This morning I sent my column on the future of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to Michael Sean Winters — a writer at America magazine — in the spirit of collegiality. What I got in return is the implication on the America blog that I am either anti-Semitic or am aiding the rise of anti-Semitism among conservatives.
This kind of nonsense stifles legitimate debate on how best to protect both the Jewish state and Palestinians.
Here’s what Winters wrote:
Conservative Catholics, who were some thirty percent of the Moral Majority in the early 1980s, had a more checkered history when it came to the Jews. Some conservative Catholics were the ideological heirs of the violent anti-Semite Father Charles Coughlin. Joseph Kennedy, the family patriarch, was an anti-Semite. Sen. Joe McCarthy, whose career reached its zenith after the Shoah, when anti-Semitism was in low esteem, transferred traditional anti-Semitic diatribes and directed them at communists and many saw communism as an essentially Jewish enterprise. Note the fifth letter to the editor in this compendium from America’s 1954 archives. But, with Cold War at the center of geo-political concerns in the 1980s, whatever anti-Jewish sentiments still roiled in their memories, conservative Catholics set them aside to embrace Israel as part of the Moral Majority’s platform.
Today, I see, there is a crack in the coalition. Deal Hudson has published a remarkably ill-informed article that questions why Israel insists on its designation as "a Jewish state"….
[He goes on to respond to one of my specific points, before concluding with…]
Conservatives in America have enough troubles what with Cheney defending torture, Rush Limbaugh embarrassing himself on a daily basis, and congressional Republicans looking like so many deer in the headlights. Now, they have a split within the ranks on support for Israel. Keep an eye on this. Anyone familiar with the history of anti-Semitism knows that Western culture seems always to have another outbreak of this vile prejudice just around the corner. But there is this difference. During the pogroms of earlier times, there was no Israel to which Jews could go to defend themselves. Happily, that is no longer the case.
It would apparently surprise Winters that I agree completely with the last sentence: I am thankful there is a place of protection for the Jews and am deeply concerned with protecting Israel and the Jewish people from a second Holocaust. Winters is obviously unaware that I have and do unequivocally support a Jewish state.
But he is careless (at the very least!) to associate someone who supports Israel, with abhorrent anti-Semitism. Criticism of Israel’s foreign policy is not anti-Semitism; how many times does that point need to be made? My positions have long been shared by both Israelis and non-Israeli Jews — we simply believe there is a better way to protect Israel.
Perhaps Winters is simply ignorant of the differences of opinion among Israelis (also here) on the issue of designating Israel officially as a "Jewish state." Are they anti-Semitic?
Perhaps Winters is also somehow unaware that special envoy George Mitchell has publicly stated that the U.S. rejects the demand for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a "Jewish state" (reported by Akiva Eldar, chief political writer of Haaretz, on April 19, 2009). Am I to assume Winters disagrees with the Obama administration on their approach to the peace negotiations? Are George Mitchell and President Obama anti-Semitic too?
And maybe Winters is also unaware of the rejection of the "Jewish state" designation by former Patriarch Michael Sabbah. That would be particularly surprising, since Patriarch Sabbah’s book, Faithful Witness: On Reconciliation and Peace in the Holy Land, was edited by Rev. Drew Christiansen, S. J., editor-in-chief of America and Michael Sean Winters’s boss.
I have interviewed Patriarch Sabbah on three occasions, and his book is very much in line with what I wrote in my column. So… is Patriarch Sabbah anti-Semitic in Winters’s view? (Incidentally, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, who is himself deeply involved in the Holy Land, supplied the forward to Sabbah’s book. Another anti-Semite?)
Winters disagrees with me on what the Palestinians have received as a result of their recognition of Israel’s right to exist. Differences of opinion are fine, and I am glad to engage him — or anyone — on the facts of the case. But accusations of anti-Semitism are completely over the line.
I have written quite a bit about the Holy Land, based on the firsthand knowledge acquired during my four trips since 2004, and I have tried to make my working assumptions clear (among them, my support for the Jewish state). Respect for Palestinian human rights and a recognition of increasing Palestinian suffering are hardly incompatible with Israeli security. In fact, the legal protection of Palestinian rights is the only way to effectively protect Israel’s long-term security.
Michael Sean Winters should reread my piece and reconsider his hotheaded accusations. Is this the kind of voice and tone we should expect from America? We shall see.
UPDATE – May 22, 2009:
Michael Sean Winters has a new blog post
claiming that he never implied I was an anti-Semite (and taking a few more shots along the way). I’ll let readers have a look at what he wrote
and decide for themselves.