Bret Stephens is author of the Wall Street Journal's "Global View" column and a former editor of the neoconservative flagship magazine Commentary. A promoter of aggressive U.S. policies in the Middle East who often writes on Israeli politics, Stephens' distinctions include being named a "Young Global Leader" in 2004 by the World Economic Forum, receiving the Navy League's 2007 Frank Knox Media Award for his "important contributions to the vital role of the media in national defense," and being named editor of the rightist Jerusalem Post at the age of 28. Stephens appears regularly on Fox News and has served on the Wall Street Journal's editorial board.
Stephens advocates views that are largely in line with those of right-wing "pro-Israel" factions in the United States. For instance, Stephens added his voice to a chorus of neoconservative writers who decried President Barack Obama's decision to nominate former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) to be defense secretary during his second term. In a December 2012 Journal column, Stephens wrote: "Prejudice—like cooking, wine-tasting and other consummations—has an olfactory element. When Chuck Hagel, the former GOP senator from Nebraska who is now a front-runner to be the next secretary of Defense, carries on about how 'the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here,' the odor is especially ripe."
The effort by Stephens and other "pro-Israel" figures to paint Hagel as an anti-Smite was widely panned. As Richard Cohen wrote in the Washington Post at the time: "I direct Stephens and others to page 426 of Anita Shapira's new book, Israel: A History. She writes that when the George H.W. Bush administration in 1992 withheld $10 billion in loan guarantees, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir 'enlisted the help of the Jewish lobby in the U.S. Congress, but in vain.' Shapira is professor emeritus at Tel Aviv University. It is true, as Stephens writes, that Jews are not the only ones who support Israel, and it is likewise true that not all Jews support Israel—or at least the current government of Benjamin Netanyahu. But Stephens's real beef with Hagel is not over speech but policy."
A writer for the "Open Zion" blog at The Daily Beast concurred, opining that the"ugly, facts-optional anti-Hagel campaign was never about Israel. ... Neocon attacks on President Obama—as channeled through the likes of Bill Kristol, the Emergency Committee for Israel, Jennifer Rubin, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, etc and so on—are about American power. They are about how a certain (pretty well discredited) ideology envisions the use of American power in the world, and they are about how power is shared within America's borders."
Among Stephens strongly held policy views is his opposition to Palestinian statehood. In an interview with the conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt, Stephens described former Israeli Prime Minister and Likud leader Ariel Sharon as "the most significant prime minister Israel has had since the founder, David Ben-Gurion." Stephens praised Sharon's often militarist policies toward the Palestinians, arguing that he had "defeated the Palestinian intifada and proved, therefore, that there is a military solution in the face of suicide terrorism, or other kinds of terrorism." Regarding the George W. Bush administration's hawkish stance on Palestinian issues, Stephens said, "I think this administration has been head and shoulders above its predecessors in being shrewd about [Yasser] Arafat, shrewd about the Palestinians, shrewd about what needs to happen, in order for the Palestinians to present some kind of realistic … for there to be some kind of realistic prospect of peace between the Palestinians and Israel."
Stephens has criticized the use of rhetoric linking Israeli actions to the actions of Nazi Germany. For example, Stephens wrote that "Jose Saramago, Portugal's Nobel Laureate in Literature, observed after a visit to Ramallah that the Israeli incursion into the city 'is a crime that may be compared to Auschwitz.' Never mind that the total number of Jews 'dealt with' in the Warsaw ghetto, according to Nazi commandant Jürgen Stroop, was 56,065, whereas the number of Palestinians killed in Jenin was no more than 60." Yet Stephens often employs similarly sensationalist language when describing Middle East issues. He has called Iran an "existential" threat to Israel and Iranian leader President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a "Hitlerian figure."
Stephens believes that Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program must be stopped, yet unlike many other neoconservative writers, he thinks this can be done "without firing a shot." In a 2006 Journal op-ed, Stephens argued that the Bush administration's approach to the problem had failed miserably: "For three years, the administration has deferred to European and U.N. diplomacy while seeking to build consensus around the idea that a nuclear-armed Iran poses unacceptable risks to global security. The result: Seven leading Muslim states, including Pakistan and Indonesia, have joined hands with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to affirm his right to develop 'peaceful' nuclear technology. China and Russia have again rejected calls for U.N. sanctions."
Stephens laid out four nonviolent ways the United States can deal with Iran: 1) Undertake a "diplomatic offensive" aimed at exploiting divisions among Iranian political elites, for example by having Bush write an open letter to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei about conditions for negotiations, thereby bypassing and theoretically humiliating Ahmadinejad; 2) target financial interests by applying U.S. terrorism-financing laws on transactions between Iran and foreign banks; 3) support the creation of an independent labor movement that could challenge government policies; and 4) "threaten Iran's gasoline supply" by quarantining imports into the country. Regarding the last suggestion, Stephens raises a potential problem: "One objection: A gas quarantine may require the naval blockade of Iranian ports, which is legally tantamount to an act of war. Not a problem, says [Rep. Rob] Andrews [D-NJ]: 'I think the development of a nuclear weapon in violation of an international treaty is an act of war, too.'"
Stephens has targeted those who question the close U.S.-Israel relationship. In a May 2006 speech, titled "Meet the Israel Lobby," at his alma mater the University of Chicago, Stephens took aim at noted international relations scholars Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer for their controversial 2006 paper, "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," which argued that lobbyists who worked on Israel-related issues in the United States had undue influence over U.S. policy in the Middle East, to the detriment of the United States. Stephens said: "Let's be clear: What professors Walt and Mearsheimer have produced under the guise of disinterested scholarship is a demagogic, disingenuous, distorted, bigoted, factually inaccurate, analytically flawed, and intellectually wretched piece of work."
According to Stephens, intellectuals who criticize Israel are not necessarily antisemitic but do help "pave the way" for growing antisemitism. He cites the case of Walt and Mearsheimer: "Professors Stephen Walt of Harvard and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, whose paper on 'The Israel Lobby' is now being turned into a book, have complained that 'anyone who criticizes Israel's actions or argues that pro-Israel groups have significant influence over US Middle Eastern policy ... stands a good chance of being labeled an anti-semite.' Maybe. But earlier this week, former Klansman David Duke took the opportunity to tell CNN that he does not hate Jews but merely opposes Israel and Israel's influence in U.S. politics. He even cited Messrs. Walt and Mearsheimer in his defense. Would they exonerate him of being an anti-Semite?"
According to Stephens, while it might be the case that some writers are unfairly tagged as antisemitic merely because they are critical of Israel, this does not mean their positions are defensible. He writes: "So let's also concede that it is not anti-Semitic to oppose Zionism. … Yet simply because opposition to Zionism ideologically or Israel politically isn't necessarily anti-Semitic, it doesn't therefore follow that being anti-Zionist or anti-Israel are morally acceptable positions."