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February 20, 2005

Boiling the frog

I've always thought the idea of boiling a frog displayed gratuitous cruelty, but in this case, I think it's an apt analogy. What I mean by boiling the frog is this: It's said that if you stuck a frog in boiling water, it would instantly jump out. If, on the other hand, you stuck a frog in cool water and very gradually raised the heat, the frog would adjust and not notice how hot it was until it was too late for the sorry critter.

I thought of this when I was examining the reactions to the Howard Dean ad run by the Republican Jewish Coalition. I've cited this briefly before, but let's review the bidding.

Howard Dean is elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee. The RJC runs a print ad featuring a photo of Hamas members wearing hooded outfits and what appear to be mock suicide bomb belts. A young boy is also wearing such a belt. The ad quotes Dean as saying, "It's not our place to take sides." The ad also quotes Joe Lieberman, Nancy Pelosi, and a Kerry operative who are critical of Dean's remarks.

Here is a reduced version of the ad:

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Needless to say, Jewish Democrats are unhappy. Needless to say, they are unhappy not with Howard Dean (at least, not publicly) but with the RJC for quoting Dean. Needless to say, they are even unhappier with the RJC for using a photo of Hamasniks.

An article in the Forward parrots the Democrats' argument that the ad "seek[s] to depict [Dean] as a supporter of terrorism." That's obviously not the case. The ad actually seeks to depict Dean as someone who thinks the United States should be neutral between Israel and the people who use terror to try to destroy Israel. That's a major difference, but I suspect very few Jewish Democrats will be able to see it.

To me, the question whether the ad is unfair can be answered by looking at what Dean actually said. Here's the AP article, as published in the Burlington Free Press:

In Santa Fe, N.M., for an evening rally before last week's debate, Dean was asked by a Democratic activist about the Middle East.

"I don't believe stopping the terror has to be a prerequisite for talking, you always talk," Dean replied. "I don't find it convenient to blame people. Nobody should have violence, ever. But they do, and it's not our place to take sides."
As provocative as the image may be, I think the context of Dean's remark justifies the photo. Dean says you talk before the terror is stopped. (That's wrongheaded, in my view, but not outrageous.) Dean says you don't "blame people." (Which people? The terrorists. Hamas. OK, now it's getting worse.) Then Dean says they shouldn't ever "have violence." (Even before you read to the end, you can sense the "but" coming.) "But they do, and it's not our place to take sides." (Not our place to take sides between those engaging in terror and the Israelis.)

In fact, I think the ad is brilliant, and I have to admit that the evil side of me thinks it's fun to watch people blabber in indignation. But, at the same time, I worry very much about the political future of American Jews.

For all of my lifetime and beyond, Jews have had their home in the Democratic Party. This can't be a surprise. Jews are more liberal on average than other Americans. I've noted before that Jews may even have chosen where to live based on political considerations. On nearly all the domestic political issues, Jews predominantly support the liberal position. And as we saw in the recent presidential election, these domestic issues kept the clear majority of the Jewish vote in the Democratic camp. (This is true, even if my theory that there was a hidden Jewish vote for Bush is correct.)

Last November, Jews as a group were not budged by Bush's strong pro-Israel position. Nor have they been budged by the troubling history of anti-semitism on the Left, starting (in my memory) with the 1968 teachers' strike in New York City and continuing on in nearly a straight line to the embrace of Al Sharpton by virtually everyone of consequence in the Democratic Party, despite his involvement in anti-semitic violence.

This history also leads to the virulent hostility to Israel (and not infrequently to Jews) on college campuses today and in left-wing anti-war groups.

The water is steadily getting warmer.

Howard Dean's election to the DNC heats things up even more. And what's troubling to me is the denial now taking place. Abe Foxman is an example of the phenomenon: "'To make it accurate, it should say 'said,' because [Dean] doesn't say it now,' Foxman told the Forward." In other words, it's OK, because after Dean was harshly criticized during the primaries, he backed away from the statement. So there's no need for concern with Dean as the chairman of the DNC.

Look, I'm not saying Dean's an anti-semite or even that he's unremittingly hostile to Israel. But I am saying that he brings along a mindset -- and a heck of a lot of baggage (remember In fact, if you deny he brings along a mindset, you're treating him as just another empty suit. Howard Dean is not an empty suit.

And what do we get from Jewish Democrats? Denial. Anger at their opponents for pointing out the predicament. What does it take -- what will it take -- for them to protest?

It's time to get out of the water. Now.

Because the water continues to get hotter.