The Jewish question is out of the closet.

First a Virginia congressman inserts all five toes into his mouth by saying that the Jews are pushing us into war with Iraq.

Then Pat Buchanan, who once complained about Israel's "amen chorus" in Congress, argues that a bunch of neoconservatives who happen to be Jewish are pushing us into war with Iraq.

This is getting ugly, fast.

There are plenty of good reasons to be against bombing Baghdad. But to portray President Bush's heartfelt desire to rid the world of a dictator and his weapons of mass destruction as part of a Jewish conspiracy is, somehow, insulting.

What's at work here, in varying degrees, is the old "dual loyalty" charge that is tossed at Americans of different ethnic extractions, but especially Jews. Do they really have the best interests of the US of A at heart, or are they just trying to help their ancestral homeland?

That's sad. Actually, many Jews are worried about spinoff effects from a war with Iraq -- Saddam raining Scuds on Israel, for example, or an upsurge in Palestinian terror attacks.

Let's stipulate up front that it would be good for Israel, as well as America, to be rid of Saddam. Does that mean Jewish Americans harbor ulterior motives? After all, Saddam's ouster would also be good for Britain, and Spain, and many other places.

Jim Moran, a Democratic congressman from Alexandria who has not been a fan of Israel, had this to say the other day:

"If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this. The leaders of the Jewish community are influential enough that they could change the direction of where this is going, and I think they should."

Translation: The Jews are pulling the strings here.

Moran, who has a troubling history including taking a loan from a lobbyist he was doing legislative business with, apologized. Ari Fleischer said Moran's comments were "shocking" and "wrong." Tom Daschle called them "totally out of line." "Intolerable," said Terry McAuliffe. Virginia Sen. George Allen, a Republican, said the remarks were "deplorable and offensive not just to Jewish Americans, but to all Americans."

But the condemnation, it's fair to say, has not reached Lott-like levels.

"Charges of 'dual loyalty' and countercharges of anti-Semitism have become common in the feud, with some war opponents even asserting that Mr. Bush's most hawkish advisers -- many of them Jewish -- are putting Israel's interests ahead of those of the United States in provoking a war with Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein," says the Washington Times. (http://washingtontimes.com/world/20030312-76628071.htm)

"MSNBC talk-show host Chris Matthews said war supporters in the Bush Pentagon were 'in bed' with Israeli hawks eager to take out Saddam. That line of argument has spurred a furious counterattack, with many saying that some of the criticism has crossed the line from legitimate policy debate to classic anti-Semitism."

Buchanan, the three-time presidential candidate who recently launched the magazine American Conservative, (http://www.amconmag.com/03_24_03/cover.html) joins the debate with a big cover story (one of the benefits of running your own magazine). The MSNBC commentator has long argued for an isolationist foreign policy, been at war with elements of the Republican Party (as demonstrated by his defection to the Perotistas in 2000) and fended off charges of animosity toward Israel.

"The War Party may have gotten its war," he writes. "But it has also gotten something it did not bargain for. Its membership lists and associations have been exposed and its motives challenged. In a rare moment in U.S. journalism, Tim Russert put this question directly to Richard Perle: 'Can you assure American viewers .{sbquo}.{sbquo}. that we're in this situation against Saddam Hussein and his removal for American security interests? And what would be the link in terms of Israel?'

"Suddenly, the Israeli connection is on the table, and the War Party is not amused. Finding themselves in an unanticipated firefight, our neoconservative friends are doing what comes naturally, seeking student deferments from political combat by claiming the status of a persecuted minority group. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"David Brooks of the Weekly Standard wails that attacks based on the Israel tie have put him through personal hell: 'Now I get a steady stream of anti-Semitic screeds in my e-mail, my voicemail and in my mailbox. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}. Anti-Semitism is alive and thriving. It's just that its epicenter is no longer on the Buchananite Right, but on the peace-movement left.' .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"Lawrence Kaplan of the New Republic charges that our little magazine 'has been transformed into a forum for those who contend that President Bush has become a client of .{sbquo}.{sbquo}. Ariel Sharon and the "neoconservative war party."' .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"The neoconservatives are trying to fend off critics by assassinating their character and impugning their motives. Indeed, it is the charge of 'anti-Semitism' itself that is toxic. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}. Neocons say we attack them because they are Jewish. We do not. We attack them because their warmongering threatens our country, even as it finds a reliable echo in Ariel Sharon."

Then Buchanan throws down the gauntlet:

"We charge that a cabal of polemicists and public officials seek to ensnare our country in a series of wars that are not in America's interests. We charge them with colluding with Israel to ignite those wars and destroy the Oslo Accords."

A cabal? "Colluding" with Israel?

