After Gore Vidal died a year ago, Stan Persky, a Canadian Jewish writer, read that he was anti-Semitic; and so he reread Vidal to decide for himself and concluded that the charge was aimed at his anti-Zionism. What a good thing that LA Review of Books and Salon are running this sort of inquiry:
The day after Gore Vidal’s death (a year ago, July 31, 2012) … I stumbled into a Facebook catfight. One of my FB friends (who I’ll leave nameless) was having a conniption fit about, of all people, Gore Vidal. …. the litany included most of the standard jibes about Vidal: elitist, patrician snob, conspiracy theorist, racist, and oddly, “judeophobe.”..
The reason that the term “judeophobe,” which had probably not been included in Vidal’s expectations when he was contemplating his obits, caught my attention was no doubt because I’m also a descendent of the famous “Chosen People,” though admittedly I’m what’s known in the trade as a “bad Jew.” Surely, my however feeble anti-semitic radar should have picked up on, over the many years, Vidal’s alleged loathing of Jews, if it existed.That’s what led me, a month or so later, to download Vidal’s Selected Essays. I wanted to check for any evidence of judeophobia…
The charge of judeophobia seemed prima facie unlikely, given that Vidal had lived for some 50 years with a Jewish companion, Howard Auster (now deceased). And, as I quickly re-discovered, there was absolutely nothing in the essays, including one of Vidal’s best-known essays that explicitly discusses Jews and homosexuals, “Pink Triangle and Yellow Star” (1981), to substantiate the claim of judeophobia.
It took only a couple of minutes of Internet rummaging-around to get to the source of the judeophobia charge. My Facebook friend, it turned out, had been reading a batch of pro-Zionist blogs that slagged the recently-departed polemicist Vidal for his views on Israel. Since my friend was a fervent anti-Islamicist-terrorist (a perfectly respectable view), he had lately acquired a rather indiscriminate corollary affection for my Jewish compatriots who were citizens of Israel, especially the more militant right-wing members of that category (a not-so-respectable fondness)…
While many criticisms of Vidal, both personal and political, are justified, the judeophobe charge doesn’t stick. In the end, it was just another complicated dispute about Israel, Zionism, and some American Jewish supporters of Israel, disputes of which there is no end. So, “judeophobe” is just exaggerated code for “anti-Zionist.”
I wish Persky had identified the person who slagged Vidal. Why aren’t writers accountable for this type of speech?
Also, Persky makes clear why Norman Finkelstein, whom I respect in so many areas, is wrong when he says that we shouldn’t debate Zionism, because as far as Americans are concerned, Zionism could be a hairspray. Understanding the ideology of Zionism is necessary to this discussion, and it’s not hard to educate people about such terms. I’ve long said that the media need to be talking about Zionism, so that anti-Zionists can stand up and show that we don’t have horns, and this piece moves the ball down the field. And don’t tell me that’s a mixed metaphor.