A Reminder That Anti-Semitism Has No Place in Debates Over Israel

The consequences of a website that spouts anti-Semitism entering mainstream discourse on Israel and Palestine.


Some ideas have earned their banishment from civilized discourse, and anti-Semitism is one of them. The paranoiac take on Jewish peoplehood holds that there are not Jews, but The Jews, a self-interested group of people who don't as much think individually as answer to tribal imperatives; an omnipresent mass of ravening self-interest, whether they're cooking matza with the blood of Christians or bending modern-day superpowers to their will.

We live in a society of competing ideas -- not, as anti-Semitism frames it, of competing groups, competing ethnicities, or competing fears. This is particularly important when it comes to Israel and Palestine. Ethnically and religiously-dominated understandings of the conflict, as well as of the wider world, have repeatedly dragged the region away from peace. By vilifying and dehumanizing one side of the conflict, the poison of anti-Semitism makes a constructive, forward-looking discourse far more difficult to achieve.

Yesterday, Peter Beinart's pluralistic blog, Open Zion, published a post by Alex Kane, a staff writer for a website called Mondoweiss.It's impossible to peer into the hearts and minds of the people who edit the site, but Mondoweiss often gives the appearance of an anti-Semitic enterprise. Site founder and editor Phil Weiss, a former writer for the American Conservative when Pat Buchanan was editor, wrote this past May, "I can justly be accused of being a conspiracy theorist because I believe in the Israel lobby theory ... certainly my theory has an explanation of the rise and influence of the neocons. They don't have a class interest but an ideological-religious one."

An April 2011 article on the site strongly implied that Mossad agents were involved in the murder of Italian activist Vittorio Arrigonni, an assertion for which there's no factual evidence. In 2011, contributor Max Ajl argued against "left-wing" condemnation of the Itamar massacre, in which attackers killed five members of a settler family, including a three-month old baby. In 2009, Jack Ross, who has contributed to the white nationalist, Holocaust-denying journal The Barnes Review, argued on Mondoweiss that "it was not the appeasement, but the internationalist hubris and bellicosity of Chamberlain which started World War II." In other words, lay off the Nazis.

"Iran has never officially denied the Holocaust," Mondowess claimed in April of this year. This statement might be technically true, but it is functionally false. It also reflects a troublingly dismissive attitude towards Holocaust denial on the part of high-ranking Iranian officials.

One winner of Mondoweiss' recent "New Yorker parody contest" was a bizarre entry in which former Israeli Prime Minister has a teary reunion with the ghost of his long-lost father: Adolf Hitler.

Philip Weiss has found evidence of Jewish influence and Jewish perfidy in everything from NPR to the names of the buildings at Harvard University to an innocuous statement by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. Weiss has argued that the "Jewish presence in the Establishment" imposes its own single-minded, communalistic interests upon the whole of American and British society. "Don't you see," he wrote in a post also suggesting "Zionists" were to blame for the outbreak of the Iraq war, "the vociferousness and effectiveness of the Israel lobby make this conflict Our Conflict!" Ironically, Weiss also believes that Zionism entails Jewish self-hatred.

Is Alex Kane, the Mondoweiss writer whose post was featured on Newsweek's Open Zion, responsible for all this? Of course not. But he is a Mondoweiss staff reporter. Publicly, he does not challenge the site's lunacy. And Open Zion, in carrying a byline from Mondoweiss, incorporates not just Kane but the Mondoweiss reputation and all of its sordid baggage into its larger conversation.

Kane and Mondoweiss are marginal. Open Zion, Peter Beinart, and Newsweek are not, and neither is their subject matter. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a century-long tangle of ethnic, religious, political, and historic sensitivities, and everything from superpower politics to the 25th chapter of the Book of Genesis has the potential to scramble or intensify it. It's easy to lose faith in the possibility of a rational, humanizing discourse when so many communal and even theological imperatives have been clashing for so long, and when something like the re-opening of a ten foot-wide passageway can spark riots that kill dozens of  people. But cynicism is hardly an excuse for letting the discourse backslide or corrode.

Publishing anti-Semites, or people who work for websites that traffic in anti-Semitic innuendo or conspiracy theories, empowers ideas aimed at obscuring the humanity of one side of an already-violent conflict. Kane's inclusion actually undermines Open Zion's confidence that honest intellectual engagement can contribute to the larger cause of understanding and peace. Instead, it reflects a depressing cynicism about the state of public discourse on the Middle East--a cynicism that believers in peace, and believers in the triumph of ideas over paranoia and bigotry, have both a moral and intellectual duty to reject.