Jewish liberals have a difficult task this year in defending Barack Obama’s record. But, luckily for them, it is far easier to stir up suspicion about conservative Republicans than it is to convince liberals to connect the dots about Barack Obama’s troubling record on Israel. Convincing wavering Jewish liberals and moderates to stick with the Democrats is generally just a matter of reminding these voters that conservative Republicans are generally allied with the Christian right, a group many Jews fear more than Hamas, Hezbollah or al-Qaeda. That is often enough to overcome the fact that even liberals are aware that with the exception of Ron Paul libertarians (most of whom are not even Republicans), the GOP is uniformly and ardently pro-Israel as well as overtly friendly to American Jews. Yet that has no deterred some from attempting to try to convince Jews that despite their support for Jewish causes, these same Republican politicians are actively sending out subliminal messages to reassure conservatives they should fear and hate Jews.
That’s the conceit of a poorly conceived article by Gal Beckerman in the Forward who sets out to convince us the real intent of Newt Gingrich’s brandishing of the name of Saul Alinsky when describing Obama’s radicalism is to send out anti-Semitic “dog whistles” to the right. This is absurd for three reasons.
The first is that the idea that Alinsky’s 1971 book Rules for Radicals was a seminal work in instructing the American Left about how to gain power is hardly original with Gingrich. While Alinsky has gotten some new attention as a result of Gingrich’s attempt to link former community organizer Obama with the patron saint of community organizers, it is the left that has long held Alinsky up as a hero. Though some on the right have paid Alinsky the compliment of reading him and trying to copy some of his tactics, the truth is he has probably done more to influence radicals and their tactics than many other writers who were better known in their day. Though Democrats have fiercely resisted any attempt to get at the roots of Obama’s ideology via his associations, singling Alinsky out as such an influence has nothing to do with his Jewish origins, which are as unknown to most GOP voters as his writings.
Second, the notion that the frequent mention of Alinsky’s name is an attempt to remind Republicans his mentor was a Jew and somehow foreign is an unsubstantiated leap into conjecture that really ought to be beneath Beckerman, a writer whose history of the Soviet Jewry movement is the finest book yet written on the subject. It is a mere assertion with no argument behind it other than a claim that — like the mention of poverty and food stamps which he also takes to be a sign of Gingrich’s racism — is an attempt to get at the “subconscious” of Republicans.
Third, the whole argument is based on a fallacious assumption that most conservatives are closet anti-Semites who will vote for a candidate if they believe they are, in their hearts, against the Jews. This is, of course, an article of faith for many Jewish liberals whose heads are stuck in the politics of the 1930s when conservatism was associated with anti-Semites like Father Coughlin. While the vestiges of that old conservatism carry on in the person of paleo-con outliers such as Pat Buchanan and radical right-wingers who now support Ron Paul because of his negative attitude toward Israel, the rest of the GOP is nothing like that. Indeed, its evangelical and social conservative grass roots are largely comprised of ardent philo-Semites.
The notion that Gingrich, whose campaign has been revived by large contributions from Sheldon Adelson because of the candidate’s down-the-line backing for Israel, is somehow such a covert Jew-hater is simply a smear. Though his faults are many, he is, if anything, a more ardent Zionist than many Jewish liberals and has never done anything that could possibly link him to hatred for Jews. But even if he was such a hater, the fact is, his core audience on the right is the last demographic group in America (other than the Jews themselves), who would give a sympathetic hearing to such ideas.
Rather than seriously examine the contradiction at the heart of these assumptions, Beckerman merely nods to liberal myths and expects his readers to lap it up. Republicans back Israel not just because Sheldon Adelson and others give them money but also because sympathy for Zionism is ingrained in the political DNA of this country and is inherently popular. But it is easier to merely pander to liberal prejudices about the right than to seriously examine this conundrum.
That such arguments come now when the left is drifting closer to anti-Zionism, as we see with the Occupy Wall Street movement which will morph into an Occupy AIPAC gathering this spring, speaks to the blindness of liberals to what is happening on the left as well as the right.
People like Beckerman think Gingrich is employing anti-Semitism when he says Alinsky simply because he assumes conservatives must be anti-Semites. Beckerman’s dark fears about the Christian right are ridiculous. He clearly knows little about them. But his fears speak volumes about the unfounded and politically prejudicial assumptions so common on the left.