As if on cue, The New York Times reports “Essay Linking Liberal Jews and Anti-Semitism Sparks a Furor”. The essay is by David Harris. The publisher is the American Jewish Committee. To be flip about it, the defining characteristic of the “new” anti-semitism seems to be that it isn’t anti-semitism. Certainly, to qualify as a “new anti-semite” it doesn’t seem to be necessary to have a bigoted view of the Jewish religion or of Jewish people as an ethnic or cultural group. The author pretends to argue that hostility to the existence of Israel as a Jewish state is the defining characteristic of the “new” anti-semitism, which is fairly ridiculous on its own terms, but as you read through the examples that’s clearly not what he’s saying. Rather, his view is that some people make what he regards as extreme or over-the-top criticisms of Israel, and that anti-semites would also make such criticisms, so therefore anyone who criticizes Israel too stridently is either practicing anti-semitism or else creating it.
Needless to say, similar standards don’t apply elsewhere. Check out my friend Mark Leon Goldberg’s post about Anne Bayefsky’s ridiculous accusation that “the U.N. provides sustenance for the Iranian genocidal threat, which is directed at Israel now, and America next.” That’s a crazy, absurd, and horribly unfair thing to say. It’s not, however, evidence of racial animosity against Persians, or South Koreans or whomever. By the same token, criticism of Israel — even ill-informed, unfair, unduly harsh criticism of Israel — isn’t anti-semitism, it’s political disagreement.
At any rate, when you think about it, things like this essay or Jonah Goldberg’s little McCarthyite smears aren’t really about convincing people that I’m an anti-semite, or that Tony Judt or Adrienne Rich or Tony Kushner is. The idea, basically, is to scare the goyim who figure that while liberal Jews can take the heat, they probably can’t, and had best just avoid talking about the whole thing. And based on my observations of the blogosphere, it works pretty well as a tactic.