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Anti-Zionists Left and Right

June 14, 2007 By:
Jonathan S. Tobin
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Pat Buchanan

What happens when the far right collides with the hard left? Will the universe explode? Will the laws of physics be distorted by some anti-Newtonian implosion of logic? No, they won't. Not as long as the two ends of the spectrum are uniting to slam the Jews, that is.

Such a moment arrived when the pre-eminent journal of the far right, Pat Buchanan's American Conservative opened its pages to Phillip Weiss, a stalwart of the left. Why would paleo-conservative Pat lend his bully pulpit to Weiss? Simple, so he could promote him as yet another Jew who opposes Zionism.

Weiss, a prominent liberal New York author and magazine writer who's been flailing against a variety of Jewish targets for years (including a bizarre piece about liberal Jewish prejudices against their Orthodox brethren in Philadelphia magazine last fall) has lately found himself in the unlikely position of becoming an honorary member in good standing of the troglodyte right.

'Don't Become a Nut'
He is also the latest of a growing group of Israel-haters claiming to be the victims of the Zionist conspiracy. In Weiss' case, he ceased writing a blog on the Web site of the New York Observer because his editor and publishers were no longer willing to support his "right" to use their publication for attacking Israel and its supporters for being disloyal to America and for being, at least indirectly, to blame for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In his piece in the American Conservative, he related that his editor Peter Kaplan urged him to can the paranoia about the Zionists. "As your friend," he says that Kaplan advised him, "Don't become a nut." He thought that Weiss "shouldn't allow the political crank to crowd out the storyteller and humorist" in him because he had become "unhinged by politics."

But being a "nut" on the issue of Jews backing Israel is too important to Weiss because as he wrote in the same piece, "The towers fell [on 9/11] in part because of our support for Israel's occupation of Arab lands. ... Now Israel's policies toward the Arabs were ours. On my blog, I raised the issue of dual loyalty."

So now, Weiss is finding a new literary home with, as he has put it, his "new friends" -- the followers of the brazen anti-Semite Buchanan.

Weiss' tale of woe is just one more example of an Israel-hater, even one with a Jewish background, who finds himself drawn to rhetorical violence against Israel and the Jews.

Norman Finkelstein, who was recently denied tenure at DePaul University after his pseudo-scholarly smearing of Israel as a Nazi, apartheid state brought him some rather strange allies among the Holocaust-denying loony right, is another. Finkelstein's supporters have branded Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz a "bully" and a "McCarthyite" for pointing out Finkelstein's lies and his unsuitability for tenure.

Why should anyone care about anything that Weiss or Finkelstein or their acolytes say?

The problem is that for all of their wailing about the ruthlessness of the "Israel Lobby" in destroying them, they are far from alone in putting forward the notion that the vast majority of Americans who ardently support the State of Israel are somehow the victims of a nefarious campaign of manipulation by disloyal Zionists.

This theme was championed by John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, two distinguished figures in American political science who co-authored a now famous essay "The Israel Lobby," which took the sort of conspiracy theory bigotry long put forward by former presidential candidate and pundit Buchanan, and brought it into the mainstream.

The willingness of others on the left to denounce Zionism, including prominent Jewish "progressives" like playwright Tony Kushner and New York University professor Tony Judt, drew the attention of a pamphlet published by the American Jewish Committee last winter.

In it, Indiana University Professor Alvin Rosenfeld wrote of the dangers of allowing such ideas to leach into the political mainstream at a time when such Israel-bashing was fueling a frightening revival of anti-Semitism in Europe, and throughout the Arab and Muslim world.

But the response to Rosenfeld has not been encouraging. He was roundly denounced by many in the secular and Jewish press for unfairly tarring liberals with the brush of anti-Semitism, even though he did no such thing.

Even worse is the notion held by many in positions of influence that somehow, the Jewish community's angry response to Walt, Mearsheimer and even Finkelstein has been over the top.

At a panel sponsored last week by the Jewish Council on Public Affairs to discuss Rosenfeld's thesis, in which I participated, Leonard Fein, the venerable lion of American Jewish liberalism mooted the notion that what was at play here was the fact that Jews were very good at "playing the victim."

Fein, whose long record of support for Israel is not in question, believes it is more important to focus on the admissibility of dissent from Israeli government policies than fighting the anti-Zionists. He worries that by seeking to hound these foes of Zion from the public stage, we are not only flailing at an insignificant target but also turning off young Jews who want no part of the knee-jerk, pro-Israel spin of the organized Jewish world.

Not Mere Dissent
Fein is right that the right of dissent against specific Israeli policies -- or support for the Israeli left's stand on borders or settlements -- ought not to be questioned. But it is support for Israel that's more likely to be unpopular in the secular media and on college campuses these days than opposition to it.

What Weiss and Buchanan, not to mention Judt and Kushner, have put forward are not legitimate differences with Israeli government policies, but a dismissal of the state's right to exist and the legitimacy of its right of self-defense against bloodthirsty terrorists, whose aim is the mass murder of Jews.

It is not "playing the victim" to point out that the treatment of Israel and its supporters in Europe is provoking haunting memories of the 1930s. How can we sit back and allow these ideas and their supporters to expand their beachheads on American soil? Failing to respond ultimately plays into the hands of marginal figures like Buchanan and others who hope to turn American foreign policy against Israel.

Fein, who worries that Walt and Mearsheimer have been misinterpreted, warned that it was a mistake to say that the questions they raise about pro-Israel activism ought not to be dismissed. But when is it okay for any American to allow his patriotism to be unfairly besmirched? Or for any Jew to be made to feel as if there is something unwholesome about a love for Zion that is shared by so many of our non-Jewish fellow citizens?

The Weiss-Buchanan alliance is an overt acknowledgement of what many on the Jewish left know is true, but won't face up to. The connection between this brand of Jewish anti-Zionism and traditional anti-Semitism is now in the open. Ignoring it is no longer an option.  

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