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Brando’s Jews

The hot topic of discussion among Jewish political mavens right now is the Democratic primary contest in the Fourth Congressional District in Georgia, where former Rep. Cynthia McKinney is seeking to recapture the congressional seat she lost two years ago. McKinney, a five-term House veteran, had developed a national reputation as a defender of Palestinian rights and a critic of the administration’s war on terrorism. Her record helped unleash a flood of support for her opponent, Denise Majette, who emerged victorious in a primary that was widely seen as driven by Jewish campaign money. Now Majette wants to move on up to the Senate, and McKinney has reemerged as the lead candidate for her old seat. Unless a surprise emerges, only a repeat of the nationwide stop-McKinney mobilization in 2002 will keep her out.

That would be a mistake. A national anti-McKinney mobilization, particularly one seen as mounted by Jews to defend Israel, would cause a backlash of serious proportions. The last time she was defeated, the mobilization of Jewish political and financial clout to block an outspoken black politician gave rise to a wave of trash-talk from the left about Jews manipulating the political system for Israel’s benefit. It would only be worse the next time.

The complaint, it must be noted, was largely unfair. Much of the opposition to McKinney came from political moderates and conservatives still grieving over the September 11 attacks a year earlier and angered by the congresswoman’s contrarian views. Pro-Israel activists were only part of that coalition.

Moreover, there’s something offensive in the very notion that Jewish citizens fighting for their favorite causes is somehow wrong. American Jews feel a deep commitment to Israel’s safety, and they need not apologize for that.

In politics, however, right and wrong are only half of the calculus. The other half is what’s smart. The current reality is that anti-Jewish conspiracy theories have become part of mainstream political discourse here and around the world in a way that could not have been imagined five years ago. The quagmire in Iraq and the continuing Israeli-Palestinian confrontation have combined to create an incendiary atmosphere in which simple advocacy of Israel’s cause seems suspect in many mainstream circles.

Acknowledging that reality does not make it right or moral. But ignoring reality is an invitation to disaster. And there’s nothing noble or moral about courting disaster.

The demonization of Israel by its enemies has created a distorted political atmosphere in which defending an embattled Middle Eastern democracy appears to much of the public to be less legitimate than coddling dictators and fanatics.

Regrettably, Jewish conservatives and hawks have played into that debased discourse, basing many of their political choices first and foremost on Israel’s needs and then attacking anyone who notices that fact. It’s a dangerous short-sightedness masquerading as hard-headed realism.

In politics as in war, it’s smart to pick one’s fights carefully, examine the battlefield and plan two moves ahead, with one eye always peeled for the consequences.

Even if the prospect of McKinney’s re-election does represent a significant threat to Jewish or Israeli political interests — and we doubt it does — the benefit of fighting it would not justify the long-term damage.

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