The Chas Freeman affair continues to reverberate and for good reason—a lot is at stake. The coalition of pro-Israel bloggers that started the campaign against him wished things would end there. He would go quietly and be replaced by a pliable figure who would put no roadblocks in the way of their desired war with Iran. But he didn’t. He named the Israel lobby in his withdrawal statement, and much of the mainstream media agreed with him.
The lobby sits uneasily now: Israel’s new government is naming an out-and-out racist as foreign minister, President Obama supports a two-state solution, boycotts against goods produced in the occupied territories are gaining traction in Europe. Its essential instinct is defensive, to try to block all discussion. America should go on as before, giving Israel $4 billion dollars a year, blocking critical resolutions in the UN, saying that peace with the Palestinians would be nice while doing nothing serious.
But discussion is happening anyway. It can no longer be contained or marginalized. Still they try. Commentary blogger Noah Pollak has produced a post attacking TAC for what he considers “un-American” language criticizing the lobby. TAC takes its polemical manners seriously, and Pollak’s charge deserves an answer.
He links to one Pat Buchanan syndicated column, on the TAC website, though he flags another website’s title for the column. He claims the magazine “repeatedly” refers to “Jews” as a “fifth column”—asserting “the attempt to write one religious or ethnic group out of the debate by assigning them membership in conspiracies and imputing to them dual loyalties is indeed un-American, and there should be nothing controversial about saying so.”
But TAC had done nothing of the kind. It published the phrase “fifth column” in a Justin Raimondo piece four years ago about convicted spy Larry Franklin. This was a focused and limited usage—unless Pollack wants to imply that all American Jews support Israeli espionage against the United States, a position that really would be absurd. Another syndicated Buchanan column, published in TAC last summer, said, “Israel and its Fifth Column in this city seek to stampede us into war with Iran.” One can debate the language—though it sadly obvious that Israel hopes for an American war against Iran—but clearly “Israel and its Washington fifth column” refers to a very specific group of people, including bellicose Christians. No honest reader could conclude that it referred to “the contribution of Jews to the public debate”—unless, of course, Pollak seeks to insinuate that all American Jews are pushing the United States to attack Iran, a truly loony proposition.
There is a deeper motive to Pollak’s attack. A monumental sea change is underway in the American Jewish community. For many years, liberal Jews more or less let AIPAC or Commentary or The New Republic speak for them on the issues of Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East. That’s over. J Street has emerged as a new pro-peace PAC to challenge AIPAC. It opposes the war with Iran that Pollak would like to start. So do dozens of important bloggers—M.J. Rosenberg, Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein, Philip Weiss, Tony Karon, Josh Marshall, and David Bromwich, to name a few. Joe Klein, the popular Time writer has been challenging Freeman’s attackers. Taken together, these writers are challenging the entire Likudnik ideological complex that stretches from Jerusalem to the offices of Commentary and The Weekly Standard.
The Iraq War probably initiated this springtime of debate. Walt and Mearsheimer pushed it along, and no, they haven’t been marginalized—though not for lack of trying. Just last night, at the 92nd Street Y, liberal Jews were debating what their loyalties are, what it means that Israel now has a quasi-fascist government and hopes to have continued American support for its colonization policies. Noah Pollak’s view—that any raising of these questions is un-American—is losing out. He’s worried, and he seeks to fight back by misrepresenting us.