward war with Iraq.  “From the musty precincts of the Old Right,” Mr. Kaplan began, “the contention that Israel and a powerful cabal of its American supporters have manufactured the present crisis with Iraq has become canonical.” 

Such a “contention,” however, is by no means confined to the Old Right, he noted.  Historian Paul Schroeder, columnist Georgie Ann Geyer, the Nation’s Jason Vest, former senator Gary Hart, and a long list of others have said much the same thing.  Mr. Kaplan’s defense against such preposterous charges is, first, that the main members of the alleged pro-Israel “cabal” in the Bush administration, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle (now departed), are “surely hawks—but not merely on Iraq” (they have demanded U.S. military intervention almost everywhere, and, therefore, cannot be said to be shills for Israel); second, that “many
of these officials” (what officials exactly? Jewish officials? pro-Israel officials?) “have also had profound disagreements with their Israeli counterparts—not least on the question of whether Iran or Iraq represents the greater threat” (threat to whom? Israel or the United States? And why is that a “profound” disagreement?); and, third, that “the Cabinet-level officials driving the current debate” over Iraq “have mostly been non-Jewish Goldwater Republicans” (presumably, he means Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Richard Cheney, both of whom, however, are heavily influenced by hawkish neocon advisors: Mr. Wolfowitz himself, in the case of Mr. Rumsfeld; Lewis Libby, a former student and colleague of Wolfowitz, is Mr. Cheney’s chief of staff; and Stephen Hadley, also one of Wolfowitz’s former subordinates at the Pentagon in the Bush I administration, is deputy to Condoleezza Rice, whose advice to the President on Iraq policy has generally been hawkish as well).

Yet despite Kaplan’s rather lame attempts to refute the claim that “a powerful cabal of [Israel’s] American supporters have manufactured the present crisis with Iraq,” the statement is clearly true—regardless of the merits of U.S. belligerency toward Iraq or the motives of those who pushed for it.  As the aforementioned Jason Vest, writing in the Nation, and Stephen Sniegoski, writing for the Last Ditch (www.thornwalker.com/ditch), have shown beyond any plausible doubt, those pushing for “regime change” in Baghdad ever since (and even before) the September 11 attacks have been mainly neoconservative, mainly pro-Israeli, and mainly Jewish.  To cite only one example, Mr. Sniegoski and other investigators note a 1998 open letter to President Clinton from the neoconservative Committee for Peace and Security in the Gulf, advocating U.S. action to oust Saddam Hussein; the letter was signed by no fewer than 12 current officials in the Bush administration known to be pushing hawkish policies toward Iraq, including Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Wolfowitz, as well as Richard Perle, William Kristol, and Mr. Kaplan’s own boss at the New Republic, Martin Peretz.  Most of these gentlemen are known as neoconservatives, and most are Jews known for their pro-Israel positions.  When Mr. Kaplan writes that claims about a powerful cabal of Israel supporters manufacturing the crisis with Iraq are “untrue,” he is simply lying.

Whether such claims are true or not and whether Mr. Kaplan and similar Iraq hawks are lying or not, the real problem, according to Mr. Kaplan, is that these claims “are toxic,” because they invoke the “specter of dual loyalty.”  Which brings us back to Colonel Lindbergh.

What made September 11, 1941, a day of infamy for many American Jews was that they interpreted Lindbergh’s speech to imply that those Jews pushing for the United States to enter World War II were doing so because they placed their own group interests above those of the country of which they were citizens.  Whether that is what he really said or meant is not terribly important now.  What is far more important is that certain policymakers in the Bush administration today have been pushing for war with Iraq at least since the September 11 attacks and, in some cases, since well before the current Bush administration even existed.  Most, but not all, of these policymakers and their allies in the media are Jews, and all, Jewish or not, are wont to boast of their fervent support for Israel.  Why, then, is it “toxic” to ask whether they, for whatever reason, have put Israel’s interests before those of the United States?

Obviously, no one can know the real motives of those pushing for war with Iraq (although neoconservatives like Mr. Boot and Mr. Frum never hesitate to discover the “ulterior motives” of paleos), and, no doubt, some do so because they see no conflict between the interests of Israel and those of the United States.  It would be bracing indeed to find an issue where they do see a conflict, let alone one in which these same individuals came out against Israel and in favor of the United States.  The commitment to Israel among many of these policymakers and their allies is so strong, so transparent, and so long-lasting, however, that, far from being “toxic,” the question of which country’s interests they have been pursuing (and using American resources and troops to do so) is an obvious and morally necessary one to ask.

Neoconservatives who denounce that question and anyone who asks it as “toxic” clearly do not want it answered—perhaps for good reason.  Yet, while genuine antisemites may hurl the question zealously, the legitimate purpose of asking it is not to defame “the Jews” in general but to discover what specific advocates of a particular policy really want.  A good many American Jews probably do not support what Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and their associates have been pushing for the last five years or more, but there is no doubt that the neoconservatives and their allies in the Likud’s Washington office do—not only the mainly Jewish New Republic but also the mainly non-Jewish American “conservative movement” (now essentially neoconservative) and the entirely non-Jewish Christian Right.  So committed are these particular groups to the interests of Israel that it would be irresponsible and highly improbable not to wonder about the extent to which they would be willing to favor those interests, even at the expense of those of their native country.

So far, then, from spitting out the question Mr. Kaplan thinks is so “toxic,” paleo-conservatives and all other loyal Americans ought to digest it and its implications thoroughly.  The United States has been drawn into a foreign war and perhaps endless complications arising from that war (including terrorist attacks) not because our own interests and security demanded it, but because those who conceived and crafted the policies that led to war were principally concerned with the interests and security of another state.  If that is not a correct interpretation, neoconservatives would do well to tell us why it is wrong.  Those who did so seriously and managed to abstain from their constant, tiresome, and irrelevant whine about the “toxic” and “obsessive antisemitism” of any criticisms might actually enrich the public discussion of foreign policy, while allaying legitimate and increasingly widespread questions about their own loyalties and about just whose language and behavior constitute the real infamy.