Gidon D. Remba
Published by Jews for Kerry, October 22, 2004
An anti-Democratic attack ad run in the Jewish press by the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) attempts to smear Democratic presidential candidate Senator John Kerry and the Democratic Party with distortions about their views on Israel. The RJC, which describes itself as the “sole voice of Jewish Republicans to Republican decision makers and the Jewish community,” and boasts such board members as President George W. Bush’s former spokesperson, Ari Fleischer, seeks to portray Kerry and the Democratic Party as failing to stand up for Israel’s right to self-defense against terrorism, as anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic.
The ad, which culls statements attributed to various Democrats from the last ten years, often relies on misleading quotes taken out of context, twisted to convey the opposite of their speakers’ plain meaning. And it attempts to demonize the Democrats by tarring Kerry and his party through association with extreme statements made by a handful of politicians whose views have been roundly repudiated by the Democratic mainstream and by Senator Kerry himself, a crucial fact that the Republican Jewish Coalition conceals from its audience. A former top Republican strategist has said of President George W. Bush’s senior campaign advisor Karl Rove that his “goal is never just to win, it is to destroy your opponent, [use] character assassination, whatever it takes. There is almost nothing Karl would not do. For example, religion was not part of Karl’s life but he viewed it as a political tool to be manipulated.” (Wall Street Journal, Oct. 21, 2004) The Republican Jewish Coalition has followed the lead of its non-Jewish Republican mentors.
For dishonesty, this ad indeed surpasses Rove himself: the insinuation that leading Democrats, including John Kerry, are anti-Semitic rises to the level of libel. The RJC brandishes quotes from two Democrats, including Congressman Jim Moran (D-VA), which suggest that Jews pushed the US into war with Iraq against America’s own national interests for Israel’s sake. But, in the first place, Democratic congressional leaders—including Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)—excoriated Moran, as did the National Jewish Democratic Council. Democratic as well as Republican Jewish members of Congress called on Moran to resign. Moran then apologized repeatedly and withdrew his statement.
And in the second place, grouping Democratic leaders like Kerry together with Jim Moran is a highly dishonest way of insinuating that all Democrats share Moran’s bigotry. Were Democrats willing to use such reprehensible methods, the RJC’s own tactics could easily have been aimed against Republicans to even more devastating effect. Democrats can easily cite blatantly anti-Semitic and anti-Israel statements by various prominent Republicans, while pretending that such remarks had not been rejected by the party’s mainstream. It was, after all, President George H. Walker Bush’s Secretary of State James Baker (still an important advisor to George W. Bush) who famously said: “F*** the Jews. They don’t vote for us anyway.” Republican President Richard Nixon’s anti-Semitism is legendary. Patrick Buchanan, who worked for three Republican presidents and ran in the Republican presidential primaries three times, has praised Hitler, denied that thousands of Jews were gassed at Treblinka, and defended Nazi war criminals. He has also referred to Capitol Hill as “Israeli-occupied territory” (St. Louis Post Dispatch, Oct. 20, 1990), and was outspoken last year in charging that Jewish officials in the Bush Administration are “colluding with Israel” to “ensnare our country in a series of wars that are not in our national interests.”
But such offensive anti-Semitic and anti-Israel remarks—whether from Buchanan or from Moran —are irrelevant to the Bush-Kerry contest. Neither Buchanan nor Moran are representative of their parties. Both are, rather, embarrassments to their parties — as is a Republican Jewish ad which seeks to discredit the Democrats by associating their leadership with an anti-Semitic and anti-Israel fringe. Such dishonesty serves only to distract American Jews from the real issues we face as we go to the polls. It serves as a smokescreen designed to deflect us from thinking seriously about the differences between Kerry and Bush, and about which of them is really better for Israel and America.
On one issue after another—Democratic and Republican positions on Israel’s security barrier, targeted killing of terrorists, negotiating with Arafat and other Palestinian leaders, US aid to Israel, anti-Semitism and blaming Jews for the war in Iraq—the Republican Jewish Coalition ad campaign bears only the most tenuous relationship to the truth.
