Sundown tonight marks the start of the Jewish New Year that begins with the celebration of Rosh Hashanah. The ten days from the start of this holiday until the end of Yom Kippur next week are known in Judaism as the Days of Awe. During this time, Jews are asked to reflect on their deeds in the past year and seek to account for them to their Creator as well as their fellow human beings. This period of introspection should cause all of us to think about what we have done or not done and to contemplate what can be done to do better. Indeed, as Americans contemplate the final weeks of the presidential campaign it is an apt moment for all of us to look at the issues facing the nation in a sober and honest manner.
Though we refer to Jewish tradition, the notion of accountability also speaks directly to any democracy based on the concept that elected leaders must be judged by the voters. While Republicans and Democrats debate whether we are better off than we were four years ago, the real question is whether it is possible to give our political culture the unsparing assessment it requires if we are to better our fate. Appeals to fear and mindless defense of the status quo are the antipathy of the heshbon nefesh — or accounting of the soul that Rosh Hashanah asks us to perform.
After all these years of endlessly repeating the same tired tropes on the New York Times op-ed page, taking Maureen Dowd’s columns seriously requires a suspension of disbelief that is normally only needed to watch science fiction. But though the Queen of Snark lacks the credibility to discuss virtually any issue in an intelligent manner, she does have a knack for picking up on whatever hateful viruses are circulating through the circulatory system of our body politic. Worried about prejudice against Mormons? Dowd was the first to provide mainstream media space to that brand of hate during the current presidential campaign. Concerned about the way some on the left are hoping to utilize the debate about Iran to delegitimize support for Israel? Dowd again is the one to ensure this nasty piece of business gets another airing by arguing that Romney wants to fight wars for the sake of the Jews.
In her column in today’s Times Sunday Review, Dowd picks up on the same theme explored on the paper’s website on Thursday that I discussed earlier today. While it can be argued that she can always be relied upon to seize upon any point, no matter how trivial, to heap scorn on any Republican (her brief stint as a bipartisan basher of Bill Clinton during l’affaire Lewinsky may have earned her a Pulitzer but since then she has stuck to snarking conservatives), her attack on Mitt Romney’s foreign policy stance is particularly creepy. Unlike the rest of the Obama cheerleading squad that occupies the Times opinion pages, she is not content to just bash him for attacking Obama’s apologies, weak leadership and disdain for Israel. Dowd sees him and running mate Paul Ryan as the cat’s-paws of a shadowy group of “powerful” Jewish “neocons” who are out to seize the country in his name and enforce, “a duty to invade and bomb Israel’s neighbors,” on Americans. In a perfect illustration of how hate for Israel shows where the left and right meet, Dowd channeled Pat Buchanan in arguing that Romney/Ryan are the “puppets” of neoconservative conspirators who want Americans to die for Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to cajole or shame the United States into adopting a more realistic strategy on Iran have earned him some poor reviews in the American press. The very idea that an Israeli leader should publicly seek to influence U.S. policy strikes some people as shocking. That he would do so in the midst of an election campaign has opened him up to criticism that he is seeking to influence the choice of the voters. The election tampering charge isn’t very plausible. Netanyahu knows America well enough to understand that any perceived intervention on his part would be a disaster and wouldn’t help Mitt Romney beat Obama. If anything, as Jeffrey Goldberg, a supporter of the president and critic of the prime minister, wrote on Friday in the Atlantic, Netanyahu seems sure Obama will beat Romney so he isn’t trying to change anyone’s vote so much as attempting to pressure the president into a policy shift.
But this argument isn’t so much about what will happen in November, as it is a not-so-subtle effort to silence a reasonable critique of American foreign policy by both Israelis and their American supporters. In doing so, some on the left are seeking not so much to bolster President Obama as they are to delegitimize the notion that the United States ought to be listening to Israel’s warnings about Iran in a manner highly reminiscent of the “Israel Lobby” conspiracy theories.