George Szamuely Demolishes Podhoretz's Allegations
Taki's Top Drawer / New York Press
4th November 1999
"Is Patrick Buchanan an anti-Semite?" Thus the opening sentence of Norman Podhoretzs page-long screed in Oct. 25s Wall Street Journal. The answer, about 3000 words later, is no surprise. Yes, Buchanan has indeed "become an anti-Semite."
One wonders why Podhoretz even bothered writing the article. That "Buchanan is an anti-Semite" is by now a cliche. For this, we largely have Podhoretz to thank. Back in January 1991, Commentarythe magazine Podhoretz edited for 35 yearspublished an article, "Patrick J. Buchanan and the Jews," by Joshua Muravchik. It was here that for the first time a case was made against Buchanan accusing him of "anti-Semitism." Though it seemed extraordinary that for more than 25 yearsuntil Muravchik came along, in facta man as outspoken as Buchanan could have succeeded in concealing from the rest of the world his rabid "anti-Semitism," in no time at all the Commentary insights became conventional wisdom: Buchanan was an "anti-Semite."
The charge of "anti-Semitism" is an extremely serious one. Websters defines "anti-Semitism" as "hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group." Has Pat Buchanan demonstrated "hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group"? His many Jewish friends say no. This cuts no ice with Podhoretz. He dismisses the "some of his best friends [are] Jews" claims as the "traditional apology" for anti-Semites.
However, Podhoretz fails to name any anti-Semite whose best friends really were Jews. One would have thought Buchanans Jewish friends are in the best position to know whether his friendship is genuine or not.
This is how the anti-Buchanan method works. Surmise, suggestion and insinuation take the place of facts. Where are the clear statements by Buchanan that are readily identifiable as "anti-Semitic"? Where is guff about the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Jewish World Conspiracy, rootless cosmopolitans? What we get instead are snippets of sentences pulled from his voluminous writings and innumerable tv appearances. Taken out of context, their meaning distorted, they are then all mixed up together in the hope that the resulting stew will be sufficiently toxic.
In his Journal article Podhoretz offered a number of examples of the method. I will cite only two. Like many others before him, Podhoretz refers to a past column in which Buchanan is supposed to have lavished praise on Hitler. Buchanan describes Hitler as "an individual of great courage, a soldiers soldier in the Great War [a] genius." However, what Buchanan really said in this 1977 column was, "Though Hitler was indeed racist and anti-Semitic to the core, a man who without compunction could commit murder and genocide, he was also an individual of great courage, a soldiers soldier " etc. Significantly, the word "genius" appears somewhat later and in a different context. Buchanan says, "[Hitlers] genius was an intuitive sense of the mushiness, the character flaws, the weakness masquerading as morality that was in the hearts of the statesmen who stood in his path."
Buchanan wrote this column to attack the policy of "appeasement." Indeed, throughout the column he sounds a lot like Podhoretz: "Men like Chamberlain and Daladier needed a moral justification for their acts of weakness and betrayal Almost alone among European statesmen, Churchill saw thatunder the guise of restoring Germany to her rightful place among nationsHitler was marching along the road toward a New Order where Western civilization would not survive. The vision lacking in the statesmen of 37 appears lacking as well in the men of 77."
Now, one could say that Buchanan has changed his view of Chamberlain. However, by no stretch of the imagination could the piece be described as "soft on Hitler." Yet how many people will take the trouble to dig up a column from more than 20 years ago and see for themselves what Buchanan actually said?
Podhoretz makes another familiar charge against Buchanan. Writing about the Gulf War, he describes the time that Buchanan allegedly listed "four prominent Jews who thought war might be necessary. Almost immediately he counterpoised them with kids with names like McAllister, Murphy, Gonzales and Leroy Brown, who would actually do the fighting if these Jews had their way." According to Podhoretz, this "juxtaposition of the prominent Jewish figures who favored the war with the non-Jewish kids who would be sent to die in the Persian Gulf" was a "traditional anti-Semitic canard."
"When it came to digging up anti-Semitic filth from the foul swamps where it was buried," Podhoretz concludes, "Mr. Buchanan was deterred neither by facts nor by the stench arising out of his exhumations." Thems strong words! They would have greater force if Buchanan had actually said what he is supposed to have said.
In the first place, Buchanan never counterpoised "four prominent Jews" with kids "who would actually do the fighting." Buchanans comments come from two different columns. It is the editors of the British magazine The Economist that he contrasts with the "kids." Here is what Buchanan actually said: "The civilized world must win this fight, the editors [of The Economist] thunder. But, if it comes to war, it will not be the civilized world humping up that bloody road to Baghdad; it will be American kids with names like McAllister, Murphy, Gonzales and Leroy Brown." It is obvious from the context that Buchanan is having a go at the Brits, not the Jews.
As for the other column, the one in which he upbraided A.M. Rosenthal, Charles Krauthammer, Richard Perle and Henry Kissingerthe "four prominent Jews," to use Podhoretzs phraseologyfor their enthusiasm for war on Iraq, nowhere did Buchanan suggest that their advocacy had something to do with their being Jewish. Podhoretz fails to mention, moreover, that one of the culprits Buchanan listed was The Wall Street Journal.
Quoting approvingly from the 1991 Commentary article, Podhoretz then suggests that Buchanan was a dove during the Gulf War only because of "his animus against Israel." For the last 10 years, Buchanan has been a "dove" during every single U.S. engagement abroad. Podhoretz knows this well. So how can he continue to stand by this judgment?
How can he claim that Buchanan defended John Demjanjuk out of eagerness to champion "the cause of almost anyone accused of participating actively in Hitlers genocidal campaign against the Jews"? Where is the evidence? Buchanan was not defending the mans alleged actions. He was defending him from the charge that he was the Treblinka guard Ivan the Terriblea stance that the Israeli Supreme Court eventually vindicated.
Podhoretz alleges that Buchanan "lent his weight to some of the preposterous claims of those who believe either that the Holocaust never occurred or that the Jews have wildly exaggerated the number of lives it claimed." But he is unable to quote a single sentence by Buchanan that expresses any skepticism about the Holocaust.
Our system of justice is based on the principle that the more serious the charge, the higher should be the standard of proof. Yet people toss around words like "anti-Semitic" and "racist" with cheerful abandon. Proffering evidence is unnecessary. Every hack simply quotes every other hack. Besides, once we know a man is "anti-Semitic," whatever he says or does will always manifest his "anti-Semitism." The effect is to rule certain people and certain positions out of serious consideration.
Worse, the poison and bitterness that such words carry increasingly ensure that just about every issue is now off the table. The former editor of Commentary is normally, and rightly, among the loudest to denounce the promiscuous deployment of the "racist" barb. It is a shame that he is not as vigilant when it comes to the toxic "anti-Semitic" slur.
by George Szamuely