Oftentimes, we see what we want to see, not necessarily what is actually in front of us, on the page or in the world. We take intellectual shortcuts: Oh, if he thinks ‘X’ then he must also think ‘Y’ even though there is no such connection in a given argument. Sometimes these blinders we put on ourselves are harmless. Sometimes not.
Careful readers will note that I almost never reply to comments posted on my blogs: I have had my "say" in the original post and now it is the readers’ turn to argue, to vent, to question. But, the responses from yesterday deserve attention.
One reader raises an objection to my calling Israel "our best ally in the whole world" which I most certainly did. Another reader pointed out that Great Britain has been a strong ally too. Sure enough. Israel, like Britain, is our ally not merely because of shared interests but because of shared values. They, too, have an open, liberal society with a free media, genuine elections, the peaceful transfer of power, etc. There is, as well, the fact that most Americans and most Israelis also share the belief that the Hebrew Scriptures are the Word of God.
But, there is something more, something that distinguishes our alliance with Israel from our alliance with Britain. Israel needs us and the protection of our military power. It is a desperately small country surrounded by enemies. Maybe in the Cold War, Britain needed the umbrella of American strategic power the way Israel still does, but not anymore. So, Israel is our best ally because the alliance is built on both shared values and practical necessity.
Another reader says I am wrong to equate admiring Arabs or criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. But, I did not equate those two. I equated admiring the tyrannical regime in Saudi Arabia with moral confusion or, in Mr. Chas Freeman’s instance, I suppose you could call it a case of "clientitis" a not unfamiliar affliction of some foreign service-types. I linked Mr. Freeman’s comments about Saudi Arabia not with any claim about anti-Semitism, but with his equally outrageous comments about China.
I also did not equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. I said Mr. Freeman’s remarks about a conspiracy by something called the "Israel lobby" were anti-Semitic and anyone familiar with the history of anti-Semitism will recognize that the assertion of powerful, but secret, Jewish influence is one of the great tropes of anti-Semitism. The Washington Post labeled Mr. Freeman’s remarks "a grotesque libel." I was content to point out that there was nothing secretive about the campaign on the blogosphere that brought down Mr. Freeman’s appointment, so what did animate this charge of secretive influence?
My article also pointed an accusatory finger at an Arab Israeli Christian who was quoted in this magazine making remarks that smacked of anti-Semitism. I cited the comparison of Hamas with Avigdor Lieberman and need not repeat it. I could have easily cited the other person quoted in that article who called Mr. Lieberman’s party a "fascist party." Of all the adjectives in the world, "fascist" just leapt to mind? I confess I do not know enough about Mr. Lieberman’s views on corporatist economics, an essential part of fascist ideology, to know whether the adjective fits precisely, but my hunch is that the word was chosen to inflame, not to enlighten. Yes, dear readers, throwing the word "fascist" at a Jew is strong stuff, and I stand by my belief that the most likely explanation for its usage is anti-Semitism.
Two readers write about what one of them calls the American government’s "100 percent uncritical support for Israel" and the other calls "blind support." They may have forgotten that the U.S. insisted, over Israeli objections, that we have elections in Gaza – and, by the way, the Israelis were right. Or, the repeated clashes over settlement policy, which clashes have resulted in not once but twice forcing an Israeli government from power. Or, the American refusal of Israel’s request for weapons that might have been useful in a preemptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. "If you agree with me seventy percent of the time, vote for me," Mayor Koch used to say. "If you agree with me one hundred percent of the time, see your shrink." There have been sufficient divergences of opinion between the American and Israeli government to assert with confidence that there is nothing psychologically, or strategically, corrupting about our relationship with Israel. As for "blindness," I think failure to support the nation that mourned with us on September 11, rather than the nation that celebrated in the streets, would be blindness.
As Christians, we have a special obligation to be on the alert for anti-Semitism. If I am over-sensitive, I am happy for it. Auschwitz (and the other largest camps) were located in the most Catholic nation in Europe. Ultra-conservative French Catholics, as we have recently been reminded in the controversy over the Society of St. Pius X, have a history of convinced anti-Semitism that goes back before Dreyfuss and is still alive and kicking.
The walk to the death camps began with one step just as genocide begins with one victim. I do not suppose the readers of my column wrote what they did because they are anti-Semites. I suspect they wrote what they did because sympathy for the tragic circumstance of the Palestinian people has led many informed and decent people in the West to see Israel as a culprit. NPR, my all-time favorite news source, is, I think, guilty of this kind of criticism of Israel. My reading is different. My reading is that the Palestinian people have been failed, time and again, by their own political leadership, that the example of Jordan proves that a better way can be found for Jews and Arabs to live together, and that America’s best interests are served by supporting Israel, not uncritically, but it is tendentious to think our support has been uncritical. And, everyone who touches this subject needs to weigh carefully their word choices, their analogies, their biases. Anti-Semitism does indeed lurk in many Western intellectual closets, some on the right, some on the left, some in the Church. To deny that it is so does not make it so.