Numerous commentators have condemned the McCain campaign's despicable -- and patently false -- attack on Professor Rashid Khalidi as an "anti-Semite," deployed in order, yet again, to insinuate that Barack Obama is an American-hating, Muslim/Arab radical. Even Fred Hiatt's Washington Post Editorial Page this morning called McCain's comments about Khalidi "a vile smear," "simply ludicrous," and "itself condemnable," and favorably cited Khalidi's response when asked by The Post if he wanted to address the controversy: "I will stick to my policy of letting this idiot wind blow over."
It's true, as those commentators point out, that this episode is just the latest in the McCain campaign's increasingly desperate (and laughably inept) attempt to win by sinking lower and lower into McCarthyite muck. But it goes far beyond just the McCain campaign. The neoconservative Right has been doing exactly this for a long time -- playing frivolous games with the "anti-semitism" accusation, casually tossing it at anyone who utters any criticism of Israel or who advocates some even-handed approach to Israel's conflicts with its various enemies. As Joe Klein said yesterday:
Here we have the McCain campaign's execrable Michael Goldfarb slinging around accusations of anti-semitism--a favorite pastime, as we've seen this year, among Jewish neoconservatives. . . . I'd say that if we have a bigot here, it's Mr. Goldfarb who, if he's intent on calling people antisemitic--or any other epithet--should be required to provide chapter and verse, which he does not do on CNN. (I'd also like to know on what basis CNN's Rick Sanchez can stipulate that Khalidi is antisemitic.)
To put it mildly, there are many profound flaws with Joe Klein as a pundit and, unlike others, I'm not impressed by his vocal support for Obama this year. There are many former Beltway Bush enablers with their wet fingers in the air who have undergone similar transformations, who will, I fully expect, return to form once circumstances change. Needless to say, I take a backseat to nobody in criticizing Klein, but on this topic, I am impressed with what Klein has done and he deserves a lot of credit.
Although he began doing so a bit later than one might argue he should have, Klein really became the first person in a venue as establishment-serving as Time Magazine to explicitly criticize neocons for their Israel-centric fixations and, much more importantly, for their disgusting exploitation of "anti-semitism" accusations against anyone and everyone who disagrees with their views on the Israel-Palestinian conflict and, more generally, on the Middle East.
Having someone like Klein, in a place like Time, make those arguments without punishment is highly threatening to the neocons' ability to continue to intimidate people away from expressing divergent views by wielding "anti-semitism" accusations. And they know that it is threatening, which is why, once Klein began doing it, they engaged in a full-court swarm to attack and demonize Klein and even insinuate that he should and would be fired for his transgressions on the topic of neocons and Israel. The ADL formally condemned Klein, and National Review's Peter Wehner predicted/hoped/threatened:
For those who have been watching Joe Klein v. well, lots of people, here's the latest. It’s like watching a movie that you now know is going to end very badly, and very sadly.
Had it been 2003, Wehner probably would have been right. But it didn't end "badly" or "sadly" for Klein. Quite the contrary, he continued criticizing neocons at least as aggressively and unapologetically -- actually, even more so -- and not only was he undeterred by the standard neocon "anti-semitism" rants, he became increasingly defiant in his refusal to suppress his critiques.
Herein lies the great irony of the neocons' reckless and manipulative politicization of the "anti-semitism" accusation. It was once cliché that "anti-semitism" was the most radioactive accusation that could be made against someone, the Nuclear Bomb of political discourse. A central purpose of the ADL was to prevent the accusation and related issues from becoming "trivialized."
But the anti-semitism accusation has now become so overused, so blatantly exploited, and so recklessly tossed about that it has largely lost its sting. And nobody has done more to trivialize actual anti-semitism than the neocons and other assorted right-wing polemicists who indiscriminately use it as a club to beat anyone over the head who deviates from their dictates when it comes to Israel and other Middle Eastern policy issues -- from Jimmy Carter when he published his book on the Israel-Palestinian conflict to Jim Baker when the Iraq Study Group report was released. And it's perfectly natural that one of the most transparent abuses of the charge -- the McCain camp's attack on Khalidi -- came on CNN yesterday from McCain campaign spokesman Michael Goldfarb, a protegeé of Bill Kristol on loan from The Weekly Standard.
The serious pushback against the attacks on Rashid Khalidi is a welcomed sight. In Khalidi's case, the charges of "anti-semitism" are even more disgusting than the normal neocon exploitation, since it's occurring in the last week of a presidential campaign and, as Scott Horton pointed out, is so plainly grounded primarily in the politically useful fact that Khalidi is a Palestinian-American. The anti-semitism accusation is not just manipulative; it itself is bigotry of the highest order.
But this episode illustrates what neocons have been doing for years and, more significantly, signals that the efficacy of this tactic is finally coming to an end. Open debates about U.S. policy towards Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are vital, and people should be able to engage in those debates and be able to take legitimate positions, as Professor Khalidi has plainly done, without hordes of right-wing manipulators swarming on them with anti-semitism accusations.
Scott McConnell, editor of The American Conservative, this week wrote that he was voting for Barack Obama, principally because "John McCain wants to bring [neoconservatives] back, in triumph, on horseback." That's exactly right. The McCain campaign's repulsive McCarthyite tactics of the last several weeks are the hallmark of neoconservatives. That is who will be empowered in a McCain administration. Regardless of one's views of Obama, no other reason is necessary for strongly preferring McCain's defeat. It will be an important step not only to ending the neocons' policies (as McConnell says, "Unlike John McCain, [Obama] won’t try to bomb his way out of the mess"), but at least as importantly, also their lowly, toxic political tactics, so nauseatingly on display by the McCain campaign over the past several weeks.