The saying goes, "if it looks, like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be duck." So why is it when anti-Jewish statements are made they are not seen for what they are - expressions of anti-Semitism - but are explained away as merely offensive or ignorant?
That question has been particularly pertinent in recent weeks, during the run-up to and the early stages of war in Iraq. In America for the most part, those questioning US military action made thoughtful arguments against going to war. But not everyone has engaged in rational debate of the issues.
While there have always been the likes of the Pat Buchanans, the Joseph Sobrans, and anti-Semites, what is disturbing today is that those extremists are being joined by a voices in the antiwar movement and the media, on the left and the right, who are promoting a canard that America's going to war has little to do with disarming Saddam, but everything to do with Jews, the "Jewish lobby" and the hawkish Jewish members of the Bush Administration who, according to this chorus, will favor any war that benefits Israel and the Jews. The accusation about Jews and Jewish interests is being aired almost daily, on the airwaves, in the nation's editorial pages and from a range of pundits who want to pin the blame for this war on the Jews. The spread of this new lie is not surprising, because it is really not so new. In times of crisis, in times of uncertainty, at times nations face danger, Jews continue to be a convenient and tempting option for scapegoating.
This "Blame the Jews" phenomenon has now moved far beyond U.S. Rep. James Moran's notorious statement that, "If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this." Moran has since apologized - but by repeating an anti-Semitic canard that had previously been heard only on the margins of the debate, Moran moved blaming the Jews into the political and media mainstream. A whole chorus of accusations followed his.
Who are the purveyors of this anti-Semitic charge? In a recent interview, Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC's "Hardball," was asked what he believes is driving America's policy in Iraq. His response: "Well, the right-wing policy with regard to Israel - the people who don't want to deal with Arafat, who don't want a Palestinian state - the whole sort of right wing view is consistent with the view toward Iraq. It's the same policy and the same people." James O. Goldsborough, a columnist for The San Diego Union-Tribune, wrote on March 3 that the idea to go to Baghdad is "to serve Jerusalem," that Bush's war "has nothing to do with peace and security," but is the "brainchild of a handful of neo-conservatives … who have argued that Iraq was the main threat to Israel." The neo-conservatives he mentions - Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle, Elliot Abrams, David Wurmser - are all Jews. No mention of the Rumsfelds and the Cheneys.
Robert Novak has called the conflict, "Sharon's war." Liberal writer Ian Burama cites "Jewish-American hysteria." And others, including Paul Schroeder in the American Conservative, Georgia Ann Geyer and Alexander Cockburn have referenced the canard of Jewish and Israeli influence.
Almost as disappointing are the writings of respected journalists such as Bill Keller (The New York Times) and Richard Cohen the (Washington Post), who in their attempt to show the absurdity of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories missed an opportunity to provide a teaching moment - to educate about the roots, the history and the impact of such charges against the Jewish people.
At the same time we have seen a proliferation of columns and articles by respected mainstream commentators who insist that all of this is not really anti-Semitism, but simply ill-informed statements. But to suggest that it is something other than anti-Semitism is a grave mistake. Even in America, where Jews are more at home and secure as equal citizens than anywhere else in 2,000 years, the unsettling fact is that fully one-third of Americans still accept the notion that Jews have "dual loyalties." This was apparent in the Anti-Defamation League's June 2002 survey of Anti-Semitism in America, which also found that 20 percent of the American public agrees that, "Jews have too much power in the U.S. today."
We have full faith that Americans, whether they are for or against the war, will reject this latest anti-Semitic conspiracy charge. Yet that charge reminds us that anti-Semitism has a life of its own when crisis and anxiety erupt -- and must be denounced and rejected for what it is.