July 16, 2008
Apparently some of my friends who identify themselves with the Right, that is to say, Scott McConnell and Justin Raimondo, have come to the aid of Time contributor and liberal media superstar Joe Klein. Recently Klein scolded the neoconservatives for having incited the war in Iraq and for their excessive Zionist zeal. Because of his stepping out of line, Klein has suffered reprisals, namely, a “menacing” letter from Abe Foxman (thus Justin and Scott have described the slap across the wrist administered by ADL’s chief windbag) and an “indefinite vacation leave” from his gig at Time magazine. These heavy penalties have been inflicted on someone who is supposedly a man of character, one whom we are urged to stand by during his present ordeal. This ordeal, as far as I can make out, consists of spending the month of July lounging on the beach.
I personally don”t give a damn what happens to Klein, an odious big-government leftist, who has consistently supported social engineering, affirmative action, feticide, gay rights, the blurring of gender distinctions”and just about every other oddity in our present media-shaped political culture. Why should I rally to a plutocratic leftist who has spent decades networking incestuously with others of his kind, in order to advance a career that no one on this website would ever be allowed to achieve, by any means short of the equivalent of the Bolshevik Revolution?
If my enemies are fighting each other, then this should be regarded as a pleasure to be savored rather than as a call to throw in my unnoticed weight behind one of the ruffians. It is doubtful that Klein will be living on food stamps because of his remarks about his fellow-Jewish liberal Joe Lieberman or the editors of Commentary magazine. Who wants to bet that Klein will continue to pull in millions of dollars for uttering liberal banalities on network TV! Only a fool could believe that his antiwar comments and implied criticism of the Israel lobby will spell the end of his journalistic career.
There are at least three reasons that being against Israel looms important for some of my friends on the right. One, it is a way of thumbing one’s nose at neocons and their lackeys, who have turned unconditional support for the Israeli Right into a litmus test for who is a conservative as opposed to who is an anti-Semite. Rightists are justified in being unhappy about this highly successful outrage, one that has been used to discredit serious people of the Right while bestowing “conservative” legitimacy on the likes of Christopher Hitchens and Joe Lieberman.
Two, there are aspects of Israel’s relation to the Americans and the Palestinians that a thinking person might find worthy of critical remark. The organized Israel lobby in the U.S. is so uniformly obnoxious and strident that it is easy to understand how revulsion for Israel’s American advocates might rub off on the Israelis themselves. Moreover, Israeli governments and Zionist advocates in the U.S. and Europe have persistently stonewalled about the Palestinians who were driven from their homes in 1948. For years the only explanation we received from authorized friends of Israel as to why so many Palestinians had been displaced is that “Arab leaders had told them to go.” Little or no recognition was given to the manner in which Palestinians had actually been expelled.
Nor was proper attention paid in Jerusalem or Washington to the Israelis” sinking of the U.S. Liberty, a ship that had wandered too close to then Israeli-held territory near El Arish, on June 8, 1967. Some of the surviving crew had questioned the Israeli account for why the vessel had been torpedoed, a disaster that had resulted in the killing of 34 and the wounding of 173 American sailors. The survivors had trouble believing the Israeli account of what had happened, namely that Israel’s forces had mistaken the American ship for a hostile Egyptian one. Others on the right have also complained about an unsettling lack of interest on the part of our government when it comes to the operation of Israeli intelligence in the U.S. This complaint became especially plausible, when the Israelis twenty years ago were complicit in suborning an American Jewish government official Jason Pollard. This spy, an outspoken Zionist, not only provided Israeli intelligence with more than 800 classified documents but also might have handed secrets over to Soviet spies.
One could of course multiply such cases—and not because the Israelis have an especially unfriendly or tyrannical government. Compared to most of their neighbors, their regime looks positively angelic; and in terms of the protection of civil liberties, I would feel much safer in Israel today than I would in any of the politically correct “democracies” in Western and Central Europe. The problem is that the U.S. cuts the Israelis a better deal than it does any other country, in terms of foreign aid and favorable treatment, and therefore the complaint that we don”t do enough for Israel or that Israel should be immune from the types of criticisms made about other countries is bound to grate.
