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Saturday, March 15, 2003
 
Neocons and Antisemitism

Calpundit has an interesting question about neoconservatives and antisemitism. Given "the (highly condensed) relevant facts:"

  • Lots of neocons are Jewish.

  • Neocons are rabidly pro-Israel.

  • It is reasonable to infer that they are pro-Israel largely because they are Jewish.

  • They have a strong influence in the current administration.

  • Lots of people have a strong distaste for the whole neocon agenda of remaking the Middle East in America's image.



Kevin wonders "about the best way to clearly distinguish legitimate criticism of neocons from mere anti-semitism."

What I'd like to see are some reasonable guidelines for discourse, guidelines that suggest which lines of attack on neoconservatism are reasonable and which ones aren't, and what kinds of criticism of Israel are legitimate and which ones aren't. If there were any consensus on this, it would make both criticism and defense of neocon theology a lot easier and a lot less polemical. It would make it a lot easier for me, anyway.

Having taken my typical way-too-long time to mull this over, a lot of other people have commented on the issue already. I don't have a lot to add, but I'd like to be on the record on this one.

First, there are flaws in the premises. Sure, lots of neocons are Jewish. Lots of anti-war protesters are Jewish. Lots of communists are Jewish. Lots of democrats are Jewish. So, the first principle in keeping clear of antisemitism is to keep mention of people's religion out of the argument, unless there's something specific and direct in the religion that pertains directly to the issue. As Judiasm, per se, has nothing to say to any of these issues, mentioning it is a red herring and indicates the possibility of antisemitism.

"Pro-Israel" is a gross generalization. It is content-free and prone to misuse. Does it mean pro-Sharon? Does it mean pro-the Israeli people? If so, does that include Israeli Arabs? Does it mean pro-the state of Israel? If so, does it mean anti-Palestinian? Etc., etc. I believe what people are referring to when they say "pro-Israel," they mean "pro-Sharon" or "Likudnik." If you mean Likudnik, say so. Antisemitism is bigotry against all Jews. Making the relevant distinctions when criticizing people, criticizing those with whom you disagree rather than an entire nation (and, by a widely-held misconception, an entire religion), is precisely how one avoids bigoted statements.

It is not reasonable "to infer they are pro-Israel largely becauase they are Jewish." There are millions of Jewish Israeli citizens in whom it is entirely reasonable to infer pro-Israel sentiments who do not share the neocons' viewpoints and goals. Another red herring.

Avoiding the appearance of antisemitism is just an issue of precision, nothing more.