the anti-Semitic accusation as throw-away
Here’s a little passage from Jeff Goldberg that I’m afraid is remarkable only for how typical it is:
It is widely believed on the blogosphere that the campaign against Freeman was coordinated by AIPAC or by Steve Rosen, the former AIPAC official no charged with espionage. I’ve been away, so maybe I’ve missed a couple of Elders of Zion meetings, but no one coordinated this “campaign” with me.
If we had an honest conversation about these issues, we could state the bald fact that this is a not-particularly subtle accusation of anti-Semitism. See, anti-Semites believe in a vast network of Jewish power mongers, as detailed in the (fraudulent) Protocols of the Elders of Zion. So if you’re saying there’s been some sort of coordinated effort to defeat the Freeman nomination, well, that doesn’t look too good for you…. This isn’t, of course, an explicit and honest accusation of anti-Semitism. Those sorts of things actually have to be defended with evidence and argument. No, it’s far easier, and far simpler, to let your accusation be couched in jokiness, innuendo and deniability. Those who deny that there is any sort of coercive effort to defend Israel’s hawkish policies ridicule the invocation of McCarthyism regarding this issue. But it’s a fact that all smart McCarthyites have known for some time that the virulent accusations are the ones that have never been made openly or publicly. An accusation you didn’t really make is an accusation you don’t really have to defend.
Now, look, this is Jeff Goldberg’s bread and butter– making frivolous accusations of anti-Semitism, then ridiculing the idea that any defenders of Israel’s policies make accusations of anti-Semitism. But this little two-step is hardly restricted to Goldberg. As a matter of fact, it’s hard to think of any one of those who defend Israel without regard and exception who doesn’t do this little two-step. It’s just a standard, well-worn trick that is pulled out of the bag over and over again. And its presence is one of the reasons that people like Conor Clarke are so frustrating; Clarke, and others like him, take arguments about the Israel lobby and its defenders in the media entirely out of the real world context of vague accusations, implications through innuendo and loaded jokes. No, the actual, straight-up “you’re an anti-Semite for having insufficient fidelity to the Israeli party line” doesn’t happen all the time, though it happens plenty. But these joking, throw-away accusations are worse, more insidious, harder to stamp out and more corrosive to a functioning discourse.
It’s really just an incredibly self-defeating maneuver: no one is actually targeted and marginalized by hawkish defenders of Israel, and certainly no one is unfairly labelled an anti-Semite– and the fact that you think so shows that you believe in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories! If this sort of rhetorical nonsense was used in other contexts in our blogosphere, I think that it would be shot down rather effortlessly. As this is a part of our discussion of Israel, we have to use an entirely different set of evaluative criteria and dance, dance, dance. We are told that we have to take seriously explicit, unapologetic racists like Marty Peretz, arrogant careerists like James Kirchick, and aggrieved self-parodies like Jeff Goldberg. The debate about Israel, and how we talk about Israel, just functions differently than any other of our political conversations, and no honest adult could claim otherwise. But hey, there I go– you could come up with some incredibly implausible and tangled logic string that suggests that I am appropriating anti-Semitic tropes, because I’m saying we speak and write differently about Israel, and what possible reason could I have to think that, if not for thinking that there is some grand Jewish conspiracy….
If I were successful or talented enough to merit a response, I would challenge Jon Chait and Jeff Goldberg and whoever else to a simple question: if you are right on the merits, and frivolous accusations of anti-Semitism are not regularly made by the hawkish defenders of Israeli policy, then why do Israel’s hawkish defenders constantly revert to these innuendos and indictments through asides? Why are so, so many of these posts peppered with indications that people being criticized believe in anti-Semitic tropes? Isn’t there just a blatant contradiction in the fact that people like Jeff Goldberg deny that anyone is silenced by accusations of anti-Semitism, and then literally lines later, turn around and make these cowardly suggestions? If we had an honest discussion about all of this, these people would have been taken to task for this habit years ago. But we don’t, so they haven’t been. And they probably won’t be.
Update: I should not have said that Jeff Goldberg doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously. That was uncalled for. But he does damage his credibility with this kind of tactic, and I find he simply does not have a credible point of view on the meta-argument about the Israel lobby. I apologize for making too sweeping a dismissal.
As for Marty Peretz and his pupil, I retract nothing.