Scott McConnell writes: The neoconservative decison to charge that Chuck Hagel is an anti-Semite strikes me as a tactical blunder — a decision grounded in the idea that since they can’t defeat the nominee on the issues, their better option was to try to assassinate Hagel’s character, presumed to be one of his greatest strengths. Such accusations raise the temperature around the nomination, with consequences difficult to foresee. But just as anti-Semitism is a blight, so are false accusations of it. Peter Beinart has perceptively noted that no one in America ever pays a penalty for falsely maligning someone as an anti-Semite. This may be true today, but like all social rules, it is subject to renegotiation.
Ali Gharib at Open Zion has done a superb job deconstructing the evidence, or, I should say, “evidence,” on which the charge is based: leaders of the Nebraska Jewish community who are alleged to think that Hagel has a Jewish problem deny there is anything of the sort. Hagel may not always have acted like Alfonse D’Amato in his attending to them, but really, why should he?
Since we know that genuine anti-Semitism has deep social and psychic roots in Western societies, it shouldn’t be surprising that the leveling of false anti-Semitism charges for political ends also has contours worth exploring. Quite unexpectedly, the Hagel nomination is opening a rich vein for their study. One thing one finds is that those who are quick to deploy false charges of anti-Semitism have begun to take on traits historically associated with bigoted paranoia.
Take for example the Wall Street Journal‘s Bret Stephens, the first to play the anti-Semitism card against Hagel. Last month he notoriously wrote, “Prejudice—like cooking, winetasting, and other consummations has an olfactory element. [With] Chuck Hagel…the odor is especially ripe.” Beinart and others have deconstructed Stephens’s charge, the centerpiece of which is that Hagel, in an interview, used the term “Jewish lobby” instead of “Israel lobby.” But connoisseurs of literary criticism may notice an eerie parallel to Stephens’ toxic paragraph. If evidence of Hagel’s anti-Semitism cannot be substantiated by facts or logic, it can nonetheless be smelled. It’s as if Stephens is seeking to transport us back to the world of Marcel Proust and the Dreyfus Affair, where the anti-Dreyfusards (the anti-Semitic precursors of French fascism, and, via Theodore Herzl, a propellant fuel for the birth of Zionism) were confident they could smell the Jew, an outsider even when an habitué of the best salons of Paris. Only, of course, Stephens has reversed the roles, as it is he who smells Hagel. [Continue reading…]