President Obama’s recent comments about the Iran deal “dredge up the Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” according to one of the most respected elder statesmen of Israeli academia. When an academic figure of this stature makes such a charge, the Obama administration and it supporters should pay attention.
Haifa University political scientist Abraham Ben-Zvi, who is no right-winger, is not the type to sling around accusations of antisemitism. But President Obama’s recent comments about Jewish “money” and “lobbyists” opposing the Iran deal “have taken a particularly harsh and dangerous turn,” Ben-Zvi wrote in Israel HaYom this week.
Presidents should act presidential. Instead, Mr. Obama “sounds and appears angry and bitter over having to put in extra hours in the sweltering political kitchen, as opposed to merely having his aides and administration officials apply the pressure for him,” Ben-Zvi notes.
Obama’s “latest tongue-lashings toward Israel (and AIPAC) [have] crossed every line in terms of Washington’s relations with Jerusalem,” according to Prof. Ben-Zvi. “The president is tying several combustible elements together, which could awaken past demons and reveal hidden ideological resentments and prejudices toward the Jewish minority in the U.S.”
Ben-Zvi continues: “The correlation that Obama has made between money and Jewish power (in the form of the pro-Israel lobby), and the potential for the U.S. to be dragged into another unnecessary and expensive war following the Iraq trauma, drudges up, even if in a softened tone, the detestable Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”
Obama’s rhetoric seems intended to “raise the fear among American Jews that a fundamental contradiction exists between support for Israel and their concern for America’s national interests,” Prof. Ben-Zvi writes. “Suddenly, as the opponents of the ‘Vienna agreement’ are painted as sectorial and as undermining the national interest, a host of particularly charged questions, tied intrinsically to the Jewish identity, may resurface, underscoring the ostensible contradiction — that seems quite real these days — between identifying with the Israeli stance on the Iranian issue and loyalty to official American interests.”
The scheduled release of Jonathan Pollard plays into all of this, Ben-Zvi points out. “On the eve of Jonathan Pollard’s release from prison, the old ghosts that accompanied his arrest and trial are again taking center stage. These ghosts exposed a particularly sensitive nerve in the Jewish American experience.”
“We can only hope,” Ben-Zvi concludes, “that the seeds of division Obama has sown regarding ‘dual loyalty’ will not take this community back to a dark era, an era that supposedly faded away long ago.”
Ben-Zvi has one of the longest and most distinguished resumes of any Israeli political scientist. After earning his Ph.D at the University of Chicago in 1973, he taught at Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University (where he chaired the Department of Political Science and headed the Security Studies Program), with visiting professorships at Georgetown and Cornell, among other institutions. He has been teaching at the University of Haifa for the past decade.
Prof. Ben-Zvi has been the recipient of a Ford Foundation fellowship, won the Landau Annual Award for his 1993 book, The United States and Israel, and three times won the annual competition for the Goldman Visiting Professorship at Georgetown. He is the author of nine critically-acclaimed books on U.S. foreign policy and Israeli-American relations, as well as dozens of scholarly essays published in all the major journals. He is a fixture at international academic conferences in his field. In short, his credentials are impeccable.
When a scholar of the stature of Abraham Ben-Zvi says that President Obama’s rhetoric is conjuring up images of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the most notorious antisemitic tract of all time, perhaps it’s time for the president’s advisers and supporters to moderate their approach to the Iran debate.
(Mr. Korn, former executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent and the Miami Jewish Tribune, is chairman of the Philadelphia Religious Zionists.)