Heading into the home stretch of another bitterly fought national election, partisans on both sides aren’t pulling any punches. Democrats charge Republicans with incompetence, corruption and failed leadership. Republicans call Democrats ready to cut and run on Iraq, weak on security and, of course, tax-and-spend liberals.
Name-calling and partisan attacks may turn the public off of politics and politicians, but they are a part of the political game and unlikely to disappear anytime soon.
There are, however, lines that shouldn’t be crossed even in the heat of partisan battle. One such red line is using charges of antisemitism for political purposes.
In recent years, Republicans have tried to scare Jewish voters with charges that Democrats are insufficiently supportive of Israel. My former congressional colleague Howard Berman addressed that charge on this page two weeks ago.
Now, however, they’ve upped the ante, seeking to paint the more progressive elements of the Democratic Party as more maliciously antisemitic.
Antisemitism remains a real danger in the 21st century. Readers of this paper scarcely need to be reminded of the death, suffering and destruction that hatred of the Jewish people has caused. My own family and that of many American Jews suffered its effects in Europe and elsewhere, within our own lifetimes. The wounds are fresh and the ongoing examples of it today all too real.
Recognizing this stark reality, we must condemn and fight antisemitism whenever and wherever it rears its ugly head — as well as the antisemites themselves, whether they come from the left or from the right. Our experience as a people obligates us to fight xenophobia, homophobia and all forms of discrimination and to rally the forces of freedom and tolerance to that fight.
The ability to do that, however, is severely damaged when the antisemitism charge is tossed around lightly and for political purpose. Crying wolf about antisemitism demeans the charge and makes it more likely that, when faced with the real thing, the victims will not be able to generate necessary attention and concern.
Over the past two months, conservative media commentators have undertaken a concerted attack on MoveOn.org, the progressive online movement, charging, as the Washington Times did in an editorial, that the organization has “a Jewish problem.” William Kristol in the pages of the Wall Street Journal and the Weekly Standard, Robert Goldberg in the Washington Times and others have taken shots at the organization as part of the global rising tide of antisemitism. Their obvious political aim is to move Jewish voters in this tight election season to the Republican column.
To back their claims up, they point to antisemitic posts on the organization’s electronic bulletin boards to say that the entire organization — and by implication, the Democratic Party — are antisemitic.
It matters not a whit to those making the charges that these bulletin boards are open to the public, or that the posts were not put up by MoveOn members. Neither do they care that the organization immediately took down those posts and issued a strong statement condemning them.
It matters not that cyberspace is rife with crackpots and extremists of all stripes and politics from right-wing skinheads to left-wing anarchists — all free to post their ranting and raving on anyone’s Web site that invites public comment, as does MoveOn’s. It matters not that many of MoveOn’s leaders, staff and consultants are Jewish, and even have family living in Israel.
The opportunity to charge antisemitism against the organization, and more broadly against the left, was simply too tempting in this political season.
Such use of antisemitism for blatant political purposes should have no place in the American political dialogue. A growing cloud of global antisemitism hangs over our community and our brothers and sisters around the world. Rather than disappearing with progress and modernity, the phenomenon is once again on the rise. The reasons why can be left to debate another day.
Whatever our political allegiances, the Jewish community should unite in condemning any effort by any side to demean and diminish the evil that is antisemitism by brandishing the charge for political purposes.
We face enough real dangers and challenges in the world to which we need to focus our national and communal attention. We don’t need William Kristol, the Washington Times and other conservative media voices to invent dangers and enemies that don’t exist.
Sam Gejdenson, a Connecticut Democrat, served in the House of Representatives from 1980 to 2000, retiring as the ranking Democrat on the International Relations Committee.