The bullies who beat the critics with the ‘antisemite’ stick
Is calling somebody an “Israel Firster” anti-Semitic? Is accusing somebody of “dual loyalty” anti-Semitic? Does it smack of anti-Semitism to refer to Israeli “apartheid”?
Of course not, unless you want to trivialize anti-Semitism beyond belief, or unless you want to put very reasonable and widely held beliefs beyond the pale of discussion. Heck, I know personally a lot of supporters of Israel who are “Israel first”-ers. I know them; I pray with them; I have them in my classes. In fact, I know a lot of “Israel only”-ers,” I certainly have had students who are US citizens, who would never consider volunteering for the US army, but who have served in the Israel army, even without being an Israeli citizen. (Full disclosure: I have dual loyalty to the US and to Israel because I have dual-citizenship.) I have prayed in modern orthodox synagogues where the prayer for the welfare of the State of Israel has been said, but not the prayer for the welfare of the United States; or where congregants stand for the former and sit for (or mumble) the latter. I don’t agree with this practice, and I criticize such synagogues, but pointing that out doesn’t make you an anti-Semite. And by the way, if you ask people why they are more concerned with Israel than with America, they often answer that Israel is more threatened than America. Or that they love Israel more because they are Jewish. Is it anti-Semitic to point that out?
If you think that using these terms make somebody an anti-Semite or a bigot – a charge that Zionist-leaning organizations like the ADL or the AJC or members of the Zionist rightwing blogosphere (for links, see here) have recently leveled against some bloggers at the Center for American Progress, then perhaps you yourself are an anti-Semite – or at least a bigot.
You see, when somebody says what a Jew can or cannot say, when somebody says that certain discourse is considered to be hateful or insensitive and, as a result, censors or chills that speech – and when that speech is not conceptually connected with anti-Semitism — then the person who is making that discrimination is anti-Semitic, if a Jew is involved, and bigoted if a non-Jew is involved. Because the same terms said with the same intent cannot be considered anti-Semitic only when a non-Jew says them. I don’t deny that certain terms are more inappropriately said by outsider groups – the N-word comes to mind. But “inappropriately said” is a far cry from anti-Semitic.
Who decides what speech is anti-Semitic. Is there a Pope of anti-Semitism? Who are the experts? According to Commentary’s Alana Goodman, the Anti-Defamation League is “considered by many media outlets to be the final word in all things anti-Semitism” – which, by the way, is the sort of grandiose and unsubstantiated assertion that readers of Commentary may be used to, but I certainly am not. Who appointed the ADL? And do they consider Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak, and a host of Israeli commentators anti-Semitic, when they refer to Israeli apartheid? Perhaps Israeli politicians are allowed to be bigoted? And even if the term is inaccurate, what does that have to do with anti-Semitism?
Nobody can beat Prof. Robert Wistrich’s credentials, both as a rightwing student of the so-called “new anti-Semitism,” and as a Zionist historian of anti-Semitism. I mean, I can adduce other scholars of anti-Semitism who are not as rightwing as he is, such as the most careful writer on anti-Semitism and its various shades of meaning today, the philosopher Brian Klug of Oxford. Klug runs rings around not only the ADL but most of the rightwing historians of anti-Semitism because, as an analytically-trained philosopher, he zeroes in on the nuances of conceptual distinctions much better than most historians. But let’s leave Klug aside – even Wistrich admits that anti-Zionism is not the same as anti-Semitism, although he goes on [to] argue for “continuity” or “convergence” between radical anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism (using arguments that I believe Krug and others have answered quite well.) According to Wistrich,
“…[A]nti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are two distinct ideologies that over time (especially since 1948) have tended to converge, generally without undergoing a full merger. There have always been Bundists, Jewish communists, Reform Jews, and ultra-Orthodox Jews who strongly opposed Zionism without being Judeophobes. So, too, there are conservatives, liberals, and leftists in the West today who are pro-Palestinian, antagonistic toward Israel, and deeply distrustful of Zionism without crossing the line into anti-Semitism. There are also Israeli “post-Zionists” who object to the definition of Israel as an exclusively or even a predominantly “Jewish” state without feeling hostile toward Jews as such. There are others, too, who question whether Jews are really a nation; or who reject Zionism because they believe its accomplishment inevitably resulted in uprooting many Palestinians. None of these positions is intrinsically anti-Semitic in the sense of expressing opposition or hatred toward Jews as Jews.”
(By the way, there were many Jewish opponents of Zionism who did not fit the categories above, not to mention the majority of Jews outside Eastern Europe who were neither anti-Zionists nor Zionists.)
But of course, the CAP bloggers did not write anti-Zionist tracts. Let’s face it. The anti-Semitism charge is the first refuge of rightwing Zionists today – many of whom are themselves “Israel firsters” — who want to squelch debate over Israel’s policies by demonizing and delegitimizing their opponents’ discourse. It is nauseating, and it is past time to call them on it.
Goodman, who criticizes the Truman Project for cutting ties with the lobbyist Josh Block who first raised the “anti-Semitic” canard against the CAP bloggers, ends her article by asking, what would President Truman think? The question is a good one. May I frame it slightly differently: what would the author of the quote below say of somebody who plays the “anti-Semitic” card when criticizing a critic of Israel?
“The Jews, I find are very, very selfish. They care not how many Estonians, Latvians, Finns, Poles, Yugoslavs or Greeks get murdered or mistreated as D[isplaced] P[ersons] as long as the Jews get special treatment. Yet when they have power, physical, financial or political neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the under dog. Put an underdog on top and it makes no difference whether his name is Russian, Jewish, Negro, Management, Labor, Mormon, Baptist he goes haywire. I’ve found very, very few who remember their past condition when prosperity comes.”
