The “New McCarthyism”

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As with the Dissent article below, I did not intend on commenting on this piece from The Nation making the rounds. Mr. Cohler-Esses conjures up the by now familiar trope, a vast right-wing conspiracy is threatening to squash intellectual inquiry and political dissent in the United States, especially regarding Israel:

This is the modus operandi of the New McCarthyism. It targets a new enemy for our era: Muslims, Arabs and others in the Middle East field who are identified as stepping over an unstated line in criticizing Israel, as radical Islamists, as just plain radical or as in some way sympathetic to terrorists.

Cohler-Esses’s claim is preposterous. Supporters of Israel—including liberal or centrist supporters like myself—have been saying for quite some time that Israel, like any state, is subject to critique. What matters is the substance. Let’s be clear, anti-Zionist critics of Israel want to see the Jewish state eliminated, period. What this means for Jews depends on who you ask. For the militants of Hamas it means killing Jews. If you are a useful idiot like Tony Judt it means a single state where Jews and Palestinians will “live in a peace”. Most Jews in Israel recognize Judt’s plan for what it is, national suicide.

Articles concerning the “New McCarthyism” share one commonality, the threat from Islamist terrorism is either downplayed or portrayed as an irrational fear of “the other.” To Cohler-Esses’s credit, he falls in the first category. However, as in the past, The Nation seems unable or unwilling to admit the level of ideological (and at times material) support provided by intellectual elites to our military and political enemies. This was true during the Cold War as well. For example examine The Nation’s coverage of the Alger Hiss case and its aftermath.

Whenever I discuss the Cold War period and McCarthyism—whether in history seminars or political science courses—I tell my students that, on the one hand, McCarthy clearly ruined the lives of those who were not communists. This was absolutely wrong, criminal. At the same time, there were Soviet spies in the federal government, mainstream media and the trade unions. These were not domestic reformers but individuals in the service of a foreign totalitarian government. This was absolutely criminal as well. Many individuals on the hard right and hard left may not want to admit it, but one fact does not discount the other.

Anyone who has spent time on college campuses, let alone actually studying higher education in the United States, knows that the academy is among the remaining sectors of society where a liberal bias predominates (SeeSocial Scientists and their Politics: the Policy Views of Social Scientists,” Critical Review (2005) Vol. 17, Nos. 3-4). If Cohler-Esses is at all concerned with the stifling of debate, rather than simply reaffirming ideological dogma, he would seriously examine how Israel is presented on college campuses today. He would take the time to see who is being silenced and who is welcomed to speak. Such an effort to undermine free speech is indeed underway in the academy, only the instigators are from the left, rather than the right.

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[Flyer distributed by General Union of Palestinian Students at San Francisco State University]

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One response »

  1. McCarthyism is one of the most overused and least understood terms thrown about college campuses. Anyone who looks at the individual’s who lost their jobs in Hollywood due to their sympathies for the Soviet Union can see that most of them actually got jobs in the entertainment industry within a few years of being “blacklisted”. No one was killed, and no one was imprisoned like they would have been for being dissidents in the Communist world. As Jonah Goldberg stated:

    “If, in some sort of parallel-universe exercise, the same number of (now proven) Soviet-Communist spies, collaborators, sympathizers, and the like were somehow switched to Nazis, and McCarthy went after them with the same vehemence as he went after Reds, Joe McCarthy might well have universities and foundations named after him today. Just imagine if a ring of Nazi party members were found to be working in Hollywood, never mind the State Department, taking money from Berlin to advance the Nazi cause. Does anyone really think “McCarthyism” would still be denounced as an unmitigated evil, often put at the front of the parade of horribles alongside Hitlerism and Stalinism?”

    The left loves to be the martyr, so that then it can feel justified in anything it does. This is just another example of a bunch of communists rewriting history in their favor.

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