Reader Pushback on Netanyahu, Iran, and the Speech

"There is not a single column you write that I agree with," and other views from the readership.

Allies at the White House last fall (Reuters)

A word of background: Over the past week, I've argued that Prime Minister Netanyahu's upcoming speech to a joint meeting of Congress is destructive as a matter of procedure and misguided as a matter of policy. For previous installments please see: why the speech itself is unprecedented; why I think Netanyahu's case about Iran is wrong on the merits; more about why he is wrong on Iran; and why it would make sense for congressional Democrats to follow VP Joe Biden's (and Representative John Yarmuth's) example and skip the speech.

A full roster of Iran-related posts is here. And the distillation of why I care about the episode at all is in this post, ending with:

Here's why I care. I am deadset against my country drifting into further needless unwinnable wars. I view Netanyahu's arguments on Iran, however sincerely held on his side, as being wrong and unhelpfully warmongering from a U.S. perspective ...

  1. In my view, and as I've argued in my book Blind Into Baghdad and in many articles including "Bush's Lost Year," the decision to invade Iraq was the worst American foreign-policy mistake of my lifetime ...
  2. The arguments made to promote the Iraq war—we must strike before it's too late; diplomacy is a ruse and has run its course; the regime is irrational and can only be crushed rather than reasoned with; military "solutions" will in fact solve the problem—very closely parallel those now being made about Iran. And they are being made by many of the same people, notably including Benjamin Netanyahu ...
  3. Before the Iraq war, I admired State Senator Barack Obama's judgment in opposing it. I admire President Obama's judgment now in pushing hard for a diplomatic solution with Iran, despite huffing about "weakness" from the same people who rushed us into war with Iraq. Many people are doing the huffing, but only one of them has been asked to address a joint meeting of Congress. That's why I'm talking about him.

I understand that people disagree about this. Today, as promised, a sample of opposing views.

What you see below, mainly from readers who identify themselves as Jews living in North America or Israel, comes in response to the reader I quoted here, on the question of "dual loyalty," a hoary slur against Jewish Americans. That reader, a Jewish American with family members who had died in the Holocaust, said that he didn't like "loyalty" labels. But he said that if anyone could be suspected of "dual loyalty" in this episode, it would be the (overwhelmingly non-Jewish) Republican politicians who had invited Netanyahu as a way to embarrass the Obama administration and make policy toward Israel a partisan issue.

You can agree with that or not. Unfortunately, many readers saw the words "dual loyalty" and immediately imagined, incorrectly, that the reader must have been advocating rather than rejecting the standard slur. This is life on the Internet I suppose; yet each time I encounter it I'm taken aback. With all that throat-clearing, here goes:

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1) "So utterly offensive." From an American rabbi:

America's closest ally in the Middle East is Israel. Israel is the region's only true democracy. It is a nation with which we Americans share many western values. Like our democracy, Israel's is imperfect. But like our democracy, it aspires to fulfill the values enshrined in its Declaration of Independence. Israel and the United States share a strong strategic/defense/security relationship. It is because of these and many more core reasons that Prime Minister Netanyahu received sustained applause and standing ovations during his last speech before a joint session of Congress. The thesis presented by your previous commentator does nothing but promote the disgusting canard of Jewish dual loyalty. [JF note: although of course he was writing about non-Jewish "dual loyalty." But I'll stop with the comments now.]

As an American, a Jew and a religious leader I found the comments related to the charge of dual loyalty and your willingness to publish them so utterly offensive that I've decided to discontinue receiving blog posts.

2) "Clean hands." From another reader in the United States:

So you finish up your Bibi-bashing series by posting the opinion of a Liberal American Jew telling you how right you are about everything. Just the person to help you trot out the old dual loyalty canard with clean hands.

You used to be better than this.

