What is anti-Semitism? And why does Martin Cothran sweep it under the rug?

Martin Cothran's difficulties with basic reading comprehension continue.

I'm putting most of this response below the fold, because sometimes someone on the internet is just wrong. All you need to know about Cothran's commitment to the truth is this reply to my claim that "I find [William F.] Buckley's condemnation [of Buchanan] significant because his political interests would have been best served by defending an ally against such charges."

Cothran insists that:

No one who is even vaguely familiar with the infighting that goes in the conservative movement could say that about Buckley (a neoconservative) and Buchanan (a paleoconservative).

Except that Buckley is the paleoconservative's paleoconservative. The neoconservatives were a group of disaffected liberals who wanted to see the American military used more widely to impose American views of social good abroad, forming into a cohesive group in the '70s, no less than 15 years after Buckley founded National Review and no less than 20 years after his first book (describing the travails of a conservative in the Ivy League). Buckley, however, criticized "The neoconservative hubris, which sort of assigns to America some kind of geo-strategic responsibility for maximizing democracy, [and] overstretches the resources of a free country." Indeed, "Relations between the Buckley conservatives and the neocons were, at first, often distant and uncomfortable. The two groups had different histories, different intellectual styles, different preoccupations."

Cothran, cushioned as he is in the bosom of Focus on the Family, is aligned with the theocons, and may think all the others look about the same. And it would be fair to have said that Buchanan and Buckley disagreed on many issues, with Buckley rejecting Buchanan's isolationism, his anti-Semitism, and many other aspects of Buchanan's worldview. Buchanan represented the Bircher wingnuttery that Buckley worked hard to expel from National Review, but both are paleoconservatives.

Cothran's scattershot misrepresentations, his ignorant defense of Holocaust denial and his knee jerk attempt to defend anti-Semitism are of minimal interest, but they inadvertently raise some useful issues in our treatment of prejudice (especially anti-Semitism) in America.

I've already distinguished anti-Semitism from opposition to Israeli policies, a distinction that's easily blurred to no good effect. Cothran insists that "An anti-Semite is a person who himself hates Jews—as Jews. And since that requires divining someone's inner feelings about the matter, the charge is best left to those cases in which it is crystal clear."

This is true. It's why one looks at the totality of a person's work before making that judgment, and it's why I object so vigorously to Cothran's efforts to trivialize Buchanan's manifest anti-Semitism. Buchanan doesn't openly curse at Jewish people, he appears on talk shows without organizing a pogrom, and so Cothran thinks Buchanan isn't an anti-Semite.

Jacob Weisberg, who has covered Buchanan's campaigns and knows something about the man, remarks (echoing similar observations by William F. Buckley and other observers across the political spectrum:

His prejudice is not the genteel country club variety that may linger in patches elsewhere in the GOP. People who know him say he gives no sign of disliking Jews or blacks in person. His variety of bigotry is far stranger, and in its way much more alarming. Buchanan is a kind of fascist fellow traveler, who dabbles in an anachronistic style of populist demagoguery that points to cosmopolitan Jews, and to a lesser extent nonwhite immigrants, as the source of the country's problems.

Weisberg cites Buchanan's defense of Nazi war criminals, even those who admit their guilt. He observes that this defense easily goes too far, "that in defending [Nazis], he tried to cast doubt on the Holocaust itself." Weisberg continues that, beyond the comments about the Gulf War that we've discussed so much on this blog, "in his 1996 campaign, Buchanan would hint that Jews were to blame for much else, sarcastically enunciating the name of Ruth Bader Ginsburg when complaining about the Supreme Court. Or he would attack 'New York bankers,' often singling out the firm of "Goldman Sachs" (but never Bear Stearns or Salomon Smith Barney). Or he might complain about the globalist economic policies of Robert Rubin and Alan Greenspan – not those of Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Clinton."

In his book A Republic Not an Empire, Buchanan has a chapter on "'Jewish Influence' in U.S. foreign policy from 1917 to the present," blaming Jews for World War II, and defending noted anti-Semite Charles Lindbergh. Buchanan thinks Lindbergh was right to worry about Jewish influence on Hollywood. Buchanan's campaign rhetoric about "the growing domination of U.S. foreign policy by ethnic groups and media elites" echoes the rhetoric of Lindbergh, not to mention anti-Semitic documents like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and is a none-too-subtle invocation of Jewish influence.

Cothran thinks that this is thin soup, that I'm paranoid and seeing anti-Semites under every bed (as are Weisberg, Buckley, the ADL, SPLC, and a host of other observers with no axe to grind). And I might be less willing to charge someone with racism if presented with comparable statements about African Americans, though it's hard to know what the comparable situation would be.

But I know the history of my people, and I know that these sorts of claims were the foundation of Hitler's rise to power, salted the water for eruptions of anti-Semitic violence like Kristallnacht and the pogroms my grandparents came to America to escape. When I see smoke, I break out the buckets. Through consistent efforts by groups like the ADL and SPLC, the sort of overt anti-Semitism or racism which led to restrictive policies on country clubs, universities, and housing developments is behind us. In Buchanan, the rhetoric, the ideas, and the attitudes that inspired such cruel policies lives on, and I see no reason to tolerate such behavior, especially not on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

I expect that this year's Yom HaShoah is one Martin Cothran won't forget. It might be easy to ignore the sort of anti-Semitism Buchanan employs, and it is only by dragging it out into the light that we can rid our society of the cruel legacies Buchanan seeks to revive. It is by remembering not just the violence of the gas chambers, but the discrimination of the Nuremberg Laws, the destructions of Kristallnacht, and the rhetoric of Hitler, Lindbergh, and Ford, that we fulfill the promise: Never again.

Cothran's most common error throughout his latest response is pretending that the only basis for charging Buchanan of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial is "guilt by association," when in fact the basis is what Buchanan says.

Finally, Cothran claims:

When people lose their real religion, they invest their other enthusiasms with religious meaning and purpose.

I take Cothran to be talking about me here. Apparently he doesn't regard my Judaism as "real religion."

Cothran adds that "In this particular case, the Devil words used against the dissenters are 'anti-Semite' and 'Holocaust denier.'" Buchanan, in this case, is a dissenter from the following things:

  • Nazis gassed Jews in death camps.
  • Roughly 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust (Buchanan's views on this are unclear)
  • The mass murder of Jews by the Nazis was a carefully planned part of Hitler's agenda from the beginning.
  • Hitler and the Nazis bear the responsibility for the Holocaust.
  • Holocaust deniers are reliable historians of 20th century Germany.
  • The Holocaust happened, and is not a "group fantasy of martyrdom."
  • Testimony of Holocaust survivors is not "unreliable."
  • The blood libel is bad theology, and untrue, to boot.
  • There is no secret cabal of Jews controlling geofinance, geopolitics, and Hollywood
  • Nazi war criminals deserve punishment.
  • SS officers were not "victims just as surely as the victims in the concentration camps."
  • Jews did not force America into the Gulf War (either of them).

Buchanan's dissent from these points puts him well into the realm of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. Cothran may find this "Devil"ish, but there it is.

Cothran complains about my statement that "[Buckley] found that, while individual comments by Buchanan might be individually defensible from the charge of anti-Semitism, but that the entire gestalt is inescapable." Cothran's sneers at this: "'Gestalt' is a weasel word designed to cover up the insufficiency of the actual evidence, and his application of it results in absurdities that are simply laughable." I don't know what absurdities he thinks it would result in.

Let's consider an example. If I see someone get up from a bench right after a black person sits down, that's not racism. There are lots of good explanations for why someone might get up that have nothing to do with someone else sitting down. And there are lots of reasons to move away from someone on a bench (maybe the seatmate smells, or is talking to himself, or keeps spouting anti-Semitic or Holocaust-denying nonsense). But if I see someone constantly moving whenever a black person approaches, that's a gestalt that gives clear evidence of racism.

