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: