To the Editor:
In his essay, “Jews, Muslims, and the Democrats” [January], Gabriel Schoenfeld starts with a series of ideologically rigid conclusions, which he then defends by cherry-picking facts, inflating their importance, adding half-truths, and scrupulously avoiding evidence that contradicts his thesis.
Essentially, Mr. Schoenfeld feels that Muslim political power is growing exponentially, that the Democratic party is eager to adopt an anti-Israel worldview, and that Jewish political power is largely ineffective because Jews ignorantly and slavishly vote Democratic. The exaggerations, flawed logic, and omissions here are far too many to enumerate, but some examples follow.
Mr. Schoenfeld acknowledges that there is a record number of Jews in the present Congress. But he quickly turns to a counterfact—the election of the first Muslim-American Congressman, the Democratic Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who we are told is “Louis Farrakhan’s first Congressman.” What we are not told is that Ellison has stated that “I reject and condemn the anti-Semitic statements of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, and Khalid Muhammed.” Nor are we told that Ellison has affirmed Israel’s right to live in peace and security, and has rejected any dealings with Hamas and Hizballah until they renounce violence and accept Israel’s right to exist. Nor does Mr. Schoenfeld mention that Ellison believes that Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons must be stopped and its Holocaust-denial decried.
Mr. Schoenfeld seems to have swallowed the propaganda of Muslim organizations that have purposefully overestimated the size of the Muslim population in the United States. He could have easily looked up the single most rigorous analysis of this issue in the study done by Tom W. Smith for the American Jewish Committee. Smith concluded that there are most likely 2 to 2.8 million Muslims in the United States—not Mr. Schoenfeld’s estimate of 4 to 6 million. Moreover, Mr. Schoenfeld produces a mythical number of 55,000 Muslim voters in Virginia (no one knows what the real number is) to illustrate how Muslim votes are swinging elections.
Mr. Schoenfeld tells us that the Democratic party is becoming anti-Israel. Never mind that the conservative columnist William Kristol and the senior Republican leader Dan Burton, among others, have stated that there is essentially no difference between the two parties when it come to support for the Jewish state. Never mind that a recent analysis by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency concluded that the new Democratic-controlled 110th Congress is likely to be more pro-Israel than the Republican-controlled 109th. Mr. Schoenfeld resorts to trotting out Jimmy Carter and George Soros. He does not mention the anti-Israel rantings of Republican Congressmen like Ron Paul or Darrell Issa, or the ten GOP Senators who refused to sign a letter calling upon the European Union to add Hizballah to its list of terrorist organizations. He does not mention that Jimmy Carter’s foremost critics are Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean.
Anyone who is familiar with how the two political parties interact with the Jewish and the Muslim communities will recognize that Mr. Schoenfeld’s analysis bears, at best, a cartoonish resemblance to reality. The comparative political clout of the two communities is not anywhere close to parity. Both the Democratic and Republican parties remain staunchly pro-Israel.
The pro-Israel community has a stake in analyzing its own political power as well as that of the growing Muslim community. But if we are to maintain American support for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, it does us no good to substitute partisan screeds for serious analysis.
Ira N. Forman
National Jewish Democratic Council
To the Editor:
Gabriel Schoenfeld writes that “the [Democratic] party and the American Jewish community may be heading toward a slow-motion collision,” suggesting, in essence, that the Democrats are bad for Israel and bad for the Jews. But he misses the mark on both points, and advances a partisan agenda of his own that endangers the security and long-term health of both the state of Israel and the United States. What Israel needs most now is bipartisan support for its peace efforts. Anything that undermines such support undermines Israel.
Mr. Schoenfeld is deeply misguided if he thinks that only Republicans support Israel. He offers the 2006 congressional Palestinian Anti-Terror Act as evidence for this claim, but his facts are off. The bill was actually initiated in the House, not the Senate. More importantly, it was rejected by the Republican President and his Secretary of State. The Republican chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee concurred with the President, and joined in a bipartisan effort to include incentives for the Palestinians in the bill. (The House version would have forbidden aid to the Palestinians that Israel itself allows.) Ultimately, the more moderate bill that Israel Policy Forum and other Israel advocacy groups supported was passed by both houses of Congress. Thus, the act is an excellent example of the pro-Israel bipartisanship that Mr. Schoenfeld seems to denigrate. At any rate, time after time, the overwhelming majority of Democrats and Republicans in Congress have voted for aid to Israel, the most tangible evidence of support the legislative branch can offer.
