Thursday, April 27, 2006


Anti-Semitism or Not?

You decide.

What would be the reaction if Pat Buchanan had
said the following:

Of course there is an Israeli lobby in America -- its leading working group is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). It calls itself "America's Pro-Israel Lobby," and it attempts to influence U.S. legislation and policy.

Several national Jewish organizations lobby from time to time. Big deal -- why is anyone pretending this non-news requires falling on the floor and howling? Because of this weird deformity of debate.

In the United States, we do not have full-throated, full-throttle debate about Israel.


I don't know that I've ever felt intimidated by the knee-jerk "you're anti-Semitic" charge leveled at anyone who criticizes Israel, but I do know I have certainly heard it often enough to become tired of it.

And I wonder if that doesn't produce the same result: giving up on the discussion.

It's the sheer disproportion, the vehemence of the attacks on anyone perceived as criticizing Israel that makes them so odious.

It seems to me the root of the difficulty has been Israel's inability first to admit the Palestinians have been treated unfairly and, second, to figure out what to do about it. Now here goes a big fat generalization, but I think many Jews are so accustomed (by reality) to thinking of themselves as victims, it is especially difficult for them to admit they have victimized others.

...Israel is the No. 1 recipient of American foreign aid, and it seems an easy case can be made that the United States has subjugated its own interests to those of Israel in the past.

Whether you agree or not, it is a discussion well worth having and one that should not be shut down before it can start by unfair accusations of "anti-Semitism." In a very equal sense, none of this is academic. The Israel lobby was overwhelmingly in favor of starting the war with Iraq and is now among the leading hawks on Iran.

Of course, it is Molly Ivins saying it -- defending John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard University, authors of an already-notorious "Israel Lobby" paper.

Which raises the question: How does one truly assess anti-Semitic (or racist, or any "-ist") intent in a political argument affecting one specific "minority" group? How much "benefit of the doubt" should be given an author or a speaker who ventures into these sensitive topics? How much should one's previous background or statements factor into the general assessment (Ivins says that it doesn't seem to matter if someone has been previously supportive of Israel.)

But, Ivins' complaint could easily be re-written in the context of debate over affirmative action, immigration, education and other hot-button issues. It's very easy to silence or maneuver debate with an "-ism" charge that allows any substance in a particular argument to be ignored.

Richard Cohen enters into similar disputed territory.

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