Commentary Magazine


Liberals and False Charges of Anti-Semitism

The notion that Jewish opponents of Israel are self-hating or anti-Semitic is the kind of thing we are used to hearing from the right. But recently it has become a theme increasingly heard from the Jewish left. Back in January, the Forward’s Gal Beckerman asserted the preposterous notion that Newt Gingrich, a longtime and ardent supporter of Israel and Jewish causes, was making a “dog whistle” argument to anti-Semites because he spoke about the philosophy and influence of left-wing activist Saul Alinsky. Now Peter Beinart has gotten into the act with his rants about Rupert Murdoch’s criticisms of Jews who publish newspapers that are hostile to Israel. I wrote on Sunday about Beinart’s argument with Murdoch that falsely asserts that what he — and pro-Israel activists — wants is for Jewish journalists and publishers to abandon their integrity for Israel’s sake when what they really want is just the opposite: for Jews in the media as well as everybody else to stop going in the tank for Israel’s foes.

Beinart has now doubled down on this argument in a new piece posted at the Daily Beast. He criticizes my piece on the subject, as well as an insightful contribution from the New York Sun that recalled the troubled history of the New York Times’s Jewish owners and their hostility to Zionism and reporting about the Holocaust. Though he begins his piece by asserting that he doesn’t believe Murdoch to be an anti-Semite, he spends the rest of the article contradicting himself and attempting to prove just that. He concludes by writing:

I don’t think anti-Semitism is widespread on the American right, any more than it is widespread on the American left. But when expressed, it should be publicly condemned. Whether it masks itself as hostility to Israel or support for Israel should make no difference at all.

In other words, Murdoch is an anti-Semite who is covering up his hate for Jews by supporting the Jewish state against its critics. While Beinart wonders why conservatives are bothering to defend Murdoch, a better question would be to ask why he is resorting to such convoluted and contradictory arguments? The answer is, of course, that Beinart’s real problem with Murdoch isn’t the patently false charge of anti-Semitism but the fact that he’s critical of publications that attack Israel.

Let’s get one thing cleared up. The idea that it is anti-Semitic for a Jew or non-Jew to note that some Jewish-owned publications have a history of being uncomfortable with Jewish subjects and especially Israel is simply absurd. The history of the New York Times on this subject is well documented. To assert that Murdoch’s tweet, ill-considered as it was, was evidence of either latent or overt anti-Semitism is the worst kind of slur and is exactly the sort of thing that would send Beinart over the edge if a right-winger said it about someone on the left.

Beinart also says that it is “nuts” for anyone to speak of the New York Times as being consistently critical of Israel. It is true that the Times supports Israel’s right to exist. But it has spent the last few decades blaming it for all the problems of the Middle East and blasting its measures of self-defense. Not all of its reporting is biased, but enough of it has been tilted against Israel to make it clear that most of what it presents as news, especially on its front page, amount to nothing more than thinly veiled op-eds. Its opinion pages are also disproportionately skewed against pro-Israel voices.

Since Beinart is himself a consistent critic of Israel, it’s little wonder that he thinks there’s nothing wrong with this, but to claim that those who disagree are crazy says more about his own bias than that of anyone else. As I wrote, Murdoch would have done better to have avoided mentioning the Jewish owners of publications like the Times since the phrase is problematic and it’s far from clear that the current generation in charge there even considers themselves to be Jews.

But the real issue here isn’t whether or not the Times is biased against Israel. It’s whether it’s OK to label political opponents of the left, like Murdoch, as anti-Semitic even though he has a long record of philo-Semitism and support for Israel.

The reason why some conservatives have pushed back against this smear is not so much for Murdoch’s sake — the media mogul can take care of himself — but because the goal of the Jewish left is to brand all conservatives as closet Jew-haters. Doing so appeals to many Jews since it confirms their liberal political prejudices as well as conjures up memories of the past when the right in this country really was anti-Semitic while in our own day, and contrary to Beinart’s false moral equivalence, it is the left that is the natural home for many anti-Zionists and Jew-haters.

One should be careful about labeling people anti-Semites. There is a difference between someone who is merely critical of Israel like Beinart and, for example, liberal church groups that seek to promote BDS measures or to cut off military aid to the Jewish state and make common ground with open Jew-haters to promote this cause. Unfortunately that is a distinction that liberals like Beinart are prepared to ignore in order to score bogus political points against easy targets like Murdoch.

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