An Antisemitic Smear Gets Another Hearing
JNS.org – Last month, former CIA officer Valerie Plame crossed a line on social media that even the mainstream liberal media couldn’t ignore.
Plame gained fame due to her unmasking, which occurred when her husband was a prominent critic of the George W. Bush administration’s Iraq war policy. But her status as a liberal icon took a hit when she retweeted an antisemitic polemic that claimed that Jews were responsible for pushing the US into wars in the Middle East for Israel’s sake.
Plame defended the piece, before eventually issuing a weasel-worded apology that further damaged her reputation.
But the interesting aspect of this incident was the way that some critics of Israel sought to disassociate their attacks on the Jewish state from the sort of antisemitic invective that Plame had promoted. The Washington Post’s Molly Roberts, for example, whined that Plame’s open hate discredited an otherwise reasonable argument about Israel and its friends playing the puppet master on unsuspecting Americans.
While almost all of the attention devoted to antisemitism in the weeks since the Charlottesville incident has been devoted to neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, Roberts was unhappy that the attention devoted to Plame changed the narrative to one about the “intolerant left” and because it undermined her desire to have a debate about “the outsize role Israel plays in American foreign policy.”
But the problem is that those who single out Israel and its supporters traffic in age-old antisemitic themes that cannot be disguised as scholarship or legitimate debate.
What Roberts seems to want is a rehashing of the “Israel Lobby” thesis, which was promoted by authors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt a decade ago. They claimed that Israel and its supporters, especially the AIPAC lobby, were buying the votes of members of Congress to do Israel’s bidding — and that this was harming the best interests of Americans.
As it happens, Walt resurfaced this week with an article in The Forward, in which he claimed that “history proved us right” — and defended his smears against the pro-Israel community.
But the “Israel Lobby” thesis was based on two big lies.
One was that, in Walt and Mearsheimer’s telling, the effort to impose the pro-Israel agenda on America was a conspiracy so vast that it contradicted the authors’ premise that a minority was manipulating a majority. Since most Americans support Israel and view it as a fellow democracy with common values, the claim that the Jewish tail is wagging the American dog is absurd.
Second, the nature of Walt and Mearsheimer’s arguments hinged on antisemitic stereotypes about Jews buying influence or manipulating unsuspecting gentiles. The focus on the Israel “lobby” as the greatest force in US politics was also a distortion that ignored the work of other, more powerful lobbies. Singling out Israel and its supporters in this manner betrayed an agenda that was built on prejudice, not a defense of American interests.
While Walt continues to deny the antisemitic nature of his work, it is telling that in his Forward article, he cited — among other things — the rise of Jewish Voice for Peace, a group that engages in openly antisemitic and anti-Zionist incitement, as proof that his stand was correct. He and Roberts ignore the reality of the Mideast conflict, in which a Palestinian political culture rejects peace on any terms, and where Israel’s destruction is the only genuine obstacle to the conflict’s resolution.
While most Jews are still focused on President Donald Trump’s wrongheaded comments about Charlottesville, the Democratic Party is becoming increasingly hostile to Israel. After eight years during which President Barack Obama’s efforts to pressure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government only worsened the conflict with the Palestinians — and Obama’s appeasement of Iran drove Sunni Arab states into the arms of the Israelis — talk of a suppressed debate about the Jewish state’s disproportionate influence in the US is ridiculous.
But now that we have a president who, despite other obvious faults, isn’t obsessed with the idea of “saving Israel from itself” or empowering an Iranian regime that is as much of a threat to the US and the Arab states as it is to Israel,it’s unsurprising that some on the left want to revive this dishonest discussion.
In the 10 years since The Israel Lobby was first published, a rising tide of antisemitism has swept across the globe, fueled in part by smears of Israel and Jews — just like the ones that Walt has helped spread. That is an indictment of his work, not a vindication. Those who want to besmirch Israel’s supporters as undermining US interests without being rightly labeled as antisemites aren’t fooling anyone.
Jonathan S. Tobin is opinion editor of JNS.org and a contributor to National Review Online. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.