Sunday's New York Times features an important piece that will serve to alert progressives and Democrats to the latest brand of right-wing provocateur: young zealots who are not "movement" conservatives but who move from pro-Israel activism to the right at large.
Although they ally themselves with more traditional right-wingers, their central concern is Israel, and not so much Israel per se as supporting Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the Israeli right. Although they stridently adopt traditional right-wing stands on the usual litmus issues, those are just window dressing. Their driving issue is Israel.
The Times piece by Jim Rutenberg focuses on Michael Goldfarb, who is founder of The Free Beacon, a far-right website that specializes in smearing those (most notably President Obama's nominee for Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel) who it deems anti-Israel. Its targets are almost always Democrats, making the Free Beacon an ethnic outpost in the vast right-wing Republican landscape that is, of course, overwhelmingly both white and Christian.
Goldfarb was previously best known for an excruciatingly embarrassing performance on CNN in 2008 in behalf of the McCain campaign in which he attacked then-candidate Barack Obama for his "long track record of being around anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, and anti-American rhetoric" but was flummoxed when he couldn't elaborate. It is worth noting that Goldfarb and the Free Beacon conflate criticism of Israeli policies with anti-Semitism. (Virtually all their charges of anti-Semitism have nothing to do with hostility toward Jews but with criticism of Israel).
The Times piece was occasioned by Goldfarb's central role in promoting the line that Chuck Hagel is hostile to Israel. The article begins by telling that story:
At 11:42 a.m. on Feb. 14, a conservative online magazine called The Washington Free Beacon posted a dispatch about a speech Chuck Hagel gave in 2007 in which it said he called the State Department "an adjunct to the Israeli foreign minister's office."
The report was based on "contemporaneous" notes an attendee posted online. An hour later on the floor of the United States Senate, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina urgently cited that statement as another reason to delay Mr. Hagel's nomination as defense secretary.
Mr. Hagel denied saying it, and no recording has surfaced. But after a successful filibuster against the nominee, a group called the Emergency Committee for Israel effectively declared partial victory and vowed to "redouble its efforts to bring to light Mr. Hagel's complete record."
All in all, it was a very bad day for Mr. Hagel, and a smashingly good one for the conservative political operative of the moment -- Michael Goldfarb.
Blocking (at least temporarily) a president's cabinet appointment, based on imaginary evidence, is serious business but, as reporter Rutenberg points out, it is all fun and games for Goldfarb, who "as he tells it, he is simply trying to have fun while practicing his admittedly combative brand of politics...." Although he also says, "We get up every day and say, how do we cause trouble?"
The piece describes other instances of Goldfarbian fun, all of which amount to personal smears of Democrats. With Goldfarb and the Free Beacon in general, the issue is usually Israel.
And that is no surprise because it is Israel that drives these new right-wing activists. As Rutenberg points out:
Mr. Goldfarb did not come up via state politics, Capitol Hill or the Republican National Committee, proving grounds that made the careers of top party operatives like Lee Atwater, Karl Rove and Matt Rhoades, the campaign manager for Mitt Romney.
His career was spawned, rather, in the conservative confines of The Weekly Standard and allied organizations, namely the Project for the New American Century, which is well known for promoting the war in Iraq.
The Weekly Standard, published by Bill Kristol, is the most influential neoconservative organ in the country, heavily promoting both Netanyahu's policies and bellicose policies toward Iran while the Project for the New American Century was created back in 1997 to promote both war with Iraq and an end to U.S. support for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. It was not so much conservative or Republican as Likud.
And such is the case with Goldfarb and the other young right-wing activists who, unlike their nominal cohorts in the overall right-wing movement (the Tea Party, for instance) are primarily obsessed with preserving U.S. support for hard line Israeli policies.
The Goldfarbs of the world suspect, probably correctly, that Democrats and liberals in general can not be permanently counted on to back onerous Israeli policies toward the Palestinians and so they line up with the right. If the price for admission to that fraternity requires them to support reactionary policies on issues like guns, gays, health care, racial equality, taxes and the like, so be it. Those aren't their issues: Israel is. And from there, it is just a short leap to Jews.
And so they injected the very last thing we needed into American politics in the 21st century. That is the ugliest bacillus of the 19th and 20th: what used to be called, "the Jewish question." This is not fun and games. This is ugly and dangerous and harms both the United States and Israel which ends up being associated with the deceitful partisan attacks made in its name. The Times deserves credit for exposing it.