The Response to “J'Accuse&rdquo
The correspondence on Norman Podhoretz’s “J’Accuse” [September] has been so heavy that we have borrowed the space normally devoted to book reviews in order to convey a fair impression of it. Even so, we have been able to accommodate only a small fraction of the letters we have received, many of them in a more abbreviated form than we would have liked.
Books in Review will be back next month.
To the Editor:
“J’Accuse” . . . has been read with considerable interest. . . .
I fully support the President’s policy which assures the survival and security of Israel.
I have said a number of times that Israel is our closest ally in the Middle East—but not our only ally. We have an obligation to insure Israel’s security in light of current and historic threats. At the same time, we are obliged to help other states in the Middle East to meet their valid defense needs.
In matters relating to the Middle East, it is difficult for the United States to act in a manner that is completely free from controversy. We cannot isolate ourselves because we may be subjected to criticism. We are a powerful nation attempting to use our power to bring peace, as was acknowledged recently by Israel’s Minister of Defense.
I can assure you of my continued support for Israel while expressing the hope for peace and stability in the Middle East.
Caspar W. Weinberger
Secretary of Defense
To the Editor:
When, as a young man, I read Emile Zola’s J’Accuse, I wept. Now, almost sixty years later, reading Norman Podhoretz’s “J’Accuse,” I wept again.
When, assuming a pious disguise, the enemies of the Jews say, in justification of their condemnation, that they are judging Israel by higher standards of moral conduct, are they not thereby passing judgment on nineteen centuries of Christian history?
And, behind the disguise, are they not concealing the unspoken secret that the New Testament remains the locus classicus of both Christian and, yes, Jewish anti-Semitism (was not the New Testament the work of apostate, self-hating Jews?) as divine punishment for the ineradicable sin of deicide and that the Holocaust is its culmination in history? How consoling it must be to the guilt-ridden anti-Semitic soul to find a pretext for proclaiming that Hitler may have been right after all. Can the apotheosis of Arafat be far behind?
Mr. Podhoretz’s “J’Accuse” is a mirror that has the power of prophecy. Let those who still treasure the values of Western civilization look into it and see their fate.
Elias M. Schwarzbart
New York City
To the Editor:
I had hoped that Norman Podhoretz would write such an article, and he did. . . .
I have been as reluctant as most Jews to ascribe the vitriolic attacks on Israel to an eruption of anti-Semitism, yet he makes out a very good case; there is simply no other explanation for the disproportionality of what happened in Lebanon—tragic as it was—and the obscene abuse heaped on Israel.
I agree with Mr. Podhoretz that what we have here is a symptom—he calls it a cover—of larger ills: a loss of American nerve, the acquiescence in terrorism, and the appeasement of totalitarianism. It’s too bad that we Jews are always the initial scapegoats when a nation—or . . . a civilization—loses confidence in its ability to withstand peril or overcome difficulty.
To the Editor:
New York City
To the Editor:
. . . “J’Accuse” is a remarkably good statement, most particularly because Norman Podhoretz, at the close, puts the whole matter in a perspective that is most important: i.e., the failure of nerve, the incredible loss of belief in the possibility of our institutions, the only possibility we have for freedom in the world. Such a loss of faith and hope, let alone charity (to ourselves) . . . is deeply dismaying to all people of good will and courage. . . .
Santa Monica, California
To the Editor:
With one mighty stroke of his inimitable pen, Norman Podhoretz separates the true lovers of Israel from its false and misguided friends with a line so bold and striking that every sensible person who sees it will know at once where he stands.
Bruce F. Sterling
Staten Island, New York
To the Editor:
I am most grateful for the lucid article by Norman Podhoretz. It helped to restore my perspective on Israel. . . .
It is one thing to be realistically critical of a government, even to condemn those responsible for immoral behavior (the Beirut massacre); but the vituperative onslaught against a people and its government that has recently occurred in the news media is quite another thing. . . .
No matter how hard Israel (and Jews everywhere) try either to be like other nations, or different, they are still condemned. . . .
J. B. Drori, M.D.
To the Editor:
. . . Congratulations on Norman Podhoretz’s incisive expose’ of yet another conspiracy to denigrate, yes, and even to delegitimize Israel. More power to him as an advocate for our people in these perilous times.
New York City
To the Editor:
Permit me to express my admiration of “J’Accuse.” I share Norman Podhoretz’s outrage at the prejudiced reporting of the last few months. . . .
To the Editor:
. . . Norman Podhoretz, in his piercingly insightful and provocative article, has answered the questions that have plagued those of us who have followed the action in Lebanon since its onset. . . . He has done this by proving that underneath the faulty logic, the historical distortions, the hypocrisy . . . there is a common denominator—anti-Semitism—which explains the unrestrained ferocity of so many of the commentators and columnists toward Israel. This common denominator also explains why resolution of the Sinai question did not satisfy Israel’s career critics any more than resolution of the problems of the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem, or whatever will satisfy them. . . .
Although this unmistakable truth is indeed bitter, it . . . will inspire all who take it seriously to be ever more vigilant, ever more protective of Israel, . . . and ever more determined . . . to work toward strengthening the ties that bind the U.S. and Israel together. Mr. Podhoretz’s article has given us the understanding that, rational criticisms notwithstanding, those who hate Israel hate the United States as well.
Great Neck, New York
To the Editor:
. . . To suggest, à la Anthony Lewis, Nat Hentoff (and even Nathan Glazer and Seymour Martin Lipset), that Israel doesn’t have the sovereign right to make war on its own terms, that Israel is justified in doing battle only when it is fighting for its entire existence, is an absurdity. Israel violated the cease-fire, they fume. Should Israel have waited until the huge quantities of bigger and better arms amassed by the PLO during the cease-fire had been fired and had wreaked their havoc in flesh, . . . blood, and property? Is it only then that Israel may act?. . .
To think that only thirty-six years after Hitler the Jews again are the outcasts of the nations is chilling. . . . Not since the 1930′s and the Brown Shirts in Germany has there been such public “understanding” for attacks on innocent Jews. Not since Walter Lippmann “understood” and excused Hitler’s anti-Semitism . . . have we seen a spectacle like that of Anthony Lewis (another assimilated Jew) doing his best to put an acceptable face on the PLO.
Anti-Semitism is back, and coming from some of the most unlikely quarters. Norman Podhoretz is right. There’s no denying it. Bravo.
New York City
To the Editor:
Lord Halifax (not one of my favorite authors) wrote in his maxims: “A man that should call everything by its right name, would hardly pass the streets without being knocked down as a common enemy.”
I do not doubt that Norman Podhoretz, having been bold enough to call the great gorgon of anti-Semitism by its true name, will be the target of any number of brickbats from those who would indulge in this ugliest of human vices yet refuse to hear its name. Unfortunately, too many Jewish voices have already joined the chorus of those who would condemn the mote in Israel’s eye while ignoring the beam in their own.
In the clamor over the unfortunate killings in the Palestinian refugee camps, those whose virulent anti-Israel bias has left them without a shred of moral or intellectual integrity willfully refuse to acknowledge these facts:
- . . . . The killings were by Arab Christians motivated by a lust for revenge for the murder of their women and children by those same terrorists who hide under the skirts and bodies of innocent civilians—not by Israelis.
- The Israelis stopped the killings when what was supposed to have been a search for killer terrorists, left behind in violation of the Habib accords, turned into an Arab settling of accounts.
- Had Israel not gone into West Beirut or left it as everyone urged it to do, the slaughter in the camps would have been unimaginably greater.
- Despite the fact that most of the Israeli soldiers in Lebanon had probably suffered some loss of a dear one in the many wars and countless acts of terrorism Israel has had to endure since 1948, there were practically no acts of Israeli rapine, pillage, or murder in the Lebanon incursion. On the contrary, Israel suffered serious losses of lives and treasure (neither of which it can afford) due to its unprecedented policy of forewarning civilians to evacuate the military target areas established among them. Contrast this with the policies of any nation recently at war: the Germans and Japanese and Russians and Americans and Iranians and Nigerians and Indians and Vietnamese—the list is endless, whether we refer to World War II, the slaughter that accompanied the uprisings in Eastern Europe, Vietnam, the partition of India (and subsequent conflict between India and Pakistan), Biafra, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iran-Iraq. In contrast, Israel should get the Nobel peace prize for the way it has conducted itself in Lebanon!
