The craziest story — this one wasn’t in the press, but it’s almost more alarming, because it was circulating at very high-level dinner in Ankara — was that the reason that the US had gone to Iraq was that not only did US scientists know of an impending asteroid strike, but we knew that it was going to hit North America. So we had to go colonize the Middle East.
So anyway, I wrote an article in 2005 about this, just sort of pointing out — I was trying to embarrass the Turks, you know, just to sort of point out to the world, hey, this is the kind of crazy stuff that’s being said there. The article definitely got noticed. I’ve had, I think, four interviews with Prime Minister Erdoğan since that article.
Back up one more sec — the organ-harvesting story, as many of you, I think, know at this point, was made into a movie called “Valley of the Wolves — Iraq,” which I actually saw at a mall in Ankara. I don’t speak Turkish, but it wasn’t a very subtle film. I mean, really, you know, you watched it — organs come out, crate marked Tel Aviv — boom. I mean, I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say that, you know, such anti-Semitic fare has not played to mass audiences in Europe since World War II.
And this is not, you know, being played only in Turkey. It’s being played around the Middle East, it’s being played in Arab and Muslim — or Turkish and Muslim communities in Europe. There’s a new one out. There’s a new one, “Valley of the Wolves — Israel,” that’s just out now, where the plot is — they turned this around very fast. The plot is that they’re going to take revenge for the flotilla incident. And I haven’t seen this one, but I’m told that at one point in this film, the sort of Turkish Rambo character is going around shooting up Israelis. And someone says, “Why do you come to Israel?” They said, “I didn’t come to Israel, I came to Palestine.”
It’s a very dangerous culture continuing to develop in Turkey. And I think the implications of this are just very simple. As recently as 2002, you could think of the Turks as a reliable NATO ally; a pretty reliable ally of Israel. I think that era is gone probably for good, unfortunately.
And again, you know, as Israel moves forward in its relationship with the Turks, it’s just going to have to do so with a very sober view, realizing that future incidents like the flotilla incident are going to happen, thinking carefully about how they want to handle them.
Moderator: Next up will be Lee Smith, who is simply a warrior for the cause of Israel in the media, and who has tangled with some of the most prolific and contentious leftists on the subject.
Lee Smith is visiting professor at the Hudson Institute. He’s led an impressive career in writing and publishing. He’s worked at a number of journals, magazines and publishers and was Editor-In-Chief of The Voice Literary Supplement, the Village Voice’s national monthly literary magazine.
His book on Arab societies, “The Strong Horse — Power, Politics and the Clash of Arab Civilizations,” received a sterling recommendation from Daniel Pipes. He has a BA from George Washington University and studied Arabic at the American University in Cairo. He knows Spanish, Arabic, French and Latin.
Please welcome up Lee Smith.
Lee Smith: Thanks very much. Actually, my Latin isn’t that good, and I certainly don’t speak it, so I’m glad you didn’t say that I speak it.
But it’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you all very kindly, and thank you for inviting me. And it’s a real pleasure to be among old friends — like Joav Glick, who actually, I see, has now left the room after his mom finished — and have the opportunity to make new friends. It’s also a huge thrill to be on this particular panel. So again, thanks very much for having me.
And actually, I just want to pick up on a couple of things — something that Rob said about Lebanon. I hope that maybe later — during the question-and-answer session, which I trust will have enough time for — that we can pick up some of that, as I spent some time in Lebanon myself. So, you know, if you’d like to ask questions of Rob, I’d be [interested] in talking about a future war, which seems to be inevitable.
Something very important that Caroline said when she was talking about how she thinks foreign policy should also figure in the Tea Parties project. I entirely agree. And I think that one way to understand the ideological and intellectual debate over Israel in this country is as a reflection of domestic policies as well.
Take the former governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin. When you consider — actually, we have — you’ve seen pictures of her from a couple of weeks ago, where she had a US-Israeli flag pin on. I mean, it’s interesting. And also, famously, pictures of her featured the Israeli flag in the background in her office as governor of Alaska, I’m not sure if she was courting the Jewish vote in Alaska, or what. I think that was not the case. I think actually she understands quite clearly that support for Israel signals strong US patriotism as well. It sort of represents a belief in American exceptionalism, usually it represents a belief in God, and strong nationalism.
