The author pretends to argue that hostility to the existence of Israel as a Jewish state is the defining characteristic of the “new” anti-semitism, which is fairly ridiculous on its own terms, but as you read through the examples that’s clearly not what he’s saying. Rather, his view is that some people make what he regards as extreme or over-the-top criticisms of Israel, and that anti-semites would also make such criticisms, so therefore anyone who criticizes Israel too stridently is either practicing anti-semitism or else creating it.
Needless to say, similar standards don’t apply elsewhere. Check out my friend Mark Leon Goldberg’s post about Anne Bayefsky’s ridiculous accusation that “the U.N. provides sustenance for the Iranian genocidal threat, which is directed at Israel now, and America next.” That’s a crazy, absurd, and horribly unfair thing to say. It’s not, however, evidence of racial animosity against Persians, or South Koreans or whomever. By the same token, criticism of Israel — even ill-informed, unfair, unduly harsh criticism of Israel — isn’t anti-semitism, it’s political disagreement.
At any rate, when you think about it, things like this essay or Jonah Goldberg’s little McCarthyite smears aren’t really about convincing people that I’m an anti-semite, or that Tony Judt or Adrienne Rich or Tony Kushner is. The idea, basically, is to scare the goyim who figure that while liberal Jews can take the heat, they probably can’t, and had best just avoid talking about the whole thing. And based on my observations of the blogosphere, it works pretty well as a tactic. ~Matt Yglesias
It does work fairly well as a tactic. Most people don’t want the grief that would inevitably come with even broaching such sensitive topics. Second–and this is the really clever part of the intimidation–they have already been thoroughly convinced by previous ritual denunciations of other people as anti-Semites for their policy views that they begin to think that the people being so denounced really are anti-Semitic, which not only intimidates them from commenting but convinces them that the only people who would even be motivated to say anything critical or contrary must be people with bad motives. They know that they don’t have any bad motives or prejudices like those people, and so go along with the intimidation. After all, all those denunciations couldn’t all be politically motivated trash, could they? Actually, they could. We are watching it unfold before us yet again.
There are not many so masochistic, indifferent to career suicide or otherwise reckless to say very much critical about anything even touching on Israel, and the few who are impetuous enough to say anything can usually be pretty easily pigeonholed or ostracised and marginalised. It remains a despicable and base tactic, but those are often the most “effective” kind when the goal is to destroy your opponent’s good name and annihilate his credibility.
Of course, the definition of what constitutes excessively “strident” criticism of Israel will somehow wind up being in the control of people who tend to think almost every criticism of Israel is excessively strident. That would be the point of the whole exercise, which is control of the debate and the definition of its terms and limits. That is what happens in any discourse when a society tolerates the existence of self-appointed gatekeepers who hold all the keys and make all the rules about what can be said and how.