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To Nat Hentoff: Stop Practicing the New McCarthyism and Join Us

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I feel obligated to respond to Nat Hentoff's assertion that "blogging anti-Semites had [Sen. Joseph I.] Lieberman in their sights," since I'm one of the two bloggers whose posts he cites. Nat Hentoff has been a hero of mine since I was a teenager, so it pains me to say this, but we need to call this behavior by name: it's an ugly new form of McCarthyism.

With respect, I'm asking him to thoughtfully consider the facts. I hope he will then withdraw his statement.

I choose my words carefully in calling it "McCarthyism," since Hentoff's been fighting for freedom of speech longer than I've been alive. His forthrightness in speaking for civil liberties during the inflamed days after 9/11 was nothing less than heroic, and that's just one example.

Nevertheless, Joe Lieberman's supporters have been engaging in an ugly campaign of innuendo, false accusation, and guilt by association - one that bears a direct link to Joe McCarthy's tactics. With his editorial, Hentoff has become an active participant in their despicable tactics.

My hope is that Mr. Hentoff has unknowingly been manipulated by the political gang supporting Lieberman, and that he will reconsider. Either way, it makes me sad to see it.

The Lieberman campaign knows exactly what it's doing, and I don't doubt they are following advice they're receiving directly from the Bush crowd. It's classic Rove: use the religion card to compel loyalty among your co-religionists and smear your opponents as bigots. (Remember the false complaints of anti-Catholic bigotry against extreme right-wing judicial candidates?)

In scapegoating bloggers as extremists and anti-Semites, they're also taking advantage of widespread confusion and ignorance about bloggers. Intentionally or not, Hentoff uses a favorite McCarthyite guilt-by-association tactic by conflating "bloggers" with those who read and comment on their work.

Hentoff cites two quotes by "bloggers" to make his assertion that there is an organized campaign of blogger anti-Semitism. One of those quotes is from a post of mine (one which, needless to say, contained no suggestion of anti-Semitism.)

Here's Hentoff's first mistake: he, either accidentally or deliberately, confuses "bloggers" and "commenters." I, not the person he quotes, am the "blogger." My piece is the "post." The Huffington Post, where it appeared, is the "blog." The person Hentoff quotes posted a "comment." He is one of many such "commenters," representing all points of view.

More regrettably, Hentoff appears to have taken the comments from another post (one on DailyKos) out of context, twisting their meaning. It's possible that Lieberman supporters fed him the misinformation, but he should have been more rigorous in examining his source material.

With this in mind, I would ask: "Who are the 'blogging anti-Semites'"? Here's the truth of the situation, which I'll emphasize for you:

To accuse "bloggers" based on two cherry-picked quotes from "commenters" is equivalent to condemning all American journalists based on letters to the editor in a couple of local papers.

That's the bottom line. No more, no less. What's more, blogs have far fewer restrictions on comments than newspapers do on publishing letters - and publish many more of them.

McCarthyism in its classic form used exactly the same tactics. The McCarthyites would find somebody who said something ... anything ... that sounded vaguely socialistic, find a tenuous link with someone in a larger group of people (the ACLU, for example), and then use that weak association to slander the group as a whole.

In this instance, Mr. Hentoff has done no less. Whether intentionally or not, he's calling me an anti-Semite (while Rabbi Mark Gellman simultaneously suggests that people like me are bad Jews.) Why? Because I support Ned Lamont's candidacy.

For shame.

Whether Hentoff knows it or not, the Lieberman campaign has been playing an ugly game of opponent-baiting since Ned Lamont first declared his candidacy. Lieberman and his supporters have called his opponents "haters," "fascists," "Stalinists," and either "anti-Semites" or "bad Jews" from the beginning, for no other reason than having the audacity to support another candidate than Lieberman.

The notion that Jews who didn't vote for Lieberman are "bad Jews" didn't start with Rabbi Gellman's Newsweek editorial after the primary: Lieberman backer John Droney said this before the primary:

"I find the behavior of a large segment of the Jewish community to be reprehensible and outrageous ... they all ought to rally to him."

I find it profoundly offensive to be told that I should vote for a politician because of my ethnic and religious background. How would Nat Hentoff have reacted if someone had said this?

"I find the behavior of a large segment of the Christian community to be reprehensible and outrageous ... they all ought to rally to fellow Christian Ned Lamont."

What if a Christian preacher had written this after the vote, as Rabbi Gelman did about Jews:

"My disappointment is with my people. I simply do not understand why so many Christians bailed on Ned. I cannot understand why Ned's percentage of the Christian vote was not in the high 90s ..."

Wouldn't Nat Hentoff be the first in line to condemn the bigotry, the religious baiting, the downright un-Americanness of such odious statements?

That's the true civil liberties struggle in the Lieberman campaign. While complaining that he's a victim of bigotry, the Lieberman campaign is conducting a campaign of innuendo (his unsubstantiated claim of website hacking is one such tactic.) While complaining that Joe's the victim of hate speech, he and his supporters continue to smear his opponents indiscriminately.

I suspect that Hentoff was manipulated, either directly or indirectly, by Lanny Davis or other Lieberman supporters playing off old, and very genuine fears, about the dangers of anti-Semitism.

The risk of worldwide bigotry against Jews is very real, and very profound, and is overlooked at everyone's peril. Hentoff's generation, my father's generation, has a message to deliver to contemporary society in that regard.

My experience with anti-Semitism never ran much deeper than a fistfight with Tommy McCarthy (his real name) after he called me a "kike" in the 4th Grade. Their generation saw Jews slaughtered en masse and nearly driven into extinction.

I know that anti-Semitism remains a threat to the Jewish people - and to civilization. If there were "anti-Semitic bloggers" targeting Joe Lieberman or any Jew, I would want to know about it. But there is no evidence of that. None. Commenters are not a political force, and are certainly not "bloggers."

More importantly, to tar everyone who disagrees publicly with any Jew as an anti-Semite is to cheapen to the coin of this grave accusation.

In fact, the greatest sin of this Rovian cheap shot might well be to dull the world to the gravity of the real dangers of anti-Semitism, like the boy who cried wolf. This scurrilous debating tactic could leave the Jewish people even more defenseless against the real thing.

Dear Mr. Hentoff : I urge you to reconsider your statement in light of the facts I've laid out here today. I hope you'll recognize that your reaction, however understandable in the light of history, was a grave mistake. I would like to shake your hand someday. Surely we can agree that preserving our freedoms is our highest priority as citizens of the United States and the world.

Bloggers are nothing more or less than political observers with a new technical platform. Many of them are following in your footsteps in the fight to preserve our civil liberties. You have much to say to this community, and we would value your participation and insight.

Progressive bloggers aren't the enemy. We're on the same side, collaborators in the same struggle.

We miss you. More importantly, we need you. In this historical moment, with its systematic assault on our basic freedoms, your voice and your leadership are more important than ever. Reject the language and tactics of those who would divide us in order to defeat us.

Nat Hentoff, come home.

A Night Light