3) "Support Israel against Iran or risk nuclear contamination of the planet." From a reader in New York, who didn't get into "dual loyalty":

Netanyahu is not coming to speak to Congress for the sake of the United States, but for the sake of Israel. Let us understand clearly that Israel is being surrounded by Iran and the US is meddling by assisting those who could thwart those developments: Hizb'Allah in Lebanon, Iranian and Hizb'Allah troops on the Syrian-Israel border in the Golan; Shi'a Iranian support of Sunni Hamas; and most recently Iranian support of Yemeni Shi'ites. If the Houthi in Yemen reach Bab el-Mandeb they could blockade Israeli shipping from the Israeli port of Eilat...

The consequences, if you are wrong about the intentions of Iran to wipe Israel off the map, will be a nuclear confrontation. One generally weighs costs versus benefits in serious matters. The survival of Israel for Israelis is a benefit. The cost of going nuclear, when that scenario could have been prevented, not only by past actions but by present actions as well, is far higher than political and military support for Israel before that terrible mushroom cloud materializes.

The bottom line: Support Israel against Iran politically and militarily or risk nuclear contamination of the planet. The very idea of pushing Israel into a weakened position in an attempt to control it is a fools errand given the duplicitous nature of Iranian chess playing on an international scale.

I wrote back to the reader acknowledging his note and saying that I disagreed with some of the factual claims made in parts I'm not quoting here. He replied:

Mr modest recommendation to you is to visit a classic Eastern European Yeshivah for one hour. Without the process in which the students engage each other nothing real ever happens - not in their world or in ours.

I replied saying: Yes, I think I've seen the same process at work in Jesuit high schools and some nondenominational debate courses, small-group tutorials, and Socratic-method classes. He wrote back saying, No, it's special to Yeshivahs.

4) "If you are anti-Zionism then you are anti-Semitic." From another reader I believe to be in Israel. I have somewhat condensed what was a very long and detailed note:

There is not a single column you write that I agree with. But with this piece I had to email you and completely tear apart your shallow anti-Israel screed.

As for your reader, I have the same creds as your so-called Jewish reader. But what he established as creds does not provide him automatic entitlement as a Jew. In fact this person is the typical secular American who happened to be born Jewish.

Based on his comments he long ago traded in his belief in his religion and heritage for the belief in a false idol called left wing socialism which is the new liberalism. That is irrefutable. Every Jewish service prays for the homeland of Jews of Jerusalem and Israel. There is no air between being Jewish and supporting Israel. If you are anti-Zionism then you are anti-Semitic. Martin Luther King Jr. said that once.

But the anti-Semitic left have created a false narrative to give cover to these fake Jews to separate themselves from Israel.

Your friend says:

“I remain utterly baffled by the obeisance American politicians pay to a country that, due to the disproportionate influence of fanatic religious parties in the coalition, sometimes borders on the theocratic.”

Maybe he missed this, but Israel IS a Jewish state and the U.N. mandate stated as such. A reason for such a state is to prevent another holocaust and that came to use with Jews leaving the USSR and now from Europe. Also his characterization of the political parties shows he has no clue what Israel is or what actually happens there but is simply picking up the narrative of the anti-Semitic left

“Israel's policies towards the occupied territories are in conflict with international law and US policy, yet we turn a blind eye.”

What policies are those? He does not say but once again gratuitously parrots the anti-Semitic left. [Much detail on occupation and settlements.]... .

There is nothing illegal about what Israel is doing in the West Bank and your so-called Jewish friend simply uses radical Islamic and left wing anti-Semitic propaganda – and not facts.

Israel is America's ally when it serves Israel's interest

Another shallow anti-Semitic claim and he provides no support for. The fact is that Israel has done a lot for the U.S. even when it was not in their interest.

Jewish senators and congressmen, who supposedly place loyalty to Israel ahead of the US because of their religion, threatened with being viewed as anti-Israel for not attending Netanyahu's circus

Again your so-called Jewish friend provides zero evidence which is what people on the left do. They demagogue without support. And to call Netanyahu’s (the leader of Israel) speech to a joint session of Congress a “circus” pretty much disqualifies this abhorrent person as a Jew. That is the view being perpetrated by Obama.

Netanyahu's interests and Israel's interests are not even the same thing.”

