Column One: The Koch Brothers meet the crackpots

On issue after issue, from taxes to bathrooms to what it means to be an American, the cleavages in American society continue to expand.

Donald Trump. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Donald Trump.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It’s no secret that American society and its political parties are in the midst of a period of profound instability. The presidential primaries revealed once again the vast ideological divide separating conservatives and liberals. They also revealed the yawning gap between primary voters in both parties and the parties’ leadership.
On issue after issue, from taxes to bathrooms to what it means to be an American, the cleavages in American society continue to expand.
Yet, to date, through the storm, one certainty has remained. American support for Israel has stood the test of the times.
As a Pew survey published two weeks ago showed, yet again, the majority support that Israel enjoys from the American people continues to hold strong. The most significant pillar of that support is the 75 percent of Republicans who strongly back Israel.
On the Democratic side, the situation is significantly less reassuring, but acceptable in light of the near-consensus support Israel enjoys from Republicans.
Democrats support Israel 43 to 29 percent.
But while on the surface everything seems fine, just below it, we discover that all is not well on the Republican front. The instability rocking American society has not left Republican support for Israel unscathed.
During the bruising Republican primary race, prominent voices in the party that have come out strongly for presumptive nominee Donald Trump have given voice to growing hostility toward their party’s enthusiastic support for Israel.
For instance, conservative gadfly and bestselling author Ann Coulter has made a series of statements on social media that have been roundly perceived as anti-Semitic. Among other things, during a discussion of Israel at the tail end of a three-hour Republican debate last September, Coulter tweeted, “How many f---ing Jews do these people think there are in the United States?” Trump’s populist message has brought right-wing anti-Semites out of the shadows. White supremacists including former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke have publicly endorsed him.
These bigots, empowered by his populism, support Trump enthusiastically despite the fact that his daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism and maintains an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle, and despite Trump’s recent statements in support of Israel.
While unnerving, these developments were not a serious concern because until this week, no serious Republicans catered to them in a sustained or serious way.
But on Wednesday, Eli Lake from Bloomberg reported that the Rubicon has been crossed. Serious Republican figures this week legitimated some of the most marginal figures in the US foreign policy landscape, to the detriment of US Jewry and Israel. In so doing they placed a question mark on the future of Republican and conservative support for Israel and on the position of American Jewry in American society.
Lake reported that Charles and David Koch, the most significant financial backers of Republican politicians and conservative institutions in America, hosted a conference on US foreign policy.
Most Israelis have never heard of the Koch Brothers.
And this makes sense. To date, the two have steered clear of foreign policy. The brothers, who hail from the libertarian wing of the Republican Party, have concentrated their efforts on domestic policy. Since President Barack Obama entered the White House in 2009, the Koch brothers have contributed in excess of $150 million to Republican politicians and conservative organizations, including Super PACs that support Republican candidates.
More important, the Koch brothers have built a massive network of major conservative philanthropists whom they regularly convene for educational and fund-raising retreats. Over the past five years, the Koch brothers’ network has raised some $1 billion for Republican candidates and conservative institutions.
As a result of their massive financial support for both the conservative movement and the Republican Party, the Koch brothers’ decision to enter into the foreign policy fray would have been significant even if their first foray in the field was an anodyne event with standard speakers giving standard foreign policy speeches. The very fact that the Koch Brothers decided to engage on foreign affairs would have had an immense impact on Republican and conservative foreign policy in the years to come, even if they added nothing new to the discourse.
But again, something new did happen to the discourse.
The Koch brothers’ first foray into foreign affairs involved an embrace of the most radical and dangerous anti-Semites in the US foreign policy community.
According to Lake’s report, the conference was organized by Prof. Will Ruger from Texas State University.
From his bibliography, it appears that Ruger, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, supports a neo-isolationist foreign policy.
Ruger invited academics and foreign policy practitioners from varied schools of foreign policy. Many are identified with the realist foreign policy camp.
The realists posit that naked US interests, rather than moral concerns, should inform US foreign policy.
Among their ranks, realists span the spectrum from muscular interventionists to neo-isolationists like Ruger.
On the interventionist extreme stands University of Chicago Prof. John Mearsheimer. In the past Mearsheimer argued that the US can never be powerful enough. In his view, the US should continuously seek to maximize its power while weakening its competitors and adversaries, even in the absence of a concrete threat to its international position.
Harvard Prof. Steve Walt, on the other hand, believes that the US needs only to gain sufficient power to deter other countries from attacking it, and then hunker down in fortress USA.
