Jews Fear Backlash Over Iran
- Top Dem Wesley Clark Says `N.Y. Money People' Pushing War With Iran
Fri. Jan 12, 2007
Washington - Retired general Wesley Clark drew harsh criticism this
week after reportedly saying that "New York money people" are pushing
America into a war against Iran.
By Tuesday, Clark, a past and likely future Democratic candidate for
president, was working to assure Jewish groups that he was in no way
attempting to advance an antisemitic conspiracy theory. But the
controversy still had Jewish organizations bracing for a new wave of
claims that they are the driving force behind any future military
strikes against Tehran.
The flap comes as Israeli politicians in the government, as well as
the opposition, have been lobbying more publicly for an international
hard line against Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons. Until the middle
of last year, Israel focused its efforts on more behind-the-scenes
international diplomacy, making its intelligence information available
to world powers in order to convince them that Iran is becoming a
growing threat to the entire region. Lately, Israel decided to take
the Iranian issue to the public arena, as well, making it the leading
issue on the agenda in public speeches and press briefings.
Several Israeli sources have stressed that Jerusalem is still urging
the international community to put diplomatic and economic pressure on
Iran in order to force it to give up its nuclear ambitions.
American Jewish groups have also stepped up their advocacy efforts
regarding Iran, though they generally press for aggressive diplomatic
steps without pushing for military action. These groups have lavishly
praised the Bush administration in recent days, after the U.S.
Treasury Department banned an Iranian bank from doing business with
Bank Sepah, a state-owned bank, "is the financial linchpin of Iran's
missile-procurement network and has actively assisted Iran's pursuit
of missiles capable of carrying weapons of mass destruction," Stuart
Levey, the department's undersecretary for terrorism, said in a
statement Tuesday, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Vice Premier Shimon Peres have
recently made public remarks hinting at possible military retaliation
against Iran if it attacks Israel. Both leaders have also gone further
than their predecessors in confirming that Israel has a nuclear
arsenal at its disposal.
Clark made his alleged remarks to liberal blogger Arianna Huffington
in response to a United Press International column by Arnaud de
Borchgrave. The column described the efforts of Israeli opposition
leader Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud to compare Iranian President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Adolf Hitler, and the current geopolitical
situation to pre-World War II Europe. The article quotes Netanyahu's
call to "immediately launch an intense, international, public
relations front first and foremost on the U.S. The goal being to
encourage President Bush to live up to specific pledges he would not
allow Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons."
Netanyahu has positioned himself in recent months as a leading voice
outside Israel, calling the world's attention to the threat of an
Iranian nuclear bomb. Though as leader of the opposition he does not
speak for the government, Israeli sources have said in recent weeks
that Netanyahu's approach is in line with the strategy of the Olmert
Huffington quoted Clark as saying that the idea of bombing Iran before
exhausting diplomatic avenues was "outrageous." According to
Huffington, she then asked Clark what made him so sure that the United
States is headed in the direction of attacking Iran, and he replied:
"You just have to read what's in the Israeli press. The Jewish
community is divided, but there is so much pressure being channeled
from the New York money people to the office seekers."
The phrase "New York money people" struck unpleasant chords with many
pro-Israel activists. They interpreted it as referring to the Jewish
community, which is known for its significant financial donations to
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, spoke
to Clark shortly after the former general made his remarks. "He is a
friend of Israel and is not an antisemite," Foxman told the Forward,
"but some of the things he said are very, very unfortunate."
Foxman argued that while he does not accuse Clark of believing in
conspiracy theories that paint the Jews and Israel as pushing the
United States into war, the former general "fueled the flames and gave
credibility to these theories."
In his phone conversation with Foxman, Clark stressed that his remarks
were not directed at the American Jews.
Last Tuesday, Clark sent Foxman a letter attempting to clarify his
remarks. "I will not tolerate antisemitic conspiracy webs to permeate
the honest debate Americans must have about how best to confront
Iran," Clark wrote.
In the letter, he also emphasized the need to engage in dialogue with
Iran before turning to military options. "It has been my experience,"
Clark wrote, "that diplomacy has always been America's most effective
tool and that force should be used only as a last resort."
The Republican Jewish Coalition described Clark's alleged comments as
"blatantly antisemitic" and claimed that they were part of a larger
trend of antisemitism seeping into mainstream Democratic political
discourse. "Wesley Clark owes American Jews an apology," said the
RJC's executive director, Matthew Brooks.
Though Clark has yet to announce his intentions, he is considered one
of the possible Democratic candidates for presidency. In the 2004
campaign, Clark dropped out of the race in the early stages. During
the campaign, Clark made several references to his Jewish family
background, noting that though he was not aware of it until adulthood,
he was proud of his heritage. Clark's biological father, Benjamin
Kanne, who died when Clark was 4, was Jewish. Clark, a Baptist, grew
up in Little Rock, Ark., with his Christian mother and adoptive father.
