Open University

Modern Anti-semitism


by Jeffrey Herf

In his Open University posting, Alan Wolfe imputes to Andrei Markovits and
the view that "no censorship is taking place when people are accused of
anti-Semitism because the ideas of those under attack get plenty of hearing." That is
our formulation. We said that critics of Israel have not been stifled, even in those
cases where they have made arguments which we think are anti-Semitic. We have
written that the arguments made by John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt about the
power of the Israel lobby are reminiscent of older antisemitic traditions, and that
these arguments have not been stifled. Some critics of Israel make anti-Semitic
arguments and others simply make arguments we think are false. Wolfe offers no
evidence to suggest that critics of Israel are being stifled and given that Jimmy
Carter's new book is near the top of best seller lists that would be a tough thing to
do. Wolfe writes that "to call someone anti-Semitic because you disagree with them
intends to stifle" Indeed so. But that is not what we have done. We have not called
anyone anti-Semitic because we disagree with them. We have said that if someone
makes an argument that is similar to past anti-Semitic traditions, it is important and
perfectly valid to call that argument by its proper name. To vastly exaggerate the
power of an "Israel lobby," blame it for the war in Iraq, and to suggest that it is
powerful enough to bend American foreign policy to its will in opposition to American
national interest does evoke those older traditions. Pointing this out has nothing to
do with "wildly" throwing around charges of anti-Semitism. It is the result of a
comparison of current arguments and past traditions.

If Alan Wolfe thinks that John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt's analysis of the Israel
lobby does not bear comparisons to older anti-Semitic exaggerations of destructive
Jewish power, he should say so. But before he and other critics reject our criticism,
they would be well served by reading more about the history of modern
anti-Semitism. Walter Laqueur, a long standing and distinguished TNR contributor, has recently published The Changing
Face of Anti-Semitism: From Ancient Times to Present Day
. It's an
place to refresh and renew one's understanding of the subject.

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