Tossing Around the Charge of Anti-Semitism

In the debate over whether the U.S. Congress should defy the Obama administration by imposing new sanctions on Iran while negotiations on its nuclear program are underway, it didn't take long for the "anti-Semitism" bomb to be hurled.

The target this time was none other than the Huffington Post, for the way in which it covered the introduction of a new sanctions bill by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and several colleagues.

According to the conservative leaning Jewish news site, both the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the American Jewish Committee have criticized the article, headlined "Saboteur Sen. Launching War Push," which featured a picture of Menendez addressing the pro-Israel lobby the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean at the Simon Wiesenthal Center said: "It goes back to the age old canard that certain people have never seen a war that they can't find a way to blame on the Jews."

Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League also weighed in with a letter to Arianna Huffington, stating that the headline was "outrageous and inappropriate" and that the article's content amounted to "a version of the anti-Semitic 'Jews manipulate the US Government' trope."

Once again, we're seeing how some in the American Jewish community who ought to know better are all-too-quick to bring out the anti-Semitism charge. After all, there's no better way of stifling debate, changing the subject and putting the opposition on the defensive.

On the merits of this particular issue, the headline was perhaps misguided and poorly worded -- but it hardly amounts to a major anti-Semitic outrage. And I fail to see how showing Sen. Menendez with the AIPAC logo in the background is inappropriate. After all, AIPAC does support the Menendez sanctions bill and is actively lobbying for it -- as are the American Jewish Committee and most of the organized Jewish community with the prominent exception of J Street. To consciously edit out AIPAC's part in this story would actually be journalistic malpractice.

We saw this pattern exactly a year ago when some of these same actors tried to block the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense on the spurious grounds that his views "verged on anti-Semitism," to quote Foxman.

Eight months later, Foxman had recanted. "Hagel seems to be committed, not only to continue the good relationship (between the U.S. and Israel) but to enhance it," he said. There is a lesson to be learned here.

Clearly, we must remain vigilant against the threat of anti-Semitism. But the constant use of the accusation against anyone that we feel is insufficiently pro-Israel (including members of our own community) or against anyone we disagree with is foolish and damaging.

We must learn to distinguish between those with whom we disagree and those who hate Jews and wish our destruction. The more we conflate the two, the more we devalue the anti-Semitism charge until it ultimately becomes stripped of meaning. We are the child crying wolf and we need to stop.

We need to re-learn the art of civilized political debate and limit the fight against anti-Semitism to those who truly hate us.

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