Defining Anti-Semitism Down

RulesForRadicalsTNR’s Leon Wieseltier has leveled some ugly charges against Andrew Sullivan that are sufficiently absurd and baseless — and well refuted elsewhere — that I haven’t bothered to jump in.  But I do very much want to highlight Glenn Greenwald on this larger point:

It was once the case, not all that long ago, that an accusation of “anti-semitism” was the nuclear weapon of political debates, rendering most politicians and pundits (especially non-Jewish ones) petrified of being so accused.  A 4,300-word prosecution brief published by The New Republic, accusing a major political writer of being a Jew-hater, would have been taken quite seriously, generated all sorts of drama, introspection and debate, and seriously tarnished the reputation of the accused.

No longer.  Neoconservatives have so abused and cynically exploited the “anti-semitism” charge for rank political gain — to bully those who would dare criticize Israeli actions or question U.S. policy towards Israel  — that it has lost its impact.  Ironically, nobody has done more to trivialize and cheapen anti-semitism accusations than those who anointed themselves its guardians and arbiters.  As Charles Freeman can attest, frivolous anti-semitism accusations can still damage those seeking high-level political positions, but those accusations no longer pack any real punch in virtually any other realm.  As neoconservatives became discredited, so, too, did their central political weapon:  casually and promiscuously accusing political adversaries of anti-semitism.

Leaving aside the use of these tool by the neocons and whether they’re somehow uniquely responsible for the weakening of the “anti-Semitism” charge, there has been a general trend in recent years toward poisoning the well by applying odious labels to perfectly decent people with whom one has political disagreements or otherwise for the purpose of winning a political debate.

Most obviously, racist has lost most of its sting as a charge for this reason.  While real racism doubtless still exists, pretty much any opposition to the agenda of the Rainbow-PUSH Coalition or the Congressional Black Caucus will bring out the charge.   Ditto, sexist, homophobe, and, as already discussed, anti-Semite.

Views held by pluralities of Americans are now routinely dubbed Fascist, Communist, treason, unpatriotic, or un-American.

It’s an effective tool, at first, just as Saul Alinsky predicted: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” But, as he also warned, “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. PD Shaw says:

    Another group of haters likes to define dominionism down, so that a politician that uses the word “providential” in a sentence is seeking religious rule akin to the mullahs in Iran.

  2. Danielle says:

    Unless it’s Sarah Palin you mean.
    Then your ‘concern’ goes out the window.
    You degrade her on a regular basis.
    You are a total hypocrite.

  3. Douglas says:

    Ironic that he references the “neo cons” because “neo-con” was in effect “jewish conservative” since all of the examples were the pro security jews in the bush administration.

    Maybe the “neo-cons” are tossing out some of their own vitriol in response.

    But overall, YOUR point is correct, greenwalds is not, since he replaces one stereotype applied to a broad swath of people(jews), and replaces it with another stereotype applied to a different broad swath of people (neo-cons).

  4. trevor lynde says:

    This guys a phony jerk. Who does he think he is kidding?

  5. James Joyner says:

    Unless it’s Sarah Palin you mean.
    Then your ‘concern’ goes out the window.
    You degrade her on a regular basis.

    That doesn’t even make sense. I’ve called Palin none of the names on the list and frequently defend her from scurrilous charges, even though she’s not my cup of tea.

  6. Solly says:

    This author quotes Saul Alinsky to support his viewpoint.

    So much for credibility.

  7. Ragspierre says:

    A 4,300-word prosecution brief published by The New Republic, accusing a major political writer…

    Wait. Weren’t we talking about Andrew Sullivan…???


  8. skwiself says:

    anyone who isn’t a sullivan cultist (a weird bunch, they), or james joyner, knows that tnr’s hit piece described sullivan to a t. Quoting rick ellensgreenwaldberg is a joke. Maybe in some circles tnr’s article was absurd and baseless, but in the non-frothing-at-the-mouth pesudo-sophisticated circles, it was an exercise in the simple observation of a deranged individual who hates whatever he hates with such intensity that all discretion goes out the window. AndySully hates “neo-cons” so much and strangely identifies it with Jews so much that his hate can’t help but explode in outbursts that trod the line, or just over it, of anti semitism. And hey, while you’re getting in another dig at “neo-cons,” maybe next time you could mention another political faction so allegedly discredited whose tenets are still essentially entirely in charge of american foreign policy. America has a neocon foreign policy today essentially unchanged in actions from that of bush. All that’s changed is the rhetoric.

  9. Richard Gardner says:

    The chattering class. As opposed to the supposed professional journalists? City Journal has an interesting 60’s radical liberal to conservative story that shows people are people, and journalists are no better. The story is on the radical 60’s monthly Ramparts. Big expense accounts.

    h/t: seablogger

  10. Ertdfg says:

    Sullivan’s not an antisemite; not because he doesn’t hit the high points in a way to point you there; but because his HATE is always amped up to 11.

    Sullivan is hysterically offended by… anything. Seriously, he is defined by that which he writes, and nearly everything he write son he hates with a passion that is impressive and somewhat worrying.

    If he were normally a rational person, his writing would be an indicator of a worrying hateful focus on many things Jewish; but since that was simply the way he looked that day, and every day is a day of hating everything you see; that’s why it appeared as antisemitism.

    He’ll be anti-something else tomorrow; and no more sane or rational or toned down or calm or reasonable. Just as crazy, but pointed somewhere else.

  11. TTT says:

    The most overused slur is not ‘racist’, ‘Hitler’, or ‘warmonger’.

    It is ‘misogynist’. It is overused to such a degree that most conservatives are too afraid to confront such an accusation. This, despite the fact that many feminists openly say that the male popultion should be reduced by 90%.

    Read about The Feminism Bubble over here.

  12. Eric Florack says:

    So let me understand this;

    Your objection is that that Saint Andrew the Incontinent is having his own weapons used against him?

  13. faxhorn says:

    There used to be racism.

    Now there’s just Ray-Sizzum.