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Critiquing neocons and scapegoating Jews

Critiquing neocons and scapegoating Jews:
An exchange with a “heartland Democrat”

Twisted anti-elitism is a centerpiece of fascist and other right-wing populist ideology. Right-wing conspiracy theories blame oppression on small groups of evil-doers who supposedly distort the normal workings of society — such as the Trilateral Commission, Bilderbergers, the World Trade Organization, the Bush family, etc. That’s fundamentally different from a systemic analysis of capitalism or imperialism. In addition, many right-wing conspiracy theories explicitly or implicitly scapegoat Jews or other ethnic groups. Nevertheless, such theories have repeatedly found their way into leftist discourse. Exposing and critiquing them is an important part of anti-fascist work.

This problem was brought home to me again after I posted my essay Christian Rightists and Neocons: a 25-year Alliance to the Three Way Fight anti-fascist blog. A few days later I received an email response from Barbara —, offering her own critique of the neocons. With a little digging, I found that Barbara’s email was a lightly edited excerpt from her blog The Southern Journal, which blends seemingly progressive positions with hatred of Jews and Mexicans and other far-right themes. [This blog has been discontinued.] Although it’s easy to condemn Barbara’s explicit bigotry, the subtler forms of scapegoating implicit in her portrait of the neocons could find a broad audience.

Here is the beginning of Barbara’s email, with a link to the original blog post on which it’s based. My reply appears below. –ml

* * * * *

April 22, 2006

Mr. Lyons

I just read your article about the Christian right and the neo-cons. I have my own theory about the neo-cons and i wonder if you could tell me what you think about it.

Thank you
Barbara

LIBERALS AND NEO-CONS ARE FLIP SIDES OF THE SAME COIN

People usually think of the neo-cons and the liberals as being the opposites of one another and that is true regarding many important issues. Yet in a fundamental way they are the same. Both are busy stirring up hatred against Christians and waging war on American culture and the religion that most of the people in the United States claim to believe….

[The rest of this essay, published on the defunct blog The Southern Journal, is no longer available.]

* * * * *

May 22, 2006

Barbara,

Thank you for your April 22 email with the essay “Liberals and Neocons are Flip Sides of the Same Coin,” excerpted from your blog, The Southern Journal. Because my writing time is limited, it’s taken me a while to put together an adequate response. Your work illustrates how right-wing ideas influence people who don’t fit into standard right-wing categories — even people who are or used to be on the left. In the April 22 email, you argue that neocons and liberals together represent a new power elite that’s trying to overthrow the traditional aristocracy, that they’re undermining traditional American culture and stirring up hatred against Christians and southerners, that they favor Israeli interests over U.S. ones. These are old claims that paleoconservatives such as Pat Buchanan have been making for years. You back up your argument with quotations from the National Humanities Institute website, a paleocon outfit.

The hard right influence on your thinking becomes even clearer when we look at the original version of your liberal-neocon essay, posted on The Southern Journal on April 12. The original, unlike the version you sent me, contains passages that denounce Mexican immigrants as a threat to U.S. culture and warn that liberals and neocons are dangerous in large part because many of them are Jews. These are major themes on your blog, as they are for paleocons or groups even farther to the right. You repeat standard falsehoods and stereotypes about how Mexicans come to the U.S. and supposedly expect a free ride, don’t pay taxes, refuse to learn English, etc. You call Jews “a cancer on America” and write “Ask yourself why Jews have been hated and killed and chased out of every country where they ever lived. Do you think it is because they represent goodness and those who hate them are pure evil?” You despise the Christian right because, you say, it has been “propagandized by Jews” into supporting Israel.

What’s interesting is that your politics also has another side. You declare that “the Republican party is for the rich and big corporations” and “capitalists are the new slave drivers.” This isn’t just Pat Buchanan-style populism. You support the NYC transit workers and other labor unions, you point out the economic racism that intensified Hurricane Katrina’s impact on African Americans, you back Dennis Kucinich for president and suggest nationalizing the oil industry. You call yourself a “heartland Democrat” who wants to take back the Democratic party — not just from the hated liberals but also from the conservative Democratic Leadership Council. The specifics are different, but it’s the kind of political mix that fueled George Wallace’s presidential campaigns in 1968 and 1972, or Father Coughlin’s fascist crusade in the 1930s — seemingly progressive stands on economic or social welfare issues coupled with moral traditionalism and ethnic scapegoating. (Like you, too, both Wallace and Coughlin were rooted in the Democratic Party.)

You and I both oppose the neoconservatives, but we do so from radically different standpoints. I see the neocons as representatives of one capitalist faction who are working to intensify the long-established system of U.S. imperialism and related forms of social control. You see the neocons as a mostly Jewish group of interlopers working with deviousness and characteristic Jewish arrogance to destroy traditional Christian culture, weaken the United States, and seize power on behalf of Israel. My critique is rooted in a systemic analysis of oppression; your critique is rooted in antisemitic scapegoating.

The term antisemitism is often misused and misunderstood, so I want to explain clearly what I mean. It’s not inherently antisemitic to criticize Jews, Jewish organizations, or the Israeli government. Jews as much as anyone sometimes act in unethical or oppressive ways. Most Jews in the U.S. hold white skin privilege, the majority (though by no means all) are middle class or higher, and a few have even made it into the upper reaches of the economic or political elite. For these and other reasons, the leading U.S. Jewish organizations, like most organizations in this country, have a stake in a social and political order that’s inherently oppressive. Israel, like the United States, is a racist society founded on settler colonialism. The very concept of Israel as a Jewish state is inherently undemocratic and discriminatory toward Palestinians.

Some Jews and Jewish organizations misuse the charge of antisemitism or the memory of the Nazi genocide to deflect legitimate criticisms, especially criticisms of the Israeli state and its supporters. This muddles the issue, but it doesn’t mean the concept of antisemitism has no validity. It is antisemitic, for example, to treat Jews as a monolithic group, blame Jews as a whole for the oppressive actions of some, or stereotype Jews as arrogant, power-hungry, or evil — all of which you do in The Southern Journal. It’s also antisemitic to trivialize or justify the persecution of Jews or single out Jews for disproportionate criticism — as you do in your blog.

Antisemitic ideology exaggerates Jewish influence on politics and society — it imagines that Jews wield an immense, secret, malevolent power. The fictitious international Jewish conspiracy has been blamed for everything from the bubonic plague to the rise of global capitalism. A more limited version of this lie is the widespread notion that “the Jewish lobby” dictates U.S. support for Israel — as if U.S. imperialism didn’t have good reasons of its own for maintaining Israel as its number one client state.

The myth of Jewish power is partly rooted in a distinctive societal dynamic. Historically, non-Jewish elites have often recruited Jews into positions of relative privilege that were highly visible but outside the real centers or power. This allowed the rulers to make use of Jews’ higher literacy rates and other skills, and also to insulate themselves against popular resentment by setting up Jews as scapegoats for oppression. In medieval Europe, Jews often worked as moneylenders, merchants, tax collectors, or administrators on feudal estates. Although only some Jews held these jobs, they took on a defining role for Jewish communities as a whole. Under this arrangement, Jews were alternately tolerated and terrorized — periodically their rights were revoked, their property seized, and they were expelled, imprisoned, or massacred.

This dynamic has continued in the modern era — even, to a limited extent, in the post-World War II United States. Here, Jews have been disproportionately concentrated in middle-level roles as shopkeepers, landlords, white-collar workers, administrators, or professionals, which to many poor and working-class people represent the most visible kinds of status and power. Seeing Jews in these roles can reinforce the myth that Jews are the main oppressors.

We can see a related dynamic at work with regard to the neoconservatives (setting aside the fact that some of the most important neocons — such as Jeane Kirkpatrick, Bill Bennett, and Michael Novak — are non-Jews). Like the “Court Jews” of another era, the neocons are influential, publicly visible agents representing a section of the mostly non-Jewish ruling class. Their influence depends on capitalist patronage — courtesy of Dick Cheney, Rupert Murdoch, Richard Scaife, the Olin and Smith Richardson foundations, etc. And like Court Jews, they are useful not only for their skills in the service of power, but also as expendable scapegoats in times of need. It’s striking that Jewish neocons Perle, Wolfowitz, Libby, and Feith have all left the Bush administration, while Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice (traditional hawks who are neither neocon nor Jewish) are still there.

Israel, too, reflects this same antisemitic dynamic. Yes, the Israeli state is an oppressor and aggressor in its own right, but for almost forty years its power and stability have depended on massive U.S. subsidies. As U.S. imperialism’s most loyal ally in the region, Israel has helped keep Arab states in line, but in its scapegoat role Israel has also drawn some of the fire away from U.S. imperialism and oppressive Arab regimes. Presenting themselves as enemies of Zionism and friends of the Palestinians has helped such regimes deflect popular opposition away from their own brutal policies.

So, by exaggerating the neocons’ power and independence as mainstays of a “new power elite,” by obscuring their role — and Israel’s role — in a larger system of social control, and by treating both as an expression of Jews’ evil nature, you are faithfully following an old, tired script. You’re promoting a fake radicalism that leads people away from understanding how oppression works.

Your theories about Jewish power are not only insulting and dangerous for Jews, they’re also patronizing to Christians, who you claim to be defending. In your piece about liberals and neocons you write, “the neocons know perfectly well that by using the Christian right they…are causing Christians and Christianity to come under attack.” Elsewhere you describe Christian rightists as “morons” who have “enthroned” Jews because they were “propagandized by Jews since they were small.” In other words, Christian rightists are too stupid to make their own strategic decisions — they’re passive pawns manipulated by (Jewish) neocons, who pretend to support them in order to discredit Christianity.

Saying that the neocons have allied with the Christian right as a ploy to stir up anti-Christian sentiment is just silly — it makes about as much sense as the idea that they support the Israeli right in order to stir up anti-Zionism. But aside from that, you are simply treating millions of evangelical Christians with contempt, which is a strange way to counter supposed anti-Christian hatred.

In reality, the Christian right is one of the strongest mass movements in U.S. history, neither controlled by nor dependent on the small network of neocons, and its leaders have been making shrewd strategic decisions for decades. The Christian right has forged an alliance with the neocons as part of its effort to amass power and pursue shared goals. Most Christian rightists support Zionism because they believe that a strong Israel is a necessary part of the End Times (during which all Jews and others who don’t embrace Christianity will be destroyed), and because it fits with U.S. capitalism’s drive for global dominance, which they embrace. These choices are not very nice, and they reflect religious beliefs that are not subject to rational discussion, but they are neither stupid nor the result of external manipulation.

Thank you for the opportunity to clarify my position on these issues.

Sincerely,

Matthew Lyons

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