Really? Why because Obama and his left wing anti-Semitic thugs say so? Try the rest of the country who disagree with you and most are not Jews.

Here is the real issues for someone who claims to be an American Jew.

Why was every one of Obama’s foreign policy advisers while he was a candidate in 2008 all with anti-Israel credentials which made him different than the other Democratic candidates?

Why was Obama’s first call in the oval office to the head of the PLO?

Why did Obama’s first trip to the Middle East include Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey and intentionally skipped over Israel?

Why did Obama feel it necessary to embarrass and personally denigrate Netanyahu publicly and treat him like a junk yard dog?

Why did Obama call the Paris deli attack “an act of random violence” and intentionally ignore that it was an anti-Semitic attack?

Why has anti-Semitism risen dramatically here and around the world coincidentally while Obama has been President?

Why is Obama the first American President to be overwhelmingly disliked and not trusted by Israelis?

Your so-called Jewish friend likely voted for Obama twice and ignored that he spent 20 years in the most anti-Semitic church in the country and considered its pastor his spiritual mentor. He ignored the fact that among Obama’s other mentors were Rashif Khalidi and Khalid Al Mansour. Your friend is typical of far too many American Jews who have capitulated to the socialist left and traded in their religion and heritage for loyalty to enemies of their religion and heritage.

Because you happened to be born Jewish does not mean you are.

5) "You are wrong." From a reader in Israel:

1. Your analogy of China/Nixon and Iran/Obama is wrong. China was not planning to destroy Taiwan and murder all is citizens. As Obama begged/demanded that Israel not take military action when it was possible, there is an obligation to make Israel part of the decision process today. The current perception in Israel is that Obama will throw us under the bus for the sake of his "legacy".

2. Why do American journalists insist on quoting Haaretz; it is read by less than 5% of the population, the extreme left wing anti-zionists. It is not representative of mainstream thinking and never had anything good to say about the country, it's leaders, it's people or its religion. Quoting it reduces your credibility outside of that small elitist community.

6) Maybe you are right. Just to mix things up, and as a reminder of the heated debate within Israel, a note on this same point from a reader in Jerusalem:

I wholly agree with both your analysis and comparisons. The Nixon-Taiwan reference is truly illuminating for me.

My reservation, though, is that your accounts advocating to let Bibi come and speak in Congress neglects to take into account the ways in which American politics play a direct role in our national politics, particularly the coming general elections.

Bibi has contributed more than any other leader on both sides of the ocean to transforming Israel from a bi-partisan issue to one of great contention. He actively interfered in the 2012 presidential campaign in favor of Mitt Romney. He also managed to hold a joint event with John Hagee on the eve of VP Biden's visit to Jerusalem (a tactic he already used back in 98, when participating in a Jerry Falwell event before coming to Clinton's White House). All of this is happens while Netanyahu remains extremely reluctant to respond positively to most foreign policy initiatives coming from the Administration.

You write: "let's think carefully about American national interests". I urge you to do exactly that, and remember that unlike Nixon and Taiwan, the US has other interests down here in our neighborhood - the issue of Palestine and its contribution to instability; Jordan's refugee problem and the counter-IS coalition more generally; Egypt's delicate post-Mubarak politics. These interests are compromised by letting Bibi use the Congress podium as the ideal setting for his campaign ads.

All call, in other words, for a less tolerant approach to Israel's contemporary Chang Kai Shek.   

After the jump is another long note from a reader in the United States who professes herself (understandably) sick of all sides in this discussion.

7) "Sheese already!" An American reader writes:

Dual loyalty? Really?  Why go there at all?  

Bibi can be annoying BUT he has a point does he not?  Note I think he’s wrong to have bypassed President Obama.  And he may be grandstanding for his own electorate.  BUT.  This is cause to question anybody’s “loyalty?”  Since when is speaking, listening, or applauding a sign of “loyalty?” [JF note: Rep. Yarmuth had the answer to this one. He pointed out that if Senators and Representatives went to the speech, then every time they clapped, or not — or stood to cheer, or not — would be tallied up as a sign of "support" and loyalty. Thus he declined to attend. Please read his rationale here.]