So I think it is very important. And I think it’s important to keep that in mind — that a lot of these debates that are going on in this country over Israel can be seen as another venue where various domestic policy fights are taking place.
I’m going to talk a little bit about those ideological and intellectual debates. And I wanted to start by describing a subject that I’ve been writing a little bit about lately. Larry mentioned the various leftists that I’ve tangled with, which has been a thrill and a great deal of fun — to be insulted by Stephen Walt. I’m not sure that he’s a leftist. But nonetheless, I was really thrilled that he gave me a hard time.
One of the reasons that I focused on him, as well as writers like Glenn Greenwald at Salon, Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish, which is hosted by theatlantic.com right now; as well as Philip Weiss, who runs a blog called Mondoweiss. I don’t know if any of you are familiar with themI suspect that you’re aware of Stephen Walt and his colleague, John Mearsheimer, coauthors of The Israel Lobby.
In his blog, Professor Walt writes about a number of different things. But certainly, the things that attract the most attention are when he writes about Israel, or when he writes about US foreign policy as regards Israel. If you’re interested, you can just look at his website. You can see, when he writes about Russia, or he writes about China or South Korea, there’ll be six or seven comments. When he writes about Israel, the comments section fills up within an hour.
My editor at Tablet Magazine, where I write a weekly column — he and I started to talk about this phenomenon — what happened on these different blogs, these different foreign policy blogs and websites when they write about Israel — the number of different comments — or the number of comments they attract. What happens is that these places fill up with comments. Some of the times, you have — you only have four or five different [commenters] that might — but they’re all vehemently anti-Israel. A lot of the comments are anti-Semitic as well.
Some of the times, people respond. People fight back on the blogs. And my editor and I decided that this had become a business model. Anti-Semitism — Jew-baiting, as we called it — had become a business model — by which I mean, no one has really found out– aside from pornographic websites, some sports websites, gambling websites–how to make a profit on the Internet.
The media is in very bad shape. Some of you may be happy to hear that. But there are different press outfits that seem to be on their way out. If you look at — if you look, for instance, at the New York Times, which is in a great deal of trouble — across the board, their employees took a 10 percent pay cut. The New York Times gets a lot of hits on their — you know, they get a lot of hits on their website. But nonetheless, they have not found a way to make that business model profitable online.
One of the ways that — and I’m sure that Rob knows more about this than I do — you know, how these things work as a business model, or how the interplay between — how the interplay works. But one of the things that’s happened is that the advertising staff will go to advertisers and say, Look, we have this article by Stephen Walt, and he gets a lot of attention. And one of the indices is how many comments these people get.
So this effectively became a business model. People [making money] writing anti-Israel screeds. Walt is not necessarily the worst. Glenn Greenwald is bad, extremely bad. And the advertisers, of course, aren’t so interested in what the subject is. They turn around and say, Well, okay, this is getting a lot of attention, this site’s getting a lot of attention, as indicated by these comments.
So the question is, how did we get the point where anti-Semitism, anti-Israel sentiment, Jew-baiting, became a business model? Well, I think it starts with — as many things, it starts with the American Left. If you look at what happened, one of the great successes, or the greatest success, of the American Left was the anti-Vietnam War movement. It was so successful that it managed to drag over the liberal mainstream as well.
I did an article recently. And Ron Radosh and I spoke about that. Ron has been very helpful and informative. And as Ron pointed out, and many other people have pointed out, the Democrats used to be anti-Communist. Well, with the Vietnam War movement — and Ron can correct me or challenge me later — but with the Vietnam War movement, this started dragging more and more liberals away from the relative center towards the far left.
They tried to relive that glory again with support for Latin America guerilla — or “resistance” movements. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, however, there was no more obvious cause for the Left to support.
If you look at the Cold War, one way to think about it is if Germany was the strategic battleground where the actual war was supposed to take place, the ideological battleground was France, where you had this really strange paradox of, you know, very powerful French Communist Party, and you had — the entire intelligentsia was very left. On the other hand, economically they were to the right. And all of this was protected by the American — by the Pax Americana. So you had this very strange paradox.
At any rate, France sort of constituted the ideological battleground. And again, for them what was most important was Algeria, and some of their former colonial [possessions] in the Middle East and Africa — including, you can also consider, Lebanon and Syria.