COMMENTARY and Mr. Podhoretz have done a valuable service in running a number of articles on the roots and practice of anti-Semitism during recent months (“The Theory and Practice of Anti-Semitism” by Michael R. Marrus, August 1982; “The Delegitimation of Israel” by Ruth R. Wisse, July 1982; “The Problem of Christian Anti-Semitism” by Norman Ravitch, April 1982). Mr. Podhoretz’s courageous and thought-provoking “J’Accuse” is a fitting coda, and should be a sober call to all who have the remotest interest in justice and decency to search their souls—and their memories—before engaging further in what Mr. Podhoretz has justly called an “explosion of invective . . . unprecedented in the public discourse of this country.” . . .
New York City
To the Editor:
“J’Accuse” was published shortly before the massacre in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut. Since that time, the flood of invective in the press has grown, if possible, even more overwhelming (and Mr. Podhoretz reviewed only the American press, which has been restrained compared to that of Europe).
. . . I have long advocated a mental exercise to test whether a particular harangue is a manifestation of anti-Semitism. The test involves replacing “Israel” and “Jews” by any other nation and restating the arguments, or seeking somewhat analogous situations involving groups other than Jews. . . . The test is not always easy, since full analogies to the Arab-Israeli conflict do not exist, but it is useful nevertheless.
Would the press have accused, tried, and hanged any other state for an event comparable to the Beirut massacre? Would the press have ignored the most relevant fact, that the Israelis did not do any killing? That the killers were known, in fact, to be members of the paragovernmental ruling party of Lebanon? Would any court ignore the fact that the accused had no motivation for the crime, and were themselves the primary political losers? In any other context, the worst accusation leveled at the country involved would have been poor judgment in allowing the Phalangists to enter the camps. . . .
Steven E. Plaut
Technion-Israel Institute of Technology
To the Editor:
As a Christian and a priest I feel patronized by the general reaction to the Beirut massacre. Has anti-Semitism gone so far that we Christians are robbed of our own atrocities? The accomplice can never be more guilty than the killer unless the killer has no free will and the accomplice uses him like a windup toy. The scenario of Menachem Begin turning to Ariel Sharon and saying, “Okay, Arik, unleash the Christian hordes,” is as anti-Christian as it is anti-Semitic. It implies that Christians live in a moral vacuum and only need shifty Jews to aim them at helpless Palestinians. We who gave the world the Inquisition, the Crusades, and the pogroms don’t have to be manipulated. We are self-starters. Atrocity-wise we are state of the art. Jesus Christ gave us the highest example of morality possible and we have the worst track record possible.
After experiencing Christian “charity” for so long, it was criminal for the Israelis to let the Phalange into the refugee camps, but no one made the Christians slaughter men, women, and children. It is not a Jewish atrocity, it is our atrocity. So let the Lebanese Christians, the Pope, Jerry Falwell, Mother Teresa, and me sit shiva for the victims and feel shame for the sins of our people.
Menachem Begin is reputed to have said to his cabinet: “The Gentiles kill the Gentiles and now they come to hang the Jews.” If he said it, he was right. . . . It is bad enough that Christians did it, but the thunderous silence from the Christian leaders as the world dumps all the blame on the Jews is truly anti-Semitic.
Since the Phalange is made up mostly of Christians who owe obedience to the Pope, perhaps he can take time off from having his picture taken to lay Lebanon under the Interdict until the Christian community hands over the murderers for judgment. . . .
[Reverend] William A. Collins
To the Editor:
I was writing a letter to COMMENTARY to extol Norman Podhoretz’s “J’Accuse” and Ruth R. Wisse’s earlier piece, “The Delegitimation of Israel” [July], both overdue and sorely needed rebuttals of Israel’s vicious and unrelenting detractors, when the news about the Beirut massacre broke and gave rise to renewed Jewish self-flagellation. . . .
I am ashamed because my first reaction to the news of the massacre was not compassion for the victims, or sympathy for the terrible fear of their last moments. . . . My first worry was, “What will the Gentiles say?”
This reaction . . . was the product of a siege mentality under which supporters of Israel have been living for too long a time. . . . It seems that Israel cannot do anything right any more. Even when it destroyed the academies of international terrorism in southern Lebanon, even as it gave Lebanese sovereignty a new lease on life, there was no nod of recognition. Israel’s detractors include the most improbable extremes: oil wealth and radical chic, mature liberation theologians and adolescent swastika-daubers, liberal academics and primitive hate-mongers.
The anti-Semitism of the one side is being supplemented by the Jewish self-hatred of the other. Anthony Lewis invokes “Zionism” . . . to imply that “real” Zionists would have fought the PLO with plowshares and pruning hooks. It is true, things might be a bit easier if Menachem Begin were to speak English like Abba Eban and look like Paul Newman. But the Anthony Lewises and Stanley Hoffmanns don’t excoriate Israel for what it does, but because it is. They have considered Zionism at best a parochial and wasteful distraction from their own universalist Utopias. Once Israel emerged in spite of them and became, for some time at least, a respectable and respected success story, they relented for a while. But deep in their hearts they have never forgiven Zionism for achieving its goal. . . . Bending over backward to prove that, though Jewish, they are not partial to Israel, their first concern is with establishing their alibi. And what better alibi is there than joining the anti-Israel slander?
Benno Weiser Varon
To the Editor:
A general amen to Norman Podhoretz’s piece. What is most appropriate about it—paralleling what is most pertinent about Israel’s current actions—is that it is not an apologetic defense but a pointed counterattack.
Historically, Jewish weakness came to be associated with emphasis on justice, rationality, and constraint. The inability, then reluctance, to use force locked in the perception, both Jewish and non-Jewish, that force could not or would not be used. Enemies of Jews could make manipulative appeals to morality to discount the presence of Jewish power. The Lebanese war, for all its pain and suffering, has had the salutary effect of clearing the air of the belief that Israel could not and would not employ power commensurate with its ability. The long-term geopolitical gain is likely (but not certain) to offset short-term propaganda losses.
Israel’s neighbors have not accorded it the right to exist. The denial of this right, when one has the power and capacity to exist, should properly—nay, morally!—produce not plaintive appeals for recognition but an explosive affirmation of being. That is what the Lebanese war is about. Israel’s previous wars were indeed more “moral”—more narrowly righteous and just—than this one. They were fights for mere survival and there were no alternatives available. The choices this time have been freer, more extensive in scope, and hence more morally ambiguous. Surely some decisions have been dubious, tainted, ill-advised. But such is the way with free choices, and they have been properly accompanied by qualms, divisions, and uncertainties within the Jewish community. But the right to take calculated risks and to make tragic choices (and not merely to respond to pressure and manipulation) belongs to any individual and to any nation. If Israel fought only to exist, and not to prevail, then in some future war which was not of its choosing it would surely cease to exist. . . .
The irony of the situation is that the cowering, peace-loving West is now the “Jew” to the totalitarian East. Europe in particular is being manipulated to its own destruction by its pacifism and by its readiness to “assimilate” needlessly to a ruthless threat. So the West turns ferociously against part of itself, against Israel, by reawakening the anti-Semitism that is always a misguided substitute for lack of self-respect. . . . Mr. Podhoretz, taking the larger view (which is not likely to be altered by ongoing events or media distortions of them), has put the blame where it belongs.
To the Editor:
“J’Accuse” is such a magnificent, impassioned bull’s-eye that I feel I must express my unbounded admiration and gratitude. I would, however—at the risk of nitpicking—take issue with Norman Podhoretz’s remarks on Israel’s 1956 war.
The 1956 Sinai campaign was precipitated by incessant attacks on Negev settlements by one of the PLO’s former incarnations, the Fedayeen. The situation in the Negev then was quite similar to the pre-June 1982 conditions in the Galilee, and the Israeli campaign was just as defensive in purpose as the present Lebanese campaign. I don’t believe, therefore, that the epithets “expansionism” and “imperialism” could apply, however “remotely,” as Mr. Podhoretz suggests, any more than they do now. Ben-Gurion did not feel that eight-year-old Israel could “go it alone,” and—since Britain and France were interested in returning the Suez to Western control—he coordinated the campaign with them, the added incentive being that, had they achieved their objectives, the Suez would have been opened to Israeli navigation.
But while the structure and purpose of the 1956 episode were similar to those of the present war, the reaction of the Left was dramatically different: with few exceptions it was pro-Israel. There are undoubtedly many reasons for the change since then, not the least of which is the general post-Vietnam malaise. But I believe the main reason is that in ’56 the Arabs had not yet caught on to the “liberation-movement” gimmick and its concomitant automatic Soviet sponsorship, knee-jerk “liberal” support, and mindless media romanticization. In the 50′s the “Palestinian guerrillas” were still seen for what they were (and, indeed, are): a mercenary foreign legion of the Arab League, of which only a minority is of Palestinian origin and whose main function is to terrorize the Israeli population between “official” Arab-Israeli wars. Their irregular status enabled the Arab governments to disclaim responsibility for their actions, thus enjoying relative immunity from Israeli attacks, while Israel has had to remain on nerve-racking, costly, and bloodsoaked alert throughout its existence. No other country would have been expected to tolerate a situation of this sort.