David Frum (http://nationalreview.com/frum/diary031203.asp) dismisses the argument: "Buchanan's authority to decide which wars are in America's interest and which are not is rather badly tarnished by his own opposition to the liberation of Kuwait in 1991 and the opposition of many of his neo-isolationist pals to the campaign against the Taliban. Even more bizarre is this sudden concern for 'friends and allies' from a man who has spent the past decade and a half denying that America needed either."

Moran, meanwhile, is getting spanked pretty good, first by National Review's Jim Geraghty: (http://nationalreview.com/comment/comment-geraghty031203.asp)

"Moran has been criticized for his remarks, but he isn't facing a tsunami of public outrage the way Trent Lott did when he made comments last year that suggested he supported segregation. The early indication is that voters in his district -- which includes the Pentagon -- are bothered, but not yet up in arms.

"Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher, a frequent critic of Moran, wrote in his Tuesday column that the congressman is 'not fit for public office.' Fisher said in an interview that the column had generated many more reader responses than usual. According to Fisher, about 30 callers left messages saying they were furious with the congressman, and about 80 callers said that Moran is right and that 'Jews control the country.'"

Ramesh Ponnuru (http://www.nationalreview.com/ponnuru/ponnuru031103.asp) pulls no punches: "The claim is false, and a congressman whose view of the world -- and of the role of Jews in it -- is so distorted that he believes it can reasonably be said to have placed himself on the anti-Semitic fringe of American politics."

Josh Marshall (http://talkingpointsmemo.com/) whacks Moran from the liberal side:

"Lest there be any doubt, Congressman Jim Moran's comments really were way beyond the pale. And frankly I think the response has been too muted. Joe Lieberman said: 'The comments made by Jim Moran recently were deeply offensive and morally wrong. Such sentiments are inconsistent with the ideals of tolerance and diversity upon which our nation was founded. Comments like these have no place in our public discourse.'

"That sounds a touch mild to me. I'm not in the business of saying people should resign. That's for their constituents to decide. But this is a fairly big deal. I guess that given the nature of the statement it's really up to a non-Jewish pol to lower the boom on Moran."

As if Moran didn't have enough problems, Roll Call reports on "why he's dyed his hair from a distinguished white to a cartoonish blond, which has left Hill insiders giggling yet again."

Slate's Michael Kinsley (http://slate.msn.com/id/2080027/) discovers a group that furthers the notion of unstoppable Jewish power:

"On its Web site, this organization paints a lurid picture of Zionists spreading their party line and even indoctrinating children. And yes, this organization claims that the influence of the Zionist lobby is essential to explaining the pro-Israel tilt of U.S. policy in the Middle East. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"According to this Web site, the Zionist lobby is, like most political conspiracies, a set of concentric circles within circles. The two innermost circles are known as the 'President's Cabinet' and the 'Chairman's Council.' Members allegedly 'take part in special events with members of Congress in elegant Washington locations,' 'participate in private conference calls,' and attend an annual 'national summit.' In the past members of these groups have met 'in a private setting' with President Clinton, with Vice President Gore, and with the president of Turkey, among others. If this Web site is to be believed, these Zionist-lobby insiders have even enjoyed 'a luncheon with renowned author and commentator George Will.'"

The shadowy organization? AIPAC, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Across the pond, the British prime minister is trying to salvage a U.N. resolution -- and, perhaps, his career:

"Tony Blair yesterday took the political gamble of his life when he signalled that British forces will join an imminent U.S.-led military invasion to disarm Saddam Hussein, even if a majority of the security council fails to endorse such action in a second U.N. resolution," says London's Guardian. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,913116,00.html)

"The prime minister moved to end the sense of deep crisis that engulfed Downing Street over the previous 48 hours, quelling doubts about his resolve to fight alongside the U.S."

The White House is playing along, for now, says the New York Times: (http://nytimes.com/2003/03/13/international/middleeast/13IRAQ.html)

"Bush administration officials said today that they could still win 9 of 15 votes in the Security Council for a resolution effectively authorizing an attack on Iraq but they cautioned that the situation was extraordinarily chaotic and changing by the hour.

"Still, White House officials insisted that they would force a vote on the resolution by Friday, whether or not they had the votes.

"Trying to gain support for that resolution, the administration gave provisional backing to a British compromise proposal that would give United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq a short extension, perhaps to March 21 or 24. The compromise would also require that President Saddam Hussein of Iraq meet a series of six tests, including admitting on television that he has weapons of mass destruction and that he will give them up."

