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Fear of the Smear

(Reprinted from SOBRANS, July 2006, page 1)
Text dropped from the print edition
or modified solely for reasons of space appears in blue.
As you probably already know, Israel is the only “democracy” dedicated to the proposition that all men sure as hell aren’t created equal.

More than sixty years after Hitler’s death, this seems to be the golden age of anti-Semitism, judging by the frequency with which the charge is made. Apparently anti-Semitism was the first word Abe Foxman, Alan Dershowitz, and the neoconservatives learned to pronounce right after mama and dada. An anti-Semite used to be a guy who hated Jews; now he’s a guy whom Jews hate.

All right, that’s too simple. But you see the point. Calling someone that name is, nowadays, the easiest way to do him a bit of no good. It’s almost never applied to people who have actually harmed Jews, or urged others to harm them; it’s used for those who commit Thoughtcrimes against the Jewish state. Like racism, its use has widened as the actual evil has receded. The fewer racial lynchings we have, the more we hear about racism.

The charge of anti-Semitism doesn’t have to be proved; and it can’t be disproved. It’s an assertion about motives, not actions. That’s the beauty of it: its unfalsifiability. Joe McCarthy was ruined for calling too many people Communists, even card-carrying Reds; but has Norman Podhoretz paid any penalty for calling too many people anti-Semites?

Any number can play, including gentiles. Taki was accused by his Catholic publisher. My fate was crueler: I was defended by mine. Bill Buckley denied that I was anti-Semitic, but wrote a sentence, or a chapter (with Bill, the difference may be unclear), adding that though I was innocent of the crime, I somehow deserved to be falsely accused of it. That was a little like saying, “True, he was a guard at Auschwitz, but let’s give him credit: he always showed up for duty on time.” Thanks, Bill!

Even when an innocent man is falsely accused, you see, he is still guilty of ... of ... well, of having been accused. The charge itself is its own proof! Orwell and Kafka would understand. So would Stalin.

This is the lead article to the July 2006 issue, Fear of the Smear -- Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.Most people don’t really care whether the charge is true anyway. To them, the very fact that it was made is enough to warrant ostracism. Their reaction may be interpreted as follows: “Uh-oh! The Jews are mad at this guy! I’d better steer clear of him, or they may come after me too!” This response implies, of course, that “the Jews” control everything, which is what Henry Ford infamously believed and which is what Abe Foxman seems to want everyone to believe. Some might call that belief anti-Semitic, but there you go. Weird, but true. The label is enough to terrify people, to make strong men tremble. (The racist label used to have similar power, but nobody thinks blacks run the country.)

No use saying, “But I’m not anti-Semitic!” Automatic retort: “Yeah, sure. That’s what anti-Semites always say.” Pleading innocent only gets you in deeper. Denial is further proof of guilt. So what if it’s also what an innocent man might say?

Here’s the real kicker, though: The burden of proof is on the accused, not the accuser. Since the word anti-Semitism is never really defined, the accused can’t even know just what he’s accused of, let alone whether he’s innocent. It can mean anything from genocide to joking about “Israel’s Amen Corner in this country,” the phrase with which Pat Buchanan enraged Israel’s Amen Corner in this country.

Lots of “neoconservatives” claimed the label proudly, until it became a term of reproach, whereupon they decided it was nothing but an anti-Semitic code-word for Jew. In effect, they denied their own existence. As Milovan Djilas once observed, “The Party line is that there is no Party line.” But here it’s even crazier: the Party line is that there is no Party.

Recent case history: two distinguished professors, Stephen Walt of Harvard and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, have just published a long article on how costly the Israel lobby’s success has been for the United States. Care to guess what they’re being accused of? Several neocons offered the clinching evidence: David Duke agreed with them! Before you say that two and two make four, make sure Hitler, or Pat Buchanan, never said so.

Now you might think it’s almost self-evident that two countries as remote and different from each other as the United States and Israel would have divergent interests, that what was good for one might sometimes be bad for the other, and so on. This is essentially all the two profs are saying, albeit with footnotes. But even self-evident truths, if applied to Israel, can become explosive and, yes, anti-Semitic.

Still, I think “Jewish power” is largely a mirage. True, there are powerful Jewish interests, and they can be nasty, but most Jews are only their distant relatives. Fear of “the Jews” is really fear of nuts like Foxman, whom it would actually take very little courage to stand up to. I think of a line in the film Miller’s Crossing, where the Irish hero says to the Irish mob boss, “You don’t hold elective office in this town, Leo. You only run it because people think you run it. When they stop thinkin’ it, you stop runnin’ it.”

As I wrote shortly after the 9/11 attacks, “When it comes to Israel, an American journalist speaks his mind at his own risk. That helps explain why so few voices in the U.S. press are saying what European journalists may say without fear.” The neocons will learn that fear is a dangerous weapon to wield. Those who fear you today will hate you and fight you tomorrow. Osama bin Laden and George Bush will learn this too.

A version of this piece was originally published at
Taki’s Top Drawer, April 8, 2006.

Joseph Sobran

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