Today in eastern France dozens of Jewish graves were desecrated with swastikas.  The latest terrorist meme in Europe seems to be, kill a free speech advocate, then kill a Jew.  Against this backdrop the craziness and brutality of the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa (and other parts of Africa) simply defies description.

BUT we make a big deal about allegiance to Israel/allegiance to America why? [JF: There is horror around the world. Only one foreign leader is being invited to address the Congress about it.]

I feel sick, and sad, having to even write this.  My grandparents fled Europe, fled the pogroms, fled to America for their lives.  My uncles fought in WWII and one died.  Yet even my supposedly intelligent, liberal step-father never considered us Jews “real Americans,” and made me attend church so I’d “be able to communicate with real Americans” when he married my mom.

Regardless - Israel is an ally, is quite similar to America, and exists for some very good reasons – some historical and others a simple matter of fairness, of rightness, not only because of the Shoah but because of history, of thousands of years of history....

Jews have been considered “other” since the diaspora of Jews from Israel, before that actually to Greeks, and so forth; and victimized as such, and it’s enough already, with or without the presence/existence of Israel; modern Israel is now a proxy for the shadow Israel, that pre-existed Eretz Israel in the imagination of the sort of people who wrote and who believe in “The Protocols,” in the minds of people who perpetrated the Inquisition, who have tormented Jews for ages and ages.  We don’t have to be “good little Jews” or “bad Jews” or Israelis, or religious Jews, or “banksters,” or “conversos” to be “other,” to be feared, and scorned, and have our loyalty questioned, and you should know this and not go there, period, except to stomp on it, on any suggestion of this kind of bigotry, hard....

Meanwhile – for Jews around the world, for democrats and progressives around the world – and others who seek and respect the truth - let’s not forget that to elements of Iran, “freedom of speech” means, “let’s have a Holocaust denial cartoon contest.”


Perhaps you could write about that, and about why Elie Weisel is supporting Bibi’s speech to Congress, which otherwise does upset me since it puts Jews in the crosshairs of this kind of bigotry, as evinced by your column, and also because as President Obama says, our relationship with Israel isn’t a matter of partisan politics.  And I’m truly concerned that in America, “pro-Israel” is becoming “right wing.”  That worries me!

More importantly, American Jews shouldn’t be questioned as to our loyalty to America [JF: let me note once more and Israel shouldn’t be regarded as THE global pariah, second only to North Korea on the BBC’s most hated/feared list from what I’ve read recently.  Britain – don’t get me started....

I’ve seen swastikas in my neighborhood, on synagogues, on the office walls of a Jewish politician.

I think you should write about THAT.  About all of it; about Iran’s explicit and repeated threats; and maybe while you’re at it, you could read the article in today’s NYT about the crusader’s first “war,” which was against European Jews.  Things don’t change much.

An embattled American Jew, left wing and sick and tired of anti-Semitism which includes anti-Israel propaganda, including “cultural boycotts.”  Sheese already.

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My main purpose here is to give a sample of critical response and an idea of what the mailbox looks like, so I'll engage only two points.

The first, as mentioned frequently, is that the original correspondent was saying one thing, and many readers somehow understood him to be saying just the reverse. The second is to register my for-the-record dissent to reader #4's assertion that "there is no air between being Jewish and supporting Israel," and by extension that differing with Israeli government policy must always equal anti-Semitism. This presumably would be news to opposition parties in Israel.

OK, I'll add a third point: I am not at all a fan of "You should write more about XXX" instructions, like those from reader #7. People should write about things where they have some knowledge or standing to speak.

The world is full of problems I don't write about because I have no special insight on them. I have, by contrast, spent decades learning about American military and strategic engagement with the world, which is how I got into this topic in the first place. It involves whether the U.S. should choose another military standoff, this one with Iran. Benjamin Netanyahu has been elected to set his own country's policy in this matter. Barack Obama was elected here.