I recently finished writing a book review critiquing
The Politics of Anti-Semitism (Counterpunch/ AK Press, 2003).  The book, eighteen essays collected from Alexander Cockburn’s and Jeffrey
St. Clair's Counterpunch website and newsletter, is
concerned with the phenomenon of good-faith critics of
Israel being harassed with accusations of
anti-Semitism, and the relationship between Israel,
pro-Israel institutions, and the US.  I sent a draft
to one of the book’s contributors, asking if he
thought whether I accurately conveyed his argument. 
After making some fair points about some of my essay’s
shortcomings, he suggested that I probably think that,
“even facts can be anti-Semitic.”  I responded in
disagreement, but suggested that facts need to be
contextualized to insure understanding and so that
they do not acquire anti-Semitic implications.  I then
received a response addressed to someone else saying
that he has decided to ignore me since he knows “too
many Jews like him (me).”  Wondering whether or not I
was being baited, I responded inquiring why he relayed
this email to me, pointing out that he does not know
me at all, and if he ignores me he should do so solely
on the quality of my arguments, not on my involuntary
inheritance.  He wrote back in an apologetic tone
saying that he did not intend for me to get this
email.

This exchange, with a contributor to an anthology that
promises to go beyond the self-interested rhetoric
often characterizing the debates on Israel/Palestine
and anti-Semitism, is emblematic of the book’s failure
to keep its vow.  It is not to say that the collection
is without valuable contributions.  Indeed, Michael
Neumann’s essay explores and exhausts the implications
of referring to every condemnation of Israel as
anti-Semitic, demonstrating that this type of
"inflationary" usage of the term necessarily
depreciates its value.  Will Youmans also writes a
strong essay explaining why “singling out” Israel for
criticism is justifiable given its nearly unqualified
US support, and is in no way anti-Semitic per se –
contrary to the assertions of Alan Dershowitz.  But
that these and several other good essays ultimately
come off as filler reflects just how problematic the
bad essays are. 

Israel and the US undoubtedly maintain a special
relationship. Israel would be unable to commit its
atrocities without US support, and US pro-Israel
organizations are an important component of that
support.  These issues need to be discussed.  What is
so frustrating about The Politics of Anti-Semitism is
the means it uses to do this.  There are numerous
valuable and long-utilized interpretive frameworks
that the Left historically employs to contextualize
geopolitical realities.  Strangely, The Politics of
Anti-Semitism jettisons these prisms in favor of
ahistorical, individual actor-oriented, typically
rightwing analyses.  The book's worst aspects feature
so little self-criticality that former CIA agents and
a congressional employee, using staunchly nationalist
arguments, are brought in to tell us just how badly
Israel is undermining the US’s sovereignty and
reputation.  Did you know that AIPAC bullies our
politicians?  Well it’s true.  The Jews have somehow
managed to corrupt the noble heroes that represent us
in this once great democracy. George Sunderland (a
pseudonym) goes on to warn that US support for Israel
is tarnishing the US’s reputation in the Third World. 
And as long as the US’s otherwise benevolent foreign
policy is tainted by its naïve support for Israeli
villainy, angry terrorists will continue breaking our
stuff.  This wretched display of confusion – mimicking
the fascism of Pat Buchanan – is in dire need of the
type of class-based clarity Howard Zinn provides when
quoting the Revolutionary-era observation that
“tyranny is tyranny.”  It is only the most backwards
jingoism that has one preferring to be dominated by US
corporate imperialism to Israeli “usurpers.”  And it
is only the most warped thinking that concerns itself
over the good reputation of an empire that thrives on
genocide and slavery, let alone attributes that
reputation’s “demise” to forces outside its control.
There most certainly are cases of pro-Israel
organizations bullying US politicians.  But I’m
critical of taking up this argument not because there
isn’t truth in it, but because it implies that without
those forces US foreign policy would function fairly
in the Middle East.  The US was self-interested and
murderous in its foreign policy before Israel’s
existence, so why should it not be now?  This argument
also exaggerates the power of government in general
and Congress in particular, ignoring US
political-economic demands that would create an Israel
if one didn’t already exist.  Politicians are not
nearly as autonomous as this argument – focusing
solely on the machinations of pro-Israel lobbies –
suggests, and AIPAC has but a middle-level role in
forming the institutional constraints delineating the
choices that they do have.