Ruger also invited three former senior officials in the Obama administration, none of whom agreed to participate.
One of them, Anne-Marie Slaughter, served as No. 3 in the State Department under presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Slaughter supports the liberal interventionist foreign policy line, and as such was a vocal advocate of the overthrow of longtime US ally Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
Led by Mearsheimer and Walt, the disparate band of experts that Ruger assembled share but one common position. And to advance that position, they have advocated policies that stand in open contradiction of the very foreign policy doctrines on which they built their careers.
That common position is hatred of Israel. All of them oppose the US alliance with Israel, and to varying degrees, maintain the bigoted view that Jews who support Israel have undo and malign influence on US foreign policy.
In other words, they are anti-Semites.
Walt and Mearsheimer rose to prominence in 2006 with the publication of their notorious essay, “The Israel Lobby,” in the London Review of Books. As Prof.
Alan Dershowitz wrote at the time, their thesis which they published as a bestselling book by the same name the following year, is a modern version of the anti-Semitic tome The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
In his seminal work, Warrant for Genocide: The Myth of the Jewish World Conspiracy and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the late historian Norman Cohn demonstrated how the Protocols built the pseudo intellectual and psychological foundations of the Holocaust.
In their updated version, Walt and Mearsheimer argued that through AIPAC and allied groups, Israel and the American Jewish community have taken control of US foreign policy to advance their parochial and anti-American interests. In their view, it is anti-American to support Israel because Israel’s very existence threatens global security generally and American security specifically.
Moreover, the men who built their academic careers on their rejection of morality as a foreign policy rationale wrote that support for Israel is immoral because Israel has no moral right to exist.
From the moment The Israel Lobby saw the light of day, Walt and Mearsheimer have thrown their former realist convictions to the seven winds and launched new careers as professional critics and defamers of Israel and American Jewry. As such, the claim that they are serious academics has lost all credibility.
Slaughter, for her part, was exposed as a vituperative critic of Israel, despite the fact that her opposition to Israel contradicts her professed support for human rights-respecting democracies, with the publication of Clinton’s emails last December. In one email from September 2010, Slaughter recommended that Clinton convince a number of leading American philanthropists to take a public “Pledge for Palestine.” The purpose of that pledge would be to shame Israel in the court of public opinion.
Ruger invited several other prominent haters of Israel with records of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish pronouncements to speak at the Koch brothers’ conference.
These include former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia Charles Freeman.
Since retiring from government service in 1992, Freeman has been a hired gun of the Saudi government and the Chinese politburo. His public statements have involved vitriolic assaults on Israel and American Jews. Among other things, Freeman blamed the September 11 attacks on US support for Israel.
In 2009, Obama nominated Freeman to serve as chairman of his National Intelligence Council. Freeman’s appointment was shot down by then-House speaker Nancy Pelosi due to his contemptuous remarks against Chinese democracy activists. But Freeman blamed the Jews, and their malign control over US foreign policy, for torpedoing his appointment.
Other invitees to Wednesday’s conference were Prof. Andrew Bacevich from Boston University and Prof. Michael Desch from Notre Dame. Both men have made public statements claiming that Israel controls US foreign policy to the detriment of American interests.
Ruger’s decision to invite so many outspoken opponents of Israel and American Jewry was made more notable by the fact that he failed to invite any serious champions of the US-Israel alliance. For instance, as Lake noted, no members of the neoconservative foreign policy school were invited to participate in the Koch brothers’ maiden voyage into foreign policy waters.
The conference’s joining together of isolationists like Ruger with anti-Semites indicates that the Koch brothers may be interested in rebuilding the foreign policy coalition that Charles Lindbergh led during the 1930s. Through his coalition, Lindbergh and his colleagues prevented the US from challenging the Nazis throughout the 1930s and blocked US entry into World War II for more than two years.
Alarm bells should be sounding throughout the American Jewish community in the wake of the Koch brothers’ move. Politically conservative Jews should take the lead in attacking their initiative. The goal of the criticism ought to be to convince the Kochs to end their supports for anti-Semitic crackpots. They should be moved to either once against abandon foreign affairs, or to support voices that are not driven by their obsession with Jews and the Jewish state.
Israeli leaders need to recognize the significance of the Kochs’ move. They must understand that Republican support must not be taken for granted. And while redoubling efforts to maintain that support, Israel must also prepare for the possibility that like so many other things, Republican support for Israel may become yet another casualty of the turmoil currently roiling American society and politics.