With friends like these …


 Lee Smith wrote a sloppy piece at The Tablet on the role of the blogosphere in perpetuating anti-Semitism.

The NJ Jewish News’ Andrew Silow-Carroll has the best takedown here, and not just because he flatters me — Smith essentially conflates commenters with bloggers, rendering his arguments meaningless:

Is Smith calling for a more vigorous culling of the comments sections to weed out the most hateful invective? In part. Is he accusing each of the writers of sharing and sympathizing with the kind of hate espoused by their commenters? He does and he doesn’t — he’s pretty sloppy about distinguishing between what the bloggers write and how the nut-jobs respond. There is an interesting question here about how responsible any pundit is for the audience he or she attracts (a question running through the debate over the Tea Party and racism), but Smith isn’t interested in a debate.

To make a meta-point, Smith’s piece almost immediately incurred the wrath of Israel critics in the comments section, with some sliding over into anti-Semitism — does that now put Smith in the company of anti-Semites?

Of the bloggers Smith highlights, I’d say only Phil Weiss fits the Abe Foxman definition of anti-Semite, as someone who gets up in the morning and plans a day that includes harming Jews. The others — Stephen Walt, Glenn Greenwald, Andrew Sullivan, Jim Lobe — are by no means anti-Semites. (UPDATE: I’m applying Abe’s definition here, but the assessments are mine — I’m not sure he would agree with any or all of my characterizations.)

I’ve shot barbs at most of those Smith cites, but because they’re guilty of unwittingly mining anti-Semitic tropes available to them in the culture.  David Bernstein of the Volokh Conspiracy put it best, and I’ll quote him again:

There is a reason why some critics of Israel (some of whom I’ve discussed in this blog) are tempted to use venomous rhetoric against Israel and its supporters that sometimes crosses the line, to various degrees, into hostility to Jews, even if they are personally not only not anti-Semitic, but find it repulsive.   And that is that such rhetoric works.  Arguments based on pure reason are often less successful than arguments that provide reasoned arguments but also appeal to the emotions.  Our civilization has a two thousand year old reservoir of anti-Jewish sentiment that is part of our societal DNA, and appealing to that cultural baggage, even if it’s just latent, makes anti-Israel arguments more powerful and persuasive.   Being anti-Israel doesn’t make one anti-Semitic, but appealing to anti-Semitism does make it easier to persuade people to be anti-Israel.  The very effectiveness of appealing to societal anti-Semitism in criticizing Israel is good reason to avoid it, but also the reason it’s all too common.

What infuriates me about this lot is not that they’re anti-Semites, but that they steadfastly refuse to consider evidence that they have unwittingly indulged in anti-Semitism, and instead ignore evidence-based arguments or dismiss them as smears. (I’ll risk my own stereotyping here and suggest that it’s not a coincidence that they’re all men.) 

Now Lee Smith has indeed smeared them, and they and their sympathizers are having a heyday. I can’t say I blame them.

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