Smearing the antiwar movement: Neocon thought police on the prowl
As if to confirm what some opponents of this war have been saying – but not too loudly – about this being a war for Israel, the Bush administration is now “weighing an Israeli proposal for a joint operation in Iraq’s western desert to disarm Iraqi missiles before they could be launched against Israel.”
That this war has always been about Israel is a matter of simple geography. For all the President’s palavering about the “threat to Americans” posed by Iraq, those “weapons of mass destruction” Saddam supposedly has couldn’t even reach Europe, let alone the U.S. But Tel Aviv is well within range. Indeed, the prospect of Iraqi missiles raining down on Israel has been one of the chief deterrents against a move by Israel’s far-right Likud government to ethnically cleanse Palestine of Arabs – a plan that is increasingly popular among Israelis – and/or move the IDF back into Lebanon. The U.S. occupation of Iraq will eliminate that deterrent – and set up Israel to deal with Hizbollah the Syria in the regional conflagration to follow.
The oddly showy attempts by U.S. government officials to downplay the extent of U.S.-Israeli collaboration have never been too convincing – if they were, you see, the Israeli lobby in the U.S. would be outraged, and that would be the end of that. But who’s kidding whom? The coming war in the Middle East will be a joint operation between Washington and Tel Aviv in every sense, not only militarily but also on the political and diplomatic fronts. In the blockbuster second issue of The American Conservative, Paul W. Schroeder, professor emeritus of history at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne, disdained the Oedipal explanation for the origins of the President’s war plans, writing:
“Much more plausible is the suggestion that this plan is being promoted in the interests of Israel. Certainly it is being pushed very hard by a number of influential supporters of Israel of the hawkish neoconservative stripe in and outside the administration (Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, William Kristol, and others) and one could easily make the case that a successful preventive war on Iraq would promote particular Israeli security interests more than general American ones.”
Too easily, which is why the War Party is making a preemptive strike and declaring that the antiwar movement is “anti-Semitic.” For to state the geographical and political reality of this war – that it is a war for Israel’s sake, and for the sake of it’s powerful Christian evangelical “amen corner” in the Republican party – is to now be guilty of a “hate crime,” according to Andrew Sullivan, pontificating in the London Times. Citing a New York Sun piece charging a recent “Not in Our Name” rally in New York City’s Central Park with being a virtual Nuremberg rally, Sullivan smears the antiwar movement in America as a nascent American edition of the National Socialist German Workers Party:
“America’s anti-war movement, still puny and struggling, is showing signs of being hijacked by one of the oldest and darkest prejudices there is. Perhaps it was inevitable. The conflict against Islamo-fascism obviously circles back to the question of Israel. Fanatical anti-semitism, as bad or even worse than Hitler’s, is now a cultural norm across much of the Middle East. It’s the acrid glue that unites Saddam, Arafat, Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Iran and the Saudis. And if you campaign against a war against that axis, you’re bound to attract people who share these prejudices.”
This, of course, is what the War Party is counting on. It doesn’t matter that a few nut-balls on the edge of the crowd can hardly be said to fairly represent anyone’s views but their own. The whole sleazy methodology of propagandists like Sullivan is to sling as much mud at the antiwar movement as possible, without regard for credibility, common sense, or even common decency – in the hope that a general impression will be created, nonetheless, like the residue of dogshit on a sidewalk.
If you read the original New York Sun piece, which Sullivan merely retails for general distribution, the patent unfairness of this particular smear technique is on full display:
“The anti-war demonstration in Central Park yesterday, one of several across the country over the weekend, was riddled with anti-Israel and anti-American sentiment, and in some cases classical anti-Semitism, as thousand of protesters assembled for what was ostensibly a show of harmless political dissent.”
The idea is to mix in perfectly reasonable sounding critiques from the lips of antiwar protestors attesting to the centrality of Israel in this war – “America’s support of Israel is unconscionable. [I don’t] want my tax dollars spent going towards Israel’s disenfranchisement of the Palestinians” – with a comment by one alleged participant who cited the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Throw in the names of Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Michael Lerner, and the sponsoring organization, and you have successfully smeared everyone in Central Park that day as a neo-Nazi stormtrooper. It works every time.
It worked during World War II, when smear-artists like John Roy Carlson – the Andrew Sullivan of his time – wrote screeds “exposing” leading America First antiwar organizers as “secret” Nazi collaborators. His technique was to masquerade as a sympathizer, and “interview” obscure anti-Semites, who, glad for the attention, happily babbled on about how “Roosevelt and the Jews” were dragging us into the war and he soon had them quoting copiously from the Protocols – a transparent forgery that anti-Semites and their accusers have gotten quite a lot of mileage out of since it was created by the Russian secret police in the 1800s.
However, it won’t work this time: as our oddly childish chief executive said (or tried to say) the other day: “Fool me once, shame on you: fool me twice, shame on me.” Saddam Hussein is not Hitler, but a tinpot despot, Iraq is not the Third Reich, only a broken-down half-starved cripple of a nation, and Susan Sarandon is not Elizabeth Dilling, no matter how hard you squint your eyes.
Sullivan’s talents as a smear artist leave much to be desired. To begin with, citing the Sun, he quotes one demonstrator at the Central Park shindig as saying “If Bush goes with them and is too critical, he might lose [their] support…the international financiers have their hooks in everything.” Sullivan then goes on to hiss: “Ah, those international financiers. Remember them?”