Groups Fear Public Backlash Over Iran
Forward (New York newspaper)
February 2, 2007
While Jewish communal leaders focus most of their current lobbying
efforts on pressing the United States to take a tough line against
Iran and its nuclear program, some are privately voicing fears that
they will be accused of driving America into a war with the regime in
In early advocacy efforts on the issue, Jewish organizations stressed
the threat that a nuclear Iran would pose to Israel in light of
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's calls to "wipe Israel off the map."
Now, with concerns mounting that Israel and its supporters might be
blamed for any military confrontation, Jewish groups are seeking to
widen their argument, asserting that an Iranian nuclear bomb would
threaten the West and endanger pro-American Sunni Muslim states in the
Jess Hordes, Washington director of the Anti-Defamation League, said
that the strategy of broadening the case against Iran was not an
attempt to divert attention from the threats to Israel. "It is a fact
that Iran is a danger to the whole world," Hordes said. "We are not
just saying it to hide our concerns about Israel."
Yet many advocacy efforts, even when not linked to Israel, carry
indelibly Jewish fingerprints. Last week, Jewish groups claimed
victory when the United Nations approved a resolution denouncing
Holocaust denial, with Iran's regime as the obvious target.
Additionally, numerous Jewish activists are pressing in advertisements
and Internet appeals for Ahmadinejad to be indicted in The Hague for
incitement to genocide.
In warning of possible scapegoating, insiders point to the experience
of the Iraq War. Since the initial invasion in 2003, antiwar groups
have charged, with growing vehemence, that the war was promoted by
Jewish groups acting in Israel's interest even though the invasion
enjoyed bipartisan backing and popular support, and was not at the top
of most Jewish organizations' agendas. The Iraq backlash prompted
former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon to order in 2005 that his
ministers keep a low profile on Iran.
Now, however, Jewish groups are indeed playing a lead role in pressing
for a hard line on Iran. The campaign comes at a time when President
Bush's popularity has reached record lows and members of both parties
are cautioning against a rush toward war.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of
Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, addressed the fears
head-on last week in an address to Israel's prestigious Herzliya
Conference. Lamenting what he called "the poisoning of America,"
Hoenlein painted a dire picture of American public discourse turning
increasingly anti-Jewish and anti-Israel in the year ahead.
Hoenlein dated the trend to the 2005 arrest of two former employees of
the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Steven Rosen and Keith
Weissman, on charges of passing classified national security
information. Hoenlein argued that the Jewish community made a major
mistake by not forcefully criticizing the arrests.
Speaking via video, Hoenlein listed several events that had occurred
since then: the release of the essay criticizing the "Israel Lobby" by
two distinguished professors, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer; the
publication of former president Jimmy Carter's best-selling book,
"Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid"; the suggestion by former NATO
supreme commander and Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark
that "New York money people" were pushing America into war, and claims
by former U.S. weapons inspector Scott Ritter that Israel is pushing
the United States to attack Iran.
"In the beginning of the Iraq war they talked about the `neocons' as a
code word," Hoenlein said. "Now we see that code words are no longer
necessary." He warned that the United States is nearing a situation
similar to that of Britain, where delegitimization of Israel is
"This is a cancer that starts from the top and works its way down," he
said. "It poisons the opinions among elites which trickle down into
According to Hoenlein, such critics tend not only to delegitimize
Israel but also to "intimidate American Jews not to speak out." He
called on American Jews to take action against this phenomenon, saying
that Christian Zionists seemed at times more willing than Jews to
Another instance of casting blame, less widely reported, was
attributed to former secretary of state Colin Powell. In a new
biography, by Washington Post writer Karen De Young, Powell is said to
have put at least some of the blame for the Iraq war on Jewish groups.
The book, "Soldier: The Life of Colin Powell," claims that Powell used
to refer to the pro-war advisers surrounding former defense secretary
Donald Rumsfeld as the "Jinsa crowd." Jinsa is the Jewish Institute
for National Security Affairs, a hawkish think tank that supported the
Thomas Neumann, Jinsa's executive director, said he was not offended
by Powell's reference, although he was surprised that the former
secretary of state would single out a Jewish group when naming those
who supported the war. "I am not accusing Powell of anything, but
these are words that the antisemites will use in the future," Neumann
Whatever worries exist about a negative backlash over Israel, they
have not deterred Jewish and pro-Israel activists from publicly
pressing for tough U.S. action against Tehran or invoking concern for
A particularly forceful argument for a hard line against Iran appeared
this week in The New Republic, a Washington insider journal widely
viewed as a bellwether of pro-Israel opinion. The lengthy article,
written by two respected Israeli writers, Michael Oren and Yossi Klein
Halevi, both fellows at the Shalem Center, a hawkish Jerusalem think
tank, names Iran as the main threat to Israeli survival, regional
stability and to the entire world order. This theme has been echoed in
publications and press releases put out by most major Jewish groups,
including Aipac and the Conference of Presidents.
"The international community now has an opportunity to uphold that
order," Oren and Klein Halevi wrote. "If it fails, then Israel will
have no choice but to uphold its role as refuge of the Jewish people.
A Jewish state that allows itself to be threatened with nuclear
weapons by a country that denies the genocide against Europe's six
million Jews while threatening Israel's six million Jews will
forfeit its right to speak in the name of Jewish history"...
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