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Jewish World Review April 22, 2002 /11 Iyar, 5762

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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We Know Who's in the Right

Though Bush equivocates, Americans support Israel | One of the longest-standing Jewish jokes tells of two older Jewish men who were sitting in a park reading newspapers. One was reading a Jewish paper, the other an anti-Semitic rag.

When the one with the Jewish paper saw what his companion was reading, he cried out, "What are you doing? How can you read that filth?"

His companion replied, "I used to read the Jewish papers all the time. But they are filled with terrible stories about anti-Semitism, attacks on Jews and Israel, assimilation and threats to the Jewish future. It was so depressing, I didn't want to read it anymore.

"But this paper is filled with stories about how the Jews control the banks, the media, politicians, the whole world! It cheers me up."

And it is in that spirit that readers could turn this week to the syndicated column of Robert D. Novak published in The Washington Post.

In addition to being the evil genius behind screaming-heads television, having pioneered shows like "Crossfire" and "Capitol Gang" on CNN, Novak is the dean of anti-Israel pundits.

Dating back to the earliest days of his column in the late 1960s and early '70s, Novak has been the most consistent critic of the State of Israel among the chattering classes of America. The column, which was written in tandem with his late partner, Rowland Evans, until the 1990s (in those days, Evans and Novak were nicknamed "Errors and No Facts" by their many critics), is one of the most authoritative voices of Washington politics, and a key interpreter of Republicans in general and conservatives in particular.


That's why Novak's palpable panic in his April 15 column titled "The GOP for Sharon" was so delightful.

Novak reported with alarm that the conservative wing of the Republican Party, and in particular, its congressional component, was up in arms over the latest switch in Bush administration policy on the Middle East. Bush's call for Israel to pull back from Palestinian cities and halt a campaign seeking to wipe out Arab terrorists and their bases is widely opposed by conservatives.

Prominent conservative Republicans polled by Novak were unanimous in their agreement with former education secretary and bestselling author William J. Bennett, who predicted on CNN that Bush's blunder in backing off from his heretofore solid support for Israel was angering "his entire political base." Bennett was far from alone in his blistering criticism of Bush's decision to send Secretary of State Colin Powell to the Middle East in response to complaints from the Europeans and Arab states.

Our allies want the United States to impose a solution that would reward Arab terrorism and undermine Israeli security.

Sending Powell on his fruitless pilgrimage didn't satisfy Bush's foreign critics, but his meeting with Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat did enhance the prestige of the embattled terrorist.

The meeting came after Israel produced even more documentary proof of Arafat's direct involvement in terrorism and suicide bombings, and only a day after his own people exploded yet another bomb in Jerusalem that killed six innocent Israelis within earshot of Powell himself.

The administration's decision to allow the meeting to proceed - after a weasel-worded, belated statement by Arafat supposedly condemning the terrorism for which he himself was responsible, was a victory for the Palestinian leader.

Given the possible consequences for the future of the "moderate" Arab tyrannies - where hatred for Israel and Jews is the only form of public self-expression allowed - Bush thought he had to act.

Or did he?

The president's problem is that the approval of the Europeans gets him exactly nowhere with the people who elected him, and whom he will need to stay in office.

Bush doesn't worry at all about liberals and Democrats (especially liberal Democrats who are Jews) who oppose him.

But people like Bennett and William Kristol, whose Weekly Standard opinion magazine also roundly condemned Bush's Middle East waffle, are just the tip of the conservative iceberg in this country.

According to Novak, they "represent the gradual but accelerating escalation of support for Israel from the Republican Party's dominant conservative wing, especially from the Christian religious right ... The move by the American right, overwhelmingly non-Jewish, toward Israel has intensified over the last 10 years."

Novak also noted that the core of Bush's party is particularly sympathetic to no-nonsense Israelis like Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and former (and probably future) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Ironically, Novak himself wants Bush to listen to the intellectually bankrupt advice of former Israeli minister and left-wing Oslo architect Yossi Beilin, a person few in Israel or America pay attention to anymore.

"The implications [of this support for Israel] for George W. Bush are horrendous," Novak groans. That's because Dubya lives every day with the fear that he will duplicate his father's fatal miscalculation that he could "alienate the conservative Republican base" and still win a second term.

Only time will tell how badly Bush has hurt himself here, but I don't believe Novak is exaggerating. Outside of the foreign-policy elites in this country, support for Israel and its war on terrorism is solid. Polls and the steady stream of scores of e-mails I get every week from non-Jewish readers of this column on the Web say the same thing: Americans see Israel as an ally and a fellow victim of the horrifying Islamic terrorism that caused the disasters of last Sept. 11. They know Israel is fighting for its life, and they don't buy the phony atrocity stories being cooked up by the Palestinians.


What's more, the surge in Bush's standing after Sept. 11 weren't just the result of Americans rallying around the flag in wartime. The power of Bush's speech to Congress last September and many other statements he has made since then lay in what Bennett called his "moral clarity."

Bush's clear drawing of lines between this country and its enemies spoke to ordinary Americans in the same way that previous successful presidential communicators such as Ronald Reagan and Franklin Roosevelt succeeded. Bush's willingness to enunciate a moral vision of America's purpose in the conflict allowed everyone to understand why we are fighting and what we are fighting for.

But when that same president allows his secretary of state to treat a proven terrorist as a legitimate world leader, that moral clarity was lost. Powell made the president's doctrine on terrorism look like a feeble lie.

Bush's spin doctors counter that Powell's mission was just a feint to calm the situation down while a coalition is assembled to finish the war against Iraq's Saddam Hussein that Powell and the president's father began, but failed to conclude a decade ago.

But that is a dangerous game that will get the president no Arab help against Iraq while hurting America's one reliable democratic ally in the region.

The point is, to the anti-Israel Novak's sorrow, most Americans understand this all too well. They want the president to support our ally Israel as it fights the same battle we are fighting in Afghanistan. Unlike Colin Powell, and perhaps the president, they know a terrorist when they see one.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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© 2000, Jonathan Tobin