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Putting Israel First

November 2, 2000

In the final days of the race for New York’s open seat in the U.S. Senate, Hillary Clinton and Rick Lazio squared off over the inevitable issue. Here is how Richard Cohen of the Washington Post describes it:

“The issue — as it always is late in any New York race — is Israel. The question always comes down to which candidate can, in the immortal words of the late Bella Abzug, ‘out-Jew’ the other. Neither Hillary (as she prefers to be called) nor Lazio is Jewish, but that is a mere detail. By November of any election year, all New York candidates are Jewish and the Middle East is a local issue.”

That is, all New York candidates assume, as a practical matter, the truth of the “canard of dual loyalty” — that Jewish voters care as much about Israeli interests as American interests. More precisely, they assume that Jews put Israeli interests first. American interests don’t even come up for discussion. Nobody asks whether it’s good for Americans for their government to support a Jewish state, even when that alliance provokes worldwide Muslim antagonism against this country, as witness the bombing of the USS Cole.

American politicians, including Al Gore and George W. Bush, pander shamelessly to the powerful Israel First lobby. In fact such pandering has become normalized, because that lobby wields both the carrot of money and the stick of stigma. All politicians remember the fate of Senator Charles Percy of Illinois and Senator William Fulbright of Arkansas, whose long careers ended when they irritated the pro-Israel lobby.

That lobby intimidates even journalists, who fear for their careers if they criticize Israel too bluntly. From Dorothy Thompson to Patrick Buchanan (who was once ardently pro-Israel), critics of Israel in the press have paid dearly for speaking their minds. I’ve earned a place on the Zionist blacklist myself (though I was once as pro-Israel as Buchanan).

Do I exaggerate the priority many Jews give to Israel’s interests? Consider a pre-election issue of Washington Jewish Week. Its editorial endorsed Gore for president, largely because he had “the stronger, clearer, and longer record of support for Israel and the Jewish people.” Eleven of the editorial’s 16 paragraphs were devoted to Israel. Other issues were treated as an afterthought.

[Breaker quote: Hamilton 
had a word for it.]On the opposite page, two writers debated how Jews should vote. The Bush advocate spent seven paragraphs on Israel, the Gore advocate eight paragraphs. Both writers treated other matters as secondary. Like the editorial, and like Hillary Clinton and Rick Lazio, they took it for granted that most Jews put Israel first. And that nobody would take offense at this assumption, as long as it was implied rather than stated overtly. (It becomes a “canard” only when put too bluntly.)

When Gore chose Joseph Lieberman as his running mate this summer, one Washington Post writer defended Lieberman against the “dual loyalty” charge on grounds that his voting record on Israel was nearly identical to Gore’s. I had to smile at this, since nobody, but nobody, has pandered to the pro-Israel lobby as breathlessly as Gore.

As Gore’s champion in Washington Jewish Week points out, both Gore and Lieberman “broke with the majority of their party and voted to authorize [the war against Iraq] in 1991.” Indeed they did. And by an interesting coincidence, it was a war strongly favored by what Buchanan famously called Israel’s “amen corner in this country,” which was painting Saddam Hussein as a new Hitler. When it comes to Israeli interests, some otherwise partisan politicians can rise above party.

In Federalist No. 22, Alexander Hamilton warned that republics, as opposed to monarchies, “afford too easy an inlet to foreign corruption.” He specifically feared that an “ally” might, through “bribes and intrigues,” “tie up the hands of government from making peace” and tip us into a war against our own interests. When war was being debated, the corruption of a handful of our politicians by “a foreign power” might make the fatal difference.

We’ve come to a pretty pass when our politicians, in hot pursuit of votes and money, practically boast of their subservience to a foreign power. Hamilton had a word for it: prostitution. An even plainer word comes to mind. It rhymes with Gore.

Joseph Sobran

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