Finally, I am constantly puzzled by the failure of Israel’s advocates to mention a simple, internationally recognized fact of life: every country fighting a defensive war is entitled to keep territory from which it was attacked. Otherwise, if returning to the status quo ante bellum were obligatory, there would be no disincentive for any political aggressor. After World War II, the USSR, whose strategic depth is the greatest in the world, made border adjustments that displaced 14 million people and annexed vast territories to the Soviet land mass. Even Russia’s staunchest enemies do not advocate the return, for instance, of East Prussia to Germany. To deny Israel, whose strategic depth is among the tiniest in the world, the right to annex the Golan or East Jerusalem, after 34 years of war and adamant Syrian and Jordanian refusal to come to the negotiating table, is a prime example of a pernicious double standard.
New York City
To the Editor:
In view of President Reagan’s September 1 call for the association of the West Bank and Gaza with Jordan, the suggestion of Norman Podhoretz that Israeli public opinion will not tolerate Israel’s absorption of the West Bank takes on special significance. I wonder if administration officials might have chosen to focus on that point in Mr. Podhoretz’s perceptive review of media coverage of the Israeli operation in Lebanon and ignore (if not seek to prove to the contrary) his further observation: “No one can say what the eventual disposition of the West Bank will be.” Clearly the President has said so, and he has gotten his good notices from columnists and papers like the New York Times and the Washington Post who find little else to support in the Reagan foreign policy.
I am glad that Mr. Podhoretz’s perceptive article is now on record but have little expectation that it will have much effect on the White House, now that the President has spoken—echoing the State Department’s view in 1948 that Arab Palestine should be part of Jordan—and a Society of American Jews for the Front Page of the New York Times seems to have been formed. It appears that the administration is intent upon out-Cartering Carter in obtaining the removal of Prime Minister Begin, notwithstanding polls indicating scant support for the most prominent members of the Labor opposition, Messrs. Rabin and Peres. And now that the President has surrounded himself with latter-day Loy Hendersons and Robert Lovetts, it is to be expected that the coming months will be a bully time in Washington for scapegoating Israel and those Americans who believe that imposition of rejectionist terms on Israel is not a sound approach to peace between Israel and the Arab world.
The New York Times seems intent upon pursuing its double-standard perception of Israel. A September 8 editorial dismissed as “disingenuous propaganda” Israel’s concern that the Reagan initiative (less a “fresh start” and more an Arabist retread) will lead to a Soviet base on the West Bank. The paper indicated that Israel could always move in and wipe out such a base. Who is being disingenuous? Washington and the media would pounce on Israel in outrage for such a move. (And, considering the lives that Israel would lose in such an operation, it would seem that the New York Times is fully prepared to have Israel pay in blood for the miscalculations of U.S. “peace” initiatives.) There is, further, little reason to be reassured by White House opposition to the dismantling of existing Jewish settlements on the West Bank. Withdrawal of an Israeli military presence on the West Bank will spur the Arabs to employ their own dismantlement plan.
I should not be surprised if Prime Minister Begin has concluded from the Reagan initiative that the Arabists have regained full control of our policy toward the Arab-Israel war, a policy more than 34 years old that confers on the Arab rejectionists “no-risk” belligerency. How long until the Arabists convince the President that the Begin government is unfriendly (the Reagan speech supported the territorial integrity of only “friendly states”) and dust off the 1948-49 U.S. demands that Israel withdraw from the Negev, thereby providing a contiguous link between the West Bank and Gaza?
I fear that Mr. Podhoretz will have ample cause to write a “J’Accuse II” in the months ahead.
David R. Zukerman
Bronx, New York
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz’s article articulated the concerns of many of us who have felt the anti-Semitic animus behind much vitriolic criticism of Israel and have tried to separate for ourselves that which was tainted from that which came from unexceptionable sources. The massacre in the Beirut camps has only made such analysis more necessary. . . .
Let me suggest that some of the attitudes as well as the silence of many Jews result not just from shame, but from a deep fear that has sprung up in each of us as we have caught the whirlwind of world rage and sensed the surfacing of old hatreds that had been impermissible in public discourse for the past forty years.
I hope these perceptions are wrong, and they are surely hard to document. But each day brings events that astonish even those who felt that anti-Semitism remained with us like certain disease organisms that may be present in a large portion of the population without symptom until a series of physiological events turns the bacteria virulent. What is one to say about the motives of the Jewish lawyer quoted in Time who felt compelled to rise at a political meeting and state that as a lifelong supporter of Israel “by every means imaginable” he now felt we should cut off “arms and monetary benefits”? Does anyone so connected with Israel not know that only such arms and aid prevent a similar massacre of three million Israeli Jews? . . .
Another shock came in a Wall Street Journal article by the much admired Vermont Royster. He had completely misread “J’Accuse” and described it as calling “all criticism of Israel anti-Semitic.” . . . His major point follows and is menacing: if the American public ever perceives that its Jewish citizens take such an attitude (i.e., his erroneous belief that Mr. Podhoretz had called all criticism of Israel anti-Semitic), “then—and only then—do we really stand in danger of anti-Semitism.” What is one to think when one is warned of the anti-Semitic consequences of an analysis of critics of Israel that was never made, nor has ever been made by any responsible Jewish source?. . .
M. Donald Coleman, M.D.
Mamaroneck, New York
To the Editor:
Please permit an unimportant elderly man to express his heartfelt thanks and appreciation to Norman Podhoretz for his extraordinarily perceptive and marvelously written article. It has thoroughly discredited the . . . errors of fact and logic of such as George W. Ball, Anthony Lewis, Joseph C. Harsch, and Mary McGrory. There remains, however, another kind of problem, more difficult to counter, because the lies and lunacies are oral, spouted on television news shows. Because they are not challenged by TV journalists, they are probably accepted as truth by many viewers.
Let me cite three or four instances:
- One morning (September 15) I turned on the CBS Morning News, just as a prelate from Philadelphia was telling the anchor, Bill Kurtis, that the Pope was meeting with Arafat because the Pope was “a man of peace, who believed in peace by negotiation” . . . whereas Israel believed in “peace by force.” Kurtis politely thanked the prelate and, after reminding the viewers that he and the prelate would speak about Grace Kelly soon, cut to a paid commercial.
- About a month earlier, on the same program, George W. Ball appeared to plug his latest book. After treating him with fawning deference, Diane Sawyer (anchor) asked Ball if he wanted to say anything about Israel. . . . Ball went on to make manifest his present stage of dementia messianica: he told the world that we must save Reagan from “being an agent of Begin.” Miss Sawyer thanked Ball with a smile and cut to a paid commercial.
- The PBS station in Boston, WGBH, Channel 2, has a 10 P.M. news program, with Christopher Lydon, a former New York Times writer, as anchor. The two times I turned on the program during the Israel-PLO war, Lydon’s guest “analyst” was Anthony Lewis. Need Lewis’s position be stated here? The program’s discussion of the terrorist attacks in France featured as guest “analyst” Stanley Hoffmann, who was said to be an expert on France and a Harvard professor. I still don’t believe it. For Mr. Hoffmann there has been no such thing as French anti-Semitism since the end of World War II; the PLO could not have been involved in the terrorism because there had also been an attempt in Paris on a PLO official’s life; the several “anti-Semitic” attacks are not Nazi-like for, apart from the attempt on the PLO man, there was also an attempt on some Turkish official. I turned off the set, grateful that Mr. Hoffmann was not a Harvard “expert” on Germany, for then he would have told the viewers that we should not single out the Jews as genocidal victims of the Nazis, for after all, didn’t somebody also kill Ernst Roehm?
So how do we fight against the ephemeral words spoken by men and women in high places . . . whose status probably intimidates the ordinary TV interviewer, and influences the TV viewer who has never heard of COMMENTARY, much less read it?. . .
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz’s anger at the dishonesty and viciousness of Israel’s media enemies is refreshing compared to the carefully modulated apologetics of so much Jewish writing. . . .
[But] I cannot understand Mr. Podhoretz’s neglect of Georgie Ann Geyer. Though she was always an anti-Zionist, Miss Geyer’s articles in the Los Angeles Times since Lebanon have become wild, the accusations leveled against Israel and the language employed often literally hysterical. Miss Geyer ranks with . . . Nicholas von Hoffman for sheer depth of hostility toward Israel, a nation which, to her, deserves no quarter but only relentless attack, on all issues, at all times, in the most intemperate language. For the Jewish reader the columns of these two can approach an experience of violence. . . .