Unlike Mr. Schoenfeld, true supporters of Israel understand that Israel should not be a partisan issue. Knowing that administrations change, our goal is to find ways to serve as a broker on Israel’s behalf with whoever is in power. Most Americans, including Jews, want to know that our government, Republican or Democrat, is doing everything possible to protect Israel and bring peace to it. Turning the Israel-Palestinian conflict into a football for polarizing political ends is bad policy.
Mr. Schoenfeld’s views are also out of whack with the emerging consensus that seeking a negotiated two-state solution is the real pro-Israel stance. This position is held by an overwhelming majority of American and Israeli Jews, has been endorsed by the last five governments of Israel, and was the stated policy of the Clinton administration, as it is now of the Bush administration. Throwing the Iraq war into the pot, as Mr. Schoenfeld does, is inappropriate. Does he really want to demean Congressman Gary Ackerman, one of Israel’s consistent allies, by placing quotation marks around his “pro-Israel” position because he opposes the Bush administration’s policy on Iraq?
At the close of his article, Mr. Schoenfeld criticizes our view that support for Israel has been consistently bipartisan as “so much eyewash.” Well, to adopt his metaphor, eyewash cleanses the eye and allows one to see clearly. The reality in Israel and the Palestinian territories is sometimes frustrating and disappointing, but it is no longer ambiguous: those of us who love America and Israel know that an independent Palestinian state at peace with Israel is the only option that will provide for a secure Israel.
David M. Elcott
Seymour D. Reich
Israel Policy Forum
New York City
To the Editor:
About the U.S. Muslim population, Gabriel Schoenfeld writes: “Although the numbers are hotly disputed . . . a middle-range estimate tells us there are 4 to 6 million Muslims in the country.” Indeed, these numbers are hotly disputed, but there were two authoritative studies done in 2001, including one by Tom W. Smith, who wrote that the
best, adjusted, survey-based estimates put the . . . total Muslim population at 1,886,000. Even if high-side estimates based on local surveys, figures from mosques, and ancestry and immigration statistics are given more weight than the survey-based numbers, it is hard to accept estimates that Muslims are greater than 1 percent of the population (2,090,000 adults or 2,814,000 total).
Numbers have power, and the ones we use should be as accurate as possible.
Scarsdale, New York
To the Editor:
Gabriel Schoenfeld has written another fine article. However, in reviewing the 2006 midterm elections, he makes a point that is not well supported. Mr. Schoenfeld states: “According to exit polling, the tilt this year was, if anything, even more pronounced than it has been in the past. Some 88 percent of Jewish votes went to Democratic candidates, while a mere 12 percent went to the GOP.”
Reliance on the national exit-poll data to assess Jewish voting patterns in 2006 is highly problematic. Approximately 200 Jewish voters were interviewed out of a national sample of about 13,000 voters, and this very small sample precludes giving authoritative weight to the results. A much larger survey conducted of 1,000 Jewish voters in Pennsylvania, Florida, and New Jersey for the Republican Jewish Coalition by Arthur J. Finkelstein & Associates determined that Republican Senate and House candidates won between 26 percent and 27 percent of the Jewish vote in the areas where the survey was conducted. This is more than double the percentage garnered by Republicans in the exit-poll survey, and matches the results from various surveys after the 2004 election. Jews are still voting Democratic in heavy numbers, but the 88-percent figure almost certainly overstates things.
To the Editor:
Having been directly involved with the Democratic party, Congress, and Israel since 1969, I am in general agreement with Gabriel Schoenfeld’s views regarding the growing political nexus between the Democratic Left and Muslim organizations.
Back in the 1970’s, it was leading Democrats like Hubert Humphrey and Henry Jackson who personified congressional support for Israel. This has changed today as some left-leaning lawmakers have gradually come to view Palestinians as victims and Israelis as oppressors. We now find that Israel’s most outspoken champions in Congress are Republicans. In terms of antagonists, there is now a core of 30-45 House Democrats and a handful, at most, of Republicans who can be considered unfriendly to Israel. Recent polls also demonstrate a gradual diminution of support for Israel among Democratic as opposed to Republican voters.
But while this shift in sentiment among Democrats is disappointing, it does not reflect any newfound political clout of American Muslims. The American people continue to side with Israel in its conflict with the Arabs by a margin of as much as four-to-one. Although Muslim groups like CAIR have proliferated in recent years, they cannot compete with the pro-Israel community in providing tangible support to potential congressional allies. One measure of this inequality is the lopsided 30-1 ratio of pro-Israel political-action-committee (PAC) contributions over pro-Arab PAC contributions to candidates in the last election cycle.