So when Buchanan blamed the first Gulf War on "Israel and its amen corner," that's kinda hinky, but could just be Buchanan being feisty. When he insists that Capitol Hill is "Israeli-occupied territory," that could be Buchanan's rambunctious nature again, but we have to ask why Buchanan is fixating on this one point. When he then defends every Nazi war criminal he can find, when he intimates that Jews are orchestrating a rush to war and leaving Christian kids to fight and die, when he claims that the Holocaust is a "group fantasy," when he claims that Jews are working behind the scenes to lynch an innocent man (the blood libel!), when he singles out 4 Jewish supporters of the Gulf War and ignores many supporters who were more influential and more prominent, it becomes inescapable that Buchanan is going after Jews in a way that he is not going after other people, stirring up anger and distrust in the public at large against Jews per se. Which is to say, he's engaging in anti-Semitism.

Cothran repeats his false claim that Buchanan's statements about "group fantasy" regarding the Holocaust, and a "Holocaust Survivor Syndrome" which makes survivor testimony unreliable. Cothran insists that these claims are backed by The Jerusalem Post (which also calls Buchanan an anti-Semite, FWIW), and that the story "was widely available on the Internet without the accompanying denial from the director of Yad Vashem." In fact, a Google search for "Holocaust Survivor Syndrome" returns a high school essay about survivors' guilt among Holocaust survivors and the Holocaust History Project's debunking of Buchanan's claim, which includes the correction. The Buchanan essay was written in 1990, before anything was especially "widely available on the Internet." Furthermore, Buchanan acknowledges getting material from Holocaust deniers, and they are proud to say that they've given that material to him.

Cothran claims I "question[] whether there is an Israeli lobby in Washington." I did no such thing, only noting that "the nature and existence of an 'Israeli lobby in Washington' is a fraught topic, with (misplaced, IMHO) charges of anti-Semitism being aimed at John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. But it could also be taken to mean something like the 'Learned Elders of Zion,' who were alleged, in an anti-Semitic forgery still circulated today, to 'work "behind the scenes" of all the Governments,' from which position they 'arranged … successes … for Darwinism (Evolution), Marxism (Communism), Nietzsche-ism (Socialism).'" Formally, a foreign government cannot engage in lobbying, so any "Israeli lobby" which exists must be more informal in nature. And certainly groups like AIPAC advocate on Israel's behalf to a degree that they can be called "the Israeli lobby" (they call themselves a "Pro-Israel lobby." Others extend that term more broadly to encompass a range of organizations and individuals who lobby for Israel's interests. And others, to quote the Guardian's Jonathan Freedland, connect references to "the Israeli lobby" as "The notion that Jews wield excessive power, and do so in mysterious ways; that they advance the interests of a foreign power; that they function as some kind of fifth column, and that as such they have often led their country into needless wars." Freedland rightly adds that "all these are accusations that have been hurled at Jews going back many centuries. It should be no surprise that Jews' ears prick up if they think they can hear these old tunes hammered out once more."

Cothran thinks this argument is wrong. He thinks it is "paranoia," and that I am going after Buchanan only because of who Buchanan associates with, and that the standards I'm applying would also tar Barack Obama as an anti-Semite. These claims are both false. My assessment of Buchanan's anti-Semitism rests on what Buchanan actually says and does, in the full context of what he says and does. I have cited various sources who know Buchanan and his work better than I do, preferring conservative sources to show that this is not simply a matter of political bias. Conservatives like William F. Buckley and Ron Radosh have no reason to tag other conservatives as anti-Semitic or as Holocaust deniers if it can be helped, nor would magazines like Reason, National Review, Commentary, or the Jerusalem Post call him an anti-Semite or a Holocaust denier unless they had good reason to do so. The Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center are the acknowledged experts on anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial, and other forms of race-based extremism, and their identification of Buchanan as an anti-Semite, a white nationalist, and a Holocaust denier are impossible to ignore (despite Cothran's best efforts). That Buchanan seeks out the company of neo-Nazis is not proof, and I never presented it as proof, of his anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

Cothran wants to compare Buchanan's frequent advocacy of anti-Semitic and Holocaust denying views with Barack Obama, claiming that

he had been endorsed and had actually worked on projects with a man who called Judaism a "gutter religion" and Jews themselves "bloodsuckers." And … had attended a church for over 20 years where the priest was a supporter of this man and who had a penchant for anti-Israeli rhetoric from the pulpit.