Kerry and Bush on Israel’s Security Barrier
The Republican Jewish Coalition claims that “Senator John Kerry incredibly questioned Israel’s right to defend itself from terrorism by condemning Israel’s construction of a security fence and calling it a ‘barrier to peace.’” In fact, Kerry has consistently and strongly supported Israel’s right to build a security fence. He has described Israel’s barrier as “a fence necessary to the security of Israel until they have a partner to be able to negotiate” (New York Times transcript, February 29, 2004) and has affirmed his support for the security fence repeatedly in public forums. Following a suicide bombing in Jerusalem in February, Senator Kerry issued the following statement: “It is ironic that this act of terror takes place on the eve of consideration by the International Court of Justice of Israel's security fence. The Court does not have and should not accept jurisdiction over this case. Israel's security fence is a legitimate act of self defense. No nation can stand by while its children are blown up at pizza parlors and on buses. … The fence only exists in response to the wave of terror attacks against Israel.” (February 23, 2004)
President Bush himself, moreover, has voiced concerns about the fence. In a White House press conference Bush said: "I think the wall is a problem and I discussed this with Ariel Sharon. It is very difficult to develop confidence between the Palestinians and Israel with a wall snaking through the West Bank. And I will continue to discuss this issue very clearly with the prime minister [Ariel Sharon]." (July 27, 2003, Jerusalem Post)
Kerry, Dean and Bush: Moral Equivalency Between Israel and Terrorists?
The Republican Jewish Coalition charges that former governor Howard Dean called Hamas terrorists “soldiers,” to which the RJC retorts: “No Gov. Dean, they aren’t soldiers; they are terrorists.”
But in the interview quoted by the RJC, Dean was in fact defending Israel’s right to engage in targeted killings of Hamas terrorists. The full quote (CNN Transcript, Sept. 10, 2003) shows that he regards Hamas as aggressors who are waging war on Israel. In describing Hamas terrorists as soldiers, Dean was taking a strongly pro-Israel stance as against the anti-Israel “human rights” organizations who claim that when Israel kills a suspected terrorist, it is engaging in an “illegal extra-judicial execution” of a civilian. Some human rights groups claim that suspected Palestinian terrorists are civilians who should be arrested and proven guilty of terrorism in a court of law before they can be deprived of their right to life. Dean, rightly, will have none of this. Hamas terrorists are soldiers, combatants in a war against Israel, insisted Dean, and therefore Israel can legitimately target them for killing.
John Kerry holds the same view. When asked whether he supported Israel’s assassination of Hamas leader Rantisi, he declared: “I believe Israel has every right in the world to respond to any act of terror against it. Hamas is a terrorist, brutal organization.” (“Meet the Press,” NBC, April 18, 2004)
By contrast, many members of the Bush Administration have been critical of Israel’s targeted killings of Hamas leaders. For example, the Bush Administration's ambassador to the United Nations at the time, John D. Negroponte, told the UN Security Council that "the United States was 'deeply troubled' by the killing of Sheik Yassin and believed Israel's action had escalated tensions in the region" (New York Times, March 26, 2004). And when asked about Israel’s killing of Hamas leader Sheikh Yassin, White House spokesman Scott McClellan remarked, “We are deeply troubled by this morning's actions in Gaza.” (Reuters, March 23, 2004) The conservative National Review opined: “The Bush administration's initial reaction to Israel's act of self-defense has been mealy-mouthed, pathetic, and morally offensive. ... Why … won't the Bush White House proudly stand side-by-side with Israel as a strategic ally against a radical Islamic jihad?” (March 22, 2004)
Bush and Kerry on Arafat: Terrorist or Statesman?
The Republican Jewish Coalition charges that Kerry called Arafat a “statesman” in 1997 “despite Arafat’s past and continued support for terrorists who have killed both Americans and Israelis.” But in 1997 many leading politicians on all sides, both in America and in Israel, paid compliments to Arafat, at least in public. As recently as April 2002 President Bush himself “said he would not label Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat a terrorist … despite a week of devastating suicide bombings within Israeli cities. The president said that Arafat's involvement in negotiating a peace settlement prevented him from designating him a terrorist” (UPI/United Press International, April 1, 2002). Since the failure of all efforts to end the intifada that year, both Bush and Kerry have changed their stance on Arafat. The RJC ignores Kerry’s many negative statements on Arafat since then. Kerry, like Bush, has ruled out Arafat as a legitimate negotiating partner for Israel. In March, 2004 he said, "As far as I'm concerned he's an outlaw to the peace process...and he's proved himself to be irrelevant" (Associated Press, March 10, 2004).