And if one factors in here the stirring up of misplaced Christian guilt for the Holocaust engaged in by AIPAC and the ADL and the often hysterically leftist stands on social issues taken by Foxman, Dershowitz and other prominent Zionist advocates, it is easy to understand why elements of the Old Right, however intemperately, have become angry at Israel. They are venting their bile on the American Israeli lobby and on the politicians it has in its pockets by going after the Jewish state. It is also clearly understandable that some rightists cannot think about Israel without thinking about the neoconservatives. That is the unchanging focal point of the foreign policy interests of those who have driven the Old Right out of the conservative movement. Although Israelis should not be held directly accountable for their militant supporters in the US, that distinction is sometimes hard to draw, and particularly for those who have spent their lives battling the neoconservatives in vain.
Three, at least some of the impassioned anti-Israeli zealots associated with the American Right (and here I would exclude those of an older generation like Pat Buchanan and Taki who have well-established careers and alliance networks) may be trying to win friends and influence people on the left. There is nothing intrinsically conservative about steadily supporting the Palestinian resistance or about blaming the clashes between the two sides exclusively on the Israeli state. Most of my leftist academic colleagues, like the European multicultural Left and American black nationalists, are pro-Palestinian; and one obvious concern neocon academic organizations have expressed is the need to defend “academic freedom” against pro-Palestinian and antiwar professors. Those rightists who have championed the Palestinians and castigate the Israelis are not taking any kind of anti-leftist stand, any more than does Joe Klein when he mimics the rhetoric of moveon.org. Note I”m not expressing here the slightest sympathy for neocon propaganda efforts. I am simply stressing that being for the Palestinians against the Israelis and opposing the war in Iraq do not add up to a conservative position. Rather they are views that a person with a right-of-center background might want to publicize in order to build up useful friendships on the left.
Needless to say, I don”t believe such gestures will get anyone on the right anywhere with the left, for the reasons Tom Piatak has given on this website and elsewhere. The journalistic Left hates the real Right far more than it does the neocons, and next to the social gulf separating the liberal Left and the authentic Right, the Middle Eastern question pales into triviality. New York Times and the Washington Post are delighted to have pro-war and Zionistic neocons filling their editorial pages with bellicose commentary. It’s Old Right columnists, whether or not they stand with the Palestinians or with moveon.org on the war, whom the liberal establishment wants no part of. It is therefore bizarre that some putative paleos could imagine that Joe Klein is in any sense their ally.
Let me also stress that one’s position on Israel should not be a matter of the first order for the Right. It is impossible for me to think that anyone who is really on the right does not believe in traditional gender roles and in ending federal anti-discrimination laws. But quite conceivably rightists could disagree about the degrees of blame that should be assigned in certain foreign wars, e.g., in the ongoing conflicts between the Israelis and Palestinians or between the Greeks and the Turks. Disagreeing about the merits or demerits of foreign nations does not threaten a coherent rightist worldview in the US or subvert its pursuit by dedicated men and women of the Right. What does muddy the water is having an anti-Israeli fixation turned into the very cornerstone of the Right—or what is conventionally called conservatism. Beating up on the Israelis and cheering on leftists when they join this slugfest has become the highest human activity for some of my friends, and one to which they happily subordinate all other social and moral commitments. This kind of fixation serves as the counterpart to the neoconservative equation of Zionism with conservatism, and it may hurt our side gravely if it causes an undue stress on what for the Right should be non-essential issues.
Some of the contributors to this website are more pro-Central European than Anglophile, while others hold to the opposite position, and often in both cases for family reasons. I also have colleagues on the right with whom I disagree fundamentally on Middle Eastern questions but with whom I nonetheless see eye-to-eye on other matters. It is a testimony to the resonance of these other issues that I am on good terms with these comrades-in-arms but not with the pro-Zionist neoconservatives.
Unfortunately this is not my relation to the impassioned anti-Zionists and apologists for the Palestinians and their Islamic revolutionary defenders, who are now associated with the Right. Here what should be seen as extraneous or even characteristically leftist opinions have been allowed to overshadow other, for the Right, more relevant questions. Indeed these partisans spend every day raging against Israel’s “anti-democratic” behavior and against our wicked war against Iraqi Muslim freedom-fighters. For these people, lamenting nonstop the plight of oppressed Palestinians, the nastiness of the Israelis, and the suffering of anti-American Iraqis are the litmus test of political decency and the proof of one’s right-wing credentials. What this may mean (and here I shall be blunt even if my judgment is not likely to cause surprise) is that a substitution is taking place, a desperate, continuing attempt to identify the Right with far leftist sensibilities.