AFTER JOE LIEBERMAN completed his unsuccessful campaign for the vice-presidency, I pretty much concluded that anti-Semitism was no longer a major feature of American life. I went around making the case that the Anti-Defamation League should close up shop, since the evil they were organized to combat had shrunk to insignificance.
Now I get a steady stream of anti-Semitic screeds in my e-mail, my voicemail, and in my mailbox. It transpired that I couldn't have been more wrong. Anti-Semitism is alive and thriving. It's just that its epicenter is no longer on the Buchananite right, but on the peace-movement left.
"Hello. I'm a grandmother from Minnesota. I want to thank you for taking my call," a voicemail on my machine began recently. When you hear a message like that you sort of settle back and prepare for some civil sentiment. Then it continued. "I just wanted to know: Are you related to Paul Wolfowitz and Ari Fleischer? I can usually smell you people. . . ." At that point I deleted the thing.
But it's like that week in and week out. And I'm best known for appearances on PBS and NPR, which surely have the most civilized audiences in the land. Nor is this a fringe phenomenon. Lawrence Kaplan recently wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post, gathering some of the highly questionable statements politicians and columnists have made over the past few weeks, accusing Jews of dual loyalty and worse. I occasionally get reports about conversations at sophisticated Washington dinner parties that turn into gripe sessions about the Israeli agents who have grabbed control of President Bush's brain. Accusing Jews of twisting U.S. policy to suit Israel is the same as accusing Catholics of taking orders from the Pope. It's also logically absurd, since Israelis are far more concerned about Iran and Syria than Iraq. But it's become commonplace nonetheless.
Not long ago I was chatting with a prominent Washington figure in a green room. "You people have infested everywhere," he said in what I thought was a clumsy but good-hearted manner. He listed a few of "us": "Wolfowitz, Feith, Frum, Perle." I've never met Doug Feith in my life and Wolfowitz and Perle I've barely met. Yet he assumed we were tight as thieves. After a few minutes of jibing I finally pointed out that there were many non-Jews who support the president's policy against Iraq. I mentioned Bob Kerry. "He's a shabbas goy. He's got a lot of Jewish money supporting that school" he shot back. Shabbas goys are Christians who perform tasks for observant Jews on Saturdays.
I am the last person who used to suspect people of anti-Semitism. I was never really conscious of it affecting my life until the last few weeks. But now I wonder. I watched a town meeting in northern Virginia a few weeks ago. A Vietnam vet got up to rail against U.S. policy on Iraq, which he said was engineered by "Paul Wolfowitz and Daniel Pearl." He got the wrong Pearl. He accidentally mentioned somebody who was beheaded for being American and Jewish. But the crowd didn't seem to notice. They roared with approval and slapped him on the back as he made his way from microphone. Why didn't he say Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and Powell were organizing the Bush administration policy? They're higher ranking officials than Wolfowitz and actually members of the administration, unlike Perle. Would the crowd have roared as wildly if he'd mentioned Rice and Powell, I wondered, or did the words Wolfowitz and Perle somehow get their juices flowing?
It's not just the things people say. It's the things that are now socially acceptable. The leftist group ANSWER has a long and well-documented record of anti-Zionist statements so extreme and inflammatory that they are truly offensive. (Not to mention a record of supporting murderers and tyrants that is appalling and inhumane.) When the thousands gathered for the peace rally ANSWER co-organized on the mall in Washington, I figured most of the marchers didn't really know the true nature of the group. But now principled liberals and many others have exposed its vicious and Stalinoid nature. And the peace marchers don't mind! They still flocked to the ANSWER-organized marches last weekend. The fact that the Jewish liberal Michael Lerner wasn't permitted to speak didn't bother them either! Would they march at peace rallies organized by the KKK or the American Nazi Party, groups that are about as despicable as ANSWER? Is all hatred now socially acceptable if it is organized in the cause of "peace?"
I mentioned that I barely know Paul Wolfowitz, which is true. But I do admire him enormously, not only because he is both a genuine scholar and an effective policy practitioner, not only because he has been right on most of the major issues during his career, but because he is now the focus of world anti-Semitism. He carries the burden of their hatred, which emanates not only from the Arab world and France, but from some people in our own country, which I had so long underestimated.
David Brooks is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.