And what happened at that point was they sort of skipped Vietnam and Latin America, and they had Algeria. It was at this point that they started looking around. And the cause for them — once they’d gotten out of their colonial holdings, once they’d gotten out of Algeria, the next thing they turned to was Israel.
And while the Europeans certainly felt they owed a debt and they were guilty for the Holocaust, they looked at the Jews [and said] they’re really like us, and they must be made to understand that they can’t continue this crime against poor, oppressed third-world people. And that was the European position.
At this point that the American Left, after the fall of the Cold War, looked at the European Left, and they found this same cause. And that’s how the American Left grafted the European cause, which had to do with — again, mostly about — the Middle East and Africa grafted it onto its own cause. So that’s one of the currents that we have in contemporary anti-Israel sentiment in the United States.
Another one of the currents comes from the academy. If you compare, for instance, the number of Soviet dissidents who worked in US universities, and compare that to the number of Arab dissidents, there were very few Arab dissidents. What you had mostly — or very few dissidents at all from the Muslim world. What you had mostly were people who were children of the regime — people who had an investment in Arab nationalism.
Foremost among them, and most famous, is Edward Said. But Said represented this very large influx of Middle Eastern academics who came to the United States. And they were basically articulating the Arab nationalist position. They came to the United States, and they started preaching about Arab nationalism. Again, this is very different from what happened with Soviet dissidents during the Cold War.
A lot of people — I think Caroline and I have spoken about this, and she makes a very good case for one of the turns against Israel — was that after 1967, it was very difficult for people to see Israel as an underdog anymore. And so, instead of people — instead of many on the Left respecting and admiring Israel’s strength, they came to condemn it. Because it was powerful, and no longer an underdog. And I think that’s very accurate.
I would say there’s one other thing that happened particularly during those years. And that was, during the energy crisis of the ‘70s, a large part of the American [commentariat] in the press — people asked for their opinions, and people asked for interviews. These in particular were again these Arab nationalists, who had come to serve and work in American universities. And so when the press turned to them, again, they were getting this Arab nationalist perspective on Israel and on the region. So you had these two different things going on at the same time in the middle of the ‘70s. So that’s a second current that adds into this.
Another current, which we’ve touched on a little bit — which Bruce touched on a bit — was about the State Department. And we talk about the State Department Arabists. This is another trend that adds to the anti-Israel ideological war. And they’ve always had different reasons for standing, or, [as they would probably put it, being] — having complicated feelings about US support for Israel and the strategic alliance.
I mean, one of their oldest arguments — and this is still an argument they use — was, why would we want to alienate so many Muslims, especially since they tend to inhabit those parts of the world that contain large, strategic oil reserves?
So this is another trend. And we see this again coming out with the Saudi arms deal — the number of weapons — or the amount of weapons sold to the Saudis. And compare this to the issues now over the supposed deal that the Obama Administration’s extended the Netanyahu government.
Finally, there is also — another current is — consists of liberal US — liberal American Jews.
I’ll just give one example. When I was in Lebanon, there was a reporter there from one of the major US papers. And he was speaking to a friend of mine, a Lebanese Christian. And this guy noticed that this reporter was anti-Israel. And my friend said, “How can this be? This guy’s Jewish. Why is he against Israel?” And I explained, “Well, this is not an uncommon affair where there are — you know, where there are liberal Jews who are at least uncomfortable with the idea of a Jewish state in the Middle East.” And my friend said, “Well, look, if that’s the case, then that’s about his own personal identity. This has nothing to do with the region itself.” Because if he can’t understand that there is a Jewish minority, a Middle Eastern minority, and they belong here, then he can’t understand us, either. Because [we] Christians were here before the Muslims. And the Jews were here before us Christians. So Jews definitely belong in the Middle East, just as we do.
So again, this is a problem. This is another part of this current.
The final thing that I just want to say is, I think what we’re talking about here is we’re talking about a very large emotional trend. I don’t think it’s subject to rational argument. We know that it’s a very popular move for American journalists or American intellectuals who were once pro-Israel or ostensibly pro-Israel, to make that turn and now become critical of Israel, or anti-Israel. I’m trying to imagine the opposite of how that happens — of how someone who was once anti-Israel now becomes pro-Israel and supportive of Israel. I think, again, what’s most dangerous is that we’re talking about a an emotional trend not subject to rational argument.
Thanks very much. I appreciate it.
