I get a lot of anti-Semitic email. A lot. I also get a lot of anti-Israel email. They don't all overlap.
An amazingly high share of both camps have a habit of saying something to the effect of "I know that you're going to call me anti-Semitic, but that's all you people do and I'm going to tell the truth no matter what."
The reason this sort of argument is so frustrating is that it's got more than a grain of truth to it. Groups like the Anti-Defamation League are sometimes so keen to declare anything inconvenient to Israel or offensive to liberal Jewish sensibilities as "anti-Semitic" that they often bypass more convincing counterarguments and lessen the currency of the charge.
For instance, when Abe Foxman, head of the ADL, denounced naming a hurricane "Israel" because it was anti-Semitic, he may have been right that it was a bad idea - Israel has enough bad P.R. without its namesake wiping out a South American village - but it was hardly a good example of anti-Semitism.
That's what has bothered me so much about the recent controversy over Senator Fritz Hollings', D-S.C., effort to blame the Jews for the Iraq war. Hollings may or may not be anti-Semitic, but he's almost certainly a fool. Rather than get bogged down in his unknowable motivations, why not deal with his arguments first?
Earlier this month, Hollings penned a silly column asserting that the president went to war with Iraq to win the Jewish vote. America, he wrote, "went to war in Iraq to defend Israel and please American Jews." Bush "came to office with one thought - re-election," and "spreading democracy in the Mideast to secure Israel would take the Jewish vote from the Democrats."
Now Foxman may be right when he says, "This is reminiscent of age-old, anti-Semitic canards about a Jewish conspiracy to control and manipulate government." But while it's not easy to prove Hollings hates Jews, it is easy to prove he's a buffoon.
First of all, if Hollings is right, then all of the other nutso conspiracy theories, many of which he's peddled - about Halliburton, Bush's desire for vengeance for his father's sake, distracting voters from the economy, boosting his poll numbers - are wrong.
More important, the notion that Bush and Karl Rove are pinning their reelection hopes on winning 10 percent or 20 percent of the Jewish vote by getting America embroiled in a risky, dangerous and costly war is batty.
Jews comprise only 4 percent of the national electorate and they're mostly in safely Democratic states. Yes, they're in some swing states like Ohio, Florida and Missouri, but - again - nobody thinks going after the Jewish vote in these states passes the cost-benefit test.
Indeed, most of Bush's informed and savvy detractors understand that Bush and Rove aren't very interested in the Jewish vote. They are, however, interested in Jewish money.
I think Bush is sincere in his support of Israel, but it's not lost on him that Democrats raise a lot of money from pro-Israel Jews. That's why we've seen Kerry racing to sound just as pro-Israel as Bush lately.
Hollings should know all of this, especially considering his own fundraising experience. He raised 66 percent of his money from outside South Carolina in his last campaign.
Hollings claims he can prove he's right about the war by providing quotes from Jews who supported spreading democracy in the Middle East or toppling Saddam to bolster Israel's security.
I'm sure such quotes are available, but so what? How does that demonstrate Bush's motives? There's no evidence that he - or Karl Rove or Dick Cheney or anyone else including Paul Wolfowitz - were motivated by Israel's interests instead of America's.
In fact, the only politician I know of who admitted to that motive was Hollings. "The truth is," he declared on the Senate floor in 2003, "I thought . we were going in this time for our little friend Israel. Instead of them being blamed, we could finish up what Desert Storm had left undone; namely, getting rid of Saddam and getting rid of (his) nuclear (weapons) at the same time."
If the Iraq war had been a smashing success, I somehow doubt Hollings would be giving the Jews credit for his pro-war vote, instead of the blame. So, if there's evidence that Hollings is anti-Semitic, it's not that he blamed Israel, it's that he blamed his "little friend" Israel only when he needed a scapegoat.