Dear Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz,
I doubt it if you remember me. That’s okay though. I don’t think that I did anything to merit drawing the attention of the dean as a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). I was pretty bookish at SAIS and spent more than my share of time toiling over economic models in the library. As the dean of SAIS, I am sure that you had fleeting contact with hundreds of students like myself. I think that we shared a few coffees together during your weekly breakfast meetings with students. I thought that custom was classy and demonstrated the importance that you placed on being in touch with us. I liked the fact that you invariably showed up at our Friday afternoon Happy Hour ritual in the courtyard when we all unwound after an intense week of studies.
The comfortable, accessible relationship that you had with your students at SAIS makes it difficult for me to address you as the Assistant Secretary of Defense of the United States of America. It sounds so formal and removed, doesn’t it? Yet I wouldn’t have the audacity to call you by your first name either. Perhaps, for the sake of this letter, I can simply call you “brother.” I hope that you do not take offense at this intimate appellation. But, you see, I am not writing this letter as a secular American critic of a unilateralist U.S. foreign policy that has run amok. Instead, I decided to write to you as one fellow Jew to another. And as Jews, we do share that intimate connection and shared sense of destiny even if we do not really know each other. Perhaps in Hebrew school you learned the dictum kol yisrael arevim zeh la’zeh-that all Jews are responsible for and to each other. It is in this spirit of mutual responsibility that I write to you.
Brother, I am concerned about you. I am concerned that you are being exploited and that you do not realize it. Before you discard my pro-peace, anti-imperialism views about the war in Iraq as the ranting of an aberrant SAIS student who somehow escaped from the school’s neo-conservative straitjacket, I plead with you to engage in chesbon nefesh-that powerful, beautiful Jewish tradition of “soul accounting” in which we engage during the High Holidays. Before the bombs start falling on the long-suffering, innocent civilians of Baghdad, please look into your heart and ask yourself honestly whose interests you are serving by being such a visible symbol of this policy.
Lately I have come to the disturbing conclusion that the Bush Administration is using you as its “court Jew” par excellence. Rest assured, this is not a term that I learned during my studies at SAIS. Rather I picked it up in the course of my involvement with the Jewish peace movement which is calling simultaneously for an end to Israel’s self-destructive military occupation of Palestine and is helping to mobilize the millions of good-hearted Americans who have taken to the streets to protest the war of aggression that the Bush Administration is pedaling.
“Court Jew” is a term that originates in the context of anti-Semitism in “enlightened” Europe. On that blood-soaked continent, the reigning monarchs and other despotic rulers thought up an ingenious system to perpetuate their oppressive systems of government. These shrewd, Machiavellian rulers made a psychologically brilliant pact with an elite, assimilationist group of Jewish subjects who craved nothing more than acceptance by the power structure of society. Often, these ambitious Jews were so eager to serve the interests of the rulers so that they could ease their feelings of internalized self-hatred. They viewed serving the power structure as a way to overcome the marginality and stigmas associated with being Jewish which were built into the very fabric of society by the power structure to begin with. The rulers understood this yearning to enter the halls of power and took advantage of it by dangling a carrot of illusional power before the hungry eyes of this wayward Jewish elite. These “court Jews” were given politically unimportant, yet highly visible positions within the regime. Why? So that when the subjected masses rose up from time to time in justified outrage at the oppressive nature of the regime under which they lived, there was a convenient, ready-made scapegoat in place. The “court Jew,” as a highly visible symbol of the regime, served as the lighting rod to bear the brunt of the blame and deflect criticism from where it belonged rightfully. Brother, need I remind you how disastrous it was for our people to be the target of this rage? I think that you would agree that, in retrospect, it would have been better not to have played the fool for those European monarchs.
