Monday, February 23, 2009

Anti-Semitism smears no longer silence US critics of Israel

In a reaction to a Jeffrey Goldberg smear piece, Glen Greenwald wrote this:
More notably, what Goldberg is doing here in unusually unconcealed (though otherwise characteristic) fashion is relying on the most standard, by-now-clich├ęd debate-suppressive tactic of neoconservative Israel-fanatics in the U.S. Anyone who criticizes the actions of the Israeli Government will, for that reason alone, have "anti-Semite" tossed in their vicinity and attached to their name (just as those who criticized the actions of the Bush administration -- say, for attacking Iraq -- were branded "anti-American"). Any American citizen who argues that we are acting counter-productively with our unquestioning, full-scale support for Israel -- the use of American money, arms and diplomatic tools to enable anything the Israeli Government does -- is guilty of the crime of "Israel-bashing" and is condemned as being "anti-Israel" (or, worse still, will have the phrase "Sheikh Hassan" disgustingly placed before their name by Goldberg and his friends). These rancid equations are too familiar to require any elaboration or refutation.

But what is worth noting -- and celebrating -- is that a significant and palpable change has occurred. Whereas these smear tactics once inspired fear in many people, now they just inspire pity. They no longer work. Very few Americans are going to refrain from expressing their views on American policy towards Israel out of fear that the Jeffrey Goldbergs of the world are going to screech "anti-Semitism" at them. Neocons are far too discredited and their policies far too self-evidently destructive for them to intimidate anyone out of questioning their orthodoxies. Now, watching neocons recklessly spew their bitter little epithets in lieu of (and in order to suppress) debate is like watching an old, dying dragon sadly trying to breathe mighty fire from its mouth but collapsing in a debilitating coughing fit instead -- or is like watching a disgraced, post-censure Joe McCarthy in 1956 stand in an empty Senate chamber and rail against hidden Communists. Nobody cares.

People like Jeffrey Goldberg -- and his comrades at places such as Commentary and the ADL -- have so abused, over-used, manipulated and exploited the "anti-semitism" and "anti-Israel" accusations for improper and nakedly political ends that those terms have become drained of their meaning, have almost entirely lost their sting, and have become trivialized virtually to the point of caricature. That behavior has produced serious harm. Their trivialization and misuse of those terms have severely diminished the ability to stigmatize and attack real anti-Semitism, because legitimate accusations of anti-Semitism are now conflated with and discredited by the neocons' cynical attempts to wield it as a cheap debating weapon. That's a particularly dangerous -- and ironic -- outcome given that it has been spawned by many who have long claimed proprietary ownership over the "anti-Semitism" term in order, ostensibly, to protect it from trivialization.

He concludes:

The ban on questioning U.S. policy towards Israel and the requirement that uncritical homage be paid to the Israeli government is clearly coming to an end. Several members of Congress -- Sen. John Kerry as well as Reps. Brian Baird and Keith Ellison -- visited Hamas-ruled Gaza this week in order to survey the massive damage that was done. Newly appointed New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand openly declared this week that the U.S. should use its leverage to push Israel into serious peace negotiations "regardless of what Netanyahu says he wants to do." And the Jewish-American group J Street is well on its way to destroying the stranglehold which right-wing groups have long exerted on American policy debates over Israel and the monopoly those groups have deceptively claimed on speaking for American Jews.

America's destructive involvement in all Israeli conflicts and its blind devotion to all Israeli actions is one area where -- not due exclusively or even primarily to Obama -- change is on its way. That policy just isn't sustainable any longer, nor are the myths that have long been propagated, and the smear tactics that have long been invoked, in service of shielding that policy from critical scrutiny and open debate. As the debate finally unfolds, Jeffrey Goldberg can -- and almost certainly will -- scream "anti-Semite" until he loses his voice. But the louder he screams, the more he abuses and exploits that accusation, the fewer people who will be listening. Or caring.


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