The other day I received a blunt, fiery, angry email. It was from an anti-Semite who was mad at me for writing a Scripps Howard News Service column in which I quoted several Orthodox Jews discussing the meaning of repentance and forgiveness in Judaism and, in particular, why they thought that Mel Gibson — if he is a serious Catholic believer of one form or another — was going to need to do more than seek out a few good photo opportunities on a holy day or two.
This ugly letter kind of came out of right field at me, because most of the negative email I received about that particular column came from the Jewish left. Perhaps the writer was just mad, period. Perhaps he would have come out firing with all guns at any column that said the vile language Gibson used was sinful and should lead to repentance, confession and serious efforts at change (the kinds of sacramental efforts that have helped the actor in the past).
But I also have to confess that I was surprised to get a letter from a right-wing, secular anti-Semite. It had been so long since I had been exposed to that particular brand of poison. However, I have been paying attention in recent weeks to some interesting essays that have raised questions about anti-Semites on the left. It seems that some people in the Democratic Party are worried about this and, at the same time, journalists are trying — honest, they are trying — to figure out where anti-Semitism ends and fierce opposition to the actions of the state of Israel begins.
Thus, I have not seen an actual news report on this trend. At the moment, it’s hovering at the level of op-ed columns by unusually candid voices on the left. There is, however, no question about who first put the topic into mainstream print. That would be former Clinton White House counsel Lanny Davis, in his much-quoted Wall Street Journal essay, “Liberal McCarthyism — Bigotry and hate aren’t just for right-wingers anymore.” You see, Davis made the mistake of supporting Joe Lieberman. We all know what that means in the new blogosphere:
Here are just a few examples (there are many, many more anyone with a search engine can find) of the type of thing the liberal blog sites have been posting about Joe Lieberman:
. . . • On “Lieberman vs. Murtha”: “as everybody knows, jews ONLY care about the welfare of other jews; thanks ever so much for reminding everyone of this most salient fact, so that we might better ignore all that jewish propaganda [by Lieberman] about participating in the civil rights movement of the 60s and so on” (by “tomjones,” posted on Daily Kos, Dec. 7, 2005).
• “Good men, Daniel Webster and Faust would attest, sell their souls to the Devil. Is selling your soul to a god any worse? Leiberman cannot escape the religious bond he represents. Hell, his wife’s name is Haggadah or Muffeletta or Diaspora or something you eat at Passover” (by “gerrylong,” posted on the Huffington Post, July 8, 2006).
• “Joe Lieberman is a racist and a religious bigot” (by “greenskeeper,” posted on Daily Kos, Dec. 7, 2005).
And these are some of the nicer examples.
There are, Davis said, veteran Democrats on the traditional left who have begun to worry about their own physical safety, because they do not support some of the hatred that is being spewed on the digital left. These old-guard Democrats find it hard to believe what they are seeing and hearing.
It was no surprise, then, when the gadfly Nat Hentoff took up this theme. After all, Hentoff is a Jew — right?
Hentoff started with Davis and the blogosphere, but then veered into another setting worthy of mainstream coverage.
Similarly, little noted during the pro-Palestinian demonstrations on college campuses around the country is the occasional morphing of anti-Israel hatred into plain classic anti-Semitism. For example, waving in the California sun on a campus was the regret: “Hitler didn’t finish the job!” These are not entirely rare instances. On April 3, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights reported: “Many college campuses throughout the United States continue to experience incidents of anti-Semitism … When severe, persistent or pervasive, this behavior may constitute a hostile environment for students in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“On many campuses,” the commission continues, “anti-Israel or anti-Zionist propaganda has been disseminated that includes age-old anti-Jewish stereotypes … that perpetuate the medieval … blood libel of Jews slaughtering children for ritual purpose … as well as Jews as overly powerful, or conspiratorial.”
Here is my question: Have I missed something? Has there been coverage of this issue in the major newspapers and newsweeklies and I simply missed it? Has anyone seen anything in The New Republic, since that is a crucial forum for these kinds of issues?