US support for Israel involves varied, often
overlapping, institutional factors.  These include US
economic exigencies such as arm sales, and the
realpolitik needs of having a gendarme to repress
Islamic autonomy to secure US control of the region’s
oil.  These pro-Israel institutional tendencies have
created openings for supporting ideologies within the
U.S. culture industry.  In the US after 1967 (when
Israel solidified and increased US favor after
undermining Arab Nationalism via the Six Day War),
ideological space has been made and filled with public
concern for the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, and, by
constructed relation, Israel.  Similarly, rightwing
religious fanatics have begun lending great political
support to Israel.  It is unlikely that these
reactionary nationalists would offer such passionate
support to a foreign state if it did not already
maintain a benevolent relationship with their own. 
So, as Peter Novick writes in The Holocaust in
American Life, it is easy to overestimate the
pro-Israel lobbies actual power since most politicians
merely have to go along with an overall pro-Israel
flow that has not encountered meaningful institutional
opposition.  For instance, the few politicians who do
criticize Israel are indeed attacked by AIPAC, but in
criticizing Israel they are also opposing the
interests of the military industrial complex, a
conglomeration that gives twice as much lobbying money
as the Jewish lobbies, and has a deep interest in
maintaining US funds to Israel. 

Alexander Cockburn pursues this theme of “Jewish
power” by criticizing detractors of Congressperson
James Moran’s remark that “If it were not for the
strong support of the Jewish community for this war in
Iraq, we would not be doing this.”  For Cockburn, this
generalization is unambiguously true, and cannot,
therefore, be anti-Semitic.  Any criticism of this
sentiment, therefore, is a disingenuous rhetorical
ploy to repress “the truth.”  However, many Jews were
opposed to the war.  So just who constitutes this
“Jewish community?”  In Deal Breakers, an essay in
another anthology, Wrestling With Zion, Michael
Massing notes that the two most influential foreign
policy-oriented Jewish organizations (American Israel
Public Affairs Committee and the Conference of
Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations) are
composed of and led by individuals who are far more
hawkish than US Jews in general.  Although these
organizations pushed for the war on Iraq, support
among US Jews for that war was nearly identical to
that of the rest of the population.  US Jews, Massing
notes, “remain one of the most liberal groups in
American society.”  Moreover, Massing cites Forward
editor J.J. Goldberg, liberal Jews feel weaker ties to
Israel than conservative Jews do.  Thus, “‘It’s not
what six million American Jews feel is best – it’s
what fifty Jewish organizations (or more accurately,
Massing interjects, two [conservative] organizations)
feel is best.’”  So it is not the Jewish community who
wanted war with Iraq, but a distinct, conservative,
disproportionately powerful self-appointed segment of
that community.  This hierarchical representation of
community, complete with division of labor, is
generally consistent with the organization of US
society as a whole.  That Moran’s description
unintentionally evokes traditional anti-Semitic
notions of a monolithic group with a single interest
further presses the need for linguistic accuracy. 

And the arguable reason that many US Jewish elites did
support the war on Iraq is because they believed that
it would advance Israeli interests.  For some this
provokes the question of who the US-Israel
relationship most benefits and who is its dominant
party?  The “conventional wisdom,” writes Jeffrey
Blankfort, places US-Israel relations within the
context of US imperialism, seeing Israel as serving US
interests in the oil-rich Middle East.  Blankfort
reverses this thesis, claiming that the US is a junior
partner doing Israel’s bidding to its own detriment. 
His explanation of why the US is compelled to go along
with this self-destructive arrangement is that
powerful and single-minded Jewish forces have managed
to dominate the US media and government.  Blankfort
has admitted elsewhere that these types of
characterizations are consistent with traditional
anti-Semitic rhetoric, but now, he maintains, the
world has changed in such a way that all of those
crazy canards have become true (Goebbles and Streicher
were merely ahead of their time).  So it cannot be
anti-Semitic to observe the truth.  This typically
right-wing analysis (focusing on individual "puppet
masters" as opposed to a combination of
social-historical, class, and institutional forces) is
terribly strained, requiring the removal of nuance and
contradictory or correlating facts. 

For instance, the US media accords its usual
propagandistic coverage to all US allies, not just
Israel.  But when the media ignores Turkish slaughters
of Kurds nobody suggests a pro-Turkish hidden agenda. 
Hence, Blankfort cannot distinguish between
correlation (i.e. disproportionate Jewish
representation in the media coinciding with favorable
coverage of Israel) and cause and effect (i.e.
favorable coverage of Israel being caused by the
disproportionate Jewish representation in the media). 

