It’s also worth noting that “race card” debates takes place in a different political context than “anti-Semitism card” debates. In today’s America, there simply aren’t any major political actors taking explicitly racist/segregationist positions, and in recent national elections the race debate has largely moved beyond even the arguments over racially-charged issues like busing, affirmative action and crime, and into the realm of symbolism and subliminal messaging. The debate over Israel, on the other hand, takes place in a context in which explicit anti-Semitism – anti-Semitism as policy, that is, and with at least a somewhat eliminationist edge – is a live and potent political force. The racist tropes that the McCain campaign stood accused of dabbling in – the black male as sexual aggressor, and so forth – are the stuff of underground white supremacist literature and subconscious suburbanite anxieties. But the anti-Semitic tropes that Walt and Mearsheimer stood accused of dabbling in are the stuff of everyday rhetoric in large swathes of the Islamic world, and they’re essential to the public worldview of Israel’s immediate political enemies. I’m not sure how much difference this reality should make in how carefully one treads around this nest of issues – versus how much care you take to, say, avoid putting a black politician in an ad with a white woman – but certainly it should make some difference.
This sounds plausible at first, but applies two extremely different standards to the two questions. Anti-Semitism is a live and potent political force…on other continents. It is obviously not a live and potent political force in the United States, but on the contrary it is political death to be associated with anything close to it. To use Ross’ formulation, in today’s America there simply aren’t any major political actors taking explicitly anti-Semitic positions, and in recent debates the question of anti-Semitism has become one of unintentional uses of similar tropes or remarks that might conceivably remind someone somewhere of actual anti-Semitism. Whatever else you want to say about The Israel Lobby, its authors were scrupulous in their absolute disavowal and pointed rejection of such attitudes. They stood accused of “dabbling” in anti-Semitic tropes in exactly the same unfair way that conservatives are frequently accused of using racist “codewords” and symbolism. That is to say, uncharitable critics who very much wanted to discredit the argument being made in the book misrepresented what the authors said specifically with respect to these stigmatized attitudes to make the evidence fit the indictment. It is very much as if a critic ignored the many disavowals and repudiations of racism that Ross and Reihan made in Grand New Party and said that they were still “dabbling” in racist tropes by reducing their statements about crime or welfare or immigration to an almost unrecognizable caricature. Regardless of the quality of the book in question, this is a plainly unfair way to treat someone else’s work.