By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK
American conservatives have been banishing irresponsible right-wingers from their ranks since the late 1950s, when William F. Buckley took an uncompromising stance toward the John Birch Society. Buckley denounced the Birch Society’s founder Robert Welch as “idiotic” and “paranoid.” Welch had called President Dwight D. Eisenhower a “conscious, dedicated agent of the Communist conspiracy” and held the U.S. government to be “under operational control of the Communist Party.” Buckley’s condemnation worked. Mainstream conservatives distanced themselves from the Birch Society.
The motive for such a public denunciation of people and groups allied to us politically can be one of two things: a desire to not to be linked publicly with a person or group that we find irresponsible or embarrassing to us and our cause, or an attempt to offer fraternal advice — tough love, if you will — to allies we care about, in the hope that we can lead them to see the light about their mistaken ways. The criticism I am about to make of Ben Shapiro is the latter.
I read Shapiro’s syndicated columns regularly. I enjoy them; I learn from them. I think he offers a valuable service in the battle against the American left. Shapiro does not fit the caricature of a right-winger. He is young, Jewish, a Harvard graduate, a writer who usually makes his case against the liberals in a rational and temperate manner. All this makes him a writer who can win over young readers who might be inclined to view conservatives as rigid and stodgy old white folks.
That said, I submit he crossed over into hyperbole bordering on zealotry in his recent syndicated column that focused on what he calls the “Jew hatred” that has “just found a new home in the White House.”
Shapiro’s evidence? He points to how President Obama “said nothing publicly” about the murder of three Jewish teenagers by Hamas. He suggests the “Obama administration did not care about” the American Jew who was one of the three boys killed “because he was a Jew. Jewish blood is cheap to this administration.” He sees the same indifference in the administration’s “stated predilection for forcing Israel into concessions to” Iran, “an implacable and Jew-hating enemy,” concessions that “legitimizes” Iran’s government, “weakens sanctions, and forestalls Israeli action against its nuclear program.”
Shapiro charges Obama with “undercutting Israeli security at every turn,” whether it be “deposing Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, fostering chaos in Syria and by extension Jordan and Lebanon.” He states flatly that “the Obama administration had the opportunity to stand clearly against Jew-hating evil,” but failed to do so.
“But that’s nothing new,” he added. “Jew hatred is as old as the Jewish people.”
Now there is no question that the Obama administration can be criticized for its handling of the Middle East. But coming to the conclusion that its decisions are motivated by “Jew hatred” is a stretch. We can’t read minds. I guess there could be a closet anti-Semite somewhere in the West Wing.
But it is far more likely that what Shapiro finds offensive is an application of predispositions that have been part of American liberalism at least since the days of the Vietnam War. The conviction that we should work toward understanding the motives of our adversaries in the world arena, especially if they are Third Worlders, was central to the American left’s call for accommodation with the Mao Tse-tung and the Chinese Communists, the Viet Cong, Fidel Castro, and the Sandinistas. Muslim jihadists are just the last in a long line.
It is what motivated the left’s attack on American “ethnocentrism” and the extension of American power beyond our borders. There were large numbers of Jews among the new left theorists who depicted the United States as the aggressor in the Cold War. Saul Alinsky, Herbert Marcuse, Abbie Hoffman, and Jerry Rubin were Jews. We don’t know if they would lionize the Palestinians in the same manner that they championed the Viet Cong; they are no longer with us. But Noam Chomsky is still alive, and he is a defender of the Palestinian cause, and a Jew.
Moreover, a large number of Obama supporters and associates are Jews: Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod, Jack Lew, and David Plouffe, for starters. It is too simple to brand these individuals “self-hating Jews.” They would not back Obama if they felt the White House had become a bastion of hatred for Jews. My hunch is that Axelrod and Emanuel are uncomfortable with some of the Obama administration’s positions on Israel, but see it as a disagreement over policy, not a sign of anti-Semitism in the ranks.
Those “concessions” to Iran that vex Shapiro? Aren’t they more a modern version of the old “better red than dead” argument championed by left-wingers and pacifists since the days of Bertrand Russell, than a manifestation of Jew hatred? Those who back Obama’s policies on Iran would argue they are doing so in Israel’s best interests; that their goal is to win over Iran to a more moderate position toward Israel through their conciliatory views, that the only effective and moral path to peace is to “win over the hearts and minds” of our enemies.
I realize that some readers of this column will wonder why I am taking the time to defend the Obama administration: Why not welcome anything that weakens Obama’s public image? Perhaps. But the truth is the truth; we should bear witness to it. Beyond that, there are many voices in modern America that take the same positions that Shapiro sees as a reflection of “Jew-hatred” in the White House. Some of them are on the same side of the political barricades as readers of The Wanderer. They do not deserve to be tarred with the brush that Shapiro uses against Obama.
We could start with the Vatican. For decades now, Rome has advocated for the rights of the Palestinian people and against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, as well as in opposition to a preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Catholic publications such as America and Commonweal back Rome’s position. It is fair to charge recent Popes and liberal Catholics with unrealistic idealism and political naiveté on this issue, but unfair to assume that hatred for Jews motivates them.
In addition, American rightists with a populist bent, such as Patrick J. Buchanan, have been calling for many years now for the United States to disengage militarily from hot spots around the globe where they believe there is no American national interest. The Middle East is on that list, but so are the Korean peninsula and our NATO promises to the former Soviet satellites. The populist right may be foolhardy and shortsighted in this view, which some call isolationist, but it is unfair to impute hatred for Jews as the reason for their position on Israel.
It is easy to see why American Jews would be alarmed by recent events in the Middle East. It is clear that militant Islamists are not just engaging in propagandistic bluster when they proclaim their intention to wipe Israel off the map. Israel’s survival is at risk, perhaps more than at any time in the country’s history. But that does not make it fair or wise to engage in heated rhetoric that fails to make the necessary distinctions about the nature of the threat and its supporters.