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Why neoconservatism is [almost] dead — Notes on the J Post review of my book

Initially, I was delighted to read Jonathan Schanzer’s vicious attack on my book in the Jerusalem Post. Until then, the few reviews out there had been been quite positive (See essays by
Jerome Chanes
, the History News Network’s Murray Polner, and Thomas Mitchell), and I was hoping and praying for controversy of some kind, as books die without any buzz.

But, upon reflection, the zero-sum-game mentality exhibited by Schanzer is depressing, because it is still widely shared in the pro-Israel community. I suggest you take a peek at the review, called “Fleshler vs. Fleshler,” and then return here.

Welcome back. First, it is important to understand how Schanzer earns his living. He is Deputy Director of the Jewish Policy Center, whose advisory board is a veritable neoconservative hall of fame. They are all there, the same people who provided the intellectual foundations of an utterly disastrous foreign policy: Daniel Pipes, Irving Kristol, Irving and John Podhoretz, William Bennett, Michael Ledeen, Ruth Wisse and others. Schanzer’s boss is none other than…Matthew Brooks, who also runs the Republican Jewish Coalition. One of Brooks’ notable achievements was an ad campaign that tried to convince Jewish voters that Howard Dean was an ally of Yasser Arafat. Oh, and Schanzer’s first boss in the think tank universe was none other than…Daniel Pipes.

Let’s leave aside the fact that assigning an employee of that organization to review my book is like assigning Norman Finkelstein to write his impressions of Commentary magazine. What matters is the intellectual bankruptcy of the movement that pays Schanzer’s salary.

Schanzer’s main beef is that “Fleshler contradicts himself throughout the book.”

Here is an example of what Schanzer seems to believe is a contradiction: “Fleshler insists that Israel has a right to defend itself, but castigates it for its “appallingly disproportionate response to Hamas rocket fire’ during Operation Cast Lead in December 2008 and January 2009.”

In other words, if you assert that Israel had the right to defend itself from Hamas rockets, the only recourse you could possibly support is “Operation Cast Lead.” There is literally no room in this mindset for any other approach. Schanzer doesn’t merely disagree with alternatives; he acts as if those alternatives don’t exist.

Another one: “[Fleshler] admits that the `combination of Hamas, Hizbullah in Lebanon and, of course, Iran’s reckless president and nuclear program’ has provided ample reason to believe 1938-type dangers loom for Israel. Yet he sneers at the `hawkish tilt’ of Jewish groups that seek to impose a blockade on Iran until it halts its illicit activities.”

In my book, I identified and sought to explain Jewish fears, and indicated that the dangers Israel faced were real. But I pointed out that there were other approaches to Iran besides the confrontational tack of the Bush administration, such as those of Trita Parsi and Shlomo Ben-Ami. And I lamented the fact that those approaches weren’t even on the radar screen of the organized American Jewish community. But in the world according to Schanzer and his mentors, you cannot possibly be worried about Iran unless you want American warships to enforce a blockade.

And here is his summary: “In a nutshell, Fleshler wants Israel to cough up territory and make other concessions to the Palestinians, even if there is no reciprocity, simply because he thinks it’s the right thing to do. And he thinks that America needs to force Israel to make these concessions.”

Nope. The book asserts that both sides eventually need to compromise to stave off utter disaster. There is nothing in there about Israel relinquishing territory without reciprocity, or forcing Israel to make concessions. But perhaps he believes that I actually did advocate those things. Perhaps when he is confronted with anyone who searches for a middle ground, an alarmist part of his brain clicks in and convinces him that he is confronted with a complete capitulationist. Because there is no middle ground in his world, no room for subtlety or diplomatic nuance.

Doesn’t this sound painfully familiar? This is the school of bludgeoning bone-headed militarism, of Shock and Awe, of all sticks and no carrots, with the credo of shoot-first-and-worry-about-the-TV-cameras-later. It failed so miserably, one would think its advocates would at least keep quiet until they came up with something better. But, apparently, this is the best they can do.

I suppose it’s good news that they can’t come up with anything new to refute Obama’s more reasonable approach to the world, which my book supports. But the bad news is that this mentality is still popular within vocal, still-powerful segments of the American Jewish community

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