Moderator: Thank you. Our final speaker is David Brog, Executive Director of Christians United for Israel and author of the new book, “In Defense of Faith — the Judeo-Christian Idea and the Struggle for Humanity.” His previous book, “Standing With Israel,” is the best study of the phenomenon of Christian Zionism, of which he is a builder with his partner, Pastor Hagee.
David Brog lives in Washington, D.C. He worked in the United States Senate, rising to be chief of staff to a senator and staff director of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Prior to his time on Capitol Hill, he served as an executive with AOL and practiced corporate law in Tel Aviv.
A graduate of Princeton University and the Harvard Law School — David Brog.
David Brog: Thank you, Larry. Thank you, everybody. I always like a Larry Greenfield introduction. I’d speak to Hamas, if Larry would introduce me.
I do like, though, how when I speak at a group like this, you just mentioned — people mention “he was chief of staff to a US senator.” Just to clear up the mystery — and I’ve been spending most of my career lately with Christians, although I am Jewish, so I’m used to the concept of forgiveness, which I would beg from all of you — I was chief of staff to Arlen Specter. Now — okay. But let me say this — when I left that man, he was still at least a Republican, in name. You know, took a lot of work to keep him there.
I’ve since moved on to work with Pastor John Hagee. And there are those who feel I’ve finally arrived at some gainful employment.
Like I said, I’ve been, although Jewish, spending my working days with Christians. I’ve embraced a lot of their forgiveness, a lot of their optimism, a lot of their love. But I remain inherently Jewish.
So I want to start off with a very good headline, very positive headline; and then rapidly snatch pessimism and fear from the jaws of a good report. We want consistency here, right? Everyone else has given bad news. My personal Jewish neuroses aside, I’m afraid there’s a real factual basis for concern and for fear when it comes to my focus, which is US public opinion towards Israel.
I want to start off with a positive headline. This is a Gallup Poll, February 24, 2010 — fairly recent. Support for Israel and US at 63 percent, near record high. For the first time since 1991, more than six in 10 Americans say their sympathies in the Middle East situation lie more with the Israelis than with the Palestinians. Sixty-three percent say their sympathies lie more with the Israelis. Fifteen percent side more with the Palestinians, down slightly from recent years. It’s fantastic — 63 percent sympathies with Israel, 15 with the Palestinians.
Just to highlight the point, which I think if fantastic — only in January 1991, shortly after Israel was hit by Iraqi SCUD missiles during the Gulf War, did the US support for Israel register as high as it does today.
On another front, they asked folks their opinions of 20 countries, including Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Gallup found 67 percent of the folks surveyed had a favorable rating of Israel. Sixty-seven percent. Palestinian Authority had only 20 percent favorable. Fantastic.
Things are good. Americans love Israel. We can go home.
I fear this strong support for Israel rests on a weak and eroding foundation. And the problem can be focused on two elements of US society and public opinion. Number one — no surprise to all of you here — elite opinion. Those who formulate and propagate elite opinion in the United States — the media, academia, intelligentsia — are terribly anti-Israel, and increasingly so.
And as I learned in philosophy class, physics class, [you know what] has a tendency to roll downhill. And everyone here knows this. I mean, we’re sending our students to be inculcated to be anti-American and anti-Israel. Everyone who turns on the TV with very limited exceptions — reads the newspaper with very limited exceptions — is getting a terribly anti-Israel basis.
The foundation of support for Israel that these high poll numbers are based upon had the benefit of all of those years when Israel was still the underdog, all of those years with Israel still was seen as a champion, when Israel was seen as a hero. And the toll of this increasing anti-Israel drumbeat is only now beginning to be felt in the broader public opinion.
So problem number one — we have a problem with our elites — we’re all aware of that. Problem number two, though — and perhaps a problem I’m even more worried about — is what I would call a problem with the folks. You know, what Bill O’Reilly calls “the folks” — those of us not involved in the development and propagation of elite opinions. The folks have been wonderfully immune to much of this elite opinion concerning Israel and America and other issues.
And what is the source of their immunity? I would argue it is their deep connection to faith. And in this country, we’re talking Christianity. Right? This is not a Christian country constitutionally; of course not. Demographically, culturally, yes — I would say Judeo-Christian.
The fact that they are rooted firmly in an alternative world view that recognizes good and evil, right and wrong, light and darkness; that they are rooted in a different narrative of the world and of life, and of human nature, gives them a certain immunity to these trendy anti-Israel/anti-American opinions being propagated by the academy and by the media.
