On 'Court Jews,' Netanyahu, Dog-Whistling, and Puppet Masters

And then there's the accusation that I'm the "would-be policeman" of Washington discussion on Israel. I understand his motivation for making the charge -- he doesn't like to be criticized by me for what I think are his wrongheaded observations about the Middle East -- but policing? Really? There's no policing going on here -- I often post my opinions about what other people are saying about the Middle East, and I'm often critical in these posts. What Andrew calls policing most other people call blogging. I would only note that, by Andrew's own definition, he "polices" discussions of homophobia, and, from my perspective, more power to him. (By the way, for those of you who don't understand Andrew's seemingly obscure reference to "something much darker," the phrase refers to a Leon Wieseltier piece from 2010 accusing Andrew of being anti-Semitic.)

James Fallows made more substantive points about the "neo-con puppet master" charge, in a post supportive of Maureen:

For what it's worth, I know that the term "puppet-master," which Dowd uses about the likes of Paul Wolfowitz and Dan Senor, fits some anti-Semitic tropes. But it also is a normal part of English that has nothing necessarily to do with anti-Semitism. I remember hearing a college lecture about Iago's role as "puppet-master" of Othello; one biography of J. Edgar Hoover had the title Puppetmaster. As a kid I read a Robert Heinlein sci-fi novel of the same name. The very ugliest term in Dowd's column, the statement that a certain group was "slithering" back into control, was something that Paul Wolfowitz had said about President Obama! No one is identified by religion, Jewish or otherwise, in what Dowd wrote."

Jim's post on the subject brought to mind Jonathan Chait's very smart observation that conservatives seem unable to hear racist dog whistles (when, of course, they're not doing the whistling themselves) and that liberals, conversely, are often unable or unwilling to hear anti-Semitic dog whistles. It is true that Dowd made no mention of the Jewishness of Senor or Wolfowitz. It is also true that Newt Gingrich made no mention of President Obama's race when he referred to him as a "food stamp" president, and yet Jim condemned Gingrich for racist dog-whistling:

...Newt Gingrich knows exactly what he is doing when he calls Obama the "food stamp" president, just as Ronald Reagan knew exactly what he was doing when talking about "welfare Cadillacs." There are lots of other ways to make the point about economic hard times -- entirely apart from which person and which policies are to blame for today's mammoth joblessness, and apart from the fact that Congress sets food stamp policies. You could call him the "pink slip president," the "foreclosure president," the "Walmart president," the "Wall Street president," the "Citibank president," the "bailout president," or any of a dozen other images that convey distress. You decide to go with "the food stamp president," and you're doing it on purpose.

Jim went on to write:

If Joe Lieberman had been elected, I would be wary of attacks on his economic policy that called him "the cunning, tight-fisted president." If Henry Cisneros had or Ken Salazar does, I would notice arguments about ineffectiveness phrased as "the mañana administration."

 (A short, illustrative, story: Several months ago, I wrote about the prevalence racist dog-whistling in the Republican primary campaign for Bloomberg View. A few weeks later, I was at a Bar Mitzvah when the Weekly Standard's Andy Ferguson (whose Bar Mitzvah it wasn't)  manfully admitted that he would be attacking me for my dog-whistling column in the next issue of Commentary. He explained to me his argument, and I made the point that I tend to defer to African-Americans when it comes to deciding what is racist and what is not, in part because as a Jewish person, I don't particularly like it when non-Jews take it upon themselves to define anti-Semitism for me. I believe that as a Jew, I'm qualified to tell what is what -- which doesn't mean, of course, that all Jews will agree with me. So, I explained to Andy, it seems only right that blacks should be granted the autonomy to decide what isn't racist, gays should be granted autonomy to define homophobia, and so on. Andy nodded in agreement, and said he understood my point. He attacked me anyway, but, whatever.)

There's no doubt in mind that the term neocon is very often used as a dog-whistle by people who are signalling their distaste for Jews, or at least their distaste for Jews with political power. And there's no doubt in my mind that accusing Jews of puppet-mastering goyim is an ancient anti-Semitic trope. Combine them, and you're entering into nasty territory (which doesn't mean, of course, I think Maureen did it advertently).

Why do I say that "neocon" is often used as an anti-Semitic dog-whistle? Because anti-Semites of the hard left and the extreme right have long made the connection between Jews and neoconservatism hyper-explicit. In non-polite company, "neoconservatism" is openly synonymous with "traitorous Jew." In semi-polite company, where it is preferable to speak in deniable code, the connection between Jews and neoconservatism is signaled through dog whistles.

The left-wing activist Kalle Lasn, founder of Adbusters magazine, and the Occupy movement, made the connection clear in an infamous 2004 article entitled, "Why Won't Anyone Say They Are Jewish?" Lasn, in the style of John Mearsheimer and Fred Malek, who are famous for cataloguing Jews, made a list of people he identified as Jewish neoconservatives for his readers. This is how he introduced the subject:

Drawing attention to the Jewishness of the neocons is a tricky game. Anyone who does so can count on automatically being smeared as an anti-Semite....Here at Adbusters, we decided to tackle the issue head on and came up with a carefully researched list of who appear to be the 50 most influential neocons in the U.S. (see above). Deciding exactly who is a neocon is difficult since some neocons reject the term while others embrace it. Some shape policy from within the White House, while others are more peripheral, exacting influence indirectly as journalists, academics and think tank policy wonks. What they all share is the view that the U.S. is a benevolent hyper power that must protect itself by reshaping the rest of the world into its morally superior image. And half of them are Jewish.

(My favorite part of this was Lasn's use of the word "smear" to describe what happens to people who make public lists of Jews they despise.)

This article heavily influenced the discourse about neoconservatives on the far-left and far-right (which tend to agree on subjects including "Jewish power," the "Jewish lobby," Israel and Zionism.) Please see here and herehere, here, and here, for other extremist articles on the tight connection between Jews and neoconservatism. (I have links to a lot more, which I can post if there is sufficient demand, though I don't like linking to hate sites.)  Michael Lind, in an influential article in 2003, established the link between Jews and the hated ideology of neoconservatism with a bit more politesse:

Most neoconservative defense intellectuals have their roots on the left, not the right. They are products of the influential Jewish-American sector of the Trotskyist movement of the 1930s and 1940s, which morphed into anti-communist liberalism between the 1950s and 1970s and finally into a kind of militaristic and imperial right with no precedents in American culture or political history. Their admiration for the Israeli Likud party's tactics, including preventive warfare such as Israel's 1981 raid on Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor, is mixed with odd bursts of ideological enthusiasm for "democracy." They call their revolutionary ideology "Wilsonianism" (after President Woodrow Wilson), but it is really Trotsky's theory of the permanent revolution mingled with the far-right Likud strain of Zionism. Genuine American Wilsonians believe in self-determination for people such as the Palestinians."

Now combine "neocon" with "puppet master," and you get a euphemism for malevolent Jewish power that approaches "international banker" and "rootless cosmopolitan" in potency. Jim is right, of course, to say that "puppet master" is a popular term in the wider culture. But it is true that anti-Semites and their fellow travelers -- Glenn Beck comes to mind -- often use puppet masters to describe powerful Jews (Beck, apropos Jon Chait's point, was roundly condemned for anti-Semitism for using the term, including by yours truly.)

Presented by

Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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