American Jewish organizations, deeply divided over the wisdom of invading Iraq, are increasingly worried about an anti-Semitic backlash blaming Jewish officials in the Bush administration for any U.S. casualties.
Jewish groups voiced outrage yesterday over an article by conservative commentator and former presidential candidate Patrick J. Buchanan that says Jewish "neoconservatives" in the White House and the Defense Department are driving the United States toward war.
Buchanan's article, coming on the heels of similar remarks by Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), indicates that "it has now become in vogue to blame the war on Iraq on Jews," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.
Social scientists and Jewish leaders said polls show that Americans under age 35 are more likely than the post-World War II generation to hold anti-Semitic views. They also voiced concern that anti-Semitism is rising on the political left in Europe -- and that war could bring it to the United States.
Although the evidence is anecdotal, there is reason to "think there will be an undercurrent of resentment against Jews if this war turns sour," said Charles Moskos, a sociologist at Northwestern University who studies minority groups in the military. He noted that he recently received several e-mails and telephone calls from strangers asking, "How many Jews are there in the Army? How many blacks will die for Israel?"
Moran has apologized for his statement at a March 3 antiwar forum in Reston that "if it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this." Yesterday, he was forced to relinquish his Democratic leadership post as regional whip.
Buchanan denies that his views are anti-Semitic and has not apologized for them. "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. . . . What these neoconservatives seek is to conscript American blood to make the world safe for Israel," Buchanan wrote in the March 24 issue of the magazine he edits, the American Conservative.
A survey conducted by the American Jewish Committee in late December and early January found that 59 percent of U.S. Jews approve of taking military action to topple the Iraqi president, while other polls showed that 58 percent of the general population supports an invasion.
Pollster Andrew Kohut said yesterday an analysis of surveys by the Pew Research Center over the past eight months found that Jews express less support for military action than whites of other faiths do.
"It's a bizarre notion that Jews are wildly enthusiastic or supportive of military action. It's simply false," said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, an association of Reform Jewish temples. "What I find is profound ambivalence, deep divisions."
While Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant groups have solidly opposed war on Iraq, Jewish groups have taken a broad range of positions. On the left, Rabbi Michael Lerner, head of the San Francisco-based Tikkun Community, called this week for nonviolent civil disobedience if war breaks out. On the right, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations declared in October that it supports the use of force. The far larger, centrist groups representing the bulk of Reform and Conservative Jews have straddled the fence, endorsing military action only if the United States exhausts all diplomatic alternatives.
In a sign of these divisions, the Reform movement last week sent all its congregations advice on dealing with internal disagreements about the need to attack Iraq. "Jews have millennia of experience disagreeing," it said. M.J. Rosenberg, director of the Washington office of the Israel Policy Forum, a group formed in 1993 to support Arab-Israeli negotiations, said that while Moran's statement was demonstrably false, "there's something really ugly" about Buchanan's questioning of the loyalty of Jewish officials.
"They're officials in the government who happen to be Jewish. It would be like taking Colin Powell and Condi Rice and saying, 'Obviously the black community is behind the war,' " Rosenberg said.
Among the officials that Buchanan cites by name are Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz; Douglas J. Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy; Elliott Abrams, director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council; and Richard Perle, chairman of the Pentagon's advisory Defense Policy Board.
Perle said in an interview that he sees a "sotto voce anti-Semitism" underlying "the assertion that those of us who hold the position I do about the right way to deal with Saddam Hussein are acting not in the best interest of the United States, but in the best interest of Israel."
"It is false, it is a vicious smear, and my public record -- and I think this is true of the others who are under similar attack -- is an open book and people can judge it for themselves," Perle said. "You will notice that when this charge is made, there are never any specifics. There is never a careful argument that the positions I have taken are out of character with my overall views and distorted for the purpose of somehow benefiting Israel."
Buchanan responded that, "Like a squid, Mr. Perle is emitting this inky fluid of alleged anti-Semitism to cover up his own tracks of warmongering. Let one and all read my 5,000-word article . . . and judge for themselves whether the charge against me is valid or Mr. Perle is an agent of influence of a foreign power."