OUR VIEW THAT Rep. James P. Moran Jr. is unfit to serve in Congress is not new. Last July, citing Mr. Moran's ethical obtuseness, we urged Democrats in Alexandria and surrounding neighborhoods to find another candidate for the fall election. Now, by blaming American Jews for an Iraq policy he opposes, the seven-term congressman has confirmed our opinion about him. House Democratic leaders quickly dissociated themselves from his remark; it will be interesting to see whether they, and Northern Virginia Democrats, will make an effort to find a better candidate to run in 2004.
Meanwhile it may be useful to examine Mr. Moran's assertion, for he is far from alone in his view. "If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this," Mr. Moran said, as reported first by the Reston Connection newspaper. "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." The comment perpetuates a stereotype of Jews as a unified bloc steering the world in their interest and against everyone else's. Over the centuries anti-Semites have used this libel to distract attention from their own failings and to instigate violence and discrimination against Jews. In the United States today, though anti-Semitism is far from eradicated, such violence may seem a mercifully distant danger. But Mr. Moran's comment will be used to concentrate the poison of anti-Semitism in many parts of the world where it remains virulent and dangerous.
Jews in fact are far from unified in their opinion of President Bush's Iraq policy. Nonetheless many people argue, often in more sophisticated ways than Mr. Moran, that the Bush policy is being engineered by and on behalf of Jews or Israel. At its most conspiratorial, the theory goes like this: A small group of Jews (sometimes referred to, in a kind of code, as "neoconservatives" or "neocons") decided years ago that Saddam Hussein should be overthrown to improve Israeli security. Evidence is contained in a memo that some of them wrote in 1996 for Israeli politician Binyamin Netanyahu. These "neocons" then insinuated themselves into the Bush administration and seized on 9/11 as the pretext to put their plan into motion. Mr. Bush and his top foreign-policy team -- Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George J. Tenet -- are presumably too weak and gullible to evade the manipulations of these Jews.
Unfortunately for this theory, overthrowing Saddam Hussein was a very minor part of the memo in question, and many Israeli officials never accepted the American view of Iraq; they regard Iran as a greater threat to Israel. Moreover, those who wrote the Netanyahu memo are but part of a far larger group of American conservatives who for years have campaigned loudly and openly in Washington for the removal of Saddam Hussein. In a public letter on Jan. 26, 1998, they urged President Clinton to adopt regime change in Iraq as a goal, arguing that Iraq threatened Israel -- and also American troops, moderate Arab states, much of the world's oil supply and, ultimately, "the security of the world." Signatories included a number of people, Jews and non-Jews, who have since moved into government: Richard L. Armitage, John R. Bolton, Zalmay Khalilzad, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Robert B. Zoellick.
It's perfectly legitimate to debate Israel's place in U.S. Mideast policy, or Israel's own behavior; charges of anti-Semitism shouldn't be permitted to stifle criticism. It's not anti-Semitic to stand up for Palestinians' human rights. It wouldn't necessarily be anti-Semitic -- just demonstrably wrong -- to argue that Mr. Bush's Iraq policy is motivated primarily by a desire to protect Israel. But the argument moves from merely wrong to patently offensive when it attributes to Jews or "the Jewish community" a single view and a nefarious influence. Some Jews and some non-Jews, in Israel and America and Europe, support disarming Iraq; some don't. In their respective countries, they try to make the arguments on their merits. Mr. Moran and his ilk should do the same.