Monday, February 12, 2007

Anti-anti-Semitism Defended

This is a very good TNR piece by Bret Stevens (former editor of the JPost and now at the WSJ) about the current fog of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism:
"Anti-anti-Semitism Defended: Loyalty Oath"by Bret Stephens
Post date: 02.12.07

John B. Judis calls the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an anti-Semite ("Split Personality," February 8). But how does he know this?

Certainly not from any of Ahmadinejad's public utterances. I've searched high-and-low for any instance in which the Iranian speaks specifically of Jews, and can find nothing overtly anti-Semitic. Yes, he has raised questions about the Holocaust, and further questions about why a Jewish state was not established somewhere in Europe. But that's just a matter of establishing historical facts and assigning historical responsibility, right? Yes, he has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map," or, if you prefer another translation, "vanished from the page of time." But this, as a columnist in The Guardian has pointed out, is nothing more than an expression of anti-Zionism that admits of interpretations not embracing acts of genocide. Then, too, Ahmadinejad has boasted about the inclusion of Iranian Jews in the Islamic Republic's parliament. He's even been seen embracing the ultra-orthodox rabbis of the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta sect.

So, again, on what grounds does Judis accuse Ahmadinejad of anti-Semitism?

The question is asked partly tongue-in-cheek. Of course Ahmadinejad is an anti-Semite, and anyone who doubts it is either a knave or a fool. Yet it also cuts to the heart of the argument Judis and many others have made about the so-called "anti-anti-Semites," myself included, which is that we brandish the charge of anti-Semitism too freely. "Anyone who criticizes Israel's actions or argues that pro-Israel groups have significant influence over U.S. Middle East policy ... stands a good chance of getting labeled an anti-Semite," complain professors John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt in their notorious paper on the "Israel Lobby." For his part, Judis believes that we anti-anti-Semites "are attempting to suppress an important debate on American foreign policy toward Israel and the Middle East." More about the latter below. The first point is to establish how it is we all just "know" Ahmadinejad is an anti-Semite. There aren't many anti-Semites today who will actually come out with it and say "I hate Jews." Even the Muslim Brotherhood's Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, who ministers to the Sunni masses via his pulpit on Al Jazeera, tends to be careful with his utterances about Jews. Spotting an anti-Semite therefore requires forensic skills, interpretive wits, and moral judgment. Judis's theory is that the distinctive, tell-tale feature of real anti-Semitism is that it contains a "large element of pure fantasy." Thus Ahmadinejad's Holocaust-denial/skepticism would qualify as anti-Semitic to Judis, as would the allegation, common in the Arab world, that Jews were behind the attacks of September 11. By contrast, to suggest that Israel is practicing apartheid, as Jimmy Carter has, or that the Israel lobby all-but runs U.S. policy in the Middle East, as Walt and Mearsheimer have, contains just enough by way of reality or plausibility to acquit them of the charge of anti-Semitism.

Yet plenty of anti-Semitic stereotypes are not simply fantasy-based. Do Jews run Hollywood? I haven't exactly made a study of it, but I'd wager Jews are disproportionately represented among studio executives and sundry movers-and-shakers. Wall Street? I'm guessing the same. Yet of the man who says "the Jews run Hollywood," or "the Jews run Wall Street," most of us would say he is probably an anti-Semite. To what end does he make the claim? Why, if Jews really do run Hollywood, should the fact be significant? Would Hollywood be a better place if Jews didn't run the place? And so on.

In other words, racial, religious, or ethnic prejudice is not so much a matter of libel as it is of malice. Take dual loyalty. "Critics of the new anti-Semitism are engaged in a flight from their own selves," writes Judis, noting the apparent contradiction between American Jews simultaneously denouncing accusations of dual loyalty while insisting that Jews everywhere support Israel. Yet what rankles about the charge of dual loyalty is not that it doesn't contain its share of truth--of course American Jews generally have strong, if subsidiary, loyalties to Israel. What rankles is that it is leveled as a charge. When given voice by the likes of Walt and Mearsheimer, it suggests that the loyalties of millions of American Jews are evenly split and that, in extremis, the Israeli loyalty could win out over the American one, posing a permanent risk of betrayal or treason.

Nor is this the only way in which Judis gets things wrong. Regarding Tony Judt, he writes that what most provoked the critics was Judt's call for the Jewish state to be replaced by a binational one. Please. Binationalism is too obviously stupid an idea to qualify as vile. What made Judt's polemic uniquely nasty was its curious indulgence of Arab youth whose violence against Jewish persons or property he defined as a "misdirected effort ... to get back at Israel." No anti-Semitism there, just legitimate anti-Zionism with the wrong mailing address! As for the Walt-Mearsheimer paper, Judis fails to understand that its real smear does not lie in its claims about The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Rather, it is in its claims that Israel is a nation based "on the principle of blood kinship," that it is a faithless ally to the U.S., that it was born by way of theft and ethnic cleansing and so on. The argument about AIPAC is offered merely by way of explanation for the premise that Israel is a rogue state.

Finally there is Judis's point about the supposed attempt to "suppress debate." How does joining a debate become an effort to suppress it? I am not aware that Mearsheimer and Walt have been sent from the field to cower behind the bleachers. Indeed, nothing so perfectly gives the lie to their claims about the vast power of the Israel lobby as the fact that they have now been contracted--by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, no less--to turn their article into a book.

Still, were it up to me Judt, Mearsheimer, Carter et al would be run out of polite society. What's wrong with that? A decade ago, Judis himself tried to do the same to Charles Murray for the "ominous racial theory" suggested by The Bell Curve. The plain fact is that some ideas simply foul our public discourse. Some "controversies" open doors to scoundrels. Some small truths serve as vehicles for big lies. It is not a resort to censorship to ask of the people who hold the keys to magazines like The New Republic or newspapers like The Wall Street Journal to exercise judgment and discretion. Indeed, it is the essence of our responsibility.

Bret Stephens is a Wall Street Journal columnist and a member of the paper's
editorial board.
Backpost finished 2009-12-13.

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