Mr. Podhoretz has also been much too gentle with black commentators and columnists. He gives us no sense of the near universality of black opinion leaders’ hostility toward Israel, or of its vehemence. This is a serious lapse; the Jewish public has a right to know, even if the knowledge further aggravates black-Jewish tensions. . . .
Lastly, and worst, the article manages to ignore television. While the three network news departments, with . . . CBS well in the lead, have declared war on Israel, . . . Mr. Podhoretz does battle with the Village Voice, a little rag of no significance beyond Manhattan and the New York area college campuses. . . .
I would hope Mr. Podhoretz gives us a second installment of “J’Accuse,” this time dealing exclusively with the networks, naming names both on- and off-camera, citing examples of gross bias. . . . This would be a most important and useful article. . . .
Bruce J. Schneider
Costa Mesa, California
To the Editor:
. . . Israel’s bitter critics, who hide behind sanctimonious protestations of deep concern and “friendship,” call to mind an incisive comment H.L. Mencken made many years ago about some of his fellow journalists: “They come in as newspaper men, trained to get the news and eager to get it. They end as tin-horn statesmen, full of dark secrets and unable to write the truth if they tried.”
To the Editor:
I could not agree more with Norman Podhoretz’s spirited defense of Israel from the attacks of George W. Ball, Anthony Lewis, Alfred Friendly, Nicholas von Hoffman, Hodding Carter, Mary McGrory, Joseph C. Harsch, and all the others mentioned in “J’Accuse.” But I think his conclusion that all of these people suffer from the disease of anti-Semitism is a misdiagnosis. I submit that their disease is modern American liberalism.
These people have the same prescription for Israel as they had for the U.S. in Southeast Asia, for the people of Nicaragua and El Salvador, and for the Shah of Iran: give in and share power with those among you who claim to be “oppressed,” particularly if the claim is pressed violently. These “oppressed” people are the wave of the future and will ultimately triumph, so let them in now while there is time and opportunity to moderate their claims.
This is the same liberal dogma which, domestically, blames the victim of crime rather than the criminal. The idea is that because society spends too little on housing, welfare, job training, etc., the “oppressed” turn to crime, and who can blame them? Liberals, particularly affluent and successful ones, love to publicize their “compassion,” presumably to assuage their guilt at being better off than their fellow men. Who could blame Yasir Arafat for hiding behind the innocent people of Beirut? Not the American liberal. The fault must lie with Israel, which denied him that which he covets. All this has nothing to do with anti-Semitism or “anti-Jewism,” but is simply liberal guilt. . . .
B.J. Sadoff, Jr.
To the Editor:
“J’Accuse” is excellent. I was particularly struck by Norman Podhoretz’s remark, at the end, that “Israel is a light unto other peoples who have come to believe that nothing is worth fighting or dying for.” True, but Israel is now also an offense to these same people because they believe that there is nothing which we have worth defending if it means taking lives. The civilian casualties were especially crucial in this equation. Many Americans, who would have identified themselves as admirers of Israel in the easy days of peace, refuse to be a party to this or any other conflict, thinking that America and Israel and the West have little worth killing for, even in self-defense. The experience of Vietnam is still decisive for this feeling, and there is an unseemly tendency to exaggerate civilian casualties in order to justify the feeling.
I believe Mr. Podhoretz is on the mark when he writes that at issue are the principles of Western civilization. But how does this persuade those who think these principles—about which there is endless confusion and controversy—have led to all manner of infamies, from poverty in the so-called Third World to a nuclear arms race? For too many, these principles are so cynically regarded that they would hardly be acceptable as the constituents of a fighting faith; indeed, that they would lead some to fight when taken seriously is grounds for rejecting them. . . .
Bill Johnston, Jr.
To the Editor:
. . . Norman Podhoretz attributes anti-Zionism mainly to anti-Semitism and secondarily to the Left’s animus against the West. No doubt there is an anti-Semitic component involved in the new tilt toward the Arabs, but as a conservative devoted to the cause of Israel and its role in the defense of the West, I must painfully admit that anti-Semitism is a fixation more common on the Right than on the Left. Other follies are at work among “progressives” like Nicholas von Hoffman and Anthony Lewis. Mr. Podhoretz exposes these follies toward the end of his article, but the thrust of his analysis does not give them the central role they deserve.
Pacifism and Third World romanticism are the sacred idols of the Left which Israel has sinned against. Of course not all the anti-Zionists whom Mr. Podhoretz confronts would accept the pacifist label. Most fancy themselves “realists” and, if pressed, would acknowledge a legitimate role for military force in the abstract. But any actual use of it by a Western power is sure to provoke their savage indignation. And by a perverse irony, the very justice and moderation of Israel’s use of military force provoke the most virulent pacifist rage. If there is anything a pacifist hates more than an unjust war it’s a just war, since recognition of the latter threatens the underpinnings of the faith. . . .
The second tenet of the Left flaunted by Israel is the notion of the Third World as the last repository of human virtue. . . . Despite its large population of immigrants from Africa and Asia, Israel is perceived (on the whole, rightly) as a society of European origin and values. Its nationalism is therefore “reactionary,” while that of the Palestinians is “progressive.” Worse still, Israel’s very success at nation-building has robbed it of the glamor of underdevelopment. In its early years, when it was peopled largely by concentration-camp survivors, . . . right-thinking liberals could accord it some sympathy. But now that it has become a prosperous modern society it can be presumed to be crass, if not down-right evil. Success—their own, their society’s—makes liberals squirm.
In short, Israel transgresses against two potent fetishes of the modern liberal mind. I believe this is enough to explain the extremity of the Left’s reaction to the invasion of Lebanon, without the need to posit anti-Semitism. . . .
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz blames the hostilities against Israel on anti-Semitism. There may be an even deeper motive that underlies recent anti-Israel sentiments. I have in mind the extreme altruism of most contemporary intellectuals. Self-defense, even of the collective sort that Jews are now intent on carrying out, is frowned upon. One is obligated to give all benefit of doubt to others, even one’s mortal enemies. If someone is attacked and the response endangers others, the response, not the original attack, is called into question.
I am no expert on who is at fault in the Middle East, but I do know that any assertiveness on one’s own behalf, as apparently exhibited by Israeli citizens, is held in contempt by most of the world, a world that believes turning the other cheek, sacrificing oneself, and similar modes of behavior are noble, while looking out for one’s rightful interests is base.
Tibor R. Machan
Fredonia, New York
To the Editor:
I am one of those who opposed the war in Vietnam and who nonetheless has been furious at media coverage of the Israeli action in Lebanon. As such, I commend Norman Podhoretz’s “J’Accuse” and I agree that anti-Jewish sentiments are very much a factor here.
I believe, however, that Mr. Podhoretz’s analysis misses a key point. . . . Central to leftist ideology is a need to dichotomize the world into victims and victimizers. . . . In the case of Vietnam, the Left identified the Vietnamese peasants as victims and the United States and its authoritarian allies as victimizers. Since I always regarded the Vietcong, at best, as equal victimizers, I did not welcome their victory. . . .
In the present instance, a lengthy propaganda campaign has successfully portrayed the Palestinians as victims deprived of their “homeland.” Further, they are Third World people, an authorized victim class. Israel has been too successful to be regarded as a victim; but, as we all know, the Left, in protesting the charge of anti-Semitism, continually asserts its support of Jews so long as they are victims.
As for the Lebanese, most people on the Left did not discover that they were victims of the Palestinians until they had already taken their position on the Israeli incursion. Many refused to absorb the new information. . . .
It should be noted that the function of ideology is to simplify one’s world so that one can cope with it. While the victimizer-victim dichotomy is a particular leftist contribution (with or without Marx), a good guy-bad guy dichotomy is as old as time and has appeal to all.
William A. Baker
New York City
To the Editor:
There is a lesson to be learned from the massacre in Lebanon. In the weeks following the massacre much sharp criticism was heaped on Israel for the negligence on its part which allowed the Phalange to kill so many Palestinians. This criticism points out that those who go back on even implied commitments (as the Israeli entry to West Beirut implied a commitment to the safety of the residents of the entered area) are guilty of the results of their infidelity.
