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Contentions

The Jewish Al Sharpton?

After a long absence from respectable circles, Jew-baiting is back.

When Patrick J. Buchanan denounced the 1991 U.S. military action to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein, saying it had been cooked up by “Israel and its amen corner,” he largely sealed the doom of his political career. His remark, blaming the Jews for steering U.S. policy to actions that he alleged were in their own interest but not in America’s, made use of the classic anti-Semitic formula. Anti-Semitism, however, had been taboo in America for a generation or more, partly as a response to the Holocaust and partly due to the wider revulsion against bigotry occasioned by the civil-rights revolution. Commentators unloaded on Buchanan from many directions, led by the New York Times columnist A.M. Rosenthal.

Fifteen years later, however, anti-Semitism is becoming, more and more, an accepted part of national discourse. First, Harvard University published the fulminations of scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt (dissected in the pages of COMMENTARY by Gabriel Schoenfeld) accusing the “amen corner,” or in their term “the Israel Lobby,” of distorting U.S. policy to serve Israel rather than America. Then came former President Jimmy Carter’s book, blaming the Arab-Israel conflict entirely on the Jews, and claiming that this information had been kept from the American people by the pervasive and intimidating influence of certain “religious groups,” i.e., the Jews. (See my piece about Carter in the February issue of COMMENTARY.) Next came Democratic presidential aspirant, Wesley Clark, who commented recently that pressure for U.S. action against Iran’s nuclear weapons program was coming primarily from “New York money people.” Can you guess which religious/ethnic group he might be referring to?

Enter the New York Times, a paper famously Jewish-owned and long edited by A.M. Rosenthal, and therefore the target of many anti-Semitic conspiracy theories of the kind once propounded by cranks (and now routinely put forth by the likes of Carter, Walt, and Mearsheimer).

The Times‘s Sunday magazine of January 14 carried James Traub’s astounding hatchet job on Abe Foxman. Foxman is head of the Anti-Defamation League, which in Traub’s view, should long ago “have moved away from its original mission [of combating anti-Semitism] in favor of either promoting tolerance and diversity or leading the nonsectarian fight against extremism.” Instead, Foxman, a “hectoring” man of “spleen” who is “domineering” and “brazen,” “an anachronism” who resembles “a Cadillac-driving ward-heeler” and “stages public rituals of accusation,” insists perversely on “dwell[ing] imaginatively in the Holocaust.”

“It is tempting,” writes Traub, “to compare Abe Foxman with Al Sharpton, another portly, bellicose, melodramatizing defender of ethnic ramparts.” Leave aside that Sharpton is a notorious fraud who gave America the Tawana Brawley farce. More to the point is that for all the publicity that he succeeds in garnering, Sharpton represents no one but himself. Foxman, in contrast, is the chief of one of the leading, if not the leading, organizations through which American Jews defend their civil rights. Traub’s complaint that Foxman is obsessive about anti-Semitism is akin to assailing the head of, say, the NAACP for being overly sensitive to racism. But that’s an exposé you won’t read in the Times any time soon.

Apparently for the likes of Walt and Mearsheimer to bait the Jews is all right: Traub gives them extremely respectful treatment. But for Jews to defend themselves is, it seems, disgusting.


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