There was much discussion last autumn of the charge of “anti-Semitism” made against syndicated columnist and conservative spokesman Patrick Buchanan by New York Times columnist A.M. Rosenthal.

What sparked the attack was a statement made by Buchanan on the television program The McLaughlin Group, in which he said, “There are only two groups that are beating the drums now for war in the Middle East, and that is the Israeli Defense Ministry and its amen corner in the U.S.”

In response, Rosenthal declared that Buchanan was guilty of engaging in a “blood libel,” by implying that “Jews have alien loyalties for which they are willing to sacrifice the lives of Americans.”

A number of others joined in the attack. The New York Post (which carries Buchanan’s column) wrote in an editorial that, “When it comes to Jews as a group . . . Buchanan betrays an all too familiar hostility.” Taking a different tack was Jacob Weisberg in the New Republic. Weisberg admitted that “Most of those who know Buchanan—including ideological antagonists—find it hard to countenance the charge of anti-Semitism.” Still, he states, this “becomes a kind of semantic quibble: depending on how you define anti-Semitism.” He indicates that his real concern is not the charge of anti-Semitism but Pat Buchanan’s total ideological perspective, which he describes as “powerfully authoritarian and anti-democratic, and in a distinct sense, fascistic.”

The unsigned editorial the New Republic ran prior to the Weisberg article was not even this circumspect, calling Buchanan “an anti-Semite . . . twisted . . . a connoisseur of intolerance . . . a disgraceful man.” Writing in the Jerusalem Post, David Bar-Illan referred to Buchanan as “the American Le Pen.”

Buchanan’s answer was as follows: “Now, about this charge, anti-Semitism. The word has several meanings. One is an embedded hatred of Jewish people . . . As such, it is a grave sin, a disease of the heart, a variant of racism. Which brings us to a second definition . . . And that is a word to describe the branding iron wielded by a tiny clique, to burn horribly heretics from their political orthodoxy. It is used to frighten, intimidate, censor and silence; to cut off debate; to so smear a man’s reputation that no one will listen to him again; to scar men so indelibly that no one will ever look at them again without saying, ‘Say, isn’t he an anti- Semite?'”

Interestingly, not a single person who has known Pat Buchanan for many years, as this writer has, has joined the attack. Indeed, while many disagree—as this writer does—with his views about the Middle East and about the cases of several accused Nazi war criminals he has defended, not a single manifestation of anti-Semitism has been reported. Syndicated columnist Jack Germond noted that he had known Buchanan for twenty-five years, disagreed with him on most political questions, and never observed any manifestation of anti-Semitism. Even Morton Kondracke of the New Republic said, when the tempest first broke, “I say calling someone an anti-Semite is the worst, one of the worst things, you could possibly call him, and you have to have lots of proof, and Abe Rosenthal does not have the proof” (Only later, after his magazine joined the attack on Buchanan, did Kondracke backtrack with, “I’m not charging anti-Semitism, but there is a pattern of hostility.”)

If there is no proof of Pat Buchanan’s anti-Semitism, there is a good deal of proof to indicate that Abe Rosenthal’s attack was part of a more general plan to silence free and open debate on America’s Middle East policy. Rosenthal based his attack upon Buchanan on material provided to him—and other journalists around the country—by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL, acknowledges that the ADL issued a statement critical of Pat Buchanan. “I’m sure that Abe Rosenthal saw it,” Foxman says. “It wasn’t a secret. He then did what he did.” Foxman maintains that the ADL, in contrast to Rosenthal, did not charge Buchanan with anti-Semitism. But Foxman adds that he believes Buchanan is “a mirror image of an anti-Semite” and has charged that Buchanan has an “obsession” and “a problem” with Jewish issues. Some of Buchanan’s comments, Foxman told the New York City Tribune, have been “reminiscent of a lot of anti-Semitic stereotyping and we raised our voices in concern.” Still, Foxman disputes the idea that the ADL was seeking to censor Pat Buchanan: “One way to fight bigotry is to expose it, which is what we did.”

The ADL is part of a larger coalition of groups, some of which have assumed for themselves the role of attempting to silence those advocating ideas with which these groups disagree. The house organ of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Near East Report, urged its readers to exert pressure on local newspapers around the country to replace Pat Buchanan’s column with that of another conservative columnist, such as George Will. Even Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz, ordinarily an outspoken advocate of the First Amendment, declared that Buchanan should be removed from the national media. “CNN should take him off the air and major American newspapers should stop running him,” Dershowitz told the Washington Jewish Week. “Pat Buchanan has been a vicious Jew-baiter for many years. His anti-Semitism is beyond dispute.”

