In the Arena

Philo-Semitism Gone Amok

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Mike Gerson and Ezra Klein are two of the more temperate partisans I know. Gerson is an evangelical conservative whose speeches sometimes managed to make George W. Bush look like he sorta knew what he was talking about; he was also among the rare Bushies who supported faith-based social programs because of the impact they made on the lives of the poor, rather than on the President’s poll-ratings among evangelicals. Klein–no relation, except friendship–is a wise-beyond-his-years policy wonk, who has moved to the Washington Post from the American Prospect, and has done some of the very best reporting on the health care issue.

So what is to explain this weirdly intemperate attack by Gerson on Klein?

Beats me. But it is part of a pattern among neoconservative Likudniks–including the lead Likudnik, Benjamin Netanyahu–and their evangelical running mates: Jews who disagree with them on Israel or the seriousness of antisemitism (on the internet or in the world) are either self-hating…or anti-semitic or, as Gerson spews about Klein:

Those, like Klein, who trivialize evil are actually making its advance more likely. Their cynicism and ideological manias are the allies of genuine bigotry, because they blur its distinctive shape and cover its distinctive smell.

This, because Ezra propounded the factually indisputable proposition that flaming bigots like Rush Limbaugh (who was fired after one week as a football commentator on ESPN before he made a racially idiotic statement about the quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles) have far more influence over the intemperate nature of the public debate than various internet commenters and bloggers.

Now, let me say there is a fair amount of anti-semitic intemperance on the internet–including some on the left–and certainly, out in the world, among purposely provocative public haters like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (who still doesn’t have control of Iran’s nuclear or national security portfolios). Historically, though, anti-semitism has found its true home on the populist right.

But there has been a curious, and growing, phenomenon in the evangelical community in recent years: they just love us Jews. They just love Israel, uh, to death. For many, I’m sure, there is real admiration of Israel’s pluck and toughness and democracy. For others, as Lieutenant General William Boykin said after 9/11, there’s something of a “my God is bigger than your God” attitude toward Muslims in general–and the Israelis are on the front line of the war against the “infidels.” And then, there are those who take the Bible literally, especially the weird, fever-swamp hallucination of the Book of Revelation. This odd addendum to the New Testament has taken a disproportionate place for many evangelical Christians who believe in the Rapture–that is, a sequence of events that begins with the Jews regaining control of the Holy Land, fighting a climactic battle against the infidels (Muslims) at Armageddon (Megiddo, in the Jezreel Valley), after which Jesus returns, believers Go Straight to Heaven…and all non-believers, like any remaining Jews who don’t accept Jesus, are incinerated.

I have my doubts about those who believe such nonsense being true allies of Israel. Likudniks, though, don’t have very many allies in the world; some of them tend to see the Evangelical literalists, who bring significant amounts of tourist money to the Holy Land and have influence in the Republican Party, as useful idiots. “Prophecy” for the literalists requires that Israel retain control of Judea and Samaria (i.e. the West Bank). A great many Jews disagree, including me. We believe that to retain those areas is not only unjust, and illegal, but spells long-term demographic doom for Israel. This is not even a remotely radical position; it was held by the last three Israeli Prime Ministers, including Ariel Sharon.

I’m not saying that Gerson, or his evangelical Bushie running-mate Pete Wehner (who writes on the Commentary blog and piled on when the Likudniks called me anti-semitic), believe in the Rapture. In fact, both Gerson and Wehner, when they have their heads screwed on right, have occasionally been lonely voices reminding the evangelical community of Jesus’s social gospel (except when it comes to raising taxes to pay for aid for the poor; somehow that old, inconvenient “easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter heaven” business doesn’t play in Evangelical America). In any case, I don’t know how literally Gerson and Wehner take their Bible. I don’t know if they’re snuggling up to the Likudniks because of philosophy, prophecy or some combination of the two. But I’d advise caution when they question the Judaism, rather than the politics, of those, like Ezra Klein, who disagree with them (Add: or accuse any Jew of being soft on anti-semitism, as Gerson does here.). It’s obnoxious enough when Bibi Netanyahu calls David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel self-hating Jews or when silly old Abe Foxman calls me anti-semitic.  But after the last two thousand years, when a non-Jew indulges, it is prohibitively creepy.