Response to My Correspondents

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Having received cartloads of responses to "The Dilemma of the Right," it may be useful to expound further on the views therein expressed. My attempt to underscore the marginalization of the genuine Right by bringing up the now respectable conservative movement’s picture of Israel was not a veiled attack on Israel’s right to exist. I reiterate this already stated view, lest the usual suspects beat up on me as a "self-hating Jew." What I was pointing to is how the depiction of a pluralistic Israel, fighting against Palestinians for global democratic values, permeates the reconstructed American Right. By now it is the indispensable litmus test for would-be media conservatives, and for employees of beltway neocon thinktanks. But the prevalence of this misrepresentation does not signify that Israel has no right to fend for itself against would-be destroyers. I am simply suggesting that American conservatives should stop being the shills of rightwing Israeli annexationists — or at least register as the agents of the Likud Party.

Although its ethnic nationalist character does not bother me personally, it is absurd to pretend that Israel meets the standards of democratic universalism attributed to it by neocons. Such fantasists are always at pains to present Israel as a peerless paradigm of whatever the U.S. is supposed to be at a particular point in its lurching history. Israel is not a microcosm of multicultural New York (nor need it be to justify its existence), except to the extent that it has to deal with unwelcome Arab "diversity." Nor was I denying, pace my critics, that some liberal journalists and liberal news-commentators, like Peter Jennings, have dramatized the suffering of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation. My intention was both explicit and limited, to point out some of the non-conservative obsessions on the media Right, not the manifestation of pro-Palestinian views that sometimes surface on the Left.

But now that this subject has been broached, it might be well to note that strong support for Jewish nationalism exists on the liberal Left as well as among neocons. One need only check out back issues of New Republic and the Salon websites for evidence of this contention. The Peretz-Emerson-Pipes-Dershowitz line that I keep encountering is that Israel is a bulwark of Western secular pluralism. Because of "our values" and the culpability of American goyim in sitting on their anti-Semitic hands during the Holocaust, the U.S. must do everything in its military power to help Israel against Arab theocrats and crypto-Nazis. Just because the American Right is coming to sound like AIPAC headquarters does not mean that the same no longer is true on the other side. When, by the way, was the last time that such known advocates of the Israeli Right as Steve Emerson, Bill Safire, George Will, and Daniel Pipes were not allowed to express themselves in the liberal national press or on TV?

I most certainly do not claim, contrary to the assertion of one irate respondent, that being for the Israeli Right is a position exclusively taken by Jewish journalists. This stand is even more typical of Christians, broadly understood, who pander to the neoconservatives. The most toadying remarks on Israeli politics have been those of Cal Thomas, Michael Novak, Bill Bennett, and George Will, all non-Jews. Such publicists, particularly Thomas who has called in his columns for the expulsion of the Palestinians from Israeli territory, manage to outshout even the most hardened Jewish Zionists. While there may be more than one reason for such behavior, the desire for social acceptance is clearly the most prevalent. Will and Bennett do not have to worry about Arab opinion in the circles in which they move. Nor does Will have to give a rap about the League of the South or the Daughters of the Confederacy when he praises General Sherman for exterminating the Southern gentry. The salonniers and salonnards with whom he hangs out are Jewish neocons and gentile liberals, white and black, who hate the traditional American South intensely.

I should finally mention an observation made to me in a letter by Clyde Wilson in 1983, concerning the rise of Jaffaite doctrines on the American Right. Professor Wilson remarked that "there is absolutely nothing unusual" in the views on the civil rights movement and about the elevation of equality as the preeminent American political value that one finds in Harry Jaffa and his neocon followers. What is unusual is that such views are put forth as conservative ones. It would be, Wilson goes on, as if Arthur Schlesinger’s hymn to social democratic universalism The Vital Center were suddenly raised up as the authoritative text of the Right. By now of course even stranger things have happened in the movement the two of us were then discussing.

Paul Gottfried [send him mail] is professor of history at Elizabethtown College and author, most recently, of the highly recommended After Liberalism.

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