The real threat to continued strong American public and congressional support for close U.S.-Israel ties comes from anti-Israel bias in the major media, elite universities, and most importantly from ultra-liberal Jewish organizations like Americans for Peace Now and individual Jews who seem to have difficulties dealing with their own Jewishness. These “useful idiots,” to borrow Lenin’s term, legitimize scurrilous attacks on Israel by its adversaries. We all know who they are, have seen them fawn over the late Yasir Arafat, incessantly criticize Israel for “human-rights abuses,” convene to consider a competing organization to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, and, in general, provide aid and comfort to Israel’s enemies. Some of these Israel bashers, going beyond the definition of a liberal in that old saw as “someone so broad-minded he won’t even take his own side in a fight,” actually cheer for the other side.
Unfortunately, many of these Jews are also important supporters of the Democrats because they share views on a host of domestic issues. So we sometimes have a situation where they seek to burnish their liberal credentials at Israel’s expense. The correlation between those promoting a far-Left “progressive” agenda and those expressing anti-Israel sentiment is palpable. It is fair to say that the damage they are doing to American support of Israel far surpasses the efforts of Muslim Americans. So before Jews go looking for enemies outside the fold, it may be more useful to expose the motives and counter the activities of those within their own ranks.
Morris J. Amitay
To the Editor:
In “Jews, Muslims, and the Democrats,” Gabriel Schoenfeld is not in denial. Unfortunately, all too many American Jews are. The plain fact is that those concerned about Israel’s security are confronted with an ever-increasing number of Democratic politicians hostile to the Jewish state. Moreover, America’s liberal-Left is moving in the same direction as Europe’s in denying that Western civilization is faced with a sophisticated, resourceful, uncompromising, and altogether devious adversary, unconditionally bent on its destruction. Moreover, this is a project not without considerable sympathy among a sizable segment of Muslims domiciled in the West. Israel is only the first round in radical Islam’s war. Mr. Schoenfeld need not be a prophet to have performed a very important service by stating the obvious and backing it up with facts.
This does not mean that American Jews should uncritically ally themselves with the Republican party. The James Baker wing of the GOP may be as implacably hostile to Israel as the Muslim-Left alliance in the Democratic party. If Jews have any allies in the Republican party, they are to be found in its evangelical Christian wing. Jews have some important lessons to learn about building realistic political alliances.
Richard L. Rubenstein
University of Bridgeport
Gabriel Schoenfeld writes:
Ira N. Forman of the National Jewish Democratic Council accuses me of producing a political analysis that bears a “cartoonish resemblance to reality.” I would reply that his letter is a comic-book rendition of my article in which he quarrels vociferously with arguments put forward not by me but by characters in his own cartoon. But before I demonstrate that, we should turn to the matter of the Muslim population in the United States, and there I must issue a partial mea culpa.
Mr. Forman and Gloria Lewit fault me for providing an inflated figure of 4 to 6 million Muslims in this country. Alas, if I had only opened my own 2004 book, The Return of Anti-Semitism, I would not have fallen into the trap of relying on data from a U.S. State Department fact sheet that I myself criticized there as “almost certainly too high.” The estimate by Tom W. Smith of 1.9 to 2.8 million is undoubtedly more accurate.
As for the “mythical” 55,000 Muslim-American voters in Virginia at which Mr. Forman scoffs, the source of that figure, as I explicitly noted in my article, was a Muslim-American advocacy group with a strong interest, as I also explicitly noted, in exaggerating its own influence. (As for the Jewish vote, I readily accept Richard Baehr’s point that the exit polling may well have overstated the lopsidedness of the tilt toward Democrats in the 2006 mid-term elections.)
None of this touches on the main issue raised by my article, which Mr. Forman and my other critics sidestep by attributing to me a variety of positions I do not hold.
To begin with, I certainly never said that, as Mr. Forman paraphrases me, “the Democratic party is eager to adopt an anti-Israel worldview.” I also never uttered the words—that “Democrats are bad for Israel and bad for the Jews” and that “only Republicans support Israel”—that David M. Elcott and Seymour D. Reich put in my mouth. Given the Democratic party’s longstanding and traditional support for Israel, and its strong Jewish representation, which I myself cited as being at high tide, such propositions would be ludicrous.
