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With a manner strongly reminiscent of fellow Brooklyn native John McEnroe arguing a line call, Robert Wexler has made himself one of the nation's loudest critics of President Bush. The liberal congressman from Boca Raton has made more than 100 appearances on cable television shows during the past two years, debating with Bill O'Reilly, Bob Novak, Pat Buchanan, and other conservative carnival barkers. He's attacked Bush on the environment, prescription drugs, corporate scandals, tax cuts for the rich, and the issue that first put him on the TV map: the president's 2000 election tactics. For all his sometimes foolish-seeming bluster, Wexler at times comes up, again like McEnroe, with bold winning points that need to be made.
So when Wexler appeared on CNN's TalkBack Live September 4 to discuss the president's bull rush to invade Iraq, we might have expected to finally hear a South Florida Democrat vociferously attack the ill-conceived plan. To hear that Bush is after the bastard God oil, that he is driven by wrongheaded ideologues, that he is trying to kill the chimp perched on his old man's shoulder. That Saddam Hussein, while a thug and a criminal, has no motive to lash out wildly with chemical weapons -- unless, of course, we attack him first. And to hear that, with Afghanistan in relative chaos and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict raging, such a move would not only bring more violence and anti-American hatred to the Middle East but prove catastrophic for the entire world.
But Wexler instead told host Arthel Neville that war on Iraq is a swell idea. "Well, I support the president's stated goal, which is a regime change in Iraq," the congressman proclaimed. "And I agree with the president that Saddam Hussein has to go.... And I will ultimately support the president in terms of an authorization of military action."
Wexler isn't a new convert to Bush -- he's just an old loyalist to Israel, a country that, along with a powerful Washington, D.C., lobbying group called the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), is pushing the war on Iraq with a vengeance. In essence, the Israeli lobby is urging big brother America to come out, flex its military muscles, and make the Israel-American alliance the dominant power in the Middle East.
An orthodox Jew, Wexler has always been a Zionist hard-liner and has received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from pro-Israel interests during the past six years. And he's picked up a big stick for the fight against Iraq. A member of the House committee on international relations, lately he's been spending an inordinate amount of time traveling around the country and the world promoting Israel and the war on Hussein.
So last week, I asked Wexler the obvious question: Who, as you prepare to send U.S. soldiers to war, are you really representing: South Florida or Israel?
"Let's get this straight," he answered. "I'm American. I'm 100 percent American. I bleed American. Am I proud of my heritage? Yes. I support the state of Israel and wholeheartedly support an unbreakable bond between the U.S. and Israel... but there is nothing about my policy that is anything other than American. It is not driven by Israel. At this point, it is supportive of President Bush."
I too believe in a strong alliance between the United States and Israel, but I also believe that Israel's narrow interests have far too much influence on our foreign policy. We need a balanced approach in the Middle East. If America continues to tie itself almost solely to the tiny Jewish state as it thrashes about in a sea of Muslim Arabs, we're asking for long and widespread warfare in the region.
Unfortunately, Wexler and several other Jewish Democrats in Congress, led by Connecticut's Sen. Joe Lieberman and a gaggle of representatives from California and New York, are spoiling for that fight. And because these same politicians can usually be counted on to anchor the Democrats' opposition to Bush, they have helped to destroy any hope of the party's reining in Dick Cheney's dogs of war. Of course, a few Jewish members of Congress -- California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chiefly -- have opposed the invasion.
Broward County's own Jewish Democrat in Congress, Rep. Peter Deutsch, is another near-fanatical, pro-Israel politician who expects to vote for military action in Iraq and has publicly backed it. But he recently told me that Bush hasn't yet met his "three-pronged test" for an invasion. Deutsch won't support war until the president has proven that Saddam has nuclear weapons, expects to use them on the United States, and is developing a delivery system to carry out such an attack.
No such proof has been disclosed, but Deutsch says he fully expects it will be soon.
The Washington, D.C.-based Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel has put both Deutsch and Wexler in its "Hall of Shame" for their pro-Israel voting records. Powerful lobbying groups like the American Jewish Congress and AIPAC have "hijacked the agenda" with millions of dollars in campaign contributions and powerful backers, alleges JPPI founder Josh Ruebner, adding that politicians like Wexler are "representing the government of Israel, absolutely. Most American Jewish members of Congress are guilty of that."