Jonathan Chait of New York magazine has attempted to defend President Barack Obama from claims he is using antisemitism to sell the Iran deal.
Chait thinks that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lost his mind, so his judgment on matters related to Israel is somewhat in doubt.
Still, he remains a rare voice on the left opposing the scourge of political correctness, so his opinion on antisemitism matters a great deal. If the charge were meritless, and if it were merely being used to shut down debate, then Chait might have a case.
Sadly, the charge has weight–not just among conservatives.
Murmuring about “money” and “lobbying” and “foreign interests” who seek to drag America into war is a direct attempt to play the dual-loyalty card. It’s the kind of dark, nasty stuff we might expect to hear at a white power rally, not from the President of the United States—and it’s gotten so blatant that even many of us who are generally sympathetic to the administration, and even this deal, have been shaken by it.
Nathan Guttman, an editor at the left-wing Forward, worried openly that Obama’s choice of language in a conference call with left-wing groups had negative connotations that would offend fellow Jews. In particular, Guttman worried about Obama’s suggestion that opponents of the Iran deal were supporters of the Iraq war: “The wording, though chosen carefully as not to conflate the two groups, treaded into a highly sensitive area for some in the Jewish community.” It would, at least, “seem tone deaf to some in the organized Jewish community.”
But proof by opinion is not, in itself, conclusive. Let us consider, then, the facts.
There is a well-funded lobby that is opposed to the Iran deal. There is no harm in acknowledging that.
There is also, however, a well-funded lobby in favor of the Iran deal–and the president consistently fails to point that out. That suggests the possibility of bias.
True, that might be attributed instead to the typical hypocrisy of partisan discourse: Obama often complains about donations flowing to his opponents, for example, while raking in his own (amidst promises of reform).
Yet consider the additional fact that Obama has picked on particular individuals, such as Bill Kristol (one of the “columnists” Obama likely had in mind on the call), and Sheldon Adelson (whom Obama certainly meant when he attacked “big check writers to political campaigns” campaigns” and “billionaires who happily finance Super PACs”). It is hardly a stretch to identify these as the targets of Obama’s remarks, along with AIPAC (as Guttman ruefully noted). All are Jewish–or, the case of AIPAC, are strongly identified with the Jewish community.
Has Obama singled out non-Jewish opponents of the Iran deal in the same way? Yes, in fact, he has, in accusing Republicans of making “common cause” with the “hard-liners” in Iran–a damnable, corrosive slander.
But Obama appears to believe that Republicans have, to some extent, been put up to it by their donors. He believes the same of pro-Israel Democrats, too: he drew the ire of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) in January when he suggested that opponents of the emerging deal were acting at the behest of political donors and interest groups.
So the evidence is fairly strong. Obama’s best defense is that there are Jews on the far-left who describe the opposition to the Iran deal in a similar way–such as former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, for example, who used the unfortunate term “axis” to describe a “Nentanyahu-AIPAC-Adelson-Republican” alliance.
But Obama is convicted here by his own, demonstrative sensitivity to language. He bristled–from Kenya–when former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said he was marching Israelis “to the door of the oven.”
Obama knows what he is doing.
He is not hiding it–he is not blowing a “dog whistle.” Rather, he is making a clear (and familiar) case that he is the victim of an organized conspiracy–not to arouse hatred, but to rally his base (including loyal, left-wing Jews) to his defense.
That is not incitement, but it relies on antisemitism nonetheless.
And that matters, not because it disqualifies Obama’s views from debate, but because it confirms he has not really reckoned with the nature of the enemy with whom he is dealing, for whom hating Jews is more than a marginal commitment.
This article has been updated to fix typographical errors.