David Frum doesn’t need me to come to his defense. But this attack piece by David Corn, formerly Washington correspondent of the Nation, now at Mother Jones, is willfully inaccurate, and demonstrative of much of what’s wrong with the debate about the Arab-Israel conflict.
Yesterday, Frum had a piece on the website of the Week, in which he examined “Why Democrats recoil from Gaza,” citing a recent Rasmussen poll which found that 62% of Republicans supported Israel’s current military operation while only 31% of Democrats did. What are the reasons for this discrepancy? Frum lists four. First, he says, “Democrats are just generally less likely to support military actions by any nation, including the United States.” No one can argue with that. Second, and related, is that Democrats are more supportive of exhaustive negotiations, even with terrorist organizations. Third, is that “the more closely Americans follow the news, the more likely they are to support Israel. Yet more low-information voters are Democrats than Republicans.”
So far, there’s not much in this that even partisan Democrats — even ones who consider themselves more partial to Israel — would find objectionable.
It is Frum’s fourth point that angers Corn. “Democratic attitudes are poisoned by the influence of an anti-Zionist hard left, a vociferous faction whose ideology can bleed into outright anti-Semitism.” Corn dismisses Frum’s discussion of the three other factors — all of them more significant, in Frum’s analysis — and focuses only on this last, and most sensational, charge. Corn labels the “neocon former Bush speechwriter['s]” raising this point at all as playing “the anti-Semitism card,” and calls it “the main thrust of his article.”
Perhaps if Frum had said that anti-Semitism was the only, or major, reason “why Democrats recoil from Gaza,” it would be fair to say he was playing “the anti-Semitism card.” Yet exploration of this factor is not “the main thrust” of Frum’s argument; it’s the last of four. And rather than engage with these other points, Corn does what so many people antipathetic to Israel do, he falsely accuses his interlocutor of carelessly throwing around charges of anti-Semitism. Liberals do this almost as much as they accuse conservatives of “questioning their patriotism.” The techniques have a dual purpose: it makes one’s intellectual adversary look like an outright hysteric, and avoids debate of more salient issues. Frum never says nor implies that anything near a majority of Democrats who oppose Operation Cast Lead are anti-Semites; he’s merely saying that some of them are, as any cursory reading of the liberal netroots would demonstrate. By way of example, Frum cites some unpleasant comments left on Barack Obama’s transition website, many of them calling this week’s events a “holocaust.” He also could have pointed to any number of the nationwide anti-Israel or anti-Iraq War rallies over the past several years, many of which have been notable for their displays of anti-Semitism.
It is perfectly within Corn’s rights to dispute the allegation that anti-Semitism is responsible for at least part of Democratic antipathy to Israel, but he should argue the question on those terms and not substitute the most controversial part of Frum’s case for the whole. Ignoring the three other valid points Frum makes and accusing him of “attempting to taint that debate by suggesting that anti-Semitism is a major factor prompting Democrats (and others, presumably) to question the assault” is disingenuous. And Corn accuses Frum of wildly exaggerating the threat of left-wing anti-Semitism as a way to downplay its existence. Evidently, the phenomenon doesn’t seem to bother Corn all that much. He did, after all, spend twenty years at the Nation.