Once more, it’s the “Jewish lobby,” that troubling term that has Jewish leaders crying anti-Semitism while politicians from both sides use it to discredit their rivals.
For opponents of the administration, remarks by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel about the “Jewish lobby” that “intimidates” lawmakers in Washington, were seen as a hint — or worse — of anti-Semitism. The term, claimed the critics, invoked the notion of a powerful Jewish network influencing American politics behind the scenes. Hagel apologized for the offensive remarks, both in conversations with Jewish leaders and during his Senate hearing and eventually got confirmed as Secretary of Defense.
Now, liberals feel it is payback time. They are gladly pointing to a similar remark made by one of the Christian-right’s most well known activists. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a right-wing think tank based in Washington, was caught talking on his daily radio show about the “Jewish lobby” and on how American Jews fund Democratic candidates, all in the context of how bad a choice Hagel would be for Secretary of Defense.
Here’s the quote:
“The Democratic Party and the Democratic senators that supported Hagel, in spite of the fact that he has a record that’s deplorable on Israel, it comes from Democratic senators who are mostly aligned with a lot of the Jewish lobby here in Washington and around the nation, enjoy the money coming from the Jewish community. The Jewish community tends to be liberal, not all, but a lot of it is, and it supports Democratic candidates. But yet the Democratic Party works against the benefit of Israel in many ways, and this is an example of it.”
The remarks by Perkins were highlighted by Right Wing Watch, which is part of People for American Way, a liberal organization dedicated to “monitoring and exposing the activities of the right-wing movement.” The group criticized Republican lawmakers who attacked Hagel for his remarks but did not say a word about Perkins. “Don’t hold your breath waiting for conservatives to denounce Perkins’ comments,” the group wrote in its blog.
Meanwhile, the National Jewish Democratic Council called on Republicans to condemn Perkins’ remarks, which they described as “outrageous”.
Just how problematic is the term “Jewish lobby?”
Here’s one sign it is not a good idea for public figures to use it: This week Louis Farrakhan expressed his support for Hagel for talking about the “Jewish lobby,” and even claimed credit for bringing up the issue. “Guess what?” he asked a crowd in Chicago, “I said the same thing 30 years ago.”
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.