Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Rewriting History at Doha Debates

About three-quarters of the way through a session of the Doha Debates held at Georgetown about three weeks ago, Michael Scheuer, a former CIA analyst and an adjunct professor in security studies at Georgetown, had the following exchange with Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz.

Dershowitz: More Jews than any other ethnic group in America opposed the war in Iraq!

Scheuer: They led us into war!

Scheuer’s reply was not included in the official transcript of the forum, but it is plainly audible on the video recording now available online. It’s worth checking – you can find it at 36 minutes and 40 seconds into the video – because Scheuer’s statement marks a historic moment.

It isn’t often, after all, that a faculty member at a prestigious university blames an ethnic group – rather than a lobby, an organization or a movement – for a nation’s catastrophes. Until now, I wouldn’t have imagined that a man like Scheuer could fault me and others like me for a war we never supported, merely because of our faith or our families’ origins. That he does so as a Georgetown professor under the university’s auspices is likewise troubling. I’d have thought such talk is beyond the pale at my distinguished alma mater.

Nevertheless, I take solace in the fact that, so far, this kind of charge – about Jews, blacks, Muslims or other American minorities – remains rare. Scheuer’s only prominent bedfellow in this depiction of American Jews, at least in the public arena, is former Ku Klux Klan member David Duke, who is, to judge by his Web site, a huge fan of Scheuer. (Duke includes links to articles written by Scheuer on the site.) In contrast, all other public critics of the United States’ relationship with Israel – from Jimmy Carter to Stephen Walt to Ron Paul – take pains to avoid faulting American Jews, as a community, for the Bush administration’s Middle East policy.

And it’s probably not because they’re hypersensitive or politically correct. These observers likely just know the obvious: that many of the harshest critics of the Iraq War (and even Israel) are Jews. Indeed, Jewish leaders – like Muslim and Christian leaders – have a proud history of opposing military invasions, especially when they’re bound to cost untold civilian lives with little or no defensive warrant.

Every poll on the subject shows a majority of American Jews opposed the Iraq invasion, just as most voted against George W. Bush both times. For that matter, American Jews do not, by and large, identify with the Likud party in Israel (a conservative, Zionist party), and only a tiny few contribute to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee or any other “Israel lobby.” Perhaps less obvious, though equally demonstrable, is that these lobbies themselves (and the Israeli Likud government at the time) did not support the decision to invade Iraq, either. To be fair, in my view, they didn’t do enough to oppose it, but neither did many other Beltway players who should have known better.

Perhaps Scheuer’s canard blaming the Jews for having “led us into war,” as he put it, marks the beginning of something new in America. These are, after all, difficult economic times, and in hard times scapegoating arises and rhetoric becomes more radical, even violent. Recall that Jews and Gypsies were blamed for the Great Depression, and the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover accused black civil rights activists of aiding the Soviet Union.

How does one respond when that happens? I don’t honestly know. It’s been too long since such talk, about any ethnic group, has been tolerated. And its spectacular falsehood seems barely to capture what’s so awful about it. Maybe the worst thing about bashing an ethnic group is that it is both very likely untruthful and very likely harmful. Before you slander a minority – be it blacks, Asian-Americans, Muslims or Jews – you’d better be correct: All the facts better pan out, and all or most of the people criticized (men, women, children) had better be guilty. Even then, such talk is repugnant; the benefits had better outweigh the harm.

Needless to say, these tests always fail. For one thing, it is never actually provable (or true) that an ethnic group acted in unison to cause wars, depressions or other disasters, notwithstanding the fantasies of the Michael Scheuers and David Dukes of the world.

In any event, Scheuer has already admitted to not knowing the reasons the United States invaded Iraq, notably at a speech at the University of California, Berkeley on March 13, 2008. On why we went in, the former CIA analyst admitted he was uninvolved in the conversations preceding the invasion. We can only assume he wasn’t even certain of his own claim that the Jews “led us into war.” That, in turn, leaves us to wonder – just a bit frightened – why he said it anyway, so unhesitatingly, at Georgetown last month . and what’s next?

Jeff Helmreich is a 2004 graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center.

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