Joe Klein: Why I write what I write about Jewish neocons

Joe Klein talks with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg about his running feud with the “Commentary crowd” over his assertions that Jewish neocons are pushing a pro-Israel agenda at the expense of U.S. interests (recap: Round I, Round II, Round III).

His bottom line:

Listen, people can vote whichever way they want, for whatever reason they want. I just don’t want to see policy makers who make decisions on the basis of whether American policy will benefit Israel or not. In some cases, you want to provide protection for Israel certainly, but you don’t want to go to war with Iran. When Jennifer Rubin or Abe Foxman calls me antisemitic, they’re wrong. I am anti-neoconservative. I think these people are following very perversely extremist policies and I really did believe that it was time for mainstream Jews to stand up and say, “They don’t represent us, they don’t represent Israel.”

As the interview progresses, Klein, the author of “Primary Colors” and a columnist for Time, makes clear he doesn’t actually think that Jewish neocons are purposely trying to hurt the U.S. – it’s just that in their zeal for protecting Israel they are making dangerous miscalculations:

I’m not saying that they don’t think it’s also in America’s best interest. But Israel’s best interests are in their mind and they’re doing things, they’re encouraging policies that are violent and potentially disastrous for the American people. There’s this great book coming out called “In a Time of War,” about the West Point class of 2002, and you know, you read something like this and you want throttle Doug Feith, you just want to whoop him upside the head.

It turns out Klein even agrees with the notion that Israel’s survival is a legitimate consideration for U.S. policymakers – he just doesn’t share the doomsday view of Iran:

JG: If you believed that Iran posed an existential threat to Israel, would you consider that an American national security problem?

JK: Yes.

JG: Because of the lessons of the Holocaust, as McCain says?

JK: Not just because of the Holocaust, but because of the possibility that you’re going to have a Holocaust. I mean, I don’t want to see religious extremists launching on a democracy anywhere. I don’t want to see hundreds of thousands of Jews and Palestinians killed because of some nutcase.

JG: But you don’t believe that that’s going to happen.

JK: No! No! I think that that is a really distorted and kind of crazily extremist position.

And, whatever you do, don’t lump Klein in with Mearsheimer and Walt: “I am not a Walt-Mearsheimer guy. I think Jews have a perfect right to have a lobby. I do believe that there is a group of people who got involved and had a disproportionate influence on U.S. foreign policy.”

Klein accuses his critics of wanting to “stifle opinions that are different from theirs.” In this case, he adds, they’re picking on the wrong pundit: “I’m certainly not going to back down.”

John Podhoretz, a neocon prince and the editor of Commentary, responds on his publication’s blog:

He says he’s not anti-Semitic but rather, anti-neoconservative. To say it is a badge of honor to stand in opposition to a person as manifestly intellectually unstable as Joe Klein has become is to understate the case. As for his use of classic anti-Semitic canards, I am happy to report that the Jewish people will long survive Joe Klein.

The question is, will Time Magazine?

UPDATE: Klein also weighed in yesterday on his own blog:

I don’t think a war with Iran is coming, thank God, but this time I am not going to pull any punches. My voice isn’t very important in the grand scheme of things, but I’m going to do my job–and that means letting you know exactly where I stand and what I believe. I believe there are a small group of Jewish neoconservatives who are pushing for war with Iran because they believe it is in America’s long-term interests and because they believe Israel’s existence is at stake. They are wrong and recent history tells us they are dangerous. They are also bullies and I’m not going to be intimidated by them.

Klein may not be intimidated, but he seems to be taking a bit more care in making his point – (i.e. “they believe it is in America’s long-term interests”). But what’s still unclear (at least to me) is why he insists on using “Jewish” to modify the term neoconservative. Is John Bolton more or less of a threat than other neocons because he’s not Jewish? What about Pastor John Hagee? Would he be more deserving of attention if he were a rabbi?

UPDATED UPDATE: Peter Wehner (National Review crowd) jumps in with a lengthy critique of Klein’s interview with Goldberg.

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