The other night at dinner I made the mistake of telling a relative of my wife that I am sick of repeating myself and so I’m thinking of moving on to other lost causes, global warming and overpopulation. This was great news in her view. She said that this website is way too negative, that we should be embracing John Kerry as a hopeful messenger, that our posts are a neverending parade of black crepe. I nodded diplomatically and said, She’s right, and it’s because this is a tragic situation, like visiting Algeria in 1958 and being hopeful. The tracks off the cliff have been laid…
The morning after, in the kitchen of the resort house my wife’s extended family rents in Pennsylvania, my sister-in-law washed asparagus and made fun of me. By making that confession at dinner, she said, I would never hear the end of it. She affected a Katherine Hepburn drawl and said, “Phil-ip is borrrred of the Jews.” It was funny. Maybe you had to be there.
Listening to my very Christian relation mock me and the Jews in a high-church drawl, I thought about a landmark in the American discussion of Jews and Israel, Gore Vidal’s vicious essay on the Podhoretzes in 1986 in the Nation, called The Empire Lovers Strikes Back. I read it the other day because Vidal’s alleged anti-Semitism was being reassessed a year after his death in Salon. The piece eviscerated “Poddy,” as Vidal called Norman Podhoretz, and his wife Midge Decter, as dual loyalty cases who had no connection to the American history Vidal cherished– the Civil War was as distant to him as the “War of the Roses,” Podhoretz declared to Vidal– but were determined to bend American foreign policy to support Israel. Vidal denounced the neoconservatives as conservatives steeped in Zionism who were forging an alliance with Christian fundamentalists to build a lobby that was twisting foreign policy. If real American interests ever asserted themselves, Vidal said, Israel and its conflict with its neighbors would be as foreign to the U.S. as… the War of the Roses. Brilliant ending.
Vidal’s piece had the whiff of anti-Semitism (as Scott McConnell notes) because Vidal was old school and entitled and looked on the rise of Jewish cultural power as un-American. But no matter his point of view, there was a rise in Jewish cultural and political power. How can anyone deny it. In 1970 Alan Dershowitz vowed to leave Harvard Law School unless they finally appointed a Jewish dean. Harvard did, Dershowitz stayed. Since then there have been several Harvard Law Jewish deans, the last one replacing another who went on to the Supreme Court, joining two other Jews. And John Kerry’s peace team is led by Frank Lowenstein (son of Allard) and Martin Indyk. And Israel’s war of the roses is the U.S.’s, forever, and the Jewish rise into the establishment is a key factor in that transformation.
That’s what’s boring. Every issue Gore Vidal wanted to talk about 27 years ago is alive and throbbing today. And Vidal was not a prophet. It was obvious. His statement that the neoconservatives were a Greater Israel crowd against a Peace Now crowd of good Jews who opposed the occupation is true today– when Andrew Sullivan tries to draw the line there. His belief that Zionist dual loyalty was a real problem is even truer in the wake of the Iraq war, when American and Israeli interests were conflated by the warmongering neocons who were no longer just writing for egghead magazines, as they were when Vidal got het up, they were counseling a moronic president. Vidal’s statement about the lobby and the Christian Zionists, spot on. His assertion that the battle between Jewish colonists and the Arabs should be as distant to the U.S. as the War of the Roses is perfectly reasonable– but today would be condemned as isolationist or America Firster.
That’s because his ideas were suppressed by the left. The Nation did nothing to anchor his claims in the decades that followed. In fact, it walked away from them. Like Tony Judt’s call for a one-state solution in the New York Review of Books in 2003, which also brought a tsunami of angry protests from Leon Wieseltier and Michael Walzer and all the good liberal Zionists, it was territory conquered at huge cost by Jewish editors, then left undefended.
So the battle raged on, and the mystification continued, and essential intellectual and journalistic labors were wasted. A lot of bodies left in the barbed wire, for territory the left disdained.
But necessary territory. I published an essay in support of Walt and Mearsheimer in the Nation in 2006, but many Nation readers resisted it, as they resisted Vidal, and it’s not like the Nation is talking about the Israel lobby and the neocons. No. The subject has got that whiff. Just like, “Phi-lip is borrrred with the Jewwws” has got that whiff.
An essential conversation (about the neocons and the lobby and the Democratic Party and American interest and the war of the Roses) will never happen until American Jews, who wield such cultural power, are secure enough that a manner of earnest satirical discourse that is perfectly acceptable, and essential, when it comes to say, Christian fundamentalists and choice, or Republicans and gay rights, is permitted on the subject of the lobby and Israel.
Which is why we repeat ourselves, over and over again. You’d be bored too.