“The Strong Horse” author Lee Smith has a piece at Tablet accusing Phil Weiss, Glenn Greenwald, Andrew Sullivan, Stephen Walt, Robert Mackey, and Jim Lobe (along with the publishers of their blogs) of “using the internet to make anti-Semitism respectable.” I read the piece twice and could not find any instances of “Jew baiting” by Smith’s targets. Smith couldn’t either, so he instead highlighted a few screeds by semi-literate and mostly anonymous comment trolls. Then he turned to Jeffrey Goldberg for commentary. “These guys don’t even understand what ancient terror they’re tapping into,” Goldberg complained, seemingly suggesting that because of the Pharaoh’s oppression of the Israelites in Egypt-land, the pogroms, and the Holocaust, bloggers must not print trenchant critiques of Israeli policy.
Behind Smith’s crude invective lies a deep concern that non-Zionist academics, bloggers and reporters have secured platforms for their views at major online media outlets and inside the academy. They are effectively challenging his Orientalist perspective on the Middle East, which holds that, for instance, the “bloody and violent culture” of Arab leaders is the sole source of violence in the region. There was once a time when such views prevailed in the academy, and when criticism of Zionism was easily dismissed as a cover for anti-Semitic hatred. Smith seems keenly aware that the times are changing, even if his arguments read like the somnambulistic babbling of Alan Dershowitz from ten years ago.
Smith’s rant reflected the same insecurity of those who engineered the campaigns to keep Joseph Massad and Nadia Abu El-Haj from receiving university tenure and who lashed out at Barnard and Columbia once they failed. Indeed, the true targets of his resentment are not fringe anti-Semites but symbols of the intellectual mainstream, from Harvard University to Farrar, Straus and Giroux to the New York Times. These institutions are answering the widespread demand for factual challenges to outmoded, Orientalist views on the Middle East. And all Smith can do is pound his desk from inside the right-wing intellectual hothouse of the Hudson Institute. I can only imagine his frustration.