As someone who was recently called an anti-Semite (elsewhere) for an honest, confessional critique of Israel (on this site), I was heartened by Robert Wright's forceful rejection of a similar tactic used within the pages of his own magazine.
Wright, a senior editor at The Atlantic and a Pulitzer-Prize finalist, has come to the defense of Alex Kane, who writes for Mondoweiss, after being smeared with a false anti-Semitism charge within The Atlantic's pages.
I highly recommend that you read Wright's entire piece, for it boldly pushes back against usage of the (all-too-common) anti-Semitism smear that is thrown at progressives who dare to critique Israel or American policies in the region.
Here is how Wright begins:
The charge of anti-Semitism is starting to lose its force. The reason is that over the past few years it's been applied with less and less discernment, largely by people who want to stigmatize Israel's harsher critics. As Sarah Wildman has noted in the Forward, this is very unfortunate, because there are real anti-Semites in the world, and they benefit when the label they deserve to bear no longer has the power to stigmatize.Wright then goes on to describe how an Atlantic writer, Armin Rosen, yesterday attacked Kane as an anti-Semite who should be banned from writing for mainstream outlets, such as The Daily Beast (where Kane had just published this post). Why? Not because Kane had actually demonstrated any anti-Semitic tendencies, but because he is a staff writer at Mondoweiss, which Rosen says "gives the appearance of an anti-Semitic enterprise."
Wildman said this six months ago while writing about a slew of smears, such as the attempt to stigmatize the Center for American Progress via half-truths and McCarthyite guilt-by-association. Now there's another example of this neo-McCarthyism, and I'm sorry to say that it appeared on this website.
Wright rejects this fully.
Rosen doesn't adduce a shred of evidence that Kane--the man whose reputation he's trying to besmirch and whose career he's trying to damage--is anti-Semitic. No complaint is filed about anything Kane has ever said or written. Rather, the allegation is just that Kane works for a publication that has featured articles, written by other people, that, in Rosen's judgment, gave off anti-Semitic vibes.Wright ends first by making clear that, in his opinion, Rosen's piece was McCarthyite, and second by apologizing to Kane on behalf of The Atlantic.
The term for this maneuver is "guilt by association," and it has an unfortunate history in American politics and intellectual life.
This tarring of Kane by virtue of his association with Mondoweiss would be lamentable even if Rosen produced a convincing indictment of Mondoweiss, showing that it indeed evinces anti-Semitism. Does he do so? All I can say is that I clicked on the [eleven] links to Mondoweiss that Rosen provided and--though I didn't read every single post with utmost care--I did reach a point where I could safely conclude that Rosen has a looser definition of anti-Semitism than I do.
This unequivocal rejection of the anti-Semitism smear, by a senior editor at a mainstream publication, demonstrates two things:
A) The existence of real anti-Semitism is still taken seriously by serious thinkers, and
B) Those in the mainstream are beginning to feel comfortable confronting false smears.
In recent years, we have seen a precipitous rise in the throwing around of the "anti-Semite" charge as a silencing tool, as a way to discredit those with valid (and sometimes edgy) critiques of Israel.
And just as it did in McCarthy's time, using these false charges worked -- in the beginning -- to stigmatize writers who were anything but anti-Semitic. And just as we saw with McCarthy, fear of the word (then "communist," now "anti-Semite") is being replaced by anger at its misappropriation.
And this is only a good thing, for open debate on Israel -- an incredibly important foreign policy arena for any American president -- can only occur when that debate isn't silenced by McCarthyite smears.
And real anti-Semitism can only be combated when the charge of "anti-Semite" is no longer diluted by those looking to score political points.
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