On False Charges of Anti-Semitism

I’m heartened to see so many bloggers defending Andrew Sullivan against the insinuation that he is anti-Semitic. It is an impressive feat to levy a charge so wrongheaded that Daniel Larison, David Frum, Matthew Yglesias, James Joyner, Brad DeLong, Alex Pareene, and Robert Stacy McCain all agree with one another in finding it ridiculous. Is there any other instance of those folks all writing on the same side of a single issue? Mr. Sullivan adds a definitive refutation here.

Awful as it is to see anyone wrongly accused of bigotry, perhaps it is best that this meme finally got raised in a prominent enough venue to be thoroughly aired and utterly refuted. Where it began I cannot say, but I’ve watched it appear in less esteemed venues than The New Republic repeatedly in recent months. Did the posts I saw inform Leon Wieseltier’s piece? I have no idea. Suffice it to say that how Mr. Wieseltier formed his opinions about Mr. Sullivan is a subject far too complicated for me to understand. What I can say with certainty is that too many blogs cynically use the charge of anti-Semitism in the most dishonest, disgusting ways imaginable.

Over the years, I’ve done my best to call out racism and race-baiting. These mutually reinforcing evils are as destructive to civil society as anything I know, and although racism remains the bigger problem among the two, that doesn’t diminish the odiousness of folks like Al Sharpton, Kerry Dunn, Mike Nifong, and Rush Limbaugh, to name check four people whose different kinds of race-baiting I’ve written against over the years. As this episode ends, it is fitting to examine but one example of how this kind of meme spreads upward in the blogosphere. It starts with a blog post like this one, an attack that makes Mr. Wieseltier’s piece seem well-reasoned. Its title: “Andrew Sullivan: Anti-Semite, Anti-Israel, Anti-Jew.”

Full disclosure: I know about this obscure blogger only because sometime later, he wrote a post titled “Why Does Conor Friedersdorf Support An Anti-Semite,” which popped up on my Google Alert.

Its reasoning:

Andrew Sullivan is his mentor and his mentor has gone after Jews and Israel many times, as I note here.

Real Conservatives support Israel and Jews, why is Conor silent on this?

I guess silence means he agrees with Sullivan.

Okay, big deal, this is a transparently absurd post at a truly fringe blog, right? But do you know who is markedly more popular, and garners regular links from mainstream blogs like Instapundit? Dan Riehl, who dislikes both Mr. Sullivan and me, an animosity that caused him to link the post from the truly fringe blog. Here is what Mr. Riehl titled his post, dated November 18, 2009: “Friedersdorf Digs Sullivan’s Crazy Anti-Semitism.”

Valley of the Shadows has been on this angle.

I detest such vile displays. It’s a good thing it isn’t allowed on Talk Radio where they police such things for appropriateness. Why do these young post-menstrual, or whatever they are, faux conservatives support hate speech? Are they anti-Semites at heart?

Friedersdorf … hmm, is that a German name?

Gosh, I hope that isn’t it.

That pissed me off at the time, for obvious reasons, and I said so privately in e-mail exchanges with a few other bloggers. What causes me to recount all this now, when I didn’t “feed the troll” at the time, is Mr. Riehl’s latest post on Andrew Sullivan, which concerns the current controversy: “Andrew Sullivan Is Not an Anti-Semite.” An argument for that proposition follows.

What I find remarkable is that by his own account Dan Riehl doesn’t believe that Andrew Sullivan is an anti-Semite, let alone that I “dig” Mr. Sullivan’s “crazy anti-Semitism,” but on November 18, 2009, Mr. Riehl nevertheless breezily asserted that Mr. Sullivan engages in “crazy anti-Semitism” that I support. What a stark dearth of integrity. Is there any more cynical kind of race-baiting?

Again, I make no claims about what led Mr. Wieseltier to write his piece, or whether he argued in earnest. What do I think? That earnestly but wrongly arguing someone is a racist is relatively rare — and that far more commonly, false accusations of racism are made maliciously by folks who engage in character assassination so frivolously and reflexively that they can’t even remember them well enough to avoid contradicting themselves a couple of months later.

This is important because most bloggers aren’t like Andrew Sullivan or even me — that is to say, they don’t have established reputations, large bodies of work to draw on in defending themselves, and a lot of people with relatively big platforms willing to take notice if ever they’re wronged in a particularly egregious way. Usually someone targeted by a post like that from an established writer like Mr. Riehl can only look forward to a few angry pieces of hate e-mail from his audience, an indignant reply on a low traffic blog that hardly anyone ever sees, and a Google page that suddenly includes a frivolous charge of anti-Semitism that will be seen by their next three dates and the employer to whom they just submitted a resume.

I actually think race-baiters intend merely to score short term rhetorical points by trading on the power accusations of racism retain, as opposed to deliberately damaging someone’s reputation in a lasting way, but that is hardly an excuse for the direct harm they do to their targets, and the pernicious effect that have on the blogosphere generally, as intelligent folks start to avoid certain arguments — or even refrain from blogging at all — so that they can avoid immature, petulant bullies for whom public discourse is a cage match. If every blogger knows as many folks as I do who shy away from writing for this reason, the cost that these people impose on us is staggering if invisible.


4 Responses to “On False Charges of Anti-Semitism”

  1. sconover Says:

    “Awful as it is to see anyone wrongly accused of bigotry, perhaps it is best that this meme finally got raised in a prominent enough venue to be thoroughly aired and utterly refuted.”

    Yes, you nailed it.

  2. mfarmer Says:

    Plus, there are about two dozen legimate reasons to dismiss Sullivan – there’s no need for trumped up anti-semite charges.

  3. Conor Friedersdorf Is Not Adolf Eichmann : The Other McCain Says:

    […] that Friedersdorf was an SS-ObersturmbannfĂĽhrer, nor even that he aspired to such a position. Why Conor is acting so defensive — “Who me? I’m Riccardo Klement, an innocent Argentine technician!” — […]

  4. Michael Peck Says:

    The problem is that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. They shouldn’t go together, yet they do, because anti-Semitism is no longer fashionable but anti-Zionism is. It’s amazing how many anti-Israel conversations have traditional anti-Semitic themes (Jews manipulate governments, Jews control the media and the banks, etc.).

    Which doesn’t make Andrew Sullivan an anti-Semite. And it’s lunatic to accuse someone names Friedersdorf because they have a Germanic-sounding name (as do a lot of Jews). This is just name-calling by the bloggerati. It has very little to do with the universe inhabited by most Jews and Gentiles. However, don’t minimize the real presence of anti-Semitism. It’s mutated into socially acceptable anti-Zionism, especially among the left, some of whose statements would not have seemed out of place to Goebbels.

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