Contrary to Blankfort’s pronouncements, the
traditional anti-Semitic canards are no truer than
ever before.  They have always, however, had a basis
in reality that was distorted out of all context. 
This basis is connected to the “peculiar condition” of
Jewish history – one often characterized as a
middle-man – indicating that Jews have often enjoyed
relative power, but rarely entrenched, let alone
absolute, power.  This history is relevant to today
and is worthy of exploration, but Blankfort’s
un-dialectical approach allows for nothing outside the
realm of Manichean simplicities.  He indeed has
located some “facts” concerning pro-Israel influence
in US politics, but his obsessive focus on them
obfuscates larger more telling facts.  He has even
announced in other writings possession of a nine-page
“list” of Jews in high places.  Whereas Aryan Nations
keeps such a list on their website, insinuating that
being Jewish is something sinister in itself,
Blankfort takes a step leftward in declaring that he
only has Jews on his list who ardently support
Israel.  However, many powerful non-Jews also ardently
support Israel, but they aren’t on the list because,
the logic goes, they must be stooges of the Jews, not
actors of their own freewill.  For there is no other
reason to support Israel other than to promote narrow
Jewish interests.  In other words, US support for
Israel can be nothing other than a demonstration of
Jewish domination.  Alas, a crooked and clichéd
premise leads to a crooked and clichéd analysis and
conclusion, and its resemblance to age-old
anti-Semitism is dismissed as an irrelevant
coincidence.
 
One of the book’s most dubious arguments, asserted by
Lenni Brenner, is that anti-Semitism is “retreating
into oblivion.”  This is ahistorical rubbish.  One
cannot assert away a two thousand year old
socioeconomic, political, theological, historical
thread that has manifested itself all over the world
in countless persecutions, exiles and, just sixty
years ago, genocide.  A more compelling idea, which
Uri Avnery’s short essay touches on (and which Brenner
addresses elsewhere), would not deny anti-Semitism,
but would explore how Zionism, which is predicated on
reacting against anti-Semitism, reproduces it.  In The
Seventh Million, Tom Segev explores Zionism’s history
of using anti-Semitism – its parent – to justify its
most ghastly actions, while also using Jew hatred’s
violent history to indoctrinate all Jews with a “siege
mentality” whose only refuge is Israel, often at the
expense of aiding Jews in immediate need whom do not
wish to immigrate to “their homeland.”  As Philip
Green writes in Wrestling With Zion, Zionists have, in
fact, contributed to anti-Semitism by systematically
conflating their nation-state with all Jewish people,
constructing the former as the cultural-historical
pinnacle of Jewish life.  Israel is violent like all
nation-states, but thanks in large part to its own
rhetoric its violence is associated with Jews
everywhere. 
 
A rhetorical function of denying anti-Semitism is that
it undermines one of Israel’s primary justifications
(interestingly, few other nations are so hard-pressed
to justify their existence).  The dominant Zionist
narrative says that Jews are entitled to a safe haven
not because of the past, but because the past in this
case has consistently portended the future (which
ignores, as Avnery notes, that Israel is one of the
least safe places for Jews today).  In downplaying the
existence of anti-Semitism, this argument implicitly
accepts the Zionist premise that anti-Semitism
justifies Israel’s existence and actions; its
advocates are not contesting this Zionist axiom, but
merely reacting to it by arguing that its
prerequisites are not met.  The resulting analysis is
not only disingenuous, but morally and tactically
backwards.  The point should not be that anti-Semitism
has been magically extricated from human history, but
that its continued existence still cannot justify the
violent displacement and ongoing oppression of
millions of people.  In the book’s final essay Edward
Said brings this matter up, bitterly asking why nobody
questions why “Israeli security ought to define the
moral world we live in?”  But in order to pursue such
a discussion not only does nationalism need to be
addressed, the material and ideological forces that
continually reproduce it needs to be challenged. 
Instead of taking this approach, putting the
Palestine/Israel crisis in global context and
understanding that the only answer is a new global
system, the book unpardonably uses the critique that
Israel as the Jews’ faction is harming “our” US
faction.  This idiotic line, coupled with analyses
that regularly lack nuance, subtlety, and
sophistication results in a poor and disturbing book.

This essay originally appeared in the Winter 2004 Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed