The issues involved in the war of words between author Gore Vidal and editor Norman Podhoretz are of the greatest import. The latter charged in a syndicated article that Vidal’s piece in the Nation [both articles were described in the May 19, 1986 issue of the Washington Report] was “perhaps the most blatantly anti-Semitic article to have appeared in a respectable American periodical since World War If.” This allegation points up the vital difference between what must be considered “anti-Semitic” and what “antiZionist,” a basic distinction fundamentally affecting public understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The biting, mocking Vidal article claimed that pro-Israel lobbyists, including the American Jewish Committee, the employers of Podhoretz, “make common cause with the lunatic fringe” to frighten Americans into spending enormous sums of money for defense against the Soviet Union and for the support of Israel. Podhoretz and his wife, Midge Decter, Vidal insisted, were more interested in Israel than in this country. This may be anti-Podhoretz, anti-Decter, anti-Conservative, even anti-Israel, but it is certainly not antiSemitic.
An implication of dual loyalty is no proof of anti-Semitic intent. Unfortunately, many Jews themselves confuse their allegiances to religion and state and hence the word “Jew” has become widely used to denote simultaneously a universal faith and a particular nationality.
No one but the most irrational would deny that there are bigots and haters, that there was a Nazi Germany whose unpardeled genocide still stings the conscience of Man, and that there is still anti-Semitism. The latter is only one of an infinite number of prejudices that ought to be eradicated. However, Podhoretz and other neo-Conservatives are using the existence of this sociological phenomenon to suppress any and all criticism of the Israeli state, the multi-fold Zionist organizations, and their actions.
Anti-Zionism Is Not Anti-Semitism
Anti-Zionism should not be equated with anti-Semitism, the racist ideology directed against Jews as Jews. Nor should Zionism, the political movement established to reconstitute Jews as a nation, be equated with Judaism, the universal faith which knows no national boundaries and constitutes a relationship between man and God, requiring no political loyalty to any country.
While it has little bearing on the substance of the political discussion in the U.S., the words “anti-Semitism” and “anti-Semitic” are, in fact, semantic misnomers. Jews constitute no more than 10 percent of the world’s Semites. The overwhelming majority of Semites are Arabs. Furthermore, most Jews today could not trace their ancestry back to the Holy Land and, therefore, are not true Semites at all. Ninety percent of the world’s Jews are descended from converts to Judaism, mostly the Khazars in what is now the southern USSR. The Khazars accepted Judaism as their monotheistic faith. They did not have the remotest connection with the Semites of the Holy Land.
Notwithstanding, the mere interjection of the label “anti-Semite” halts discussion, mutes doubt and crushes debate on Middle East policy. In fact, nothing has accounted more for the success of Zionism and Israelism in the Western world than the skillful attack on the soft underbelly of world opinion–“Mr. Decent Man’s” total repugnance toward anti-Semitism. The charge of this bias, bringing forth the spectre of Nazi Germany, so totally pulverizes the average Christian that, by contrast, calling him a Communist is a pleasant epithet.
Even the full-blooded Semite, the Arab, absurd as it may be, finds it difficult to defend himself against this charge. The January 1978 Jerusalem peace talks were disrupted when Prime Minister Begin hurled accusations of “anti-Semitism” at President Sadat and Egyptian Foreign Minister Fahmy.
The emotional reaction engendered by Nazi genocide has given rise to an Eleventh Commandment, “Thou shalt not be anti-Semitic,” and to a corollary Twelfth Commandment, “Thou shalt be anti-anti-Semitic.” No Christian wishes to run afoul of these 20th century supplements to the interdictions brought back by Moses from Mt. Sinai.
Renowned Harvard sociologist Dr. David Reisman once wrote in the Jewish Newsletter:
The Zionists can muster not merely the threat of the Jewish vote and the no-less important Jewish financial and organizational skills, but also the blackmail of attacking anyone who opposes their political aims for Israel, as antiSemitic.
For writing that “it is a sign of mediocrity in people when they herd together,” Boris Pasternak, the author of Dr. Zhivago, was immediately stigmatized by responsible Zionists, including then-Prime Minister David Ben Gurion of Israel, as an anti-Semitic Jew.
Beyond the Eleventh Commandment
Podhoretz is not alone in asserting that Jews in America and elsewhere can accept two nationalisms. Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer sharply criticized Pope John Paul in April of this year for not recognizing Israel. Krautharnmer spelled out what Podhoretz has implied in Commentary and elsewhere for many years: “Israel is the central reality of Jewish life today … it is now the hinge of Jewish life and hope … Israel is what is most dear to the Jew.” Rarely has any Zionist proponent publicly exposed the Jewish duality so bluntly. In the past such references to the Jewish dichotomy have come from anti-Semites and bigots.
If the 1948 creation of Israel altered, as some claim, the status of the Jew and gave him citizenship in a worldwide nation, the American people may not accept this metamorphosis. Any group of people may achieve something of a separate identity merely by believing they belong together. American tolerance toward separatism ceases, however, when group thought and group action run counter to the mores and interests of the country in which they live. Spying for Israel in the United States by a Jewish American, Jonathan Jay Pollard, and the Israeli attack on an American Navy ship, the USS Liberty, are two obvious cases in point. If the political problems of Israel become the political responsibility of American Jews, disaster will eventually follow.
Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust can for a time be exploited to obscure the realities and complexities of the Middle East problem. But in the long run this can prove disastrous. If American policy for the Middle East can be manipulated solely by raising the specter of a man who died 41 years ago in a bunker in Berlin, and with total disregard for those who are dying every day in the Middle East, we all, American Jews and Gentiles alike, are in deep trouble.
Dr. Alfred M. Lilienthal is the author of The Zionist Connection, What Price Israel? and other major works.