But, alas, the tragic mistakes of history do tend to repeat themselves. (Brother, it makes we wonder sometimes if the global community of human beings is making “progress” toward anything worth progressing to.) Maybe you don’t see it coming, but I do. Your job is to interact in the high-brow world of intelligence briefings and diplomacy. My job is to interact with the people and mobilize them against the very steps that you’re taking. With all due respect, I think that I am in a better position to hear what the people are saying. Do you know what they’re saying already? That the war in Iraq is being planned by a cabal of extremist Jews. That it is the first part of a Zionist conspiracy to redraw the map of the Middle East. That Israel stands to be the prime beneficiary of this war. And it’s not just the marginalized skinheads who are saying this either. It’s also mainstream folks who would swear up and down that they don’t have an anti-Semitic bone in their bodies. I’m sure that you, like me, recoiled in horror when you heard Congressman Jim Moran assert that it is the Jews who are advocating for this war and that only the Jews have the power to stop it.
It pains me that so many of my fellow citizens are falling into this age-old trap of blaming the powerless Jews who seem so powerful because of the existence of a handful of “court Jews” who front for the power structure. This doesn’t mean that the “court Jews” of the unelected Jewish Establishment haven’t been hawking for this war. They have been. There is no denying that Israel sent Benjamin Netanyahu to Capitol Hill to testify for the war in Iraq and “convince” Members of Congress that it was in the interests of the United States to let loose the dogs of war (as if they needed much convincing anyway). All of this is true. This is the beauty of how the system works. Take a few “court Jews” and give them unimpeded access to the mainstream media and, voila, you create the impression among the masses that “the Jews” are spoiling for a war. Do you see brother how you are misrepresenting us? I wish that we in the Jewish peace movement could have as much access as you do to the mainstream media so that we could shatter the monolithic view of the Jewish community which the “court Jew” by definition is set up to propagate. Of course, we are denied that access by the same power structure which has an interest in making sure that yours is the only “Jewish” voice heard.
I’m really afraid that we are heading for a calamity. If the people are this incensed now my brother, how do you think they will feel when American men and women start returning from the sands of Kuwait in body bags? Who is going to be blamed if, God forbid, we are subjected to another terrorist attack? Do these thoughts keep you awake at night? Are you scared like I am that this imperialistic war in Iraq threatens the existence of the Jewish people?
My brother, I don’t blame you for accepting the starring role of “court Jew.” It must be a pretty amazing feeling to convince yourself that you have as much power as everybody says that you do. I hope that I never get close enough to the power structure of this crumbling, decrepit empire to get a taste of it. In my humble opinion, there is only one honorable thing that you can do to undo the shameful damage that you have caused already: resign. For the sake of your own dignity, you must refuse to be exploited as the “court Jew.” Step down and deprive the power structure of its “court Jew” and you will expose to the world the actors who really motivate the Bush Administration. Please, before it is too late, tell the world that it is not the powerless Jews who are pushing for this war, but the greedy, venal barons of corporate America who stand to profit while cowering behind the myth of the all-powerful Jew. Tell everybody what you and I both know. That the real interests hawking for this war are the defense contractors and the oil industry who will make billions of dollars to first destroy Iraq and then “rebuild” it under the protective wing of American “democracy.” And, while you’re at it, please tell the world that the $100 billion the Bush Administration will require to pay the military-industrial complex to finance this war of aggression will be sucked from the wallets of the impoverished American working class which is systematically being stripped of government services by this rapacious regime.
I am not the type of Jew who generally bases his opinions on whether a particular action “is good for the Jews.” I would like to believe that I have a more embracing, holistic view of humanity. Maybe it even seems self-centered to worry about what will happen to the Jews because of this war when thousands of innocent Iraqis stand to die in order for the United States to “liberate” their country. I confess though that I’m worried and I don’t know what else to do with my fear except express it. Brother, it seems to me to be so painfully obvious that this war will benefit no one but the corporate interests I mentioned above. Not Jews, not Americans, not Israelis, not Iraqis, and not Palestinians.
If I’ve sparked even a sliver of doubt in your mind as to the wisdom of the course you are pursuing, please call me and we can get together for a cup of coffee over breakfast. It will be just like the good old days at SAIS.
JOSH RUEBNER is co-founder of Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel (JPPI) and a former Analyst in Middle East Affairs at Congressional Research Service (CRS). He can be reached: firstname.lastname@example.org