Carter and Negotiating with Palestinian Terrorists
Under the heading “Moral Equivalency Between Israel and Terrorists,” the RJC upbraids former President Jimmy Carter for criticizing President George W. Bush, in Carter’s words, for making “no effort to have a balanced negotiating position between Israel and Palestinians.” The Jewish Republicans responded: “President Carter, you should know that there is no negotiating with terrorists.” But President Carter didn’t advocate negotiating with terrorists; he advocated negotiating with Palestinians. Unless you assume that all Palestinians are terrorists, the charge is baseless.
The RJC overlooks a host of inconvenient facts:
*A number of Palestinian leaders have been sharply critical of both terrorism and the intifada, including Mohammed Dahlan, the former Gaza security chief to whom thousands of Palestinian security forces in Gaza remain loyal.
*Polls consistently show that 69% of Israeli Jews favor negotiating with the Palestinian Authority (see the most recent opinion survey by Tel Aviv University, as reported in Ha’aretz, Oct. 20, 2004).
*Three major Israeli political parties—Labor, Meretz-Yahad and the centrist Shinui which is part of Sharon’s coalition government and the third largest party in the Knesset—support negotiations with Palestinians now in order to reach a cease-fire.
*Even the Bush Administration has reportedly encouraged Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to negotiate with any Palestinian leader who is able and willing to take security responsibility from areas that Israel plans to evacuate under the Israeli government’s disengagement plan. (Ha’aretz, May 31, 2004) And the Bush Administration continues to stand behind its own peace plan, the Road Map, which involves a return to negotiations by Israel with a reformed Palestinian leadership.
So Carter’s advocacy of negotiations with Palestinians is widely held among Israeli Jews, and by the Bush Administration itself. It is decidedly not the same as “negotiating with terrorists,” as the RJC maintains.
Has Bush’s War in Iraq Helped or Hurt the War on Terror?
Jewish Republicans have run a smear campaign against John Kerry and the Democrats to distract American Jews from thinking about the really serious question at stake in this election: Has President George W. Bush’s war in Iraq helped or hurt American and Israeli national security? Prominent Israeli security analysts, including Major General (ret.) Shlomo Brom at the highly respected Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, believe Bush’s war in Iraq, and diplomatic incompetence, have harmed the security of both countries, sabotaging the war on international terror (Associated Press, October 11, 2004).
Ambassador Dennis Ross, who served as chief US Middle East envoy under both Republican and Democratic administrations, charges in his memoir, The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace, that “The [Bush] administration…ultimately failed to act in a way that made it possible for” Palestinian moderates opposed to terror to remain in power, strengthening Arafat and contributing to the failure of its own Road Map peace plan. John Kerry has proposed a smarter, more comprehensive approach to the war on terror, combining an ideological campaign and major public diplomacy push in the Muslim world against extremist Islam and in support of moderate Muslims and Arabs, along with an expansion of US Special Forces. This will enable the US to confront “jihadists in nations where large or conspicuous U.S. incursions are politically impossible—i.e., most of the approximately 60 countries where Al Qaeda operates.” Kerry will prosecute a more effective “classic counterinsurgency campaign where political and military measures reinforce one another against a shadowy and dispersed enemy.” (“Kerry Would Fight Terrorism Better,” The New Republic, Oct. 25, 2004) He will pursue a more engaged approach to diplomacy in the region, and many believe he can do a better job than Bush in moving towards an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Perhaps that is what scares the Republican Jewish Coalition: enough to promote their candidate with an outrageously duplicitous ad.
Gidon D. Remba, a political analyst specializing in the Arab-Israel conflict, is currently co-editing an anthology titled From Gaza to Jerusalem: A New Road to Middle East Peace? He served as Senior Foreign Press Editor in the Israel Prime Minister's Office from 1977-1978 during the Egyptian-Israeli Camp David peace process.
His essays have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, the Nation, the Jerusalem Report, Tikkun: A Bi-Monthly Critique of Jewish Politics, Culture and Society, Chicago Jewish News, The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, JUF News and other periodicals. He has appeared as a featured guest on various radio interview programs devoted to the Middle East, including National Public Radio’s Worldview.