ANTI-SEMITISM IS a very real and toxic plague in history and in modern life. The suffering of the Jews is a well-known and often-told story that must never be forgotten. Jews have a fight, based on experience, to fear anti-Semitism. But it also must be said that to be opposed to the policies of a particular Israeli government need not be anti-Semitic. It could simply be smart politics.
The rhetorical blanket that covers all American discourse over the Middle East has a trap woven into it the danger of being called anti-Semitic. Congressman James P. Moran Jr. (D.,Va.), discovered this recently when he spoke at a rally opposing the war against Iraq (as reported in the Washington Post). Said Moran:
If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish
community for this war with Iraq, we would not be
doing this. The leaders of the Jewish community are influential
enough that they could change the direction of
where this is going, and I think they should.
The congressman left himself open to the allegation of anti-Semitism--which is not the same as being antiSemitic--when he used the phrase "leaders of the Jewish community." Moran's colleagues in the Congress, as well as a White House spokesman, knew what he meant, and knew that the comment was not purposefully anti-Semitic. But the remark set off the predictable reaction that always follows public statements that should never have been made, especially on this subject with its toxic history.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Moran's statement quickly drew the attention of Jewish organizations that denounced the comment as anti-Semitic. With that declaration, anti-Semitism was in play. Politicians and their eager media partners moved into high gear. Democratic Party leaders, eager to bolster their pro-Israel standing, and desperate to inoculate their party from Moran's comment, quickly denounced their colleague with the sort of verbal lashing employed after Trent Lott forgot that Strom Thurmond was once a segregationist.
"Uncalled for, outrageous," wailed Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D., S.D.) House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) fired Moran from a minor House leadership post after condemning his remarks as "not only inappropriate, they were offensive."
Too late. The toxin of religious emotions that plagues our public discourse had started its work. Speaking before a group of more than 150 Orthodox Jewish leaders from around the country, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R., Tex.) charged that the Democratic Party "appears to countenance remarks like those made by Representative Moran in the past few weeks." Eric I. Cantor (D. …