I’m a big fan of Tablet, but I think they stumbled in publishing Lee Smith’s piece on the “mainstreaming” of anti-Semitism without subjecting it to more vigorous editorial scrutiny.
Smith’s thesis seems to be (“seems” is the operative word here — it’s not a very coherent piece) that a number of bloggers for a number of credentialed sites — Phillip Weiss’ Mondoweiss (The Nation Institute), Glenn Greenwald’s blog (Salon) Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish (The Atlantic), and Stephen Walt’s blog (ForeignPolicy.com/The Washington Post Company) — simultaneously engage in “Jew-baiting” and have become “avatars” of a “cesspool” of anti-Semitic comments from thousands of readers.
What links these bloggers “atop the junk heap” is that they are “obsessed with Israel and the machinations of the U.S. Israel lobby,” and that their blogs inspire posts that turn their web sites into an “open sewer of hate.”
Is Smith calling for a more vigorous culling of the comments sections to weed out the most hateful invective? In part. Is he accusing each of the writers of sharing and sympathizing with the kind of hate espoused by their commenters? He does and he doesn’t — he’s pretty sloppy about distinguishing between what the bloggers write and how the nut-jobs respond. There is an interesting question here about how responsible any pundit is for the audience he or she attracts (a question running through the debate over the Tea Party and racism), but Smith isn’t interested in a debate.
Nor does Smith nail down the argument about how being “obsessed with Israel and the machinations of the U.S. Israel lobby” is anti-Semitism by another name. The argument can be made — Wieseltier tried to make it against Sullivan, and Ron Kampeas has been more successful in demonstrating where Stephen Walt and Weiss cross the line — but Smith just assumes that because someone like Greenwald takes strong issue with AIPAC and U.S. Mideast policy the reader will agree he’s a ”Jew-baiter.”
Anti-Semitism is too serious a charge to level without defining your terms and assembling your evidence precisely. Smith’s essay is a slow pitch for Greenwald and others, who will undoubtedly respond that this proves that one can’t criticze Israel without being accused of anti-Semitism.