Echoes of McCarthyism in Smear Campaign Against New Israel Fund Backers
Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin is a name that is infamous in American history.
The senator hurled scurrilous innuendos and attacked the character of those he opposed. He routinely labelled them as “Communists” in an attempt to squelch all political views at odds with his own.
In the spring of 1954, when his power was at its zenith, McCarthy charged that the Army was lax in its security. He demanded that its leaders appear before him in Senate hearing. The army hired the prominent Boston attorney Joseph Welch to defend it.
On June 9, 1954, when McCarthy suddenly claimed that one of Welch’s attorneys had ties to a Communist organization, Welch responded with unforgettable lines that remain eternally etched in the conscience of our nation.
“Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.” When McCarthy tried to continue, Welch, with the entire nation looking on at the televised hearings, stated, “Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?”
McCarthy never recovered from his public shaming. His power dissipated and his name became and remains a euphemism for unfair, hateful, and unjustified attacks.
Unfortunately, McCarthy’s tactics are apparently still alive and well in the Jewish community today. Ronn Torossian and Pam Geller have attacked Karen Adler, Alisa Doctoroff, Edith Everett, and Carol Zabar — among the most prominent leaders of our community — as supporters of the BDS campaign against Israel who seek to undermine the Jewish state. Torossian did so in a New York Post opinion piece and Geller’s group has sponsored bus ads repeating the charge.
The shameless attacks compel us to ask of Torossian and Geller, as Welch did of McCarthy, “Have you no sense of decency?”
We proudly call these persons whom Torossian and Geller are slandering our friends. They hardly need us to testify on their behalf.
Their decades of service to our community speak far better than any testimonial. Nevertheless, decency demands that the libels against them not remain unchallenged. We feel compelled to raise our voices, protest these attacks, and call for their cessation.
These leaders of our community have a long track record of acting on behalf of the Jewish people in all the places where we live. For decades they have shown their love for and defense of the State of Israel. They have been unsurpassed in their generosity – both with their means and their time – to so many vital causes in our community and beyond. Most of all, they have been exemplars of concern for civility in our Jewish community. And in recent weeks in the face of gutter level attacks on them they have become models of derekh eretz (decency). The way in which they have conducted themselves and quietly endured the abuse and lies that have been heaped upon them testifies more powerfully than a thousand libels as to their goodness as well as to their attachment and support of Israel.
Their deeds have consistently enhanced the Jewish people and promoted and secured the Jewish State. How blessed the Jewish people would be if there were millions and millions of more Jews like them in both Israel and the diaspora. Why are Torossian and Geller engaged in this unrelenting campaign? What is their “sin”? They are supporters of The New Israel Fund.
There have been repeated attempts to demonize the New Israel Fund (NIF) for several years. The NIF is an organization that works ceaselessly to promote the progressive values of equality and democracy in Israel. The NIF seeks a Jewish State which protects the human rights of all its citizens – and for this our friends are censured? One may not agree with every single cause that NIF supports. However, it is simply wrong to question the commitment and loyalty of this organization and its supporters to the Jewish state.
These attacks on these outstanding Jewish leaders reflect a disturbing new development in contemporary Jewish life. Rather than disagree civilly and engage in polite and constructive debate there is name-calling and defamation. This is character assassination of the worst kind. Our community should not tolerate it. The true enemies of the Jewish people are those who engage in such vilification.
The Talmud teaches that the Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed because of sinat chinam, ceaseless and unwarranted hatred that Jews needlessly displayed towards other Jews. We would all do well to remember this. It would behoove those people who agree with them to turn to them and say: “This is not how Jews behave. Your smear tactics are doing more to undermine the unity of the Jewish people and weaken the State of Israel than any deed that those whom you charge with perfidy have performed. It is time for you to stop.”
And if these attacks do not cease then there will be no need to ask of Torossian, Geller, and their acolytes the question Welch posed to McCarthy. The answer will be clear.
Deborah Lipstadt, a Forward contributing editor, is the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University. David Ellenson is Chancellor Emeritus of the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and Distinguished Visiting Professor at New York University.