As Old As The World
Rhetoric can reveal an unconscious trope moving — or maybe just stirring itself awake — within a society without attributing conscious malice to the individual speaker. Thus the key line in Adam Kirsch’s consideration, five years later, of The Israel Lobby has nothing to do with Mearsheimer or Walt in particular: “So the floodgates were opened: What we have witnessed in the five years since is a blithe recuperation of dangerous, vicious imagery and ideas, with no apparent compunction about their origins or consequences.” This is not to say that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion has become normalized discourse. But it is to say something far stronger than that criticism of American policy toward Israel has become increasingly common and increasingly accepted. What has been troublingly normalized is the notion “that it takes unusual courage to oppose the Jews, since they use their power to ruthlessly suppress dissent in both the political world and the media.” Of course, as Phoebe Maltz points out, the objection is the obvious:
Never mind that not all Jews support the Republican approach when it comes to Israel policy. Never mind that most Jews don’t even vote Republican. Never mind that, by this calculus, Jews who go on having the left-leaning politics Jews have always had are in fact heroically sticking it to The Jews. Once this notion is accepted, it becomes impervious to reason.
For a long time now, Andrew Sullivan’s tone-deaf earnestness on Israel policy has made me cringe—not the substance so much as the particularly careless ways he chooses his words. The past week has left me thoroughly troubled, particularly this declaration:
It’s important to understand that the Israeli prime minister is engaged in a full-on political campaign – against the re-election of the president of the US.
This because Sheldon Adelson’s Israeli newspaper quoted a Netanyahu advisor as calling Obama “naive.” Never mind that when two heads of state—Nicolas Sarkozy and, yes, Barack Obama—were caught calling Netanyahu unbearable and a “liar,” this was not politicking against another government’s leader, but “tell[ing] the truth on an open mic.”
Adelson, for a five million dollar donation, is “Newt’s Sugar Daddy”; part of a Republican conspiracy that “know[s] something we don’t”; and, in referencing Connie Bruck’s New Yorker blog post, wants to be the puppet-master of two national governments.
Bruck’s post clearly sees Adelson as a nefarious, wealthy, power-hungry conspirator with a track record of controlling the deeds of governments: “Several years ago, Sheldon Adelson . . . decided that he wanted to oust the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, and install Bibi Netanyahu in his place.” Never mind that Olmert was mired in a corruption scandal that had destroyed his approval ratings before the Annapolis Conference. Never mind that the leading Kadima officials had hardly endeared themselves to the Israeli public with their botched military campaigns in Lebanon and Gaza. Never mind that, despite this, Kadima won more votes than Netanyahu’s Likud. Never mind that Netanyahu only became Prime Minister after Tzipi Livni could not form a coalition. He’s done it once before, Bruck warns us, and he’s up to it again. In America, no less: “Now, Adelson is determined to use his money to oust President Barack Obama.”
And while I think that “Hewitt Award Nominee” is one of the weaker ways of condemning Andrew Adler’s appalling, idiotic floating of assassinating Barack Obama, that the words of a single meshuggener newspaper editor (loudly condemned by the Jewish community, left and right) leads to the following conclusions is . . . problematic.
The headline on the front page of CNN’s website, since at least last night: “U.S. Jewish Paper: Assassins an Option”
Gawker, trying like hell to blame the Atlanta Jewish community as a whole:
“It’s hard to tell whether or not Adler is just some crank. But the Atlanta Jewish Times, which he purchased in 2009, appears to be a real community newspaper. It was founded in 1925 and, according to Wikipedia, claims a circulation of 3,500 and staff of five. To judge from its web site, it’s a going concern.”
And Andrew Sullivan, his language again implying the possibility of some kind of international cabal of which Adler is, presumably, a part:
“Telling that a pro-Greater Israel fanatic thinks it’s conceivable for the ‘most inner circles’ of an ally to attempt to assassinate the president of the United States.”
In the lead-up to and aftermath of the 2008 Presidential election, Sullivan repeatedly called out what he saw (and sees) as a “Weimar” movement among America’s right. When I read statements that paint Adelson as a puppet-master of world governments and that attack Netanyahu for what Sarkozy, at least, is praised for, I see a rhetoric that history has proven tremendously dangerous. What I see, as a Jew whose academic pursuits keep him in a far-too-constant contact with the historical tropes of Antisemitism, is rhetoric that lays the groundwork for blaming The Jews should Barack Obama not be re-elected in November. That I’ve been reading Andrew Sullivan’s blog long enough that I don’t believe he consciously intends this makes it no less troubling—indeed, it would be easier to dismiss if this were the case. I expect Antisemites to peddle in these tropes. But when philosemites and the New Yorker push them as conventional wisdom, I stop short.
Words are deeds. Both have consequences.
Postscript: I held off on this, and almost didn’t post it, due to the recent spat between the ADL and CAP over the phrase “Israel Firster.” Yes, that phrase carries implications of dual-loyalty accusations against Jews that are still in living memory. But I don’t believe that this was the intent of the writer, or the organization: words have histories, and lives, of their own. However, the ADL does appear to be taking this too far, in a way that I hope I don’t come across as doing myself. On the other hand, I find it hard not to understand, given the events of the 20th century (not to mention the prior two millenia), the impulse to go after such phrases with full force before they become sinister. Even while disagreeing with the way it plays out in practice.