Friday, February 20, 2009

Anti-Semites on My Left, Neocons on My Right

It's dangerous in this hood.

Jeffrey Goldberg and Glenn Greenwald are having what has to be a hall of fame candidate in the field of unproductive exchanges. It started with Goldberg quoting a writer saying "however much the extreme left and the extreme right might disagree, the one common ground upon which they met comfortably was anti-Semitism," and using that to segue into discussing "the brown-red coalition aligned against Israel in Europe," and "in less dramatic, but still disturbing fashion", the presence of left-wing writers in The American Conservative attacking Israel (TAC was formed by Pat Buchanan and thus occupies a special space of mistrust in the Jewish American psyche). One of the writers Goldberg singled-out was Greenwald.

Greenwald fired back with a furious post, associating Goldberg with the "neoconservative Israel fanatics" and using his post as a case study for the proposition that "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". As for TAC, Greenwald says this argument is "rank guilt by association" and that "it's intellectual dishonesty of the lowliest kind to toss around epithets based on Buchanan's views aimed at anyone and everyone who writes for that journal, regardless of what they write."

Goldberg rejoins that whatever his politics are other issues, a cursory reading of his writings on, e.g., the settlements would pretty clear show him to be "not a revanchist Zionist". Greenwald, Goldberg alleges, is merely covering for the fact that writing in The American Conservative, which remains "animated by Buchanan's hostility to Jews and to Israel" is a sure-fire way to convince Jews to run screaming from J Street and back into the arms of AIPAC. Greenwald, in an update to his post, calls Goldberg's rejoinder "adolescent" and says that Goldberg's views on the Iraq war are sufficient to justify labeling him "neoconservative".

Both are tip-toeing but not crossing the other's red-lines: Goldberg doesn't actually call Greenwald an anti-Semite, just someone who associates with them (or near-them, depending on how one reads "less dramatically"); Greenwald doesn't actually make specific claims about Goldberg's politics on Israel, but uses Goldberg's views on Iraq to lump him in with neoconservatives and strongly implies that he holds the same no-criticism-under-any-circumstances standard regarding Israel as his putative compatriots.

I cannot think of a conversation that has this extreme a ratio of heat to light. I think most American Jews have a definitively negative view of The American Conservative, because Buchanan-style conservatism has always been extremely unpopular with American Jews and most Jews do consider him to be flatly anti-Semitic. Greenwald's writing in that magazine was, at the very least, probably a tactical mistake regardless of the content, if the goal is to persuade the Jewish community writ large that the dovish positions that Greenwald holds are a safe location for them. But I don't think he himself is anti-Semitic or that there are any grounds to imply otherwise [UPDATE for clarity: I likewise don't think there are any grounds to imply that Greenwald is anti-Semitic. The original was unclear as to what "otherwise" referred to].

At the same time, if Greenwald thinks that "anti-Semitic" gets hurled at anyone insufficiently hawkish regarding Israel, he seems most interested in propagating a counter-norm wherein anyone with views on Israel to his right (unless they're right-wing anti-Israeli, in which case they're fine no matter how vile their politics otherwise are) is now a "neoconservative", and thus beyond the pale of legitimate discourse.

Meaning that someone like me (likely to be perceived as to Goldberg's left and Greenwald's right) gets to be an anti-Semitic neoconservative! Oh joy.


Bruce said...

Nice work David. You have a new reader.

Tim C said...

Heat is the only possible source for light.

Sorry, I've always hated that metaphor.

JackBlack said...

Really? I doubt that "most American Jews" have even heard of American Conservative magazine, let alone have an opinion about it.
In reality, you have a "definitively negative view" of the magazine and are conveniently ascribing that view to others to bolster your argument. Nice try.

Jonathan Guyer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
wrpn said...

Really now. I'm an Orthodox Jew and a charter subscriber to the "American Conservative." I think it's the coolest opinion magazine out there and I'm grateful that someone is raising hard questions the Jewish establishment tries to ignore like maybe AIPAC isn't in the best interest of any Americans, Jews included, or that a return to a pre-Great Society immigration paradigm just might make sense for our country.

David Schraub said...

Congratulations: You are the second right-wing Jew I've ever met who ... well, I don't want to presume you're anti-Israel, but who is an Israel-skeptic perhaps?

(The other one was flatly anti-Israel -- but again, I don't want to presume your views for you)

wrpn said...

Actually I'm not "Israel Skeptic". I'm actually a member of the Religious Zionists of America and would have voted for the Mafdal in the Israeli elections earlier this month. Having said that I appreciate the courageous debate waged in every issue of the "American Conservative." The "AC" is a treasure that is raising hard questions other might choose, at their peril, to ignore.

I might add that back in 2003, the "AC" predicted the mortgage meltdown, it was certainly right from the start on the folly of the US intervention in Iraq, and it gave Chuck Baldwin's insurgent
3rd party presidential candidacy a fair shake in terms of coverage.