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Bush’s Sermon on Mount Masada

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MJ Rosenberg—the Director of Israel Policy Forum’s Washington Policy Center—has an excellent article on Bush’s absurd comparison of Iran to Nazi Germany:

What was President Bush thinking?

Bush went to Israel to celebrate its 60th anniversary, a nice gesture and one in keeping with a President whose personal proclivities are strongly pro-Israel even if his policies have not done Israel much good.

He used his visit there not just to salute our friend and ally but to promote confrontation with Iran, an idea that is utterly unpopular in the United States (to put it mildly) but is an applause producer in Israel. In fact, he went before the Israeli Knesset to denounce Americans who favor negotiations with Iran before resorting to war. He was clearly referring to Senator Obama although his own Secretary of State Rice and Secretary of Defense Gates hold the same views.

Bush told the Knesset: “Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along . . . We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: ‘Lord,  if I could only have talked to Hitler,  all this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is—the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.”

The Nazi Germany-Iran analogy is, of course, ridiculous. As Bush notes, the senator in question was speaking after Germany had invaded Poland and triggered World War II. It had already dismantled Czechoslovakia and annexed Austria. It was also the most powerful military force in Europe and, at that time, was militarily more powerful than the United States.

Bush is comparing Iran to that. What country has Iran invaded? We invaded the country next door but, so far as I know, Iran has invaded nobody. It issues ugly threats and may be working on a nuclear weapon. The key word is “may” considering that our intelligence agencies found that it is not currently working on a bomb. (If it is, Israel will handle it. Israel is not Masada. It is not helpless. It is not going to commit mass suicide).

Furthermore, Iran has repeatedly indicated a willingness to negotiate a “grand bargain” with us. If Bush really wanted to help Israel, he would at least consider the Iranian offer. Accept the Islamic regime and, in exchange, the Iranians stop meddling in Iraq, stop backing Hezbollah, stop threatening and libeling Israel, and allow inspection of its nuclear facilities to ensure that they are not being used for military purposes. Bush has refused even to discuss this idea.

In any case, Bush went to Israel—a country legitimately worried about what Iran may be up to—to vehemently denounce Americans who are not ready to rush to war before trying negotiations. It is hard to imagine anything more unseemly.

I understand that Bush is no student of history but he should know that he picked precisely the wrong place for saber rattling against Iran. I don’t care whether or not the Israelis applauded; they are concerned with their security and not necessarily ours. They are also worried sick about Iranian intentions.

Bush knows that public opinion here (including, overwhelmingly, Jewish public opinion) is strongly against attacking Iran. So is Congress. To rule out negotiations, to ridicule those who advocate them, without offering any realistic plan to deal with the Iranian problem, is to toy with the emotions of the people of Israel. And for what: to stick it to the Democrats. This is hardly the behavior of Israel’s “best friend.”

From an American (specifically an American Jewish viewpoint), Bush is playing with fire. He is sending the message that the reason America would go to war with Iran is because Iran threatens Israel. He’s probably said it a half a dozen times. Asked why Iran is a threat to the United States, he says, “its leader wants to destroy Israel.”

Imagine if FDR had said that the reason the United States had to prepare for war with Germany was to save the Jews of Europe.

Just that charge alone—coming from the likes of Charles Lindbergh and the America First Committee—made it impossible for Roosevelt to aid the allies and help the Jews the way he wanted to. Had Japan not attacked Pearl Harbor, he would never have been able to convince Americans to risk their kids in what was then called a “foreign war.” If FDR had been perceived to have gone to war “for the Jews,” Philip Roth’s vision of pogroms here at home might not be relegated to the fiction section.

Americans do not send their sons and daughters to war for other countries. That is why the Bush administration made up the Iraq-9/11 connection. Americans would not go to war for oil, or to remove “the dictator,” or to strengthen Israel (all goals of the neoconservatives). They will only go to war if they believe we are threatened. Israel knows that and has never asked the United States to fight its wars for it.

