‘No Place in the Democratic Party’

‘No Place in the Democratic Party’

‘No Place in the Democratic Party’

At last the leaders of the Democratic Party have moved decisively, hauling out their ripest comminations and hurling them at–no, not at George Bush.


At last the leaders of the Democratic Party have moved decisively, hauling out their ripest comminations and hurling them at–no, not at George Bush. The man at whom they’re leveling their fire is Representative James Moran of Virginia. Moran’s in hot water over his head for having remarked in a March 3 town hall session with his constituents that, as quoted in the Virginia-area Connection newspapers, “if it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this.”

The House and Senate Democratic leaders, Nancy Pelosi and Tom Daschle, have denounced Moran’s remarks, and six Jewish House Democrats have taken it upon themselves to advise Moran that he not seek re-election in 2004. Should he do so, “we cannot and will not support his candidacy.” The game plan is clearly what it was with Hilliard of Alabama and McKinney of Georgia, both evicted from Congress last year as conspicuous acts of retribution against critics of Israel: Breathe a word about justice for Palestinians, and you’ll lose your seat. Moran says he’ll certainly run again, and the decision will belong to the voters of his district.

One reason Moran is getting whacked so hysterically is that Jewish nerves are raw on precisely the point he raised, the role of Jewish opinion here in pressing for the attack on Iraq. It’s one thing for Pat Buchanan to raise the issue of dual loyalty in The American Conservative (as he has just done), but when Tim Russert starts pressing Richard Perle to assure us that he’s advocating an attack on Iraq in the interests of the United States, not some other power, we know it’s perched squarely on the front burner.

Suddenly researchers from Nightline (one called me on the matter) and other mainstream outfits are rushing for copies of “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” the 1996 briefing plan for Benjamin Netanyahu prepared by such pro-Israel hawks as Perle, Douglas Feith and others now high in the Bush Administration, advocating attack on Iraq.

It’s now OK for reporters (Robert Kaiser in the Washington Post, for example) to describe the Jewish neocon lobby for war, starting with Perle, Wolfowitz and Feith, and heading on down the list to Elliott Abrams, now running the Israel-Palestine portfolio at the National Security Council. The op-ed pages are beginning to vibrate with predictable charges from people like Lawrence Kaplan of The New Republic that all this talk of dual loyalty and Israel’s agenda is nothing but rank anti-Semitism.

Moran is plummeting in the familiar downward spiral of contrition and self-abasement. But does his remark about “strong support” for attack on Iraq in the Jewish community have any basis in reality? What about American Jewish organizations?

Last fall the Forward reported that some Jewish groups, such as the Workmen’s Circle, were angry at the way the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations had been hijacked by the prowar faction and by its president, Mort Zuckerman, who was openly howling for war in his own publication, U.S. News & World Report, as “the only appropriate and acceptable course.” In mid-September Michelle Goldberg began a piece on this topic in Salon with “Once a pillar of the American peace movement, mainstream Jewish groups and leaders are now among the strongest supporters of an American invasion of Baghdad.”

On October 11 the Forward reported that a draft resolution of the fifty-two-member Conference supported “measures necessary to ensure Iraqi disarmament.” Jack Rosen, president of the American Jewish Congress, was quoted by the Forward as saying “the final statement ought to be crystal clear in backing the President having to take unilateral action if necessary against Iraq to eliminate weapons of mass destruction.” Abe Foxman of the ADL called the resolution “a consensus document,” and the Forward cited him as saying he would support a position that backs the President in “whatever he decides he needs to do.”

Of course there are Jewish groups, not least in the big peace coalitions, that are strongly and effectively antiwar. In January the American Jewish Committee released a poll claiming that a majority of American Jews–59 percent–approve of US military action against Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Thirty-six percent opposed such action. These findings, the AJC also emphasized, were comparable to the attitudes of the general American population.

It’s at the elite level that the Jewish voices one hears are overwhelmingly pressing for war. When Congress voted last October on war powers, the Forward noted that though a majority of House Democrats voted against, a majority of Jewish House Democrats favored the option of attacking Iraq. In recent weeks, fearing backlash, some Jewish groups have been carefully downplaying their support for Bush.

Back once more to Moran. What is the nature of his supposedly “anti-Israel” record that the rabbis in his district are now seeking to avenge? In a speech to the American Muslim Council, Moran, who has traveled extensively in the Middle East, said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was coming to Washington “probably seeking a warrant from President Bush to kill at will with weapons we have paid for.” True enough.

In a 1996 Jerusalem Post op-ed, Moran described an Israeli border policeman beating an unarmed Palestinian. “The unarmed youth was held on the ground while police officers armed with guns and clubs climbed over each other’s backs to land their own blows on his body,” Moran wrote. “Most of the witnesses to this scene said it happens all the time. When Israeli police and Palestinians are concerned there is no justice or fair play. Might makes right. I witnessed the police laughing and making self-congratulatory gestures after the beating.”

How encouraging to know that an elected US representative has the sinew to describe such a scene. How chastening to realize that such indignation, in Nancy Pelosi’s words about Moran’s recent remarks in Virginia, has “no place in the Democratic Party”–or, given the broader Christian evangelical alliance with Sharon, in the Republican Party either.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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