Doug Feith weighs in on the pledge


 Doug Feith, the former undersecretary of defense, says Israel should be treated as a political issue.

Unfortunately, lacking a Wall Street Journal subscription, I can only read the first paragraph. But he may already be getting it wrong there:

Pro-Israel organizations have long been active in American politics, promoting friendly relations between the U.S. and Israel. Jewish groups, in particular, have helped ensure that candidates’ attitudes toward Israel would be an important element in congressional and presidential elections. Yet now, two venerable Jewish organizations, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), are saying that it is improper to do this in the case of President Obama.

I’m not sure what the pledge says, exactly. That depends on what one means by "political wedge issue," which is what it pleads against.

What it doesn’t say is that a candidate should be exempt from criticism on his or her Israel record, as the ADL elaborated, here. But what defines "wedge" and what defines legitimate criticism? We probably could use sharper definitions of each before going forward with this.


Incidentally, in their initial rejections of the pledge, the Republican Jewish Coalition and the Emergency Committee for Israel huffed and puffed a lot about not wanting to be "silenced."

This weirdly dovetails with a kind of Walt-Mearsheimer outlook — that AJC and ADL, or any other pro-Israel group has the power to "silence" anyone. Abe Foxman and David Harris have only moral suasion on their side; they have fewer troops than the pope.

The best way to counter such pleadings is to be persuasive yourself. Pretending that Jewish groups have unseen powers is a disingenuous and dangerous trope — one you wouldn’t expect to see peddled by groups calling themselves pro-Israel.

UPDATE: Thanks to all of you (including Mr. Feith!) who have forwarded the whole article. It doesn’t change my mind: I take Feith’s point that Israel inevitably will be a political issue, but the pledge does not undercut that natural occurence; it targets misrepresentation. The problem is in determining the distinction between reasoned critique and misrepresentation.

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