So when Bush tells Israelis that he is ready for war on Israel’s behalf, he is giving currency to an idea that harms Israel. And Jews.

We are a tiny minority in this country. Enough people believe the canard that America went to war in Iraq for Israel, a damnable lie. But that is precisely the rationale for war with Iran that Bush is giving by invoking the threat to Israel over and over again.

To their credit, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and a host of others condemned Bush’s remarks as offensive and inappropriate. Not surprisingly, Joe Lieberman chimed in to agree with Bush.

Like Bush, he cavalierly justifies his hawkish views on Iran by referring to Israel. He has also been leading the charge against Barack Obama for being, you guessed it, pro-Hamas based on the fact that some Hamas official compared Obama to JFK and said he’d vote for Obama.

That raises another question. Why is Hamas suddenly an American political news story?

Why have candidates suddenly made Hamas some kind of litmus test?

Obama has made it clear, over and over again, that he would not negotiate with Hamas as has Hillary Clinton.

The only one of the three Presidential candidates who has ever said anything remotely pro-Hamas is the candidate Joe Lieberman supports. After Hamas won the Palestinian elections in 2006, McCain said the United States should negotiate with them.

According to today’s Washington Post, McCain said of Hamas: “They’re the government; sooner or later we are going to have to deal with them, one way or another, and I understand why this administration and previous administrations had such antipathy towards Hamas because of their dedication to violence and the things that they not only espouse but practice . . . but it’s a new reality in the Middle East.” (Video Here)

Can any intelligent person honestly believe that John McCain admires Hamas or is soft on terrorism? Well, neither is Obama.

Nonetheless, some people want to talk about Hamas. Maybe it’s to tap into some particularly dim donors who can be duped into believing that Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton has a secret affinity for Islamic terrorists.

But it’s an incendiary tactic. All it does is make Americans wonder what’s the problem with American Jews. Why do candidates pay so much attention to a tiny sliver of the electorate? And why does this sliver of the electorate care only about issues relating to Israel and not America?

The answer is that they don’t. American Jews vote based on the same issues their neighbors vote on. Israel is one of them—but because every candidate supports the US-Israel relationship and the Israel aid package, it is not a voting issue. (Even when Israel is a factor, Jews support Presidential candidates committed to the two-state solution and negotiations. Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and John Kerry all received three-quarters of the Jewish vote—including Florida).

No state is going to tip over Hamas. And even if Dade or Broward Counties could be moved by issues relating to Israel, it would still be wrong for candidates to do these full-court suck-ups. It is wrong to talk to American Jews as if we are foreigners. It is not only insulting and disrespectful. It also has the potential of making our fellow Americans start thinking we are somehow alien.  And we all know how fond many Americans are about aliens nowadays.

So, the next time you hear some candidate—and Democrats do it just as much as Republicans—shooting his mouth off about Hamas or Ahmedinejad to a Jewish audience, tell him that he just lost your vote.

And skip those ridiculous “debates” where a Jewish Democrat argues with a Jewish Republican over who can do more for Israel. They are as serious as a Mel Brooks film, though not quite as funny. Candidates should stop exploiting Israel.  Israel and the Holocaust are not slogans to toss around to raise campaign money.

As for those hell-bent on attacking Iran, let them find an American rationale for their war. The Iraq war wasn’t fought for the Jews. The next war, if God forbid there is one, won’t be either.

There is a fine line between pandering and scapegoating.

IF YOU WANT TO see how this emphasis on Israel plays out in the media, watch Chris Matthews take down a right-wing talk show host from California last night. Two things to note, one the LA talk show host knows nothing, absolutely nothing, about history. But watch Matthews. He is a friend of Israel and of Jews but he cannot understand why these right-wingers keep bringing up Israel. He simply does not get it. This all goes to my point that these strident partisans (Jews included) who keep using Israel as a political football are harming Jews. That may not be their intent. Their intent is helping their candidate. It is just that they are not worrying about fomenting anti-semitism. They should be. Watch it HERE.

Irancove @ May 18, 2008

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