In the Arena

More on Khalidi and Antisemitism

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My friend Jeff Goldberg, author of Prisoners, which is one of the very best books I’ve read about the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, takes me to task, rightly, for some wordplay I engaged in yesterday while  excoriating the vile McCain spokesman, Michael Goldfarb for calling Khalid Rashidi an antisemite. And while the term, antisemitism, will always retain its traditional meaning–anti-Jewishness–it does conflate certain categories: there are those who just hate Jews, and then there are those who merely disapprove of zionism…and a third category, those who accept the idea of a Jewish state, but disapprove of Israeli expansion into the West Bank and Gaza. People like Goldfarb–and far too many other Jewish neoconservatives–go around calling people like Rashidi antisemites when, in fact, they’re merely opposed to the more egregious expansionist schemes favored by the some of the more extreme members of the Likud Party. Indeed, Goldberg defends Khalidi:

But about Khalidi — he’s a fierce partisan of the Palestinian cause, of course, and in my conversations with him, and in his writing, I see that his sympathies frequently cause him to distort Middle East history. But an anti-Semite? I don’t think so. In fact, Rashid Khalidi is one of the rare Palestinian advocates who argues, as he has with me, that Arabs must study Jewish history, including and especially the history of Jew-hatred, in order to better understand Israel, and to reach a compromise with it.

Jeff, however, goes on to make a truly foolish argument about my efforts to call out a small group of Jewish neoconservatives for their disgraceful, bullying behavior and their dangerous influence on John McCain’s and the Bush Administration’s foreign policy:

I know that Joe derives great pleasure from criticizing Jewish supporters of the Iraq War — the Wolfowitzes, Perles and Feiths –in specifically Jewish terms, while never seeming to use the Christianity of other supporters of the war, including Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Powell, and other such marginal figures, against them. I don’t like the double-standard, but it’s part of the rough and tumble.

No, Jeff, I don’t derive great pleasure from it. I’m pretty anguished about it. As a Jew, I’m embarrassed by these extremists and outraged by their assumption that they represent mainstream Jewish opinion in this country. Furthermore, I don’t use the Christianity of Bush et al against them because their Christianity had nothing to do with their support for the war. For people like Doug Feith et al, their Jewish identity–their ethnic nationalism, not the religious part of it–had an awful lot to do with their plumping for war with Iraq and, more recently, Iran. Feith et al advised Binyamin Netanyahu, in a paper called “A Clean Break,” to go to war with Iraq when he was Prime Minister in order to protect Israel. I find the conflation, by some Jewish neoconservatives, of Israel’s interests and America’s–and their truly dangerous misreading of both–to be appalling. But much worse is their rush to pin the tag of antisemitism on anyone who disagrees with them, including me.

And even worse than that is the McCain campaign’s tendency, driven by thugs like Goldfarb, to imply that Barack Obama is soft on Islamic terrorism–and perhaps even a closet Muslim himself–by linking his name with people who have Arab names like Rashid Khalidi. This is the vilest form of anti-Americanism. And, happily, it appears not to be working this year.