Something rather more subtle is going on, and I stated exactly what it is. A caucus is emerging within the Democratic party that consistently tilts against Israel and has quietly been accepted by the party, or at least been exempted from criticism by party leaders. I gave specific evidence of this in my essay.
Some of this evidence centered on the election of America’s first Muslim member of Congress, Keith Ellison. But the mere fact that he is a Muslim has nothing to do with the case. I never called Ellison “Louis Farrakhan’s first Congressman,” as Mr. Forman alleges; that was the headline of an article I cited from the Weekly Standard. Indeed, I was careful to note that Ellison had issued an emphatic apology to the Jewish community for his past ties to the Reverend Louis Farrakhan’s blatantly anti-Semitic Nation of Islam. My concern was not with his past ties but with his present ties to the blatantly anti-Israel, occasionally anti-Semitic, occasionally terrorist-supporting lobbying organization CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations). But Mr. Forman says not a word about CAIR and its troubling association with members of the party he supports. There is an obvious reason for his silence—it is the same silence maintained by many politicians within the Democratic party—and it confirms the basic contention of my article.
Mr. Forman is likewise at pains to rush away from the pronouncements about Israel by ranking figures in Democratic-party circles like George Soros and Jimmy Carter, noting only—with comical implausibility—that Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean are among Carter’s “foremost critics.” In his haste, Mr. Forman skips entirely past the fact that leading Democratic candidates are happy to accept campaign contributions from Soros, even at the price of being associated with the latter’s call for intensified U.S. pressure on beleaguered Israel or his repeated comparisons of the Bush administration with Nazis. Here, for example, is Hillary Clinton on the subject: “We need people like George Soros, who is fearless and willing to step up when it counts.”
As for Nancy Pelosi, Mr. Forman disingenuously omits mention of her warm relationship with figures on the anti-Israel radical Left. Take former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney. In 2002, backed by CAIR, McKinney campaigned in her Georgia district with the Reverend Farrakhan, Keith Ellison’s former mentor, by her side. When Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, in the wake of 9/11, refused a multi-million dollar gift to the city from an Israel-bashing Saudi prince, McKinney issued an open letter backing the prince and asking him to give the money to black charities instead. None of this deterred Pelosi from endorsing McKinney that year, or even donating $5,000 to her reelection campaign. Now that Pelosi is attempting to hold together a broad coalition, she talks a different talk—but it is important to keep in mind the nature of some of the elements in that broad coalition, and how those elements are treated by the party leadership. This is what my essay was all about.
Messrs. Elcott and Reich, for their part, put forward a stew of charges, going so far as to say that my analysis “endangers the security and long-term health of both the state of Israel and the United States.” They also say that I hold views “out of whack” with the emerging consensus in support of “a negotiated two-state solution” for peace in the Middle East, and that it is “inappropriate” for me to have thrown the issue of “the Iraq war into the pot.”
Flattered as I am by their estimate of my ability to endanger the national security of two states, one of them a superpower, I found their own bouillabaisse not only unpalatable but inedible. In my article I said not a single word about a two-state solution to Israel’s problems—although, now that they mention it, I do admit to being highly skeptical of the course of action they so insouciantly favor: namely, negotiating with the Palestinian terrorists, many of them Islamic fanatics, who are today running Gaza and much of the West Bank. It also escapes me why it is “inappropriate” to raise questions about the dangerous implications for the state of Israel of an American defeat in Iraq—a subject summarily declared off-limits by my interlocutors.
In my article, I quoted Mr. Elcott (though not by name) as a left-wing Jewish spokesman who denies that anti-Israel attitudes are surfacing in the Democratic party—remarks I characterized as eyewash. Declining to enter into discussion of the issues, Messrs. Elcott and Reich prefer to debate the meaning of the word eyewash. But what are we dealing with here, Alice in Wonderland, in which a raven is the same thing as a writing desk? According to my Webster’s dictionary, eyewash consists of “statements, actions, or procedures designed to distract attention from or conceal ulterior motives or actual conditions.” This would seem to suit their letter perfectly.
Morris J. Amitay is a longtime insider in the world of Jewish organizations and Democratic-party politics. Though we have somewhat different emphases and explanations for the changes we are witnessing, I am gratified—if also further alarmed—that he agrees with my central contention about the Democratic party. Richard L. Rubinstein is a distinguished longtime observer of religious and inter-religious affairs, many of whose anxieties I also share. I thank all of my correspondents for their contributions.