We do not use the term “antisemitism” lightly. Criticism of individual Israeli leaders or specific Israeli government policies is of course perfectly legitimate. But every sober-minded observer understands that criticism of Israel is sometimes just a thin mask for promoting anti-Jewish stereotypes and conspiracy theories.
The campaign of whispers, leaks and rumors against Prime Minister Netanyahu this week dropped that mask and began promoting one of the ugliest anti-Jewish canards: that Israel is trying to control the United States government.
A full-page ad in The New York Times on Feb. 19 featured photos of a smiling President Obama and a scowling Prime Minister Netanyahu, under the headline: “Who is our Commander in Chief?”
The message could not have been more clear: the Israelis –the Zionists, the pro-Israel lobby, the Jews– are trying to turn Israel’s prime minister into America’s commander in chief.
The ad proceeds to accuse Netanyahu and pro-Israel congressmen of trying to “start a war” by opposing President Obama’s deal with Iran. “The Jews are dragging us into a war” is one of the oldest antisemitic lies in circulation.
One of the most notorious examples of this line is the infamous speech by Charles Lindbergh to an “America First” rally in Iowa in 1941. He charged that “Jewish groups in this country” are “agitating for war” (against Nazi Germany).
“Jews (or Zionists, or Israelis) controlling the government” is another well-worn slur. It received a huge boost in 2007, with the publication of “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy,” by Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, which argued that Israel and its lobby in Washington control America’s Mideast policy and dragged America into the Iraq war. Not surprisingly, the book received fulsome praise from those who dislike Israel, such as former Carter administration national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.
According to Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, Mearsheimer and Walt were promoting “a classic antisemitic canard about Jews, having disproportionate power and control, that Jews only care about themselves.” Even Aaron Miller, a former State Department peace processor known for his pro-Palestinian slant, characterized Mearsheimer and Walt’s thesis as “a dangerous, dark trope” that “coexists with other hateful and, yes, antisemitic canards about how Jews control the media and the banks, and the world as well.”
So who sponsored the Feb. 19 ad? The average reader of the New York Times would not be able to tell, because for some reason the sponsoring organization tried to obscure its identity. Instead of listing its name and officers, it simply listed a web site– niacouncil.org. Those who visit that site discover that the sponsor is the National Iranian-American Council (NIAC), a group with an innocent-sounding name but with a not-very-innocent agenda.
NIAC lobbies to end US sanctions on Iran, and urges Americans to be more conciliatory toward the Iranian regime. Last month, it circulated a fundraising appeal accusing Congress of “following Israel’s lead on Iran,” complete with a distorted quote from a senator allegedly saying to the Israelis, “We will follow your lead.”
NIAC’s founder and director is Trita Parsi, a young Iranian-American academic who authored a book about US-Israel relations called “Treacherous Alliance.” The title alone speaks volumes. Zbigniew Brzezinski called it “penetrating” and “very timely.” No surprise there.
Two important questions arise.
First, several mainstream former US officials, such as ex-Under Secretary of State Thomas Pickering, ex-Deputy Assistant Secretary of State John Limbert, and ex-Congressmen Wayne Gilchrist, and Jim Moody, are members of the NIAC Advisory Board. Will they remain on the board, despite the group’s despicable ad in the New York Times?
Second, was the ad coordinated with anybody in the White House? The question must be asked, not only because the ad’s message coincides with the Obama administration’s attacks on the Israeli government, but because, according to Omri Ceren in Commentary, Parsi “has been called to the White House, lectured at the CIA and visited Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. He boasted in internal e-mails that he learned of Mr. Obama’s speech to Iranians on the occasion of the Persian New Year in March  several hours before it was posted on the Internet.” Dr. Parsi needs to explain when was the last time he had contact with any White House official, and what did they discuss?