When conservative commentator Patrick Buchanan charged on a recent television talk show that the Israeli government was pressuring the United States to go to war with Saddam Hussein, many in the Jewish community reacted with anger and incredulity.
“Outrageous, unfounded, and unacceptable,” was how Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, termed Buchanan’s charges.
They are “reminiscent of scurrilous charges made during World War II that Jews were the only ones who sought American entry in the war against Nazi Germany,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.
Even Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir took an opportunity to reject the substance of Buchanan’s allegations, calling such charges “ugly” and untrue. He strongly denied that Israel would attempt to push a superpower into war.
Buchanan, a White House aide in both the Nixon and Reagan administrations, made the charges on the Aug. 26 broadcast of “The Mc-Laughlin Group,” a weekly talk show that airs on some NBC affiliates.
“There are only two groups that are beating the drums right now for war in the Middle East, and that is the Israeli Defense Ministry and its ‘Amen corner’ in the United States,” Buchanan said on the program.
He elaborated on this point later in the show, saying that “the Israelis want this war desperately, because they want the United States to destroy the Iraqi war machine. They want us to finish them off. They don’t care about our relations with the Arab world.”
ISRAELI RESPONSE ‘MUTED’
Rather than “beating the drums” in favor of U.S. military action against Iraq, both Israel and the American Jewish community have intentionally kept their voices “muted” as the U.S. military buildup in Saudi Arabia continues, maintained David Harris, Washington representative for the American Jewish Committee.
“One of the questions I am asked again and again by the press is why the Jewish community has been so quiet” during the Gulf crisis, he said.
In taking actions against Iraq, “the United States has been acting in its own interests, and it has enjoyed the support of the American Jewish community, along with other groups,” said Harris.
“We are singing in a chorus, and not a solo part, unlike what Pat Buchanan would like the American people to believe,” he said.
Jewish leaders appear to the disturbed not only by the content of Buchanan’s remarks, but about what they may portend about support for Israel among conservatives in the United States.
Conservatives like Buchanan, while never effusive in their support of Israel, had in the past backed the U.S.-Israeli relationship, since it served the interest of confronting the Soviet Union in the Middle East.
But since the fizzling of the Cold War, there has been a resurgence of isolationism in the conservative movement that has often had a strong anti-Israel edge.
In recent times, Buchanan and other commentators, such as Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, have consistently characterized the U.S. alliance with Israel as damaging to U.S. interests in the Arab world, and they have spoken out against the foreign aid Israel receives as a drain on U.S. resources.
“What we have seen in the past two or three years is that the Republican Party has developed an isolationist wing,” said Marshall Breger, who served as liaison to the Jewish community in the Reagan White House.
Another Jew who is active in the Republican Party said that Buchanan has a solid following in the conservative movement and his comments must therefore be taken seriously by the American Jewish community.
Buchanan “is an outspoken leader of the conservative agenda. He is a very forceful and articulate spokesperson. He has a constituency — it’s a vocal one, active one, and one that has historically been supportive of Israel,” said the activist, who asked not to be identified.
Others say Buchanan is viewed as an extremist, even among those on the right.
“I think that he poses a certain danger if left unchecked,” said Harris of AJCommittee. “On the other hand, his views are beyond the main-stream and are taken with a grain of salt by the mainstream of public opinion.”
Buchanan’s recent consistent tilt against Israel and Jewish interests has been noted beyond the confines of the organized Jewish community.
His colleague on “The McLaughlin Group,” Morton Kondracke of The New Republic, observed on the Aug. 26 broadcast that “Pat now has a venomous attitude toward Israel and all of its supporters, for reasons I do not understand.”
In fact, Buchanan has been hostile to Israel and many Jewish concerns for some time. In both his syndicated columns and in television appearances on Sunday morning Washington roundtables, he has questioned whether the continued existence of the Jewish state is viable, proclaimed the innocence of convicted Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk and supported the presence of the Carmelite convent at Auschwitz.
CAVALIER ABOUT JEWISH COMPLAINTS
Most of Buchanan’s Jewish critics have said there is little the Jewish community can do about his remarks, other than continue to point out his apparent biases and rebut him when he appears to be distorting the facts.
Buchanan, however, can be cavalier about such complaints from the Jewish community, as evidenced in a July 12 letter he sent to Foxman of ADL.
Foxman had written that he found it “disturbing” and “highly offensive” when Buchanan described Congress as “Israeli-occupied territory.”
Buchanan opened his response to Foxman by writing, “C’mon, Abe, lighten up.”
“To call Capitol Hill ‘Israeli-occupied territory,’ it seems to me, should be no more ‘disturbing’ than to call Congress a ‘wholly owned subsidiary of the National Rifle Association,’ which comes under the rubric of fair comment and criticism,” Buchanan wrote.
He added that “if ADL has moved from concerning itself with slurs against the Jewish community” to “sheltering the reputation of Congress for courageous independence, you really have your work cut out for you, friend.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.