Indeed, AIPAC has made it clear that Pat Buchanan is not its only target. Writing in Near East Report, Mitchell Bard discussed “What to Do About the Buchanans.” The plural is used, he noted, because “Buchanan, of course, is not the only one spewing venom against Jews and Israel on a regular basis.” He urged supporters of AIPAC to urge editors to replace Buchanan with conservatives like “George Will, Paul Gigot, Norman Podhoretz, Fred Barnes, and William Safire,” or, if the critic of Israel is a liberal, with “Alan Dershowitz, A.M. Rosenthal, or Charles Krauthammer.”

What many Americans seem not to understand is that when the ADL and AIPAC use the term “anti-Semitism,” they have their own, revised definition of the term.

In his book Language is Sermonic, Richard Weaver argued that we live in an age characterized by looseness and exaggeration in description. Exaggeration, he maintained, is essentially a form of ignorance that allows and seems to justify distortion: “A course of action, when taken by our side, was ‘courageous’; when taken by the enemy, ‘desperate’; a policy instituted by our command was ‘stern’; the same thing instituted by the enemy was ‘brutal’ . . . And such always happens when men surrender to irrationality.”

Today, anti-Semitism in America has been redefined as anything that opposes the politics and interests of the state of Israel. One cannot be critical of the Israeli prime minister, concerned about the question of the Palestinians, or dubious about the value of massive infusions of American aid to Israel without subjecting oneself to the possibility of being called “anti-Semitic.”

Such a redefinition may be found in the book The New Anti-Semitism by Arnold Forster and Benjamin R. Epstein of the Anti-Defamation League. The authors begin by noting the apparent decrease in anti-Semitism in the years following World War II, especially following the Allied liberation of the concentration camps and the discovery of the full extent of Nazi atrocities. However, they insist that this is only a superficial development. Anti-Semitism, they say, may remain dormant for years, and unless rooted out completely, may grow again. The book sets out to identify the sources, modes, and extent of current anti-Jewish behavior. To do so, the authors insist that it is necessary to redefine some of the traditional notions about anti-Semitism and its sources, to examine “insensitivity” to Jewish concerns as well, thereby broadening the range of behavior to be studied. The new definition includes “a callous indifference to Jewish concerns expressed by respectable institutions and persons . . . people who would be shocked to think of themselves as anti-Semites.”

Thus, the nature of the “new” anti-Semitism, according to Forster and Epstein, is not necessarily hostility to Jews as Jews or toward Judaism—which all men and women of good will deplore—but, instead, criticism of Israel and its policies.

In a June 5, 1983, Washington Post article entitled “Anti-Semitism Has Changed,” Nathan Perlmutter, then national chairman of the ADL, expanded upon this thesis. He noted that the search for peace in the Middle East is “littered with minefields that endanger Jewish interests” and declared that the “fevered language” used by the media in describing Israeli actions during the invasion of Lebanon illustrated “how decent yearnings for ‘peace’ in an alchemy of historical ignorance, and hyperbole, stir anti-Semitic imagery.”

One of those who has freely used the charge of anti-Semitism to silence critics of Israel is Norman Podhoretz, editor of Commentary. In an article entitled “J’accuse” (Commentary, September 1983), he charged America’s leading journalists, newspapers, and television networks with anti-Semitism because of their reporting of the war of Lebanon and their criticism of Israel’s conduct. Among those so accused were Anthony Lewis of the New York Times, Nicholas von Hoffman and Joseph Harsch of the Christian Science Monitor, Rowland Evans, Robert Novak, Richard Cohen, and Alfred Friendly of the Washington Post, and a host of others. Of the criticism of Israel by these journalists, many of whom were Jewish themselves, Podhoretz declared: “We are dealing here with an eruption of anti-Semitism.”

Norman Podhoretz was also willing to attack Israeli critics of Israel’s policy in Lebanon, and did so publicly at the March 1986 International Colloquium of Jewish Journalists. The Jerusalem meeting focused on whether Jewish journalists in general and Israeli journalists in particular have a special obligation of restraint in reporting controversial aspects of Israeli life. Writing in the Jerusalem Post, columnist Moshe Kohn reported: “The debate was led off by Norman Podhoretz . . . He opened by laying down the ‘axiom’ that ‘the preservation of the Jewish people involves above all else ensuring the survival of Israel’ From this, he said, follows a second axiom: ‘It is in Diaspora Jewry’s own self-interest to man the ramparts in the relentless ideological war being waged against Israel,’ which, he said, ‘I take to be a war against the Jewish people as a whole.’ So ‘the role of Jews who write in both the Jewish and general press is to defend Israel, and not join in the attack on Israel.'”