The American Left was instrumental in forcing the United States to abandon its commitment to South Vietnam. The results of the untimely American withdrawal are constantly becoming clearer as people like Doan Van Toai and other former supporters of the North Vietnamese victory make their difficult escape to the West. Their stories of the horrors inside Vietnam and the fact that over 500,000 Vietnamese have felt conditions at home sufficiently bad to warrant the huge risks involved in escaping their homes show what the results of American unwillingness to fulfill its commitments have been.
The issue of whether we should have been in Vietnam in the first place is irrelevant. The fact is that a commitment was made and that those responsible for our reneging on that commitment share in the responsibility for the resulting events. By emphasizing the guilt of Israel for the deaths in Sabra and Shatila, those of the American Left whose protests were instrumental in our withdrawal from Vietnam, especially those who protested despite evidence of what could follow, are admitting their own guilt. The realization of this guilt should make them a bit slower to abandon commitments in a future where North Vietnams or Phalangist militias loom large.
Alexander L. Singer
To the Editor:
There are several valid points made in Norman Podhoretz’s brilliant polemic defending Israel, particularly the charge that most opponents of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon are reacting on the basis of a double standard. Mr. Podhoretz thinks this is anti-Semitism, but I think something else is to blame.
Just as many liberals . . . privately held blacks to be inferior, while publicly deploring racism, I think the same is true in the Middle East. Liberals often think differently in private from the way they speak in public. I believe that many liberal critics of Israel really believe the Arabs to be little better than savages, and simply don’t expect anything better of them. The Israelis, on the other hand, are regarded as essentially civilized, and are held to what these critics take to be civilized standards.
Recently, I brought up the point about the double standard to one liberal friend, and the response was: “Of course the Arabs have been slaughtering each other for decades. What do you expect of them? But the Israelis are a different matter.”
The issue, then, isn’t anti-Semitism. It is the fact that many liberals are dishonest about their real views of Third World people, and privately hold them in contempt.
I, too, am very critical of Israel, and of its invasion of Lebanon. Its existence was not threatened, no serious PLO violations of the ceasefire had occurred, and it was simply not necessary. But I hold the other nations of the area, and the world, to the same libertarian standards. And on those grounds, one is forced to declare that many of them, if not most, are far worse, at least in how they treat their own people. That, however, excuses precisely nothing.
Roy A. Childs, Jr.
To the Editor:
. . . It is misleading to impute “mere” anti-Semitism to the motives of Anthony Lewis, Mary McGrory, et al. since it implies that anti-Semitism is the exclusive source of their maunderings. . . . One need only review their public stances on such varied topics as our involvement in Vietnam and El Salvador, pipeline sanctions, CIA abuses, Jonas Savimbi, the “Iron Triangle,” the “excesses of Solidarity,” etc. to perceive an animus much deeper than anti-Semitism alone. It is, of course, inevitable that such anti-Western bias should rear its ugly head as anti-Semitism . . . since Judaism is the rock upon which Christianity and Western values are founded.
It is, however, not merely shortsighted to write off the Left’s reaction to Lebanon as anti-Semitism, but also politically unwise. Such a charge could appear to non-Jews as petulant, self-serving, and possibly absurd (given the high visibility of Jewish leftists screaming “Nazi!” at Begin). . . .
If the animus underlying the subversive attacks on Western willpower is misidentified by the defenders of the West as a parochial bias against Jews only, neither Western nor Jewish interests are well served.
F. W. Meeker
New York City
To the Editor:
. . . More widespread than anti-Semitism, even more pervasive than a lack of faith in American power among journalists and foreign-affairs commentators, is self-love, or rather a passion for what one has already written. Ever since 1967, and most especially since 1973, the majority of journalists covering the Middle East have adopted an anti-Israel stance. The press loves the underdog and the Jewish state no longer merited this love, for it had defeated its enemies soundly and taken some of their territory and ruled over their people. . . . Not even the Camp David accords and the return of the Sinai could change the picture being painted. It was Sadat, not Begin, who showed true statesmanship; it was Egypt (which gained everything), which was to be praised, not Israel which gave back thrice-conquered strategically valuable territory and was compelled to remove its own settlers by force. . . .
Then came Lebanon. Was the press now to change its image of the Jewish state? Was all that intellectual baggage to be thrown out by regarding the invasion as a justified act of self-defense, which any other nation would have taken years ago? Impossible. For Israel’s attack upon the PLO only proved and validated everything that had been written. Here was proof positive that the Jewish state had lost its soul to militarism.
This explains the distorted accounts of civilian deaths and why journalists printed words and pictures without checking the facts. The facts told a different story, not only about the invasion itself, but different from everything they had been writing for over a decade. The PLO was massing a military force capable of threatening Israel and using Lebanon as a safe haven. The arms in its possession were Soviet and they were bought with Arab oil money. . . . Most importantly, the facts told of an Israeli army which took care not to kill civilians and which, at considerable risk to itself, sought to distinguish between PLO fighters and noncombatants.
These facts could not be elaborated by those who had invested years telling the world the contrary. It was too much to expect . . . them to admit that they had been wrong. Indeed, in a sinister way, I think they were almost happy to see Israeli tanks push to the gates of West Beirut. In their joyous celebration of themselves and what they had written, they were blinded to the reality which made a lie of their misbegotten labors.
Joel J. Sokolsky
School of Advanced International Studies
Johns Hopkins University
To the Editor:
. . . Norman Podhoretz writes that anti-Semitism is principally responsible for the double standard concerning Israel which has appeared these last months. Although I have no doubt that it does play a part, I think there is another reason, more deeply rooted in the development of public opinion about that country. Except for some ardent Zionists, who are reluctant to attribute their success to external factors, few will deny that the creation of the state of Israel was largely due to a widespread feeling of guilt over the Holocaust. Not only the existence of the country itself but also its policies were, thereafter, associated with the Jewish victims of Nazism. For this very reason, critics have had to be cautious lest they be accused of anti-Semitism.
This has been true until now. During the last war, however, all those who had grievances against Israel seem to have felt that it was time to free themselves from the restrictions imposed by memories of the Holocaust. This could be done only if Israel became guilty of a crime as great as the one which legitimized it. Therefore, we have heard the word “genocide” and “Hitler” in connection with the war, although, of course, there is no similarity. . . .
Mr. Podhoretz deplores, and rightly so, the double standard which governs attitudes toward the Middle East. Yet those who invoke it ought to be taken seriously—not for the veracity of their judgments, but because they represent a feeling which could be damaging to Israel. No one can deny that Israel needs American support, . . . which depends on the sentiments of the public. . . . Israel ought to guard against being seen as an oppressor. . . .
E. Jerome Benveniste
New York City
To the Editor:
. . . Norman Podhoretz says that “Historically anti-Semitism has taken the form of labeling certain vices and failings as specifically Jewish when they are in fact common to all humanity.” Such a definition of anti-Semitism could have been accepted before Nazism and the Holocaust, but Nazism gave anti-Semitism a new dimension. The Nazis even persecuted Christians who happened to have had Jewish grandmothers. It was a state policy, not simply of discrimination but of extermination. An anti-Semite today cannot be unaware that this concept covers a crime without precedent in human history. . . . But if we refer only to the anti-Semitism of the type manifested in the Dreyfus affair, we are speaking of two different historical stages of this inhuman phenomenon.
Mr. Podhoretz also says that criticism of Israel that is “based on a double standard” is anti-Semitic. A double standard is naturally to be condemned as unfair or malignant, but to equate even unfair criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism plays down the evil of anti-Semitism; such a meaningless definition in fact “produces” anti-Semites and anti-Semitism.
Nazi anti-Semitism was not eliminated with the defeat of Nazism. It exists as state policy in the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union has encouraged, supported, and was instrumental in the attempt of Nasser and his followers in Arab lands to exterminate the Jews in Israel. It organized anti-Semitic show trials, in which Zionism was identified with Nazism, to demonstrate that the Soviet Union was a reliable ally of the Arab enemies of Israel. As with Hitler, the anti-Semitism of the Soviets has an outspokenly imperialist character. . . .
The remarkable relationship of the United States to Israel is not an expression of philo-Semitism, and if a far less friendly relationship were to develop, it would not be the consequence of anti-Semitism.
All United States governments since the end of World War II have realized that the existence of Israel as a democratic nation, able and willing to build a modern democratic society and to defend it against all enemies, is in the basic interest of the United States. The U.S. knew that the Soviets originally approached Israel with an offer that Israel should become the USSR’s power base in the Middle East and that the Israeli government refused. . . . Israel has remained the absolute and wholly dependable ally of the U.S. (I only wish that our European allies would follow Israel’s example.)
