I’ve been harshly critical of Juan Cole in the past; indeed, I don’t recall ever saying anything nice about him. He’s obviously a sharp and knowledgeable analyst of Middle Eastern affairs, but I doubt his moral compass points true north. His embrace of the Wald-Mearshimer “Israel Lobby” paper certainly doesn’t make me think any better of him.
But none of that is justification for making false charges of anti-Semitism against Cole, as Michael Oren of Yale seems to have done, with the Wall Street Journal’s John Fund serving as his mouthpiece:
Mr. Cole says that he is often unfairly attacked for being anti-Semitic, when in reality he claims he is only critical of Israeli policy. But Michael Oren, a visiting fellow at Yale, notes that in February 2003 Mr. Cole wrote on his blog that “Apparently [President Bush] has fallen for a line from the neo-cons in his administration that they can deliver the Jewish vote to him in 2004 if only he kisses Sharon’s ass.” Mr. Oren says “clearly that’s anti-Semitism; that’s not a criticism of Israeli policy.” (Exit polls showed that 74% of the Jewish vote went to John Kerry.)
What, pray tell, is anti-Semitic about Cole’s comment? He asserts that “neo-cons” convinced Bush that excessively pro-Israel policies would deliver the Jewish vote. If that argument had in fact been made and Bush had in fact believed it, I don’t see how that would reflect badly on American Jews, or (as Oren notes) on Israel. The charge, if true, reflects badly on George W. Bush for (as Cole thinks) having made bad foreign policy decisions for reasons of domestic politics.
Now it’s entirely possible that Cole was being unfair to Bush; perhaps the Administration’s decision to support Sharon’s hard line came from Bush’s own admiration for Sharon or for Israel, from hostility to the Palestinians and their leadership, from strategic considerations, or even from millenarian fantasies. But unfairness to Bush is a long way from anti-Semitism; George W. Bush isn’t (thanks to the mercy of HaShem) Jewish. (And, as my Uncle Joe would have said, he certainly has a goyische kopf.)
In my view, the details of Cole’s analysis don’t make much sense; it was never plausible that a majority of Jews would vote for Bush, and Bush (and Rove) must have known that. But it’s not at all far-fetched to believe that Bush or his advisers were convinced that cozying up to Sharon would divert substantial chunks of Jewish political money — which comes disproportionatly from peole somewhat more conservative and more passionately Zionist than the Jewish electorate as a whole — from Democratic coffers into Republican coffers, and perhaps that it would increase the Republican share of the Jewish vote and decrease turnout among Jewish Democrats.
And there’s no reason to doubt that the tactic worked, to some extent; some Jews feel very deeply about Israeli security, and identify with the Likud approach to achieving it, and if the Republicans get a chunk of that vote it’s a larger chunk of the Jewish vote than would otherwise be available to them. Republicans have been playing the Israel card against Democrats at least since 1972; any time a Democratic politician fails to spit on the nearest Arab, we hear about it, in tones of shocked horror, from the likes of the Jewish Republican Coalition.
But even putting all that aside, Cole was guilty at worst of an unfair attack on the President and his neo-con advisers, not of anti-Semitism.
This isn’t a case where you need to do background research to see that a false charge is being made; it’s simply the case that Cole’s words, as reported by Oren via Fund, don’t support the accusation that Oren makes and Fund echoes.
Anti-Semitism is like rape; it’s a charge so devastating to the reputation of the accused that it takes a high level of scoundrelism to make it falsely. It’s not really a surprise that John Fund is willing to play Al Sharpton to Michael Oren’s Tawana Brawley, but it’s still pretty disgusting. And it’s the particular responsibility of those of us who differ with Juan Cole’s views and have been critical of him in the past to denounce this sort of scurrilous attack.
Footnote Speaking of anti-Semitism, check out this rant by Dennis Prager, published on the Jewish Republican Coalition website. Any non-Jew who said anything similar would surely be called anti-Semitic, and with good reason:
Despite their secularism, Jews may be the most religious ethnic group in the world. The problem is that their religion is rarely Judaism; rather it is every “ism” of the Left. These include liberalism, socialism, feminism, Marxism and environmentalism. Jews involved in these movements believe in them with the same ideological fervor and same suspension of critical reason with which many religious people believe in their religion. It is therefore usually as hard to shake a liberal Jew’s belief in the Left and in the Democratic Party as it is to shake an evangelical Christian’s belief in Christianity.
This reminds me of Richard John Neuhaus’s explanation that the anti-Semitism of the right doesn’t emanate from any dislike of Jews as Jews; it’s merely that Jews are disproportionately liberal, and that the (fully justified, in Fr. Neuhaus’s view) hatred of liberals tends to spill over onto Jews generally. Prager is so disgusted by the fact that most of his co-ethnics part company with him theologically (doubting, for example, the literal truth of the Exodus, which in Prager’s view means we should stop celebrating Passover) and politically that he has begun to develop anti-Jewish sentiments of his own. Perhaps Prager should consider converting to Christianity. But that would be too much to hope for.