Mr. Podhoretz admitted that Jews have a right to criticize. However, when asked if he could think of an Israeli action of which he might disapprove, he declared, “The only decision by Israel that I know I’d criticize publicly would be one to join a Communist alliance.”

The Jerusalem meeting was not overly receptive to this point of view. Hannah Zemer, editor of the Israeli labor movement’s daily newspaper, said: “I cannot tell people not to criticize a particular policy. Criticizing a particular decision does not mean that you are attacking Israel. You can’t expect people to defend the Lebanon War, which was a wrong war. All we can do is demand that the press be fair.”

Even within the organized American Jewish community, anyone who takes a less than intransigent position with regard to the Middle East is bitterly attacked. Letty Cottin Pogrebin, in her column in the Jewish magazine Moment (February 1990), describes the situation this way: “Amid all the contentiousness over Middle East politics, you may have missed one subtle but ominous development in the American Jewish community: Peace is becoming a dirty word. . . . Discussing Middle East politics with an old friend, I argue that, for the sake of security, democracy and Jewish ethics, Israel should trade land for peace. ‘Peace is just another word for surrender,’ interrupts my friend with uncharacteristic impatience. ‘We’ve got to stop thinking like ghetto Jews. We’ve got to stop compromising.'”

Those who have attempted to stifle open discussion, Ms. Pogrebin adds, “have already accomplished the impossible: they’ve marginalized our centrists. For example, despite the ravages of the intifada, inflation, unemployment and depressed morale, they’ve insisted that only whiny, self-hating Jews would focus on Israel’s problems or flaws. They’ve made moral introspection the province of wimps, and media-bashing a badge of Zionist honor.”

In an interview with Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun (September/ October 1990), the respected Israeli novelist A.N. Yehoshua laments what he believes is “ethical insensitivity” on the part of Jewish organizational leaders in America: “My greatest disappointment in the past few years was watching the ethical insensitivity of American Jews.” If there were more sensitivity, he argues, “American Jews would have spoken out more clearly in criticizing Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. I watched with amazement how the world honored Elie Wiesel as somehow a prophet of morality, and how simultaneously Wiesel managed to fail to criticize Israeli policies in the territories. . . . I’m a friend of Wiesel’s and I like him, and I know the important work he once did to promote an awareness of the Holocaust two decades ago, but I cannot accept his silence. He speaks about ‘The Jews of Silence.’ But he is now a Jew of silence. He cannot ask others to speak up about other situations of oppression and then remain silent when he can clearly see what is happening on the West Bank.”

Those few members of Congress who have criticized Israel have, as with members of the media, been accused of anti-Semitism, and pro-Israel political action committees have done their best to defeat them. They succeeded in the case of Representative Paul Findlay (R-Illinois). In his book They Dare to Speak Out, Findlay writes, “If one particular group can succeed in inhibiting free expression on a particular subject, others inevitably will be tempted to try the same in order to advance their favorite causes. . . . When a lobby stifles free speech nationally on one controversial topic—the Middle East—all free speech is threatened.”

Clearly, the bitter attack upon Pat Buchanan is not merely an isolated feud between two journalists but rather part of a larger effort to manipulate the national discussion of Middle East affairs.

In the case of Buchanan, our modern “silencers” may have been surprised by the widespread defense he has received, in particular, by many prominent Jewish Americans. Among those signing a pro-Buchanan advertisement in the New York Times were Paul Gottfried, Leon Hadar, Sheldon Richman, Murray Rothbard, Ronald Hamowy and Murray Sabrin. And Rabbi Jacob Neusner said, “this admirable conservative may be ornery and impatient and wrong-headed, but he is certainly no anti-Semite.”

One can disagree with Buchanan or anyone else without making false charges of bigotry. One can also insist that true anti-Semitism—and all forms of racial and religious bigotry—should be vigorously opposed. But such evils should not be trivialized by attributing them to those with whom there is simply disagreement on certain public questions. The trivialization of anti-Semitism will only help to make it acceptable. And then all of us will be the losers.