NEW YORK — THERE are only two groups that are beating the drums for war in the Middle East -- the Israeli Defense Ministry and its amen corner in the United States.
Patrick Buchanan delivered that message on TV. Later in the program he said: "The Israelis want this war desperately because they want the United States to destroy the Iraqi war machine. They want us to A.M.Rosenthalfinish them off. They don't care about our relations with the Arab world."
In case an interpretation is needed for those whose ears are not attuned to anti-Semitism or do not want to understand what this man is saying, here is mine:
"The Jews are trying to drag us into war. Only Jews want war. Israeli Jews want war to save Israel's hide. American Jews who talk of military action against Iraq want war because it would suit Israeli interests. They are willing to spill American blood for Israeli interests."
All right. Let's start by removing the customarily cowardly shield -- "every time somebody criticizes Israel, the Jews cry anti-Semitism."
A lie. Usually American Jews duck the subject. And everybody knows most American critics of Israel are not anti-Semites -- but that some sure are. Every American, white or black, Jew, Christian or Muslim should be alert to smell the difference. If anti-Semites achieve power, political or intellectual, they also make life hell for any non-Jew they dislike -- for color, religion or sexual and political tastes.
First the Jew, then you.
We are not dealing here with country-club anti-Semitism but with the blood libel that often grows out of it: Jews are not like us but are others, with alien loyalties for which they will sacrifice the lives of Americans.
Buchanan knows the importance of words. He wrote for Presidents Nixon and Reagan and now makes a fine living writing columns, making speeches, talking on TV, presenting himself as the voice of true conservatism.
He is the man who told Elie Wiesel that Reagan must not surrender to "Jewish pressure" against visiting a German cemetery where SS men were buried, as if only Jews could care.
Buchanan surely understands that if the U.S. attacks Iraq, Saddam Hussein may hit Israel and kill as many Israelis as he can. We can assume Buchanan has heard that some real non-Jewish types like the leaders of a half-dozen Arab states now know that Saddam Hussein cannot be bought off by blackmail; they want his power destroyed.
And he must have enough contacts in the White House, National Security Council and Defense Department to know that there are people there who feel the same way -- non-Jews!
It doesn't matter what he knows. What counts is his venom about Jews. In one column, he denounced five people for supporting military action against Iraq -- all Jews, including me. I was silently contemptuous of him. But about his infamous statement on "The McLaughlin Report" about Jews beating the war drums for Israel -- contempt yes, silence no.
I did not address the Buchanan situation before because it was so distasteful.
I was sick at the thought of the Buchananian nastinesses I would have to recount: the demeaning of the Holocaust, the phony "evidence" to question a crime of the gas chambers, the smarmy defense of war criminals and the attacks on American prosecutors who dared chase them down, the crack that Congress was"Israeli-occupied" territory, the code words about the "de-Christianization" of America, the spreading of tensions between Catholic and Jew while Catholics in the Vatican are trying to lessen them.
I apologize for not confronting the ugliness sooner. The man reaches millions. Abroad he gets attention as a possible Presidential candidate. But that is not the point.
I understood long ago, when I reported from Poland and first saw Auschwitz, that to be silent about anti-Semitism would be a sin with which I could not live.
In 1965 on the 25th anniversary of the creation of the Warsaw ghetto by the Germans, I wrote an article that ended this way: "I simply cannot tell myself nor my sons that it cannot happen again.
I can only tell them that there was a time of madness and that some of the Jews of the ghetto fought the mad beast and died like men. And if it does happen again, even if there are faint dark signs that it might happen again, that most terrible of all prayers will rise from myself, my sons and from men in all parts of the earth:
"Forgive them not, Father, for they know what they did."
A.M. Rosenthal is a former executive editor of the New York Times.