I don’t know whether Goodman considers the author of the quote, President Harry Truman, to be an anti-Semite or not. I do know that Abe Foxman did:
“While President Truman’s personal thoughts about Jews are in some sense a reflection of those times, it is shocking to learn that this great American leader and statesman was afflicted with the same disease of anti-Semitism that was mirrored by larger society”.
But what I find more shocking is Foxman’s next paragraph:
“Nothing in his statements, however, changes Truman’s steadfast resolve to aid in the resettlement of Jews and other refugees in the aftermath of the war and the Holocaust. Regardless of his personal beliefs, President Truman will be remembered for his support and recognition of the homeland of the Jews, the State of Israel.”
For Abe Foxman, one can forgive or overlook – or not remember – Truman’s anti-Semitism because of what he did for the State of Israel. So an anti-Semite who helps the State of Israel is better than a decent person who is a critic of the State of Israel and calls its policies on the West Bank apartheid.
Should we add another sin to the Israel-right-or-wrongers the trivialization of anti-Semitism?
Thank goodness that Nahum Barnea, Israel’s most popular commentator, has criticized Elliot Abrams on his reckless and pernicious use of the “A-word” against Joe Klein and Tom Friedman.
Why does any Jew who criticizes Israel automatically become an anti-Semite?
Nahum Barnea, Ynet news Op-ed
Don Quixote devoted himself to tilting at windmills: In his imagination he viewed them as a menacing, monstrous enemy that must be destroyed. He is considered a romantic figure, a hero willing to sacrifice his life for the sake of his love and ideas. Yet with all this romance, people sometimes forget that Don Quixote did not fight real monsters, but rather, figments of his imagination. He was a hero, but a pathetic one.
In mid December, Ron Dermer, a senior advisor to Israel’s prime minister, sent a letter to one of the New York Times’ editors. The letter was polite and bordered on flattery, yet it was meant to serve as a declaration of war.
The New York Times offered Netanyahu the opportunity to write an opinion piece. Dermer declined the offer on Netanyahu’s behalf. The explanation given: Last May, the newspaper published, without qualifications, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ distorted version regarding the historical events that preceded the State of Israel’s inception.
Dermer was also unpleased by the positions expressed by some New York Times columnists. He looked into it and discovered that out of 20 columns written about Israel in recent months, 19 criticized Netanyahu and his government, and only one (written by Richard Goldstone) was positive. “We wouldn’t want to be seen as ‘Bibiwashing’ the op-ed page of the New York Times,” Dermer wrote.
The letter was not meant only for the eyes of the recipient, of course. The Prime Minister’s Office quickly leaked it to the Jerusalem Post, a newspaper whose website is read by many US Jews. The objective was to silence criticism of Netanyahu in the American media, and mostly criticism leveled by Jews.
The means to do so was to delegitimize media outlets that publish such criticism. Those who dare write against Netanyahu are anti-Semites. A Jew who dares write against Netanyahu is a Jewish anti-Semite. Every loyal Jew must shut up.
Are Friedman, Klein anti-Semites?
The New York Times is without a doubt the world’s most prominent newspaper. Any head of state given the opportunity to share his thoughts with the paper’s readers would jump at it: There is no global platform that is more important or influential. Yet Netanyahu prefers boycotts.
Leaking the letter was merely the first step in the campaign. The second step was an article published shortly thereafter by the Weekly Standard, a rightist weekly. It was written by Eliot Abrams, who held senior posts in the National Security Agency during George W. Bush’s term in office.
Abrams is Jewish. His neoconservative views place him in the Republican Party’s rightist wing. Above all, he is a great friend of Israel. I met him several times, during his tenure and later on. He is a very intelligent, well reasoned man. An impressive man. The article I quote here is not one of his proudest moments.
Abrams leveled the gravest accusation against two prominent columnists, Thomas Friedman from the New York Times and Joe Klein from Time Magazine. He accused both of being Jewish anti-Semites. Friedman is guilty because in one of his columns he wrote that the applause that received Netanyahu at Congress did not attest to agreement with his policy. The applause were bought and paid for by the Israel lobby, Friedman wrote.[ see: Israel lobby losing its grip over US opinion]
Meanwhile, Joe Klein is guilty because he wrote that America’s neoconservatives wish to send young Americans to war for the sake of Israel’s national security.
Friedman could have chosen a different wording, but his claim has a grain of truth to it: The pro-Israel lobby, just like other lobbies, buys the support of Congress members. I was there, during Netanyahu’s Congress speech. I reported the enthused welcome he received. Yet I also saw the major Jewish donors closely watching the elected officials who received their support to make sure they are sufficiently enthusiastic.
Yet let’s assume Friedman is wrong. Why does criticism leveled at one Jewish organization immediately turn into anti-Semitism? Why is criticism leveled at the neoconservatives, who entangled America in the wrong war in Iraq, a war that only benefited Iran, labeled as anti-Semitism? It’s true that many of these writers are Jewish. So what?
Many of Wall Street’s moguls are Jewish as well. The greatest of conmen, Bernie Madoff, was also Jewish. Is any criticism leveled at him, including criticism voiced by his Jewish victims, tainted by anti-Semitism?
One of the great bonuses in the State of Israel’s existence is that here Jews are finally allowed to criticize other Jews without being condemned as anti-Semites. Here we have no guilty feelings that can be manipulated. Freedom reigns supreme.
Yet our American colleagues have this freedom too. There was no particular commotion this week in the New York Times’ corridors in the face of the Israeli prime minister’s boycott. Don Quixote can rest: Without or without him, the windmills will continue to grind.