But today we are witnessing a painful change in the relationship of the U.S. and Israel. I have the feeling that the United States government is more pro-Israel than Israel’s present government is pro-American. In his recent speech in the Knesset, Ariel Sharon declared that Jerusalem is not Saigon, which was not meant to be a lecture in geography but a hint about American imperialism. In his official speeches Begin has mentioned a few times that Israel cannot be treated as a colony. What imperialist country was Begin referring to?
The Begin government accused Helmut Schmidt, then Chancellor of Germany, of Holocaust crimes. When the Pope gave an audience to Yasir Arafat, Israel, rather than making a political criticism, accused the Vatican . . . of complicity in the Holocaust. . . .
Why these attacks on the United States, Israel’s ally? On the Vatican? Why make enemies of the whole anti-Soviet bloc?
I never suspected Begin of being a statesman, or even a diplomat, but neither can he be seen as a fool who is not aware of the grave political consequences of such a policy. I feel that this policy is the iceberg, and what happened in Beirut is merely the tip of the iceberg. While military action should be action of the last resort, it appears that military actions and responses are becoming the centerpiece of the Begin government. The more enemies his policy creates, the more justified is the reliance on military power. . . .
How can the Begin government pursue such a risky policy? Everyone who understands Soviet policy knows that its constant is anti-Americanism and that its anti-Israel stance is simply a part of its overall anti-Americanism. If the Arabs prove to be allies of no importance, the Soviets may be more than willing to change from anti-Semitism to philo-Semitism. Is the policy of the Begin government simply playing with such an option in order to make the U.S. government aware that it must respect Israel’s freedom of action, or is something more behind it?
The Begin government is not pro-American. It refuses to consider the give and take involved in any honest alliance, and for this it deserves determined criticism. . . .
New York City
To the Editor:
It seems to me that Norman Podhoretz is leaning over backward to avoid facing a fact that is far more involved here than an “increase in anti-Semitism.”
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, etc. have been handing out very large contracts in the U.S. over the years. Starting with the Carter administration, the Arabs have been encouraged to put increased pressure on these U.S. contractors to put pressure in turn on Congressmen in their behalf. . . . This . . . is only one of several kinds of commercial and cultural inroads currently being made by the Arabs. . . .
I recall a recent PLO statement that the real battle is for U.S. public opinion, and that $100 million is to be spent in the U.S. for that purpose. Whether or not that is the actual figure, there is reason to expect an increase in the already huge expenditures by the Saudis and others in the U.S. . . .
It may be more cultural to talk of anti-Semitism than of such mundane things as money and economics. But the fact is that the Arabs are becoming our new landlords with consequent influence on Congress and the press for anti-Israel purposes. . . .
To the Editor:
. . . Notwithstanding Norman Podhoretz’s well-reasoned attack, . . . I am left with a dissatisfied feeling that we are riding the wrong horse. Non-Jews are not undone by the charge of anti-Semitism; they may even be reinforced at having “touched a nerve” of Jewish intellectuals. They appear to be in the mainstream of newly perceived American interests. . . . The task is, rather, to question if the new mainstream preferences are in the interests of the U.S. in the long run. . . . To the extent that Jewish goals can be made to coincide with mainstream American interests, we can gain friends. . . .
We shall not forget the six million, but the rest of the world will. Better to accept and deal with this inevitability than to spend our shots on impassioned reminders. For me, our motto should be “remember the AWACS”; in the showdown, we simply did not have the votes.
Cherry Hill, New Jersey
To the Editor:
Perhaps Norman Podhoretz has inadequately stressed the factor of envy. Envy is an element of anti-Semitism, and the Israeli military triumph in Lebanon contrasts so vividly with our own pusillanimous failure in Vietnam.
Robert W. Wilson
New York City
To the Editor:
I have long admired Norman Podhoretz as one of the most lucid and intellectually honest dialecticians in this country. I still do.
However, with respect to “J’Accuse,” while I agree with his criticism of the traducers of Israel, . . . I was disappointed that he left out almost completely any recognition of the issue which I believe stimulated these excessive comments: the reckless disregard by Israel of the interests of its American ally. . . .
Joel W. Westbrook
San Antonio, Texas
To the Editor:
. . . Norman Podhoretz has looked beneath the cloak of Christian righteousness to note that the Lebanese incursion gave instant license to vent a lingering but always alive antipathy toward Jews—in and out of Israel. Somewhere in the dark recesses of the Christian mind is an image of the Jew compelled to suffer his inexorable fate as the endlessly wandering pariah. He must never know peace. The image of the Jew as a defender of his land and his home does not fit in with this fantasy. . . .
The vehemence against Israel is without precedent. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, its earlier marches into other lands, the wars and mass murders of Third World countries against their own and neighboring populations are all taken by the world as footnotes to a passing history, but Israel’s defensive strikes, its sacrifices in blood to live as a free nation have been unwelcome for decades. . . .
Sherman Oaks, California
To the Editor:
. . . Why would reporters claiming fairness and regard for Israel want to damn the little country that has had to fight for its life since its birth and even before? I have found the answer, after much reflection, in human nature and Western culture. Human beings both admire and envy those who are distinctive or conspicuous, for such distinctiveness seems to be a sign of importance. . . .
. . . Distinctiveness and religiosity have characterized the Jews at least since the Babylonian Exile, when they first came into contact with another culture. . . . With the advent of Christianity, antagonism deepened when Jews refused to abandon their faith and accept the Christian messiah. This refusal . . . probably also explains the charge of deicide against the Jewish people for a deed allegedly committed centuries before. In the eyes of the Church leaders, the deicide was not in the past, but was being committed by their Jewish contemporaries when they refused to acknowledge Jesus as the messiah foretold by the prophets. Anti-Semitism thus became an important strand of Christian, and thereby of Western, culture.
In our own day . . . antagonism to the Jews because of their distinctiveness and historical religiosity, reinforced by Christian and Western culture, has found particular expression in the world’s attitude to Israel, . . . which has aroused the envy of the Arab countries and to some degree also reminds the world of the Holocaust and its own guilt. Prejudice against the Jewish state surfaces whenever Israel seeks to assert its right to live and shape its own destiny. . . .
[Rabbi] Nathan A. Barack
To the Editor:
I read with interest Norman Podhoretz’s expose of the double standard used by the world in judging Israel. I had suspected that some variant of this double standard was involved in Pope John Paul II’s meeting with Arafat, and so decided to perform an experiment to test the Pope’s impartiality. I compared papal interventions for two recent events which overlap both temporally and geographically in the Middle East: the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and the ongoing Iraqi-Iranian war. My research was limited to the opening date of each event and the subsequent fifteen days, as reported in the New York Times. What I found was that the Pope exhorted the Israelis on three separate occasions (June 8, 13, and 17) but exhorted no one in connection with the Iran-Iraq war. . . .
Charles S. Berdiansky
Los Angeles, California
To the Editor:
The press and television analysts, be they never so anti-Semitic, do not invent the news to which they respond, however bigotedly. Nor could they, even if they wished to, prevent the growth of the suspicion in this country that the Israeli campaign in Lebanon is the prelude to the incorporation of the occupied territories. That hypothesis does, after all, make sense of a war which has been costly to Israel in men, equipment, and prestige. . . .
Nobody has any good reason to suppose that Israel will exhibit either spectacular virtue or spectacular vice in pursuing policies designed to preserve or extend its power. From this it does not follow, however, that the moralist may not judge Israel or any other country by higher standards than the evidence of world history would suggest. . . .
It may be, in some final analysis, futile to pass moral judgments in the international theater of politics, but then again it may not. Perhaps lives were saved because of American reaction to Sharon’s bombing raids over West Beirut, perhaps the Pope has softened Arafat ever so slightly, although I do not expect him to take up the cowl or write poems to the sun. . . .
To the Editor:
Quite apart from the references to me, I thought Norman Podhoretz’s article was balderdash.
To the Editor:
. . . Perhaps in Norman Podhoretz’s experience . . . self-flagellation, the application of double standards, and inveterate anti-Semitism are inevitable concomitants of any criticism of Israel. In my experience they are not. It certainly is true that in Canada real anti-Semites raised their voices in response to events in Lebanon. But I was impressed by many letters to the editor which expressed directly or evinced a manifest sense of relief at being able to criticize openly this particular bit of Israeli behavior. I found no way to write these people off as objective anti-Semites, self-congratulatory Nazis emerging from their closets, or agents of the decline of the West. Instead, many of them seem to have been complaining of their having been subjected in the past to what Mr. Podhoretz now practices: bullying moralism that has made rational criticism of Israel seem beyond the pale of civilized discourse.