The No. 2 House Democrat has broken with the leadership on Iraq, says the Washington Times: (http://washingtontimes.com/national/20030313-875980.htm)

"House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer yesterday announced his support for a war to disarm Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, saying that the United States must act if the United Nations won't. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"His speech highlighted a segment of the Democratic Party that believes President Bush has made a case for war to disarm Iraq, and shows the divide between that wing and those pushing for more time, among them House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota."

Andrew Sullivan (http://www.andrewsullivan.com) says Rummy has gone too far:

"I'm a big fan of Donald Rumsfeld. But really his outbursts are getting out of hand. What on earth was he thinking when he opined that it was 'unclear' whether the coming war would be undertaken alongside the British? The U.S. is desperately trying to build support for a war against Saddam and Rumsfeld has inadvertently kicked the most solid ally in the teeth. He achieved many things at once: he emboldened the left-wing critics of the war in Britain, undermined Blair at a critical moment, and, in some British eyes, devalued the importance of the British military contribution.

"Rumsfeld later retracted the remarks, but the damage has been done. This is an extremely delicate diplomatic moment and Rumsfeld has all the subtlety and restraint of the new superbomb. He must simply understand the wisdom of shutting up at moments like this. And Bush must tell him."

American Prospect's (http://www.prospect.org/webfeatures/2003/03/tomasky-m-03-12.html) Michael Tomasky wonders why the American press has given so little play to the scoop by London's Observer that the United States was eavesdropping on Security Council members:

"Critics have said, Big deal; finding out that spying is going on at the United Nations is like finding out that there's gambling at Rick's. And to be sure, there is a long history of bugging and surveillance among the world body's members, a history The Observer itself detailed in a related follow-up story.

"Fine. But two points. First, can anyone say with a straight face that this memo isn't an interesting thing? Political strategy has been 'going on' for a long time, too, but when a memo outlining one is unearthed -- such as Karl Rove's famous PowerPoint presentation of last year -- it's news. Second, there's reason to believe that the American media's indifference to The Observer story reposes less in the fact that this is a dog-bites-man yawner than in the very reasonable suspicion -- or fear -- among our nation's editors that running this story would set off a firestorm here and would require, in this climate, more spine than most American news outlets are displaying these days."

The two Observer reporters "had been booked for appearances on NBC, CBS, ABC and CNN, all of which were cancelled."

John Kerry is doing well at the real business of the campaign, the Boston Globe (http://boston.com/dailyglobe2/072/nation/Kerry_is_setting_a_fast_pace_in_fund_raising_sweep+.shtml) finds:

"Senator John F. Kerry is pushing a financial vacuum cleaner across the country this week, collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars for his presidential campaign at major fund-raisers in New York, San Francisco, and Boston.

"A fund-raiser last night at the Sheraton Boston Hotel grossed more than $2 million, according to organizers, which the campaign said was a record amount raised in a single night from donations by individuals. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"The senator received an unusual introduction, in which his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, broke with staff recommendations and lectured the crowd about the importance of early testing for prostate cancer."

Finally, on OpinionJournal.com, (http://www.opinionjournal.com/la/?id=110003187) Micholas Von Hoffman critiques the Clinton/Dole show by recalling his own "Point/Counterpoint" days in the 1970s:

"I got fired from '60 Minutes,' but it wasn't for sending the viewers into a deep snooze. Just the reverse. It was for jolting them out of their Barcaloungers. Somebody from the network told me that after I had committed my crime of lese-majeste, so many protest calls hit CBS that they blew out the switchboard at Black Rock, the nickname for the network's skyscraper headquarters.

"My demise was occasioned by Don Hewitt, the program's storied executive producer, who told Kilpo and me he wanted us to dilate on the subject of Richard Nixon, then in his last days in the White House. It seemed to me that we had been embroidering on this theme incessantly for months and there was nothing left to say.

"Alas and alack, I found an unfortunately colorful way of making that point by going on the air and saying something like, 'Mr. Nixon is the dead mouse on the kitchen floor, and the American family, in slippers and bathrobe, is gathered around him arguing over who will pick him up by his tail and drop him in the trash.' I said mouse, but millions thought they heard rat and raced for the phones.

"While they were calling CBS, Don was calling me. He told me, 'You have set broadcast journalism back 20 years.' .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"After a long and splendid run, '60 Minutes' is in decline. Presumably, our two worthies were brought in to help save the program from eventual extinction, but, if they are going to do it, they will have to step up the pace. On their maiden voyage they looked like two old escapees from a Miami Beach bench accepting lifetime achievement awards from the American Association of Plumbing Fixture Wholesalers. Gentlemen, that won't do. Twist a nose, gouge an eye, kick a shin and, with any luck at all, you too can set broadcast journalism back a generation. It badly needs it."

Hardly the words of an ignorant slut.