I certainly set off a firestorm with my use of the term "Israel Firster." Other people use it too but I was the guy who popularized it recently and who used it hundreds of times. The others who utilize the term did so occasionally, often citing me. So I am the main "miscreant" on this score.
And I am proud that I created the controversy because it is an important one. It is important because the underlying issue is not whether the term is polite (it isn't, merely accurate) but whether or not America is going to end up at war with Iran.
First, Andrew Sullivan's short definition of an Israel Firster. In a piece called, "A Plainly True Idea," Sullivan says "When an American sides with a foreign government against his own president in a foreign country, what does one call that? Apart, that is, from disgusting."
There is no need here to describe who the Israel Firsters are. They are those people (of whatever ethnic background) who invariably support Israel's policies over those of the United States.
The Israel Firsters are represented in Washington by AIPAC, which is Israel's lobby in the United States. As this video demonstrates (just look at who is in attendance), it is perhaps the most powerful lobby in Washington and invariably gets what it wants. This past May it even got the United States to veto a U.N. resolution on illegal Israeli settlements that reaffirmed the decades-long official U.S. position on settlements! Now, take a look at its website's obsession with Iran.
It is important to note that AIPAC represents only its 100,000 members and not 6,000,000 American Jews. Newsweek/Daily Beast reported last week, basing its finding on an American Jewish Committee poll:
Every four years, Republicans vow to use Israel to pry Jews from their nearly century-old allegiance to the Democratic Party. And every four years, they fail. The reason is that only about 10 percent of Jews actually vote on Israel (a country most American Jews have never visited).
They also fail because Jews are consistently liberal and have been mainstays of the antiwar movement since Vietnam.
But the question still arises? Why is the issue of the term "Israel First" significant? For one reason: it is the same reason that the people I call Israel Firsters are hysterical over it.
The reason is simple.
Right now, there is only one interest group in the United States that absolutely opposes any diplomacy to avoid war with Iran and which insists that the United States expressly state (as it has) that war with Iran is definitely "on the table."
In fact, that interest group, AIPAC, actually got Congress to pass a bill, which President Obama signed, that bans any diplomacy with Iran without express approval of four Congressional committees in advance — as if AIPAC will ever let that happen.
Just read this AIPAC-drafted language that is now law:
(c) RESTRICTION ON CONTACT.-No person employed with the United States Government may contact in an official or unofficial capacity any person that-
(1) is an agent, instrumentality, or official of, is affiliated with, or is serving as a representative of the Government of Iran; and
(2) presents a threat to the United States or is affiliated with terrorist organizations.
(d) WAIVER.-The President may waive the requirements of subsection (c) if the President determines and so reports to the appropriate congressional committees 15 days prior to the exercise of waiver authority that failure to exercise such waiver authority would pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the vital national security interests of the United States.
Frankly, this makes me sick. Banning diplomacy almost guarantees war with Iran, a war that must not be fought.
I oppose war with Iran unless Iran attacks the United States directly. Period.
I do not want America to be dragged into a war that Netanyahu provokes and which the United States would then be dragged into. I favor diplomacy, unconditional diplomacy, with all issues on the table.
I oppose war because we lost 4,400 men and women in Iraq, a war built on lies and false premises, conveyed by many of the self-same people promoting war with Iran. I don't think we should lose even one solider in a war against a country that does not directly threaten the American people.
A digression. A few months ago, on a beautiful Saturday, I was walking on the grounds of the Walter Reed Army Hospital here in Washington. (A friend got me in.) There were dozens of young guys being pushed around in wheel chairs by parents, wives, girlfriends, buddies, etc. They looked like injured members of the high school football team, except that so many were missing limbs.
I approached an officer and said that these boys seemed cheerful considering their situations. He said, "These soldiers are the lucky ones. They lost limbs and, worse, often testicles [from IED's]. But not their minds. In that building over there are the brain injured. Their parents visit too but you won't see them out on the grounds like these soldiers."
And I oppose war because it would almost surely lead to missile attacks on Israel and to wider regional war that could ultimately lead to Israel's destruction. My wife was born in a Displaced Person camp in Germany. Her parents survived the Holocaust. It repulses us to think that Netanyahu would risk the state just to maintain regional dominance.
As for an Iranian nuclear weapon, we should use diplomacy to prevent its development. But if Iran gets the bomb, we are fully capable of containing a nuclear Iran the same way we contained the Soviet Union, which for 50 years had a massive nuclear arsenal pointed our way and whose leader constantly said, "We will bury you."
I believe that pointing out who is pushing for war makes it a little less likely war will occur. If the neocons succeed in banning the term (that is their unachievable goal), they might be tempted to believe that if war starts no one will know that we were led there by Commentary, Binyamin Netanyahu, John Bolton, Jeff Goldberg, the Washington Post editorial page and, most of all, AIPAC.
I often write about the memo Steve Rosen, AIPAC's then-director of research — who was indicted for espionage (the charges were dropped) — wrote to me on my first day at work at that institution. (I broke with AIPAC after Oslo when they worked to undermine President Clinton and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's peace efforts.)
Rosen wrote: "MJ, always remember. A lobby is a night flower. It thrives in the dark and shrivels in the sun."
The term "Israel Firster" is my flashlight.
NOTE: This year AIPAC's huge Washington conference will be almost exclusively dedicated to pushing war with Iran. It takes place the first week in March.