Right-Wing Columnist Implies Colin Powell Is Anti-Semitic After Defending Hagel

Colin Powell (L) and Bret Stephens (R).

Just days after former Secretary of State Colin Powell went on television to talk about (among other things) his endorsement of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal implied that Powell is an anti-Semite on the flimsiest of evidence.

Bret Stephens, a deputy editor at the Journal, doesn’t outright say that Powell is anti-Semitic. Instead, in a manner reminiscent of Glenn Beck’s “I’m just asking questions!” tactic for avoiding responsibility for his nonsense, Stephens strings together two statements of Powell’s to suggest he has a track record of anti-Semitism:

OK, I get it. An errant slip of the tongue isn’t proof of prejudice. We have all said things the offensiveness of which we perhaps didn’t fully appreciate when we opened our mouth.

Like the time when, according to Bob Woodward, Mr. Powell accused Douglas Feith, one of the highest-ranking Jewish officials in the Bush administration and the son of a Holocaust survivor, of running a “Gestapo office” out of the Pentagon. Mr. Powell later apologized personally to Mr. Feith for what he acknowledged was a “despicable characterization.”

Or the time when, according to George Packer in his book “The Assassins’ Gate,” Mr. Powell leveled another ugly charge at Mr. Feith, this time in his final Oval Office meeting with George W. Bush. “The Defense Department had too much power in shaping foreign policy, [Powell] argued, and when Bush asked for an example, Powell offered not Rumsfeld, the secretary who had mastered him bureaucratically, not Wolfowitz, the point man on Iraq, but the department’s number three official, Douglas Feith, whom Powell called a card-carrying member of the Likud Party.”

The implication of this is that Powell has a pattern of anti-Semitic behavior. While Stephens never owns that this is, in fact what he’s implying, it’s hard not to see the suggestion (which is, of course, baseless).

Stephens might protest that he’s simply attempting to point out the alleged absurdity of Powell’s claim that several remarks by leading Republicans show that there’s a “a dark vein of intolerance” running through the GOP. Set aside, for the moment, that Powell’s examples are substantially more well-grounded than Stephens’. Were that the columnist’s point, then he would be repudiating his own case that Hagel is suffused by the “odor” of anti-Semitism, an argument built solely on the same sort of quotes he says Powell is wrong for using. So either a) Stephens should admit that the GOP emits the “odor” of racism, or b) he should retract and apologize for his own insinuations about Hagel (which others have done him the courtesy of taking apart).

There’s also an amusing implication in the column that the only lobby anyone ever suggests “intimidates” people is the so-called Israel Lobby. Stephens’ evidence for this strange claim is his own Google searches for “the farm lobby intimidates,” “the African-American lobby intimidates,” or “the Hispanic lobby intimidates.” Even accepting the idea that two seconds of Google work counts as evidence, one might suggest Stephens search for “the NRA intimidates” or the “the AARP intimidates.” He might be surprised at the results.

Stephens himself suggested that Hagel is anti-Semitic but pleaded on Sunday that he made no such charge. But Stephens isn’t the only accuser of Hagel’s to run into trouble recently. Elliott Abrams, a former Bush official and Paul Ryan adviser whose charge of anti-Semitism against Hagel was far more overt, has been roundly condemned, including by his own boss.