That Old Anti-Semitism Smear

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Chronicles Associate Editor Pedro Gonzalez was accused of being an anti-Semite by The Spectator Associate Editor Douglas Murray on Wednesday of last week. In an article entitled “When the Right Plays With Jew-Hate” in the Substack newsletter of former New York Times op-ed editor Bari Weiss, Murray wrote that Gonzalez “unmasked himself boringly and yet still wretchedly, as an antisemite.”

Murray then quoted two of Gonzalez’s Twitter threads. In the first, Gonzalez responded to a tweet by the left-wing economist David Rothschild claiming that “Republican intellectuals *despise* the Constitution.” Gonzalez riposted that Rothschild is as “dumb” as he is “repulsive” and that his “physiognomy is pure nightmare fuel.” In the second, responding to a taunt by the lawyer Ari Cohn calling conservatives stupid, Gonzalez said that Cohn possessed a “cursed goblin physiognomy.”

The problem with Murray’s accusation is that anyone who follows Gonzalez on Twitter or searches his timeline for the term “physiognomy” will notice that he frequently lobs such jibes at political opponents of all ethnic backgrounds. One of his favorite targets is David French, a white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant neoconservative.

Even if one finds Gonzalez’s remarks about physical appearance to be frivolous or tasteless, there is absolutely nothing he tweeted that would justify Murray’s extravagant, unsubstantiated claim of anti-Semitism, as argued by David Goldman, a conservative Jewish columnist for Asia Times Online. “Pedro L. Gonzalez does NOT use ‘physiognomy’ as a code-word for ‘Jew,’” tweeted Goldman. “Bad taste is not the same thing as anti-Semitism.” David Reaboi, a national security expert who is also Jewish, echoed the sentiment. “Bullshit accusations of antisemitism are so contemptible,” Reaboi wrote. Investigative journalist Matthew Tyrmand was equally unimpressed. “This is beyond spurious and specious and is frankly an embarrassing attempt to smear a rising intellectual star,” he tweeted. Tyrmand’s father, Leopold, was an émigré Polish-Jewish novelist who was Chronicles’ founding editor. 

Leopold left Poland largely due to Stalinist censorship. But to his surprise, he observed something akin to Stalinism emerging in the United States, with the media and its mercenaries acting as self-appointed arbiters of acceptable discourse. “Deciding who stays on the stage and who leaves, while they keep the stage forever, gives them an air of invincibility that seems unpardonable to all those to whom democracy is an instinct, intuition, and an elusive promise of something better,” he wrote in his 1976 essay “The Media Shangri-La.” In America, it was not communists, but the emerging faction of neoconservatives, who attempted to be the gatekeepers of discourse on the right.

The pugnacious rhetoric Gonzalez uses has been a feature of the populist right since the original king of the insult tweet, Donald Trump, called Rosie O’Donnell “fat” and “dumb” and Jeb Bush “low energy.” Many found Trump’s penchant for the personal insult boorish and vulgar, but it was an important feature of his political success. By making aggressive, personal attacks on his political enemies, Trump was only doing what the leftist establishment had been doing without consequence to the right for decades: relentlessly mocking the opposition as dumb, ugly, and pathetic.

Amusingly, studies have shown that right-wing people are perceived as being more attractive than left-wingers. Perhaps it’s not surprising that different ideas have consequences for personal appearance, given that right-wing beliefs tend to involve higher levels of personal responsibility and value masculinity and physical fitness, while left-wing beliefs tend toward strange ecological dietary restrictions, and value femininity, oversensitivity, and a masochistic culture of victimhood.

But this taunting of left-wingers and neoconservatives (whose founding intellectuals were ex-Trotskyists) has nothing to do with anti-Semitism, as Douglas Murray claims. His histrionic charge is, unfortunately, an effective tactic with a long tradition. Indeed, the influential libertarian economist Murray Rothbard used the term “smear bund” to describe the organized efforts of neoconservatives to defame their opponents as anti-Semites. Neoconservatives have applied this slur to their enemies all across the political spectrum for decades; not even Jews have been spared the accusation, from Chronicles Editor Paul Gottfried to Rothbard himself. Surveying this campaign of vilification, the latter noted that not anti-Semitism but “organized anti-anti-Semitism” was the bigger threat to civil discourse.

Neoconservatives used this rhetoric in the 1980s and 1990s to marginalize the traditional right by arbitrarily associating it with anti-Semitism, racism, and what William F. Buckley, Jr., when he switched to full alliance with the neoconservatives, called “the fever swamps of bigotry.” Back then these powerbrokers threw defamatory bombs and personal insults at right-wingers, and their liberal buds happily joined in this activity. The right has endured this abuse without fighting back for so long that it apparently strikes Douglas Murray as unseemly that America’s newfound populist right isn’t willing to take it lying down any longer.

Gottfried, myself, and everyone at Chronicles deplore Douglas Murray’s truly vile attack on our colleague Pedro Gonzalez, who has our full support. The attempt by Murray and Weiss to smear Gonzalez shows that neoconservatives, in all their incarnations and permutations, never give up on slander that works. They accuse uncooperative right-leaning intellectuals of anti-Semitism, as regularly as Chuck Schumer and Kamala Harris talk endlessly about “systemic white racism.” Why give up on tactics just because they are reprehensible, particularly if there are hired guns like Murray to apply them?

The attack on Gonzalez also confirmed something that Paul Gottfried has been saying for decades: establishment conservatives who complain about the left’s cancel culture are often the ones who try to cancel everyone to their right. Ironically, Murray himself remarked about the problem of promiscuous anti-Semitism charges to Weiss in a 2018 podcast. “Ten to fifteen years ago, if someone had said, ‘Bari Weiss is a horrible Nazi,’ that stuck and could end your career,” Murray said. “Nowadays something very interesting is happening because of the Internet. People can look into it for themselves.” Indeed, after looking into for themselves and finding it baseless, Murray’s own followers wondered if either he would make a correction or retraction. Like Murray, Weiss is also a hypocrite, having launched a university as an “anti-cancel-culture academic project” while being an offender of cancel culture herself.

Luckily, judging by the tremendous online backlash the two received for attacking Gonzalez, it seems the bad habit of the Communist Party-like excommunications that come from self-important, would-be gatekeepers in the conservative establishment are no longer as effective as they used to be.

(Chronicles Editor Paul Gottfried and Associate Editor Pedro Gonzalez contributed to this article.)

(Correction: the eighth paragraph of an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Murray Rothbard was the first to use the term “smear bund.” Murray was using a phrase coined by John T. Flynn.)

British author Douglas Murray (AndyCNgo, CC BY-SA 4.0) and Chronicles Associate Editor Pedro Gonzalez

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