Wesley Clark, the retired general and once - and no doubt future - presidential candidate, says the United States is going to attack Iran. How does he know? Well, it's obvious, he told Arianna Huffington, "You just have to read what's in the Israeli press. The Jewish community is divided, but there is so much pressure being channeled from the New York money people to the office seekers."
Clark's comments, predictably, earned him denunciations from Jewish groups. After all, the notion that rich, secretive Jews living in places such as New York are pulling strings to visit war and misery on the masses is a time-honored anti-Semitic cliche heard from Charles Lindbergh, Ignatius Donnelly and "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion."
Of course, groups like the Anti-Defamation League are not hard to offend. When the United Nations group tasked with proposing names for hurricanes suggested "Israel" for one storm a few years ago, the league's national director, Abraham Foxman, went into overdrive denouncing the bigotry of such meteorological nomenclature. So it's not like Foxman and friends could give a pass to an even bigger blowhard - Clark.
In response, the American Prospect's Matthew Yglesias, who is Jewish, led the liberal rescue party, denouncing some of Clark's conservative critics as "moronic" and "hacks" and defending Hurricane Wes on two fronts. First, Yglesias argued, "everything" Clark said "is true," and "everybody knows it's true," so it can't be anti-Semitic. Second, given that Israel's defenders will call any criticism anti-Semitic, there's no point in getting worked up about it.
The first is a rich and fascinating claim. Truth is a defense against slander, but is it a defense against bigotry? Liberals rarely agree when it comes to defending honored members of the coalition of the oppressed. Just ask former Harvard President Lawrence Summers, who questioned whether innate ability explained why few women succeed in math and science and who was defenestrated from Harvard as a sexist for his troubles. And let us not run through the list of people called bigots for pointing to inconvenient facts about blacks, Latinos or gays.
Liberals might respond that facts aren't bigoted but the insensitivity with which they are deployed can be. For instance, when Pat Buchanan infamously wrote that Virginia would have an easier time absorbing a million Englishmen than a million Zulus, few disputed the accuracy of the statement. But the way it was offered grated on sensitive ears (as does Buchanan's predictable embrace of Clark and Yglesias as truth-tellers against Israel's "agents of influence").
This question will have to remain academic because there is scant evidence to back up Yglesias' statement that "major Jewish organizations are trying to push the country into war" with Iran. Neither Clark nor Yglesias offers any. All Yglesias says is that pro-Israel organizations are highlighting the danger posed by a nuclear-armed Iran. It's Yglesias and Clark who infer that such warnings amount to nefarious backroom warmongering by "New York money people." (Yglesias, under fire, later conceded that rich, right-wing Jews "all on their own" couldn't force war.)
What odd logic. Iran-U.S. relations have been hostile since 1979. Iran funds terrorism and foments attacks on our troops in Iraq (and, probably, at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia). It's led by a Holocaust-denying zealot who dreams of Israel's and America's extinction. And Iran is rapidly seeking nuclear weapons. But, ah yes, it's those bagel-eating puppeteers in New York who are driving us to war with their piles of blood money, clever whispering and devious efforts to call attention to the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran. When will those Jews learn?
Are there American Jews who favor military strikes against Iran to prevent it from getting nukes? Of course. But there are also Christians, atheists and perhaps even Muslims who feel likewise. They are all making arguments to support their view, but Yglesias and Clark don't think those arguments are legitimate, so it must be a right-wing Jewish cabal at work.
Which brings us to the claim that (mostly liberal) Jewish groups have worn out the anti-Semitism card with overuse. There's a lot of truth to that. But just as such knee-jerk mau-mauing shouldn't be used to censor people, neither should it justify glib, offensive assertions. Rather, you should simply be careful, both in how you say things and how you marshal facts to bolster your case.
Clark and Yglesias were negligent on both counts. That doesn't make either of them Jew-haters. But it does demonstrate that Clark remains a plodding and confused politician and, more poignantly, that even liberals can be hoisted on the petard of insensitivity.