Thoughts On Anti-Semitism, Prompted by Hagel and Others

I originally wrote this as an add-on to Paul’s post immediately below, but thought that since it is pretty long, and goes well beyond the immediate subject of Paul’s post, it should probably be posted independently. So here it is:

I disagree somewhat with many of my fellow conservatives with respect to the diagnosis of anti-Semitism. It is a commonplace that criticizing the policies of the government of Israel does not make one an anti-Semite. But this is a straw man; to my knowledge, no one has ever argued that anyone who criticizes Israel, for its foreign policies or otherwise, is an anti-Semite. Similarly, no one argues that anyone who criticizes the government of Poland, say, must be bigoted against Poles.

This red herring is used to obscure what really does happen: there are a considerable number of people, of whom Hagel appears to be one, who are obsessed with Israel, and not in a good way. Against all evidence, they assert that Israel’s accommodating the Palestinians is the key to peace in the entire Middle Eastern region if not the whole Arab world. History tells us that the supposed centrality of Israeli-Palestinian relations to everything that goes on within 2,000 miles is a fantasy, yet the fantasy persists in men like Chuck Hagel. If only Israel would yield to the Palestinians, then everything else would fall into place.

This obsession with Israel is usually combined with a hyper-critical attitude toward its conduct. The Tutus can slaughter a million Hutsis–or was it the other way around?–and hardly anyone appears to care. If Chuck Hagel ever commented on that particular bloodbath, or if he was especially bothered when a million people were killed in the Iran-Iraq war, I never heard about it. But let Israel defend itself against thousands of rocket attacks and assorted other terrorist threats, and let an Israeli bomb fall near a school because that’s where the terrorists locate their rocket launchers, and my Lord! You would think the world is coming to an end. This strange imbalance, which we see in people like Chuck Hagel, must have a cause somewhere.

I suppose it is possible that people like Hagel can be bitterly hostile toward Israel without having anything against Jews, although once again, history seems to point us in the opposite direction. Here, however, is the clincher: the same people, like Hagel, who are obsessed with the tiny, vulnerable nation of Israel are also obsessed, domestically, with the “Jewish lobby”–once again, in defiance of all evidence. What makes denunciations of the “Jewish lobby” so irrational is that Israel enjoys, and has enjoyed for the sixty-plus years of its existence, overwhelmingly broad support from the American people. If every Jew in America were to vanish, it would not make a perceptible dent in Americans’ support for Israel, particularly when that country comes into conflict with its Muslim neighbors. American politicians don’t support Israel because of the sinister machinations of any lobby, Jewish or otherwise, but because 1) a large majority of their constituents, in particular the overwhelming majority of Christians, support Israel, and 2) most politicians no doubt reflect, in their personal views, this American consensus. Moreover, of course, there are good strategic reasons for our alliance with Israel.

All of this seems so blindingly obvious that when someone likes Chuck Hagel talks about American policy being dominated by a “Jewish lobby,” one can only conclude that some twisted impulse is at work.

Most of my fellow conservatives are very, very slow to attribute repellent views and comments like those expressed by Chuck Hagel to anti-Semitism. But I say, if a person is a) obsessed with Israel, so as to attribute outsized significance to whatever that country does and to view its weakening as the sine qua non of world peace; b) hypercritical of Israel in a way that does not apply to any other country; c) convinced that “Jews” are somehow dictating policies that are contrary to American interests, when in fact those policies are broadly supported by the American people; and d) so caught up in all of the above that he repeatedly makes assertions that are in plain conflict with the facts–are “stupid,” as Paul says–then the person we are describing is an anti-Semite.

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