Anti-semitism

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THE PLANK FEBRUARY 5, 2007

Anti-semitism

Brad Plumer has done some outstanding work at TNR (see, for instance, this) but I think his Plank item from yesterday goes badly awry. Brad is making a point about U.S. policy toward Iran and accusations of anti-Semitism, but he hops from one fuzzy premise to the next.

Brad begins by writing,

The New York Sun--hardly a hotbed of anti-Semitism--recently reported that leading Democratic presidential contenders have been reluctant to speak out against war with Iran for fear of angering "pro-Israel" lobbying groups in New York.

So I read the article in the Sun, and it doesn't say that. I would encourage readers to read the article and see if they find any hint of a report that Democratic candidates were changing their positions to please Jewish donors. Nothing in the article is inconsistent with that view if you're inclined to believe it, but nothing in it says that, either.

Brad proceeds to cite a New York Post article reporting that Hillary Clinton made a relatively dovish speech before an AIPAC audience, and was received coolly. This does suggest that many AIPAC members are hawkish about war with Iran, but it undermines the contention that Democratic candidates have been bullied by AIPAC into favoring war with Iran.

From there he advances to the following observation:

Of course, Wes Clark and Matt Yglesias were accused of anti-Semitism and compared to Charles Lindbergh when they pointed out this state of affairs.

Well, no. Let's start with Clark. The retired general didn't say that some AIPAC members, or even all of AIPAC, favor war. He said that the pro-Israel lobby is driving the United States into war. Here is the quote:

When we asked him what made him so sure the Bush administration was headed in this direction, he replied: "You just have to read what's in the Israeli press. The Jewish community is divided but there is so much pressure being channeled from the New York money people to the office seekers."

Clark isn't just saying that the pro-Israel lobby has influence, which is indisputably true. He's saying that it controls American foreign policy: He is asked why he is certain that the U.S. will attack Iran, and he replies that wealthy Jews want it. I find much to admire in Clark's career, and I'm sure he personally gets on well with Jews, and I think accusing people of being anti-Semitic or racist is usually an intellectually murky, counterproductive exercise. But it's pretty clear that in this line he's advocating a paranoid conspiracy theory of the sort that tracks classic anti-Semitic thinking.

As for Yglesias, National Review's Jonah Goldberg wrote a blog post comparing his views to those of Charles Lindbergh. Goldberg carefully noted that he does not think Lindbergh was an anti-Semite, and that "the merits and motives of the arguments surely differ in important respects, but they are similar in important respects too." So I don't think he was trying to accuse Yglesias of anti-Semitism. On the other hand, if you compare somebody to a figure who is widely regarded as anti-Semitic, it will have the effect of an accusation of anti-Semitism even if you don't mean it that way. So in that sense Goldberg made a mistake in making the comparison, and I attribute the mistake to the sloppiness that tends to go with frequent blogging.

Anyway, Brad's language--"were accused of anti-Semitism and compared to Charles Lindbergh"--makes it sound like Yglesias suffered some massive public demonization campaign, and I don't think one item on the Corner qualifies as such.

--Jonathan Chait

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