While observing the commentary at ‘Comment is Free’ over Chuck Hagel’s nomination for Defense Secretary, it’s difficult not to marvel at the dynamics at play by which a conservative Republican has engendered support from the Guardian Left due primarily, it seems, to the (pro-Israel) political orientation of some of the nominee’s opponents.
Indeed, for some on the Guardian Left, the narrative advanced about many political debates in Washington could be reduced to ‘the enemy of the ‘Israel lobby’ is necessarily a progressive political protagonist’.
To CiF’s Michael Cohen, for instance, the fact that the largest pro-Israel lobbying groups (most notably AIPAC) have stayed away from the Hagel row is no obstacle to framing the debate along this binary lobby/anti-lobby paradigm, and condemning Hagel’s opponents – in a manner similar to Glenn Greenwald - for engaging in a “McCarthyite” smear campaign. (Chuck Hagel’s Senate hearings: A discredit to all concerned, ‘Comment is Free’, Feb. 1)
Cohen – whose views towards Israel are such that he recently suggested that more Israeli fatalities as the result of terrorist attacks would actually help the peace process – criticizes the control the “Jewish lobby” has over the process, thus:
“As we saw during the GOP primaries last year, the new apparent litmus test for being a foreign policy-maker in the US government appears to be the extent to which you offer unconditional support for basically everything that Israel does,
Ted Cruz tried to link Hagel to a speech given by Chas Freeman, a former US diplomat who has been publicly critical of American support for the Jewish state, and in particular, the domestic lobbyists that defend Israel.
When Cruz could not identify an obvious link between the two men, he backed off. But the moment was chilling because the implications of Cruz’s questioning wasn’t hard to deduce: simply having a relationship with Freeman and his controversial views on Israel would have been enough to indict Hagel.
This is quite frankly modern-day McCarthyism: guilt by association with those who hold differing views. It was the low point of the day in which the depths of practically every valley of squalid foreign policy discourse was plumbed. That a hearing on the fitness of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense was dominated by a discussion of a country that is not even a military ally of the United States – and which, in the just the last three months, has taken actions on settlement construction that run precisely counter to US policy – offered compelling evidence of the disproportionate and unhealthy role that Israel plays in US foreign policy debates.”
While the at times comical misuse of the word “McCarthyism” by some on the left to characterize legitimate criticism and debate within a democratic framework is, in itself, an under-explored topic, it’s remarkable that Cohen defends Chas Freeman, who has, himself, engaged in ugly, racist smears of American Jews.
Joe McCarthy – the former US senator whose politics during the Cold War inspired the term ‘McCarthyism’ – is largely known for the fact that, in the 1950s, he led hearings into the “un-American” activities of those who he (often falsely) accused of actively working for the communist party or even being agents of the KGB. While the threat of Soviet infiltration into the upper echelons of US government during the time was indeed real (as the Venona papers have proved) McCarthy’s notoriety is derived by the fact that he recklessly imputed disloyalty to many who were completely innocent – all of which brings us to Chas Freeman.
Freeman was forced to withdraw his name from consideration to be chairman of the U.S. National Intelligence Council in the Obama Administration, in March 2009, due to his vitriolic attacks on Israel (which, he had argued, was a “catalyst” for the attacks on 9/11), his close ties with the Saudi government, and comments he made which were sympathetic to China’s bloody crackdown of pro-democracy activists at Tiananmen Square.
After the nomination row, Freeman was even more explicit in his attacks on American Jewish supporters of Israel, and published a post, at the extremist anti-Zionist blog, Mondoweiss, where he argued that Zionism was worse than S. Africa. His post included the following passage:
“[At least] South Africa’s whites did not have a dedicated cadre of coreligionists or ethnic kin abroad who labored to protect them from the consequences of their deviance from the norms of humane behavior as defined by Western civilization at large. Nor, despite open sympathy for South African whites in the American South and among ardent anti-Communists, did apartheid enjoy international ideological support outside the neo-Nazi fringe. Israel’s policies are supported morally, politically, and financially by large Jewish communities…”
…I would like to put forward some thoughts about the control of narrative and the manipulation of information as an essential element of modern warfare. The Israelis call this ‘hasbara.’ Since they are without doubt the most skilled contemporary practitioners of the art, it seems appropriate to use the Hebrew word for it. And, since Israel’s most recent war (against the Palestinians in Gaza) sputtered to an end just ten days ago, I’ll cite a few examples from that war to illustrate my main points.
In some countries, like the United States, Israel can rely upon a ‘fifth column’ of activist sympathizers to amplify its messages, to rebut and discredit statements that contradict its arguments, facts, and fabrications, and to impugn the moral standing of those who make such statements.”
In case there was any doubt who Freeman was referring to as “fifth columnists”, he went on to “name names” – imputing guilt to members of several Jewish organizations (and at least one American rabbi).
To be clear, “fifth columnists” refers to a group of people who clandestinely seek to undermine a nation from within. It declares people “disloyal–enemies of their own country”, often due to their ethnic or race-based loyalties, and the use of such a charge against Jews has represented one of the more popular antisemitic narratives.
Historically, even before the birth of the modern state of Israel, Jews stood accused of not possessing sufficient loyalty to the nations where they resided. One of the earliest examples of this fusion of “excessive” Jewish power with ‘dual loyalty was the suspicion in parts of medieval Christian Europe that Jews were in league with some Muslim powers. The charge of dual loyalty manifested itself in the Dreyfus Affair through the Nazi’s rise to power – and, indeed, this notion in large measure underlay the failure of European emancipation more broadly. In the 1920s Henry Ford published The International Jew: The World’s Problem where it was asserted, along with other calumnies, that disloyal Jews were pushing the United States towards war – a charge which resurfaced in the political aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq, and in the current framing of a possible US war with Iran.
Explicit characterizations of Jews as “fifth columnists” has an extremist right pedigree (David Duke highlighted Freeman’s recent charge against Jews on his website, per screenshot below ), so it seems that genuine anti-racists would be troubled that Guardian Left commentators such as Cohen and Greenwald are not only evidently not outraged by Freeman’s antisemitic (and McCarthy-style) attack on Jews, but consider him a victim.
Increasingly, many on the far left (certainly on the Guardian Left) explain, in a tone of exasperation, that they’re tired of false accusations of antisemitism which, they often add, make people less sensitive to “real” antisemitism. Yet, it seems, when confronted with a competition for their sympathy, foes of the Israel lobby (no matter how crude, unenlightened and Judeophobic their rhetoric) seem to win out over a historically oppressed Jewish minority every time.
A ‘left’ which can’t condemn, passionately and without qualifications, the hideous charge that American Jews are corrupting the body politic, and are working to undermine the nation, due to an unhealthy ethnic loyalty, are simply not worthy of the progressive mantle to which they so hubristically lay claim.