We must turn, we are told, from any concern with the events in Lebanon to a search for the real cause of the disproportionate reaction to those events. Perhaps so. But in his own brief and uncharacteristically jejune comments on Israeli policy and actions Mr. Podhoretz ignores a number of shifts in Israeli policy toward the West Bank and the Golan undertaken by the present government. Though he shows us an Israel whose policy (apart from its exemplary democracy) is determined entirely by Israel’s opponents, it is at least possible, surely, that policies initiated in Israel could have exacerbated relations with its neighbors. And the successive and differing justifications for the successive extensions of the Israeli whatever-it-was (Mr. Podhoretz has forbidden any of us to refer to it as an invasion) might conceivably cause disquiet somewhere. But no—to recognize this or to assert it would brand me a sniveling “well-wisher.” . . .
This really will not do. My Canadian letter-writers had found reason in Israel’s own behavior to abandon the heretofore well-observed convention that one does not criticize Israel. The basis for that consensus had, quite simply, deteriorated, influenced in part by Israeli actions—not by a suppositious endemic anti-Semitism and a craven loss of nerve in the West. From now on, for these people, moral one-upmanship will have to be replaced by what Mr. Podhoretz claims to cherish: single-standard evaluation of Israel. Is this a gain or a loss?
The double-standard charge is a notoriously treacherous weapon, so often turning in the hand to slash its holder. As an outsider to peculiarly American quarrels, I merely wonder why Americans, who have put such (dare I use the word?) disproportionate funds into Israel, should now be debarred from treating it differently from El Salvador. If Israel were a private corporation benefiting so crucially from such investment, the United States would at least rate a seat on the board and a voice raised in meetings.
Mr. Podhoretz pursues the contemptible charge of Israeli Nazism valiantly into the swamps of political science where he slays it with evidence of Israel’s devotion to democracy. This is importantly true, necessary to state, and inadequate. The charge can be readily discounted when it is mouthed by those rabid ideologists whose lust for rhetorical overkill COMMENTARY has so often documented.
But what of the spontaneous occurrence of this charge in quite unskilled and unrehearsed letter-writers to many newspapers? I have a suggestion for Mr. Podhoretz that I do not offer glibly or with intent to score cheap points. When the sins of the Nazis are pointed to again and again in order to justify every expedient of Israeli policy (and this has been done by too many unwise apologists), it should not surprise any of us that some people will leap to twist that weapon the other way once Israeli behavior even remotely resonates with any of the justifications Hitler used to employ. The complacent righteousness of some claims by the present Israeli government has offered such an opportunity—both to malevolent anti-Semites and to others simply tired of being bludgeoned into support of Israel once too often. This latter response is not evidence of the decline of the West, but the reaction of people who would be quite content to be the moral equals (but not the inferiors) of Israelis.
To the Editor:
In the last few years COMMENTARY has taken an increasingly rigid position, . . . but the article by Norman Podhoretz in the September issue surpasses belief. Mr. Podhoretz is emboldened in his opinions when he finds that 17 out of 19 editorials were critical of the Lebanese incursion. He is angry that every administration in Washington seems to grow more unhappy with Israel as it proceeds. The Begin government no longer is willing to trade occupied territories for peace, but insists that Judea and Samaria are forever Jewish; this momentous switch has caused an immense drop in support for Israel, a decline intensified by both Begin’s wild language and his willingness to use force on so many occasions. It is much easier to shout anti-Semitism than to consider these difficulties.
This shout is doubly outrageous. As regards Jews it is ludicrous. Many Jews like myself who have felt a sense of kinship with Israel and given moral and financial assistance for years are greatly disturbed by the Begin position (as of course many Israelis are), and most of us are not journalists or academics. It is senseless . . . to hint that disagreement is a form of self-hate. But to carry that logic into controversies with non-Jews is not senseless but dangerous. If you tell an uncertain person that to be a critic of Israel is to be a supporter of Hitler, he may well decide that he should reconsider Nazism. Crazy rhetoric usually backfires; one may disagree with George W. Ball on many points, but to attempt to convert him into a Jew-hater is sheer madness. . . .
St. Louis, Missouri
To the Editor:
During thirty-plus years as a subscriber I’ve seen COMMENTARY change from a voice of enlightenment and humanism to a forum for increasingly narrow and rigid points of view. When I read Norman Podhoretz’s strained efforts to blunt criticism of Israel’s shameful and self-destructive behavior, I knew I’d had enough. I cast my no-confidence vote. Please cancel my subscription.
Robert R. Kohn, M.D.
To the Editor:
. . . The critics cannot be unkind enough to Israel. The kind of thinking that reaches out far and wide to destroy its enemies is not the kind of thinking I would like to associate with Israel.
Look at the Jewish silence on the horrendous civilian casualties in Lebanon. Look at what Ariel Sharon said to Oriana Fallaci. Look at what Israel did to the Iraqi nuclear reactor. Look at the impudence of saying that Arafat’s talking to the Pope is an unfriendly act. . . .
What Begin is doing is unforgivable. His keeping that thuggish Sharon is unforgivable. Mr. Podhoretz’s defense of what Israel is doing is unforgivable. His silence in the face of those suffering because of Jewish aggression is unforgivable. . . .
Sergio M. Garcia
To the Editor:
. . . In this country, as most in the media and politics know, Israel has by far the most dedicated, well-financed, sophisticated, and comprehensive public-relations machinery of any nation on earth. The loyalty of this endless entourage is of course unquestioned. The machinery extends into all levels of U.S. politics as well as into every newspaper or magazine of any importance or influence. . . .
Norman Podhoretz claims that the Israelis launched a preemptive attack in 1967 and six days later “found themselves” in possession of the West Bank. Does it matter that in the intervening years Menachem Begin has taken great and careful pains to explain that, despite what Camp David says, and despite the world’s interpretation of Camp David, . . . the West Bank belongs to Israel because the Bible says so? . . .
. . . So far, one would have to conclude that Israel has indeed been undemocratic, expansionist, and repressive. Undemocratic, because of the removal of the mayors and subsequent political maneuvers; expansionist, because of the settlements policy and the avowed intention to annex every square inch of this land bequeathed to Israel by the Bible; and repressive, in the troubling penchant of Israeli officials to imprison those they dislike, and to explode bombs in the homes of those related to the troublemakers.
Now, as to anti-Semitism. The article suggests this phenomenon describes those who are prejudiced against both Arabic- and Hebrew-speaking Semites. . . . “J’Accuse” is itself an endless citation of how rotten Arabs are. Much is said about how regular and moral Israelis are; not a peep, not a condescending utterance that would accord Arabs a similar normality. The clearest, least twisted part of the article is its unreserved hatred of Arabs.
To borrow from Mr. Podhoretz’s quite incredible last paragraph: is Mr. Podhoretz using the charge of anti-Semitism as a screen for his political designs? . . .
Roger J. Ruvolo
Corrales, New Mexico
To the Editor:
Although Norman Podhoretz wishes to believe that the Israeli invasion of Lebanon was intended to “liberate Lebanon from the PLO,” and that it is ultimately to be seen as a defense of the “values of Western civilization as a whole”—he wrote this, of course, before the massacre in the refugee camps—his belief does not correspond either to the proclaimed intention of the Israeli government or the reports of the correspondents of major Israeli newspapers.
The first proclaimed intention of the government—others were proclaimed with each escalation of the invasion—was the liberation of Israel’s northern settlements from PLO shelling (hence, the code name for the war, “Peace for Galilee”). This came as a surprise to many Israelis—most especially those inhabitants of the northern settlements who publicly protested the invasion—because, in fact, the PLO had complied with the July 14, 1981 cease-fire for one year, and it resumed the shelling only after the Israeli air raid on Beirut following the attempted assassination of an Israeli diplomat in London. (As it turned out, the assassination was not, as Israel claimed, the work of the PLO, but of an Arab group that is opposed to it!).
. . . Military correspondents of Israel’s major newspapers had been warning for months that Sharon was looking for a pretext for a full-scale war in Lebanon in order to liquidate the PLO and thereby achieve the acquiescence of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in Begin’s autonomy plan. . . .
But even if we were to follow Mr. Podhoretz’s claim that the invasion was in the service of the values of Western civilization, it is difficult to follow his further claim that the condemnation of the massive destruction of lives and property that accompanied the invasion was motivated either by anti-Israel or anti-Semitic sentiments. Even the Begin cabinet—a group not exactly prominent for its dovish tendencies—complained about the magnitude of the Beirut bombing, especially when it continued after the PLO had formally consented to leave Lebanon. Apparently even they felt that the notion that it was necessary to destroy the city in order to save it was no more palatable in the case of Lebanon than it was in the case of Vietnam.