I note again that "anti-Israeli rhetoric" may not be anti-Semitic. One can agree with Israeli policy without thinking that there should be no homeland for the Jewish people, and without blaming Judaism per se for the failures of Israel's government. Buchanan does not do this. There seems to be no accusation that Jeremiah Wright has said anything anti-Semitic.

Furthermore, I never cited endorsements as evidence, since anyone can endorse anyone else. And as has been widely reported:

Hours after Farrakhan praised Obama during his annual Saviours' Day speech last Sunday, the Obama campaign moved to distance the candidate from Farrakhan, telling the Associated Press that it did not solicit Farrakhan's support.

In responding to questions during the debate, Obama took a much stronger approach.

"I have been very clear in my denunciation of Minister Farrakhan's anti-Semitic comments," Obama told Tim Russert, NBC Washington Bureau chief.

"I did not solicit his support. ... I obviously can't censor him, but it is not support that I sought. And we're not doing anything, I assure you formally or informally, with Minister Farrakhan."

So, to answer Martin Cothran's question, I do not think Barack Obama is an anti-Semite. As Richard Cohen says, "nothing in Obama's record suggests he harbors anti-Semitic views or agrees with Wright when it comes to Farrakhan. … Obama often has said that he and his minister sometimes disagree. Farrakhan… is one of those instances."

An accusation of anti-Semitism is a serious thing, as is a charge of Holocaust denial. I do not make these charges against Pat Buchanan lightly, and I wish that Martin Cothran would take anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial seriously as well. Cothran is wrong to say that I've accused him of anti-Semitism. I have simply noted that he consistently defends even the worst of Pat Buchanan's Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism. I don't know why he does so, and have not speculated on that matter. I find his attempts to muddy these waters around the President improper and would not cast those aspersions Cothran without good reason.

To conclude, Cothran objects to my claim that Pat Buchanan invoked the blood libel. The basis for his objection is unclear, but perhaps my reason for making the claim (in "Shorter" form) was vague.

The essay in question is structured around Good Friday. As Cothran acknowledges, Jan Demjanjuk, an indicted war criminal who is being extradited to face charges over his actions as a camp guard in the Nazi SS, is presented as a Christ-like figure. Buchanan claims that "He is to serve as the sacrificial lamb whose blood washes away the stain of Germany's sins," just as Christians are told on Good Friday that Jesus died for humanity's sins. Buchanan insists that, like Jesus, Demjanjuk is being put through a show trial and will then be wrongly executed. "It is the same satanic brew of hate and revenge that drove another innocent Man up Calvary that first Good Friday 2,000 years ago," Buchanan concludes.

And who is attempting to kill this supposed Lamb of God? The Office of Special Investigation is, like the Roman military, a beard for other forces Buchanan imagines working to murder Demjanjuk. Who are those mysterious forces? Buchanan says that the OSI turned to "its Israeli friends" who Buchanan seems to envision like Caiaphas, plotting to find evidence against this innocent. The OSI then received aid from "its old comrades in the KGB." The notion that Jews and Communists are allied stretches at least as far back as the forgery known as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Buchanan strives to construct various other parallels, leading to Demjanjuk's supposed status "as the sacrificial lamb whose blood washes away the stain of Germany's sins." Like Jesus, first tried by the Sanhedrin and then brought to Pilate for justice not permitted to the Jews, Demjanjuk must be brought before an outside party, who will do the dirty work. In Buchanan's telling (in that essay and his other writings about the OSI), the Jews are pulling the strings, leaving the blood on others' hands.

