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Powell Counters Cabal Charge

Secretary of State Colin Powell took the unusual step last week of assuring members of Congress that a “small cabal” of pro-Israeli American Jews is not orchestrating President Bush’s war push.

Powell made his statement during a House appropriations subcommittee hearing March 13 dealing with foreign aid.

“The strategy with respect to Iraq has derived from our interest in the region and our support of U.N. resolutions over time,” Powell said, in response to a question from the subcommittee’s Republican chairman, Arizona Rep. Jim Kolbe. “It is not driven by any small cabal that is buried away somewhere, that is telling President Bush or me or Vice President Cheney or [National Security Adviser Condoleeza] Rice or other members of the administration what our policies should be.”

Powell’s appearance came amid the uproar over Rep. James Moran’s claim that Jews were guilty of pushing America into war (Please see Page 1). His denial of a cabal comes after several major media outlets in recent weeks addressed the claim — normally relegated to the antisemitic fringe — that American Jewish activists and Israeli politicians were wielding undue influence over American foreign policy.

Two long-time virulent critics of Israel, Patrick Buchanan and Nation columnist Alexander Cockburn, published articles cheering the mainstream media’s newfound willingness to tackle the previously taboo subject of Jewish influence and repeating their own allegations of Jewish power. But three of the most influential newspapers in the country — The New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times — all weighed in with stories during the last two weeks attempting to defuse any suggestion that a Jewish cabal was serving as a collective Dr. Strangelove to the president.

Despite their good intentions, each effort was guilty of intellectual gaffes. In the case of the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post, both newspapers ran editorials arguing that Moran’s biggest mistake was possibly his lumping of all Jews together in one boat — suggesting, probably inadvertently, that the measure of acceptable rhetoric is proportional to the size of the Jewish cabal being described.

Meanwhile, The New York Times ran a March 15 story citing a poll claiming that American Jews were actually less likely than other Americans to support war. But the likes of Buchanan and Cockburn tend to focus their criticisms on the efforts of select officials and groups — not all American Jews, most of whom have never belonged to a Jewish organization or lobbied on behalf of Israel. When the Times did examine the policy efforts of Jewish groups, the newspaper focused mostly on the indecision or anti-war activities of synagogue organizations, rather than the policy positions of groups, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, that are generally understood to form the backbone of the pro-Israel lobby.

Aipac, and to a lesser degree the American Jewish Committee, were the targets of a tongue-in-cheek Slate column last week titled “J’Accuse, Sort of,” by Michael Kinsley. The respected columnist poked fun at Jewish groups for rushing to condemn Moran, while posting laudatory comments on their own Web sites hailing the pro-Israel lobby’s potent ability to get things done.

“You shouldn’t brag about how influential you are if you want to get hysterically indignant when someone suggests that government policy is affected by your influence,” Kinsley wrote.

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