Neo-McCarthyism

More

The charge of anti-Semitism is starting to lose its force. The reason is that over the past few years it's been applied with less and less discernment, largely by people who want to stigmatize Israel's harsher critics. As Sarah Wildman has noted in the Forward, this is very unfortunate, because there are real anti-Semites in the world, and they benefit when the label they deserve to bear no longer has the power to stigmatize.

Wildman said this six months ago while writing about a slew of smears, such as the attempt to stigmatize the Center for American Progress via half-truths and McCarthyite guilt-by-association. Now there's another example of this neo-McCarthyism, and I'm sorry to say that it appeared on this website.

Armin Rosen, an Atlantic Media fellow, yesterday attacked a writer named Alex Kane, who had recently written a piece critical of Israel for Open Zion, Peter Beinart's blog about Israel at the Daily Beast. Rosen feels that Kane shouldn't be allowed to publish on Open Zion--or, presumably, on any other website that wants to be considered respectable. Why? Was the piece Kane wrote for Open Zion that reprehensible? No, Rosen expresses no criticism of that piece whatsoever. Rather, Rosen says Kane should be banned from Open Zion because he is on the staff of Mondoweiss, a website that, according to Rosen, "often gives the appearance of an anti-Semitic enterprise."

Rosen doesn't adduce a shred of evidence that Kane--the man whose reputation he's trying to besmirch and whose career he's trying to damage--is anti-Semitic. No complaint is filed about anything Kane has ever said or written. Rather, the allegation is just that Kane works for a publication that has featured articles, written by other people, that, in Rosen's judgment, gave off anti-Semitic vibes.

The term for this maneuver is "guilt by association," and it has an unfortunate history in American politics and intellectual life.

This tarring of Kane by virtue of his association with Mondoweiss would be lamentable even if Rosen produced a convincing indictment of Mondoweiss, showing that it indeed evinces anti-Semitism. Does he do so? All I can say is that I clicked on the links to Mondoweiss that Rosen provided and--though I didn't read every single post with utmost care--I did reach a point where I could safely conclude that Rosen has a looser definition of anti-Semitism than I do. (Judge for yourself. The links to pieces by Mondoweiss founder Philip Weiss are here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, and the links to things written by other people are here, here, here, and here.)

Following Rosen's links left intact the vague impression of Mondoweiss that, on the basis of limited exposure, I already had: It is an edgy website that is highly critical of both Israel and Zionism and features a variety of contributors and--inevitably, given that description--publishes things that are outside the bounds of mainstream political discourse, in the sense that you wouldn't find them in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal or on NPR. (And, needless to say, it publishes stuff I don't agree with.) But if those eleven links--some dating back to 2009--are the most damning indictment Rosen can assemble from the many thousands of blog posts Mondoweiss has run in recent years, then I don't see how he concludes that Mondoweiss "often gives the appearance of an anti-Semitic enterprise."

I know good, earnest people who have a looser definition of anti-Semitism than I do, and I'm not saying that everyone who finds any Mondoweiss content obnoxious or offensive does so in bad faith, out of an attempt to silence voices critical of Israel. Still, I do feel that anyone who tries to stigmatize a publication by suggesting that it's anti-Semitic (or racist, or un-American, or whatever) has an obligation to provide clear examples of things in the publication that they definitely consider anti-Semitic and explain exactly how they qualify as anti-Semitic. Rosen doesn't do that. Rather, he lists a bunch of links and paraphrases their content in a way that may or may not suggest evidence of anti-Semitism--and that, moreover, may or may not turn out to accurately represent the content once you click on the links.

Some readers may disagree with me about Mondoweiss, and they're free to express their views in the comments section below. But I want to reiterate that calling Rosen's regrettable piece McCarthyite--as I'm doing--doesn't depend on whether you do or don't think any of those Mondoweiss pieces is beyond the pale. Because the person Rosen attacked--the person whose voice Rosen is trying to silence--didn't write any of those pieces.

It's kind of amazing, when you think about it. You write a piece arguing that a given person shouldn't be allowed to write for respectable publications, and at no point do you make critical reference to anything this person has ever said or written!

I guess by Rosen's logic I am now personally responsible for his article--because, after all, it appeared on the Atlantic's site, and I work for the Atlantic. Well, I'm happy to say I disagree. But maybe my connection to the Atlantic at least entitles me to offer an apology to Alex Kane. He certainly deserves one.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Robert Wright is the author of, most recently, the New York Times bestseller The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic. More

Wright is also a fellow at the New America Foundation and editor in chief of Bloggingheads.tv. His other books include Nonzero, which was named a New York Times Book Review Notable Book in 2000 and included on Fortune magazine's list of the top 75 business books of all-time. Wright's best-selling book The Moral Animal was selected as one of the ten best books of 1994 by The New York Times Book Review.Wright has contributed to The Atlantic for more than 20 years. He has also contributed to a number of the country's other leading magazines and newspapers, including: The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Foreign Policy, The New Republic, Time, and Slate, and the op-ed pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Financial Times. He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award for Essay and Criticism and his books have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

The Time JFK Called the Air Force to Complain About a 'Silly Bastard'

51 years ago, President John F. Kennedy made a very angry phone call.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Global

Just In