What worries me, why I say we have a problem with the folks, is that we’re losing our religion. You know, I’m surprised how many people aren’t familiar with this. I just want to share another poll with you. This time it’s the Pew Research Center.
I’m just going to read from the Executive Summary. This is also 2010, February 2010. “By some key measures, Americans ages 18 to 29 are considerably less religious than older Americans. Fewer young adults belong to any particular faith than older people do today.”
Aha, you say, it’s a problem of youth. As the youth mature, they will see the need for faith and embrace it. If only this were the case.
The survey continues — today’s youth, 18 to 29, “– are also less likely to be affiliated than their parents’ and grandparents’ generations were when they were young.
“The Millennials” — this is our new name for those 18 to 29 currently — “the Millennials are significantly more unaffiliated than members of Generation X, the prior generation, were at a comparable point in their life cycles.” They’re also significantly more unaffiliated — “twice as unaffiliated as Baby Boomers were as young adults.”
So we see this is a real trend. This is a steep decline in affiliation. Americans are losing their religion. The reasons why, how it’s happening, where it’s happening, will have to wait for another day. But just hear this — more Americans than ever before are claiming they’re agnostic and atheist. More Americans than ever before, in an exponential fashion, are unaffiliated.
What happens if we lose our religion? Rather than prognosticate, I’d rather point to analogies that can illustrate the problem for us. And that’s when you look overseas, at Europe.
Remember the 67 percent favorable rating Israel has here in America? Let’s look for a moment at post-Christian Europe. I now cite a BBC Poll, 2010 — favorable views of Israel and America — 67 percent. Let’s look at Europe. Italy — 26 percent. France — 20 percent. The UK — 17 percent. Germany — 13 percent. And surprisingly, yet consistently, anti-Semitic Spain — 9 percent favorable.
Until someone can give me a better explanation to explain the differences, the marked differences, the substantial differences in attitudes towards Israel between the United States and Europe, other than the one I’m about to say, I am convinced the only explanation that makes sense is the fact that Europe is now clearly, solidly, fanatically post-Christian, and we are not yet.
When you give up a deep-rootedness in Judeo-Christian morality, ease tends to rule your life. Comfort tends to rule your life. Going with the flow tends to rule your life. Let’s face it — standing up for Israel and the Jewish people provides neither ease nor comfort nor popularity. That explains these numbers. We in America have not yet gotten there.
America still produces men like Pastor John Hagee and thousands like him, who we heard last night, who are rooted in values — right over wrong, light over darkness. They’re not worried about ease, and they’re not afraid of a fight.
I want to close with a quote that I think accurately summarizes the dilemma we’re facing here in America. This is from, I think, an acute observer of the current scene and the connection between religiosity and policy who said the following — “I fear for the future of authentic faith in our country. We live in a time when the common man in our country is thoroughly influenced by the current climate in which the cultural and educational elite propagates an anti-Christian message. We should take a look at what has happened in France and learn a lesson from it. In that country, Christianity has been successfully attacked and marginalized by these same groups. Because those who profess belief are unable to defend the faith from attack, even though its attackers’ arguments were deeply flawed. We should be alarmed that instruction in authentic faith has been neglected, if not altogether eliminated, in our schools and universities.”
Folks, that quote is not from anyone living today in the United States of America. That quote is from William Wilberforce, the English Abolitionist member of Parliament who devoted his life to a difficult and unpopular cause — the abolition of slavery and the slave trade in England. This is a quote from 1797. I guarantee you, when William Wilberforce fought to abolish slavery, it was neither popular nor easy nor comfortable. He did it because of his deep, profound Christian values. We need to add to Wilberforce’s title not only “Abolitionist” but “[Cassandra].” Because what he feared would happen in Britain happened in Britain. Britain followed France down this path toward secularism. And that’s why today, France — 20 percent favorable towards Israel; UK, only 17.
Folks, Wilberforce’s warning to Britain needs to be a warning to us here today in America. The trend he saw and feared is starting to take root and take hold here in America. And that’s why, in a very perverse way, when we want to fight Israel’s fight, we have to worry about two things — one, the fight against elite opinion every day of the week to put Israel’s case forward; number two, the fight for faith. Because in the long term, if we lose faith in this country, we lose support for Israel.