December 11, 2018

Dangerous “Wolf” Crying

In my twenty seven years at the Anti-Defamation League, most of my professional life, I became an expert on anti-Semitism; recognizing and combatting it whether in its blatant or its subtler forms. Equally importantly, acknowledging its “>protests).

Given my long experience with the issue of bigotry, I am saddened by the language employed by some in the Jewish community leadership in accusing the president and those who speak in favor of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA—the nuclear arms agreement with Iran) of flirting (and worse) with anti-Semitism. It is a charge that is incendiary and unwarranted.

However one views the JCPOA, support or opposition, the desire to mute the proponents of the JCPOA by playing the “anti-Semitism” card is inappropriate. Other than one nasty anti-Semitic cartoon that appeared in the Daily Kos, a hard-left web publication, attacking Sen. Charles Schumer for his decision to oppose the JCPOA, there has not been anti-Semitism of any significance evidenced in the rhetoric of the main proponents of the deal (e.g. the White House and its allies).

The remarks of the president that seem to have aroused the ire of the JCPOA opponents the most and has been the hook on which they base their “he’s legitimizing anti-Semitism” charge were spoken during his appearance on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. While discussing the JCPOA he “>article urging an Israeli attack on Iranwas recently reprinted) Bill Kristol, and Sen. Joe Lieberman—among the leaders of the neo-con movement and supporters of the Iraq war in 2003— are similarly situated in being against the JCPOA today. The president said “some of the same politicians” and, indeed, some are.

He didn’t list them by name, he didn’t refer to ““>Buchanan did—“kids with names like McAllister, Murphy, Gonzalez, and Leroy Brown were going to do the fighting”), one could, justifiably, take umbrage. But he didn’t.

The absence of anti-Semitism and the benign nature of the president’s remarks have not constrained a host of Jewish leaders from attacking JCPOA supporters and advocates for engaging in “dog whistle” bigotry, for supporting a deal that “will lead to Israel’s destruction,” for “anti-Jewish incitement” etc. The list of major Jewish organizations purveying those themes is embarrassingly long.

These critics are arguing by hysterics based not on what has been said, but on how what has been said might be misinterpreted or misused—–how inferences might be drawn that opponents of the plan don’t like.

Arguing that accurate, unbiased comments about the tactics that an opponent uses in a heated political altercation are “hinting” at bigotry or may be misread in “the eyes of many in the community” or might “fuel anti-Semitic stereotypes” is absurd as part of a public policy debate. If the comments are accurate, if they don’t invoke or hint at bigoted tropes or imagery, and if they are measured, then they are part of the rough and tumble of the political world.

Newton had it right in the 17th century in his Third Law of Motion—for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. If Jewish community organizations, the Israeli prime minister and its ambassador to the United States push hard against the JCPOA and warn of imminent catastrophe were it adopted they should have expected, indeed it could have been guaranteed, that there would be a firm and unambiguous response in the high stakes game of geo-politics—-that’s not bigotry, that’s reality.