WASHINGTON - As the argument in the United States over the necessity of the war in Iraq and the manner in which it was waged intensifies, and as the presidential election date draws nearer, those who have tried to accuse Israel or the U.S. Jews of pushing the administration into battle are once again sounding their voices. In the American Jewish community, they warn it could get worse.
The most blatant example in recent weeks was an article written by veteran Senator Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (Dem.-South Carolina), who charged in an article published in a Charleston newspaper at the beginning of the month that behind the decision to go to war was "President Bush's policy to secure Israel."
In his article, Hollings mentions the names of three prominent Jews, from the neoconservative stream in the administration, as those responsible for pushing for the decision to go to war in Iraq.
Two weeks later, Hollings stepped up to the podium in the Senate and delivered an emotional address in which he defended his statements, attacking the Jewish establishment and repeating the main thrust of his claims.
Hollings has been the most outspoken U.S. official against the alleged Israeli-Jewish connection to the war; but a week ago, the issue was also picked up by retired general Anthony Zinni, a well-known and esteemed figure from the center of the American political spectrum.
In an interview with CBS's "60 Minutes," Zinni, who, with Tom Clancy, is about to publish a book in which he harshly criticizes the war and Bush's team, said there were a number of neoconservatives who had promoted the idea of the war in Iraq with the purpose, among others, of "strengthening the position of Israel."
Zinni mentioned the names of five representatives of the neoconservative stream - all of them Jewish. He did say, however, that the religious or ethnic affiliations of the members of the administration were of no bearing on the matter.
Despite the significant difference between the statements of Zinni and those of Hollings, certain members of the U.S. Jewish community are beginning to feel a little uncomfortable.
"The fact is that this claim is out there," says the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, on the charge that the Jews and supporters of Israel were the ones who pushed the U.S. into the war. "We were pointed out at the beginning, and it's easier to blame us when things go bad," he adds.
The claims about the Jewish-Israeli link to the war were raised even before they were voiced by extreme right-wing spokespersons such as Pat Buchanan and Democratic Congressman Jim Moran, who found himself having to apologize for saying that without the Jewish community's strong support, the U.S. would not have gone to war in Iraq.
Foxman says the charges are being voiced anew because the argument over the war is heating up. "We knew that if things went wrong, they will look for someone to blame," he says. "The more protest, the more politicizing of the issue, people will be sloppier and will not be careful in what they say."
But the link between Israel and the war in Iraq espoused by Hollings is not the only one. More voices are making the connection from a different direction, charging that the only solution to the embroilment in Iraq is a more intensive approach toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Last week, in an article by Nicolas Kristof in the New York Times, Zinni was reported to have said that he had been surprised to hear from members of the administration that the advantage of the war in Iraq is that "the road to Jerusalem leads through Baghdad."
According to Zinni, "The opposite is true; the road to Baghdad leads through Jerusalem. If you were to solve the Middle East peace process, you'd be surprised what kind of other things work out."
Similar sentiments were expressed by Anthony Cordesman, one of the most highly regarded academics on the Iraq issue, in an article in the Baltimore Sun a week ago. The first step toward fixing America's status in the Arab world must be "steady and visible U.S. pressure ... on [the Israeli and Palestinian] governments," Cordesman wrote, while urging the U.S. administration to make a concerted effort to stop Israeli settlement activity.