So, in this allegory Buchanan wants us to believe, Good Friday:Good Friday::Demjanjuk:Jesus::Jews:Jews. Jews are killing Demjanjuk just as, Buchanan implies, Jews killed Jesus.

This notion, that Jews killed Jesus, and that Jews continue to kill innocents for their own ritual needs, is called the blood libel; the blood libel has been the cause of many pogroms and was cited to stir up the early embers of the Holocaust (well before WWII, despite Buchanan's claims). The Vatican II conference officially rejected the blood libel, claims of Jewish deicide, and other anti-Semitic doctrines. Buchanan took umbrage at such efforts, replying to Cardinal O'Connor's acknowledgement of the Catholic Church's long history of anti-Semitism: "If U.S. Jewry takes the clucking appeasement of the Catholic cardinalate as indicative of our submission, it is mistaken. When Cardinal O'Connor of New York seeks to soothe the always irate Elie Wiesel by reassuring him 'there are many Catholics who are anti-Semitic'...he speaks for himself. Be not afraid, Your Eminence; just step aside, there are bishops and priests ready to assume the role of defender of the faith."

This sort of rhetoric hardly indicates an appreciation of the seriousness of Catholic oppression of Jews, nor does his attempt to paint Demjanjuk as a victim of rapacious Jews show much appreciation of the history of violent anti-Semitism such lies have inspired in the past. Buchanan cannot plead innocence on these matters. He's been in the public eye, saying these things and being called on these things for too long to credibly claim not to know the effect he's having.

Indeed, the effect is frequently too calculated. Consider his most recent column for Human Events magazine, which, to quote Zach Roth "takes as its premise the notion that there's a 'blood-and-soil, family-and-faith, God-and-country kind of nation' that's competing with a minority represented by the 'rootless' Obama and his 'aides with advanced degrees from elite colleges who react just like him.'" Roth notes that "Already, we're in National Socialist territory here, but let's leave that aside (with Buchanan, once you start down this path, it can be hard to stop...)." Indeed it can, and beyond those subtle dogwhistles to neo-Nazis, "What jumped out at us was Buchanan's contention that the 'blood-and-soil' part of America... 'does not comprehend how the president could sit in Trinidad and listen to the scrub stock of the hemisphere trash our country -- and say nothing."

As Roth uncovered, the phrase "scrub stock" has been used in animal breeding to refer to any inferior breed that one wants to keep separate (a usage that provides the basis for common references to an unattractive loser as a "scrub"). But it is also a phrase used by eugenicists "explicitly extended the use of the phrase beyond animals and into humans. In short, the phrase has been used by both eugenicists and racial segregationists to argue for the superiority of the white race." And Buchanan applied the term to Hugo Chavez and Daniel Ortega, both of whom happen to be mestizo – descendants of both Spanish and Native American ancestors – exactly the sort of person who a white supremacist would consider "scrub."

In 1999, Jacob Weisberg asked a question of conservatives that I will pose again to Martin Cothran. "The more you learn about Buchanan's views," Weisberg writes, "the more the question becomes why Republicans have tolerated a semi-fascist in their midst for so long."


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William F. Buckley ran THE NATIONAL REVIEW, leading neo-conservative rag mostly loathed by paleoconservatives like Buchanan.

Not a bad essay until you got into the Uke Bashing.

Tell me, are you aware that the Israeli lawyer for Demjanjuk called this the biggest PC show trial of the century? - that were it a communist being investigated for genocide against non communists that it would never come to fruition?

Tell us why not one leftist has been brought to trial for the genocide of 100 million in the last century.


Dude, Buckley founded National Review decades before people were calling themselves neo-conservative, and while it's considerably friendlier to the neo-cons today, it did not welcome their bellicose foreign policy with open arms.

why was my post deleted

By blackminorca (not verified) on 28 Apr 2009 #permalink