Ellipses alert! This is one of the favorite tactics of a lazy, and pretty careless, smear artist: the promiscuous use of ellipses to tie in unrelated subjects, and thus imply all sorts of things about your opponents. In the smear trade, they call this the old “word-twister.” The problem is that it is always possible to go back to the source and check. In this case, the Sun also includes tell-tale ellipses at that crucial point in the sentence – so it’s impossible to know what the poor guy, identified in the story as Amir Forghany of Queens, New York, meant to say. Oh well, he’s a dirty filthy Arab, isn’t he – aren’t they all anti-Semites, anyway? Sullivan’s rhetoric is designed to appeal to another sort of anti-Semitism – because, you know, Arabs are Semites, too.
In explaining why we ought to all be head over heels in love with Israel, Sullivan announces that “an openly gay man just won election to the Knesset.” What more do we need to know? During the Vietnam war, super-hawk Norman Podhoretz once declared that the antiwar movment was motivated by homosexual passion to save all those delectable young men from a certain death. But this sentiment, the homoerotic equivalent of the fabled “Vietnam Syndrome,” has since been overcome by the new power-queen ethos of the post-Stonewall generation. Who cares how many of those cute little Palestinian teenagers are gunned down by Ariel Sharon’s helicopter gunships: power trumps aesthetics for Sullivan every time. And get this:
“Compared with China, a ruthless dictatorship brutally occupying Tibet, Israel is a model of democratic governance. And unlike China’s occupation of Tibet, Israel’s annexation was a defensive action against an Arab military attack.”
But of course the Chinese would explain their actions in the same “defensive” terms: they are “forced,” they would aver, to occupy Tibet because of plots by Western powers. As for the Han Chinese “settlers” brought in by Beijing to “integrate” Tibet into the People’s Republic, how are they different from the “settlers” from Brooklyn brought in by the Israelis to occupy olive groves that have been Palestinian for a thousand years? We are supposed to ensure and enforce a double-standard on behalf of Israel, or else be denounced as “anti-Semites.” What balderdash. Yet like any deluded ideologue, particularly one as un-self-critical as Sullivan, he fails to see that this blatant hypocrisy just will not do. Instead he elevates his own premises to the status of “self-evident” axioms:
“To single [Israel] out for attack is so self-evidently bizarre that it prompts an obvious question: what are these anti-Israel fanatics really obsessed about?”
The “obsession,” unfortunately, is all on the other side. For some reason, a cadre of American pundits, from George Will to Sullivan to Bill Bennett, etc. ad nauseam, is obsessed with promoting Israel’s national interests above our own. At least, I guess Sullivan is an American. Though this ex-Brit (or dual citizen?) smearing some of his fellow Americans as proto-Nazis in a British newspaper seems, at best, in poor taste, and at worst a subtle appeal to European anti-Americanism, i.e. you know how those ignorant Yanks are, they hate everyone – Jews, fags, you-name-it.
What is “self-evidently bizarre,” however, is that Sullivan seems to be publicly losing his mind. It happens to a lot of people with AIDS. Dementia sets in, eventually, and, no matter how many drug cocktails they take, in the end virtually all succumb to mania and mental deterioration. The rabid, frothy-mouthed tone of Sullivan’s recent writings, combined with a telltale literary sloppiness, is really kind of sad. Thus, we see the progression in Sullivan’s piece, from the first mention of the Protocols, cited by a single demonstrator, to the end of the article, in which the war-maddened Sullivan fantasizes a mass distribution of the infamous forgery: “No wonder they are selling the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in Central Park”! he screeches. The poor boy is hallucinating.
It’s time for Sullivan to throw in the towel before he does any more damage to what is left of his reputation. I remain an admirer of his book, Virtually Normal, which dared to debunk gay victimology and even called into question oppressive “anti-discrimination” laws favoring gays, but his writings on the war – his entire post-9/11 output – bring to mind the ravings of the syphilitic Nietzsche.
Sullivan and his “warblogger” friends want the antiwar movement to be “puny and struggling.” But it wasn’t the War Party that lit up the congressional switchboards during the debate of the war resolution. The calls were overwhelmingly anti-war, and on Main Street, America, antiwar sentiment is growing. That’s why Sullivan and the New York Sun – a newspaper set up explicitly on account of dissatisfaction over the alleged “anti-Semitism” of the New York Times (!) – have launched this libel early on, hauling out this old canard and running it up the flagpole. Hardly anyone is saluting, however. How many times can they drag out the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, fer chrissake, and employ the same victimological illogic that not even Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton get away with anymore? The state of Israel and its American amen corner no more represent Jews worldwide than Al Sharpton and Robert Mugabe represent all People of Color, and it’s high time somebody said so.
The calculation of the War Party is that, by smearing anyone who dares to identify the real politics of this war, they can equate antiwar sentiment with anti-Semitic agitation. As if the interests of Israel and of all Jews everywhere are identical. – and as if this war really does serve Israel’s interests, which it doesn’t, as Professor Schroeder is good enough to point out:
“A preemptive war on Iraq would be as counterproductive in the long run as the Israeli occupation of Lebanon engineered by Ariel Sharon or the current Sharon/Likud efforts to destroy Palestinian resistance and terrorism and abort any independent Palestinian state by sheer military force. There are better ways for America to ensure Israel’s survival….”
While I would venture that Israel is well-equipped to look after its own survival, thanks to the involuntary generosity of American taxpayers, Professor Schroeder’s remark about the historical significance of the coming war is worth repeating and remembering:
“It would represent something to my knowledge unique in history. It is common for great powers to try to fight wars by proxy, getting smaller powers to fight for their interests. This would be the first instance I know where a great power (in fact, a superpower) would do the fighting as the proxy of a small client state.”