Libby Jewish? Some wonder how neo-con’s faith impacts leak scandal
By Ron Kampeas
11/02/05 ---- WASHINGTON, (JTA)
— When Joshua Muravchik, perhaps the
pre-eminent expert on the interventionist foreign policy that has
become known as neo-conservatism, was looking for non-Jewish
neo-cons to prove that the movement isn’t pervasively Jewish, he
naturally included Lewis Libby.
“Non-Jews figuring prominently in current foreign-policy debates and
today called neo-cons include Libby, (John) Bolton, American
Enterprise Institute president Christopher DeMuth, and Gary Schmitt
of the Project for the New American Century,” Muravchik wrote in
Commentary magazine two years ago.
“Go easy on me,” Muravchik laughingly told a reporter this week,
after it emerged that the man at the center of the White House leak
scandal indeed is Jewish.
Libby resigned last Friday as Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of
staff just hours after his indictment on perjury charges related to
the leaking of the name of a CIA operative married to a prominent
Bush administration critic.
Across the blogosphere, anti-Semitic and anti-Israel conspiracy
theorists were quick to tie Libby’s Jewishness to his role in
selling the Iraq war, imagining once again a neo-con cabal that has
a singular agenda: promoting Israel at all costs.
“One more Jewish Neocon Traitor,” headlined the White Civil Rights
Web site, which features the writings of David Duke.
Yet the fact that many people in Washington — including
neo-conservatives — had no idea that Libby was Jewish underscores
how tenuous the Jewish-neo-con link actually is, said Muravchik, a
resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and Jewish
“One key measure of the falsity of the argument is that the
non-Jewish neo-cons are equally pro-Israel as Jewish neo-cons,” he
In addition to DeMuth, Schmitt and Bolton — who now is U.S.
ambassador to the United Nations — prominent non-Jewish neo-cons
include Bolton’s predecessors Jeanne Kirkpatrick and Daniel Patrick
Moynihan, former CIA chief James Woolsey and former Education
Secretary William Bennett.
Conversely, polls have found that a majority of American Jews
embrace liberal and centrist views. Sen. John Kerry of
Massachusetts, last year’s Democratic presidential candidate, won up
to 77 percent of the Jewish vote.
Muravchik’s mistake was one a lot of people have made. Two other
prominent Jewish neo-conservatives insisted to JTA last week that
Libby was not Jewish.
Libby’s Jewish profile at the White House was low, according to Jews
who have worked with the administration. Other Jewish staffers knew
he was Jewish, but he was not one of the highly identified Jews,
such as Tevi Troy, the deputy assistant policy adviser to the
president, or Joshua Bolten, director of the Office of Management
The low profile was attributable in part to Libby’s general reserve
and to his closeness to power. After Karl Rove, Bush’s top adviser,
he was considered the most powerful unelected official in the White
Not every Jew who works in the White House likes to wear his
identity on his sleeve, said Jay Footlik, the Clinton White House’s
liaison to the Jewish community.
“If they didn’t choose to self-identify as a member of the
community, if they didn’t express a concern on a particular issue or
ask to be a part of a meeting when a Jewish organization came into
the White House, then we might have known they were Jewish, or we
might not,” Footlik said.
Some of the misapprehension apparently has to do with Libby’s
persona. His Andover prep school education; his nickname, “Scooter”;
and the Jr. tacked onto the end of his full name as it appears in
the federal directory — I. Lewis Libby, Jr. — seem to indicate a
In fact, Libby, 55, for years has been a member of Temple Rodef
Shalom in Falls Church, Va., a five-minute drive from his home in
McLean, a wealthy suburb known for multimillion homes housing top
lobbyists, lawyers and Bush administration officials.
Officials of the Reform movement and the synagogue were reluctant to
discuss Libby’s involvement. Acquaintances don’t remember seeing him
at shul, aside from High Holy Day services.
Libby’s membership in the Temple guide lists his wife, Harriet
Grant, a former staffer for congressional Democrats, and two
“His name never even came up when talking about Jews in the
administration, not even as part of the so-called ‘neo-con cabal,’ ”
said one Reform official who asked not to be identified.
The Jewish Virtual Library, a Web site, listed Libby as Jewish,
though its sourcing was unclear.
Libby’s only other ostensible Jewish involvement was with the
Republican Jewish Coalition, and only since he joined the Bush
administration. He made an appearance at the RJC’s 20th anniversary
celebration last month.
Libby is known as a workaholic but he has a busy private life which
could have kept him from spending much time on extracurricular
Jewish activities. He’s an avid skier, plays touch football on
weekends and has written and published an erotically charged novel
set in Japan.
A number of Jewish leaders told JTA they didn’t think Libby’s
Jewishness would become a factor in the leak scandal that has
obsessed Washington, but his name already appeared on numerous
anti-Semitic Web sites long before JTA published an item over the
weekend reporting his synagogue membership.
Muravchik said it’s an old ploy to ascribe ulterior motives to
neo-conservatives having to do with the Jewish origins of some
“It’s certainly a slur that has been repeated by people who are
enemies of neo-conservatives or who are enemies of Jews,” he said.
The underlying argument is that the movement led the Bush
administration into war with Iraq in hopes of protecting Israel.
That argument ignores the low Jewish profile of many other Jewish
It also ignores the essentially American origins of a movement that
seeks to spread democracy overseas.
The sympathy for Israel is simple, Muravchik said.
“It’s a lone democracy in the Middle East, and it was a chief target
of the Soviet bloc,” opposition to which helped shape
neo-conservatism. “It was also the chief inspiration of dissent in
the Soviet bloc at the time when there was very little in the
Referring to a 1996 paper by three prominent Jewish
neo-conservatives that pressed Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime
minister at the time, to engage against Iraq, Muravchik wrote in
Commentary that it would “make more sense to say that, in preparing
a paper for Netanyahu, they were trying to influence Israeli policy
on behalf of American interests than the other way around. Indeed,
most Israeli officials at that time viewed Iran, the sponsor of
Hezbollah and Hamas, as a more pressing threat to their country than
Iraq, and (then as later) would have preferred that it be given
priority in any campaign against terrorism.”
In an interview this week, Muravchik noted an emerging split between
American neo-cons and members of Israel’s ruling Likud Party over
the movement’s enthusiastic backing for President Bush’s Middle East
policies, particularly his support for Palestinian statehood.
“I’ve had numerous private and public exchanges on this topic with
Likudniks and non-Likudniks who say, ‘You Americans are nuts, you
don’t know these Arabs. We know them; the idea that they can resolve
differences peacefully is hopelessly farfetched,’ ” Muravchik said.
“I’ve been in rooms where Americans were talking about democracy for
the Arabs, and Israelis were ridiculing it.”
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