Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

Mattis is OK, but Ellison isn’t?

U.S. Marine Corps General James Mattis testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington on March 5, 2013. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Gary Cameron

You’re going to have to explain this to me real slowly, because I am having trouble understanding it.

Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison, a Muslim, is the major contender for the position of the chair of the Democratic National Committee. Various Jewish groups, such as the ADL, as well as Democratic big giver Haim Saban and Alan Dershowitz, have opposed the choice. They are concerned about certain of Ellison’s statements that are critical of Israel. Plus, he had a connection to Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam — a connection that Ellison disavowed in 2006.

Let us now turn to president-elect Trump’s choice for Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis, recently retired as the top American commander in the Middle East.

Where does “Mad Dog” Mattis stand on Israel?

He has decried the burdens that Israel places on the United States.

He has warned that the Jewish state could be headed toward apartheid.

His words:

If I’m Jerusalem and I put 500 Jewish settlers out here to the east and there’s 10,000 Arab settlers in here, if we draw the border to include them, either it ceases to be a Jewish state or you say the Arabs don’t get to vote — apartheid. That didn’t work too well the last time I saw that practiced in a country [meaning South Africa: JKS]

So we’ve got to work on this with a sense of urgency, and I paid a military security price every day as the commander of CentCom because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel and that moderates, all the moderate Arabs who want to be with us, because they can’t come out publicly in support of people who don’t show respect for the Arab Palestinians.

Where have we heard this before?

The piece about the burdens that Israel places on the United States? Vintage Pat Buchanan. Buchanan referred to American Jews as “Israel’s amen corner.”

And, the piece about how Israel could be headed toward apartheid?

An echo of what former president Jimmy Carter wrote in his book Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid — for which he was greatly criticized.

In other words — what is the difference between Mattis’s assessment of Israel — and Carter’s assessment?

And, if we were upset about one, why not the other?

But, here is the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Matt Brooks, on General Mattis:

The selection of General Mattis to serve as Secretary of Defense is a smart and important decision by President-elect Trump. Throughout his career, General Mattis has made the protection of the United States, our assets, and our allies around the world his top priority. General Mattis believes in a strong U.S. military posture and understands the threats we face, like a newly aggressive Iran. He has the type of worldview the leader of our Defense Department needs.

Wait a second. Those things that Mattis said about Israel: aren’t those the kinds of statements that the Republican Jewish Coalition usually condemns? (True to form: the Zionist Organization of America has condemned the choice of Mattis — which, at the very least, demonstrates an admirable sense of consistency).

In the words of strategist Aaron Keyak: “If [Mattis] were under consideration to be secretary of defense for President Obama or a President-elect Hillary Clinton, Republicans would be tripping over themselves to condemn the Democrat as hostile to Israel.”

Flashback — to Chuck Hagel.

Four years ago, President Obama nominated Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense — for the same position as the one that Mattis now seems poised to occupy.

Hagel had said that “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.” Many Jewish organizations protested both his words, and his appointment.

And, by the way: Chuck Hagel turned out to be just fine. The ADL and Moshe Yaalon, Hagel’s Israeli counterpart, praised him when Obama forced him out in 2014.

So, in the eyes of some Jewish organizations, what is Mattis’s saving grace?

He is hawkish on Iran.

So, let me get this straight. The test for “good for the Jews” is no longer caring about Israel. In fact, in the Mattis universe, you can be as critical as you want to be about Israel — as long as you are belligerent about Iran.

In which case, all of those Jewish Trump supporters who were so sure that Trump would be “better for Israel” might want to think again.

Look: I am prepared to believe that Mattis might, like Hagel, turn out to be fine on Israel.

Just like I am prepared to believe that Ellison will also be fine on Israel.

The question is: Given the same kind of remarks, why have we been so much softer on Mattis than we have been on Ellison?

Because liberal Jews have had to think critically about Ellison — as well they should. The very least that we can ask is that Jews on the opposite side ask the same kinds of questions about Mattis.

Wouldn’t that be fair?

And, if that does not happen, it would also be fair to ask ourselves a larger, deeper question.

Why not?








About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.