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Likudnik, Part II:

Kevin Drum writes:

ANTI-SEMITISM....This is getting tiresome. It has long been a staple on the right that most criticism of Israel is really just thinly veiled anti-Semitism. Then after 9/11 we began hearing that criticism of neocons was just thinly veiled anti-Semitism. Now David Bernstein comes along to tell us that use of the term "Likudnik" is just thinly veiled anti-Semitism.

Here's what I actually wrote:

Folks on the Left have been throwing around the term "Likudnik" to refer to any non-left-wing Jew who differs with them on foreign policy, even when the relevant issue has nothing directly to do with Israel, Iraq being exhibit A.... Not surprisingly, the phrase "Likudnik" is gradually becoming a general anti-Semitic term for Jews whose opinions one doesn't like. Case in point, an email from one Matthew Hess...

To give Kevin the benefit of the doubt, I'll assume that this is somehow unclear, so I will explain: "throwing around the term" implies carelessness, and I don't say anything about this carelessness being anti-Semitism, nor to I ever state that "use of the term 'Likudnik' is just thinly veiled anti-Semitism." However, I do argue that because folks are throwing around the term "Likudnik" carelessly, it's "not surprising" that the term is "gradually becoming a general anti-Semitic term."

I then given an example, which Kevin imprecisely describes as "a dumb email [Bernstein] received that used the term both incorrectly and insultingly." Judging from the comments section to Kevin's blog, most of his readers apparently assumed that this "dumb email" had something to do with Israel. It did not; it had to do with a Cathy Young column that disputed the "Bush voters are dumb" line. The author of the email cut and pasted a critique of Young from another blog, and then commented re Eugene (who, btw, had not commented on the Young column) and me: "You are two dumb Likudnik monkeys." "Likudnik" "gradually becoming a general anti-Semitic term." Kevin says, "Let's leave charges of anti-Semitism for actual anti-Semitism." So, Kevin, was this anti-Semitism (or, the way I would prefer to phrase it, an example of prejudice against Jews), or not? Or does calling someone a "dumb Likudnik monkey" when the topic at hand has nothing to do with foreign policy, much less Israel, merely reflect Kevin's point that "it's hardly surprising that most Americans aren't familiar with the minutiae of right-wing Israeli politics"?

Kevn adds:

I have no doubt that some anti-Semites do indeed use these terms as ways of expressing their views in more socially acceptable ways. But what are the rest of us supposed to do? These groups and their supporters are all perfectly legitimate targets of criticism and I'm getting tired of the hyper-PC right suggesting otherwise. Using "Likudnik" as a synonym for "supporter of right-wing Israeli politics" isn't entirely correct, but it's not all that far off the mark, especially in casual usage.

I wrote in my post, "Let's start by having a moratorium on the term 'Likudnik' to refer to anyone but actual, declared supporters of Likud..., and only when they are supporting or justifying a policy on Israel-related affairs." I'll grant Kevin that "declared supporters of Likud" may be too narrow, and that "supporters of right-wing Israeli politics" is fine. However, I reiterate that Likudnik should be used when referring to policy on Israel, not because sloppier uses of the term are inherently anti-Semitic, but because sloppy use of the term not only theoretically can but actually has created an opening for abusive use of the term by people who are either generally prejudiced against Jews, or, who, in an odd form of prejudice common to Jews themselves, believe that Jews have some special obligation to be leftists, and therefore any non-leftist Jew can be tarred as a "Likudnik," whatever that means. And since these other, non-Israel related uses of Likudnik are, in fact, sloppy, and often have nothing to do with Likud (or "right-wing" Israeli) policies, as such, restricting the term to its literal and natural meaning will actually enhance discourse over any given underlying issue.

UPDATE: I wrote the following to a correspondent, which I like well enough to share with VC readers: Let's say during the Clinton Administration, the Washington Post had quoted an unnamed government official, discussing Clinton Administration policy in Africa, as stating, in a clearly derogatory but not very specific way, "the Pan Africanists are in charge here." The article, meanwhile, talked mostly about black officials in the defense department and state department, and quoted Randall Robinson as defending these individuals. Over time, conservatives began to use this phrase disparagingly in reference to Clinton Administration officials, usually black, who were sympathetic to, and friendly with, leftist elements in South Africa (such as the Pan Africa Congress). Also over time, conservatives began to refer to "Pan Africanists" when discussing other elements of Clinton Administration policy in Africa that had nothing to do with South African policy, except that it reflected what critics saw as a generally leftist bent to more general African policy. Thus, for example, criticism of foreign aid to Ethiopia, or military intervention in Somalia, as reflecting the "Pan Africanist" agenda. Meanwhile, one started to notice that right-wing hate sites began to refer to any black officials in the Clinton Administration, and even Clinton Administration supporters outside the Administration, as "Pan Africanists." And a black blogger, who wrote a post on how Clinton voters aren't mostly promiscuous, received an email calling him, on the basis of that post, a "dumb Pan Africanist monkey." The analogy is inexact (blacks are not usually charged with dual loyalties, and Pan African ideology would really affect policy on Africa, while Likud ideology is rather specific to Israel; on the other hand, except among Muslim extremists, Jews aren't usually called monkeys), but it will do. Would you really consider it inappropriate at that point for the blogger to note that right-wingers have been using the phrase loosely, and thus bear some responsiblity to tighten their usage to avoid its developing racist connotations? And would the Post not bear some responsibility for quoting an anonymous official, in a context that fails to make it clear whether the official in question simply making a very specific reference to very specific individuals in the context of actual South African policy or was engaging in a slur?