Eric Alterman on Sheldon Adelson

Eric Alterman has a bizarre column  in The Nation on billionaire Gingrich-backer Sheldon Adelson.  The column purports to be a celebration of the fact that “no one” is using a combination of Adelson’s Jewishness, money, somewhat shady reputation, and hawkishly pro-Israel views for anti-Semitic purposes. The column, however, really seems to be starts off with what reads like a passive-aggressive attempt by Alterman to goad his readers into loathing Adelson precisely for being a rich, somewhat shady, Jewish businessman with hawkishly pro-Israel views [while concluding that the absence of anti-Semitic attacks on Adelson shows is evidence of the “near-complete disappearance” of anti-Semitism.   I think it would help if I quoted the very first line of the column: “If a Jew-hater somewhere, inspired perhaps by The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, sought to invent an individual who symbolizes almost all the anti-Semitic clichés that have dogged the Jewish people throughout history, he could hardly come up with a character more perfect than Sheldon Adelson.”].

The disingenuousness of the column became obvious when I reached this line: “Nobody has noted—at least not in public—that [Adelson’s] agenda happens to be the one to which Jews accused of ‘dual loyalty’ or of being ‘Israel-firsters’ are alleged to have dedicated themselves.”

Even though I (unlike, I think it’s safe too assume, Alterman) don’t regularly frequent websites that traffic in attacking people for being hawkishly pro-Israel (much less for being rich or Jewish), I’ve seen plenty of attacks on Adelson on precisely the grounds that Alterman claims “nobody” is mentioning.  As confirmation, a Google search for Adelson Gingrich Israel-firster brings up 527 pages [and checking the first dozen-plus, it’s all attacks on Adelson of the sort “nobody” is making, including one in Time magazine]; assumedly there are a lot more of a similar ilk that don’t use the relatively obscure “Israel-firster” language.

UPDATE: Alterman is not, of course, making the blatantly anti-Semitic suggestion that Nation readers should loathe Adelson because he’s a Jew.  Rather, he’s suggesting that Adelson is the kind of Jew Nation readers should loathe.  It’s perhaps akin to when Clarence Thomas’s critics accuse him of being an “Uncle Tom” or use similar race-tinged insults; they’re not arguing that one should loathe Thomas because he’s Black, but because of the kind of Black he is.  It’s certainly not KKK-style racism, and indeed those who engage in such slurs typically think of themselves as champions of anti-racism (as I’m sure Alterman, as an observant Jew, does with regard to anti-Semitism) but it’s ugly nevertheless.

FURTHER UPDATE: I’m not completely content with the “Uncle Tom” analogy, which is more like a Jew calling a fellow Jew “self-hating” (which is also ugly rhetoric).

A more precise analogy to Alterman’s column is suggested by a commentor: A conservative black columnist writes a column about a shady, black hip-hop artist/producer  giving tons of money to a liberal presidential candidate, purportedly to promote an agenda of affirmative action. The columnist suggests that that the producer’s flaws are of exactly the type that racists traditionally associate with black people, which he then enumerates. The columnist adds that he is “thrilled” that criticism of the rapper never invokes racist themes–even though, in fact, such criticism sometimes invoked the very themes the columnist suggested would be signs of racism, generally among the columnist’s own ideological bedfellows–and suggests that racism has nearly disappeared, and groups like the NAACP should stop raising it in debates on the subject.

Of course, racism is more prevalent and more virulent in the U.S. than is anti-Semitism, but the point is that sheer disingenuousness of a column criticizing a controversial black person in racial (albeit not racist) terms, as the embodiment of the worst stereotypes racists have about Blacks, and then editorializing that thank god my ideological allies and others aren’t criticizing this person in those terms–even though sometimes they are!–and that this shows that racism is just a left-wing bogeyman that groups like the NAACP should stop invoking, would be obvious.

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