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Obama the Anti-Semite?

Critics of the Iran nuclear deal seek to inoculate themselves from pushback by leveling claims of anti-Semitism at President Obama and others who have noted the warmongering agenda of many of the right-wing “pro-Israel” groups.

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There’s an odd, but not altogether surprising, line of attack developing against the Obama administration and other proponents of the Iran nuclear deal: that they are anti-Semites. How did this happen? The meme mostly owes to salvos from neoconservatives and other right-leaning publications lashing out; so far, the most notable of the attacks have come from the Wall Street Journal‘s opinion pages, the liberal-but-right-wing-on-Israel Jewish online magazine, Tablet and of course, the Weekly Standard.

In the JournalRuth Wisse declared that Barack Obama had a “blind spot” on anti-Semitism, perhaps “because it has been so much a part of his world as he moved through life,” citing the years of Obama’s youth spent in “Muslim Indonesia.” The editors of Tablet, went much farther: Obama was engaging in “Jew-baiting and other blatant and retrograde forms of racial and ethnic prejudice,” as well as using “anti-Jewish incitement as a political tool.” Not to be outdone, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Elliott Abrams took to the pages of the Weekly Standard to accuse Obama of “feeding a deep line of anti-Semitism that accuses of American Jews of getting America into wars,” adding that Obama’s defense of a deal made for an “eloquent denunciation of those who disagree with him as warmongers with dual loyalty, who will be ‘demanding’ war with Iran.”

That the agreement’s proponents are accusing its opponents of dual loyalty was dealt with ably by the Israeli-American pollster and journalist Dahlia Scheindlin, who, in the course of a rousing defense of the deal, wrote: “The very idea that there’s something wrong with dual loyalty is obsolete. It’s a fossilized relic of single-identity patriotism to the patria from centuries past. Nowadays, people migrate, have mixed heritage, multiple citizenships, meta-state communities and even multiple sexualities.” (This is something I, as an Iranian-American, understand fully.) The absurdity Scheindlin points to is all the more inane because of the groups and figures opposing the deal: sure, many of them are “pro-American,” so to speak, but they are almost all in the “pro-Israel” camp (though not everyone in that camp is against the deal). What does it mean to be “pro-Israel” if not to care for Israel’s interests?

That said, what’s most curious about attacking Obama with the allegation of anti-Jewish bias is that he is actually aligned with an apparent majority, albeit a slim one, of American Jews. While their co-religionists in Israel oppose a deal—though a cadre of former top security officials have supported the agreement, the political establishment there roundly opposes the nuclear accord, and a plurality of its electorate, according to a poll published in an Israeli paper, actually favor war with Iran—American Jews support this deal, according to two out of three polls (including the only one commissioned without an advocacy agenda).

The debate, however, is not about public opinion surveys of American Jews, but rather about the American Jewish establishment. Tablet seems to complain that the administration has targeted “lobbying” as a proxy for accusing Jews of dual loyalty. But the administration and its supporters are actually attacking the lobbyists, chief among them the influential pro-Israel group AIPAC, which launched a multi-million-dollar effort to defeat the deal in Congress. The billionaires who support AIPAC (and a host of other neoconservative and right-wing pro-Israel causes) are out of step with the general population of American Jews, most of whom are liberals and Democrat and support Obama. But these organizations (like all organizations) are ultimately beholden to their donors.

To call outspoken liberal opposition to the agendas of these right-wing and right-leaning pro-Israel Jewish groups anti-Semitic is to effectively inoculate these organizations against any pushback whatsoever. Abrams’s entry in the debate hints at the absurdity here: his attack against Obama’s denunciation of “warmongers”—those “who will be ‘demanding’ war with Iran”—is pretty hilarious coming in the pages of the Weekly Standard, whose, yes, Jewish neoconservative editor has been demanding war with Iran for years(as have the Journal‘s opinion pages).

Abrams’s salvo deserves special attention: not only is he writing in the Standard, but he boasts a history of spurious anti-Semitism charges in those same pages. That’s what he did when Obama nominated Chuck Hagel to be Defense Secretary, but every piece of evidence he cited in defense of the accusation fell apart under even the slightest scrutiny. So Abrams laments that Obama tars those he disagrees with as “warmongers,” even though many of them are, even as Abrams tars those he disagrees with as anti-Semites, even though many of them clearly aren’t.

Tablet‘s editorial is not without its own ironies. This isn’t, after all, the first time a piece in Tablet has accused the Obama administeration of anti-Semitism. That distinction belongs to Lee Smith, the neoconservative writer who has penned articles for the Weekly Standard and Tablet alike talking about how easy it would be to bomb Iran, veering sharply into “cakewalk” territory. In another Tablet column, Smith said that by accusing warmongers—again, warmongers who happen to be Jewish—of warmongering, the Obama administration was “trafficking in stereotypes about Jewish deceptiveness and appetite for blood.” But, as I’ve noted before, on a different score—the lack of movement on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process—Smith has written that “the Israelis haven’t gotten what they really want either—action on Iran.” In this context, “action” clearly refers to the military variety. So is Smith then guilty of, as the latest Tablet editorial has it, accusing “‘foreign interests'” of “seek(ing) to drag America into war”? Perhaps an anti-Semite in Tablet‘s own midst.

I don’t, of course, actually think Lee Smith is an anti-Semite. But the point serves to raise the questions that Tablet, the Journal and Abrams elide: How should we discuss the debate over the Iran deal? It seems clear enough that the only country officially opposed to the Iran accord is Israel. The strongest lobbying forces against the deal in Washington are avowedly pro-Israel groups, who have certainly thrown out more money against the deal than proponents have spent supporting it. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for his part, urged American Jews to fight to get the deal rejected in Congress. That’s right: Netanyahu’s bid wasn’t an appeal to all Americans, but an appeal to American Jews, and it was organized by American Jewish groups for that express purpose. This tidbit of information you will not find in any of the pieces excoriating Obama’s anti-Semitism. It’s a curious omission: the charge that Obama is making “dual loyalty” smears would seem to be undermined by the fact that Netanyahu made an explicit appeal to whatever loyalty American Jews may feel toward Israel. (Another point you won’t find in the pieces was, as Scheindlin wrote, that Netanyahu veered dangerously close, only a few short years ago, to launching a war against Iran himself. “We need not guess about the future,” she wrote of Netanyahu’s past beating of the war drums, “just look into the very recent past.”)

At HaaretzChemi Shalev nicely summarized the contradictions of the anti-Semitism accusations:

Netanyahu is allowed to address 10,000 American Jewish leaders and activists from Jerusalem, but mentioning their faith is forbidden; he is allowed to be the sole foreign leader to openly campaign against the deal, but singling him out is verboten; AIPAC can raise emergency funds, cancel all vacations and send its lobbyists to canvass on Capitol Hill, but say the words “lobby” or “money” and you are quickly branded a bigot; Schumer can famously boast that he sees himself as a Shomer [guardian of] Israel but you won’t dare say that when he seems to live up to his promise.

These opponents of the deal—though the Tablet editors claim to be split on the accord—ought to take stock of where the opposition is centered. They, themselves, emanate from the right-wing and right-leaning pro-Israel community. This is is something for them to think deeply about—what being pro-Israel means in terms of the Iran nuclear accord—rather than throw out reckless accusations that seem aimed at making defenses of the deal against its most vociferous critics all but impossible.

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