Brzezinski and Obama:

Barack Obama has been criticized by pro-Israel forces (undoubtedly egged on by the Hillary team) for naming Zbignew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter's National Security advisor, as one of his foreign policy gurus. Ezra Klein links to, and endorses, a post by one Matthew Duss, relying on a story from the Politico website, suggesting that the "Israel lobby," writ large, and Alan Dershowitz personally, are upset about Brzezinski because he wrote an essay last Summer defending Mearsheimer and Walt’s “Israel Lobby” essay.

This is a good an example of the dangers of blogging about things that one doesn't know much about. Anyone who is reasonably familiar with the history of U.S.-Israel relations knows that the pro-Israel community (and the organized Jewish community writ large, for that matter) has despised Brzezinski for at least thirty years. And it wasn’t just Brzezinski’s policies, deemed by many to be anti-Israel, it was the way he promoted them, and the way he interacted with Jewish community activists who sought to engage him--much worse, for example, than Bush I Secretary of State James "Fuck the Jews" Baker, who has few friends in the pro-Israel world.

For example, the New York Times reported on March 10, 1978, that Rabbi Alexander Schindler, President of the Conference of Major Jewish Organizations (and a very liberal fellow, both religiously and politically), thought that Carter's Middle East policy was a "question mark," largely because of Brzezinski. Schindler told the Times that among Jewish leaders "All of the anger and mistrust is toward the National Security Council and toward Brzezinski." Schindler explained that in a meeting with Jewish leaders, Brzezinski was "antagonistic, blustering, threatening." Brzezinski, for his part, acknowledged to the Times "strong resentment toward him personally expressed by some Jewish leaders."

Brzezinski denied being anti-Israel, and for all I know, he was sincere. But even though I was not even bar mitzvah age at the time, as a reader of Jewish newspapers that came to our home I remember the deep hostility and mistrust many Jews felt toward Brzezinski at the time. Brzezinski likely played a larger role than anyone but Carter himself in the fact that in 1980, Jewish activists largely preferred Kennedy to Carter, and Carter ultimately received less than 50% of the Jewish vote in the general election (compared, for example, to 80+% for recent Democratic presidential candidates).

So for Klein to attribute anti-Brzezinski sentiment to, for example, the fact that he “calmly defend[ed] and contextualiz[ed] a book by two leading international relations scholars, or because Brzezinski denies that "this Israel Lobby which is currently planting stories to attack and embarrass Obama doesn't exist," [as I’ve noted before, and despite Matthew Yglesias's continued insistence to the contrary, NO ONE denies that an Israel lobby exists, they just quarrel with absurdly expansive definitions of that lobby, and exaggerated notion's of that lobby's power], without any hint that Klein is aware of the longstanding feud between Brzezinski and the organized Jewish community, is just kind of embarrassing.

UPDATE: Hmm, just noticed that the original Politico article that prompted Duss's post notes that "Brzezinski has been at odds with elements of the American Jewish community since the Carter administration." But why let such details get in the way of a good "the Israel lobby is out to get someone because he defended Mearsheimer and Walt" story (adopted by M.J. Rosenberg, who clearly does know better, as well)? The article does quote one observer as claiming that Brzezinski had kept a low profile on the Middle East over the years, and that the source of controversy over him was thus his defense of M & W. But Brzezinski has not, in fact, kept a low profile; he was, for example a leading critic of Israel's action re Lebanon last year, and a Google search for Brzezinski and Israel results in approximately 650,000 hits.

Two more things: First, I don't know enough about Brzezinski to have a strong personal opinion about him. I do recall that he was considered something of a right-wing hardliner in the Carter Administration, especially compared to the more liberal, and far more pro-Israel, Cyrus Vance. Second, wow, the anti-Semitism you see in the comments pages of liberal blogs (just a sample from one thread: a commenter tying the Israel lobby controversy to the "Jewish conspiracy" to turn over atomic secrets to the Soviets; and "let me congratulate you for once again showing the legendary Jewish ability to make most peoples who encounter Jews eventually detest a good portion of them for their famous arrogance and condescension") whenever subjects like this come up! I don't know what these blogs' moderation policy is, but I wonder if similar sentiments were expressed regarding other groups, the authors, and their readers, would be so indulgent. (Not that I think Klein, et al., endorse anti-Semitism, but if you're bending over backwards to show that you're not part of the evil "Israel lobby," you may be more hesitant to "censor" anti-Semitic comments, especially because we all know that anti-Semitism plays virtually no role in debates over Israel.)