It is also difficult to follow Mr. Podhoretz’s claim that those who apply a double standard in condemning the Israeli destruction are ipso facto anti-Semitic. After all, all Israeli governments, as well as the “Israel lobby,” have been proclaiming year in and year out that the political and moral values of Israel are incomparably superior to those of its Arab neighbors (let alone of the PLO); indeed, that is the main ground for their contention that Israel has a special claim on the support of the Western democracies. When, then, the Israeli forces killed more civilians in Lebanon in three days than the PLO had killed in Israel in thirty years, it was not necessary to be an anti-Semite to condemn those killings by the professed values of Israel itself.
Having said that, I hasten to add that I myself do hot hold to, and I completely reject, the notion that Israel should be judged by a double standard. I believe that the bombing of Beirut (and other cities in Lebanon) is to be condemned as a terrorist action by the very same values by which the terrorist actions of the PLO have been persistently and almost universally condemned—unless, of course, it can be shown that “terrorism” is an appropriate term for the killing of civilians only when it is perpetrated from the ground rather than the sky, and by guerrilla forces rather than the army of a nation state.
I reject the double standard because as a Zionist for fifty years, and a professional student of Israeli society for thirty, I have long subscribed to the Zionist notion of “normalization.” That means, on the one hand, that I do not expect Israeli politicians to be superior in political wisdom or morality to any other politicians, and, on the other hand, that I totally reject the liberals’ premise that the existence of the state of Israel must be justified by that (or any other) kind of superiority. That being the case, I believe that the actions of Israeli politicians are to be judged by the same standard by which we judge those of American, Burmese, Kenyan, Soviet—or any other—politicians. By that standard, the invasion of Lebanon and the massive and persistent bombing of Beirut were (in my judgment) acts of political immorality (and stupidity).
Indeed, I would claim that it is not the critics of Israeli action—whether in Lebanon or in the West Bank and Gaza—but its defenders who are guilty of applying a double standard, a reverse double standard. Thus, on the “normalization” assumption that Israel, like other nations, has its fair share (no more, but no less) of politically stupid and immoral politicians, is it credible that in every instance in which American governments (and those of the other Western democracies) have criticized an action of an Israeli government the latter was always right and the former always wrong? Although that conclusion is hard to credit, it has nevertheless been the consistent and officially proclaimed position of American Jewish “leaders.”
Take, for example, the following continuous actions of the government in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank: the expansion of old and the formation of new settlements, the confiscation of Arab land, the suppression of civil liberties, the razing of the homes of the families of suspected terrorists, the gassing of dissident students and the wounding and killing of other protesters of Israeli policies, the forcible opening of striking shops, the firing and forced exile of mayors. Take, also, such single actions as the bombing of the nuclear reactor in Iraq, the annexation of the Golan Heights, and finally the invasion and bombings in Lebanon. In all of these cases, the governments of the United States and the other Western democracies (as well as a significant proportion of the Israeli population) criticized or condemned the actions, and in all of them, without a single exception, the American Jewish leadership both protested the criticisms and justified the actions. . . .
Such a double standard—the inability to believe that an Israeli government can be as immoral or stupid as the next one—was hardly creditable when it was applied to previous Israeli governments, but its application to the government of Menachem Begin (despite his record of terrorism as commander of the Irgun, which in those different times led to his condemnation and ostracism by the entire Zionist leadership) and of Ariel Sharon (despite his record of needless killing as an officer in a previous war, which led to the request by his commanding officer that he be recalled) is positively appalling.
It can only be hoped that the “explanations” coming from Jerusalem itself regarding the recent refugee-camp massacre will serve to remind some people that (for Judaism at least) the attribution of absolute rectitude and wisdom to anything less than the deity constitutes idolatry.
Melford E. Spiro
Department of Anthropology
University of California
San Diego, California
Norman Podhoretz writes:
My answers to most of the criticisms made above can be found in “J’Accuse” itself. Therefore, rather than repeating points I have already made to the best of my ability, I want to say something about the general response to . “J’Accuse” because in itself it seems to me a phenomenon of great interest and significance. At COMMENTARY, and I imagine at other magazines too, twenty letters on a single piece is a heavy response; thus far, about 200 letters have come in on “J’Accuse.” But what is even more unusual than the sheer numbers is the balance of negative to positive. Whenever an article, whether in COMMENTARY or in any other magazine, draws a lot of mail, most of it tends to be critical, for the simple reason that people are more impelled to write when they get angry than when they are pleased. In the case of “J’Accuse,” however, perhaps 90 percent of the mail was enthusiastic, much of it wildly so. (Only a tiny sample of those letters appears above.)
To put it plainly: in thirty years as a professional writer, I have never experienced anything like the response which has greeted this article; nor in twenty-five years as an editor have I seen anything remotely comparable happen to any other piece.
Not all these letters (not to mention dozens of phone calls) came from Jews, but most of them did, and I submit that they tell us a great deal about the feelings of American Jews toward Israel in the aftermath of the war in Lebanon. What they tell us is that passions are running very high in the Jewish community, that there is rage—and outrage—at the monstrous unfairness with which Israel has been treated in the media, and that there is a healthy anxiety over the appearance, for the first time since World War II, of brazenly anti-Semitic ideas and attitudes in respectable circles of American opinion.
No such feeling is evident, however, in the press response to “J’Accuse.” On the contrary. Of the dozen or so columns and editorials which have commented on the piece, all but one (or, stretching things a bit, two), instead of denouncing the anti-Semitic eruption described and analyzed in “J’Accuse,” denounce me for calling attention to the anti-Semitic character of the ideas and attitudes in question. Moreover, the published attacks on the article without exception misrepresent its argument by alleging that I label as anti-Semitic any and all criticisms of Menachem Begin or Ariel Sharon. Of course, as anyone who actually read the article knows, I took pains to say explicitly that not all the criticisms of Israel’s operation in Lebanon were anti-Semitic. Indeed, I specifically cited the editorials on Lebanon in the New York Times which, while harsh on Israel and often unfair, were nevertheless “based on universally applied principles and tempered by a sense of balance in the distribution of blame,” and therefore could not “and should not be stigmatized as anti-Semitic, however mistaken or dangerous to Israel one might consider them to be.”
There has thus been a widespread refusal by the press to face up to the clear and irrefutable evidence that anti-Semitism has been at work in much of what has been written about Lebanon. This refusal is almost as distressing as the eruption of anti-Semitism itself. For anyone who reacts to obvious manifestations of anti-Semitism by denying their anti-Semitic character is in effect conferring legitimacy on them. After all, if such manifestations are not anti-Semitic, there is no reason to rule them out of order in civilized or rational discourse. Once licensed in this way, they are free to take root and spread—with what consequences, no one can foretell.
I have no quarrel with those of my correspondents and critics, including a few whose letters appear above, who say that anti-Semitism is not the only factor in the new wave of hostility to Israel. I myself say as much in the concluding pages of “J’Accuse” when I raise the issue of the Western failure of nerve. But I do have a quarrel with anyone who claims that anti-Semitism has played no role, or only a marginal one, in this hostility. I have an even greater quarrel with anyone who advances the despicable argument that the anti-Semitic attacks on Israel are not anti-Semitic because they are justified by Israel’s behavior. This is precisely what Melford E. Spiro, for one, does in excoriating Israel while failing to say a single word against the anti-Semitism to which I pointed. So far as I am concerned, that alone would vitiate his interpretation of the war in Lebanon, even if it were not mistaken on almost every other point as well.
But I do not wish to place too much emphasis on Mr. Spiro and the small minority of American Jews who think as he does. This would only contribute to the false and dangerous notion that Israel has lost significant support among American Jews. The response to “J’Accuse”—not to mention the harder statistical evidence cited in last month’s COMMENTARY by Earl Raab (“Is the Jewish Community Split?”)—demonstrates that this notion is an illusion. The great majority of American Jews, whether they like Begin or not, understand that the war in Lebanon was an enormous boon to Israel and to the strategic interests of the United States. The great majority of American Jews, whether they like Sharon or not, understand that the Israelis took extraordinary care to minimize civilian casualties. The great majority of American Jews, whether they like the Reagan peace plan or not, will refuse to stand passively by while dogged attempts are made everywhere to de-legitimize the state of Israel or to put unilateral pressure on it, thereby weakening it for an eventual kill.
The great majority of American Jews understand one other thing, too: they understand that the duty of both Jews and non-Jews in a self-respecting and healthy democratic community is to denounce anti-Semitism when it makes a public appearance and not to justify it or apologize for it or explain it away.