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COLUMN RIGHT/ MURRAY N. ROTHBARD : Buchanan an Anti-Semite? It's a Smear : His enemies labored hard, and brought forth a pitiful mouse.

January 06, 1992|MURRAY N. ROTHBARD | Murray N. Rothbard heads academic affairs for the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Ala. and is a professor of economics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas

In this day and age, the charge of "anti-Semitism" is a grave one, placing a weighty burden of moral responsibility on anyone making such an accusation. How can an innocent person reply? Saying "I am not an anti-Semite" is as unconvincing as President Nixon's famous "I am not a crook" at the time of Watergate. It is particularly important, then, for all of us to repudiate any irresponsible smears of "anti-Semitism," and to follow the fundamental American principle of fairness, placing the burden of proof on anyone making such a serious charge.

Patrick J. Buchanan, a columnist and TV commentator, was forced to endure such charges in 1990, when he took the unpopular and courageous stance of opposing the looming American war against Iraq. In his three decades of prominence in America's political life, no one had ever made such an accusation against Buchanan, but the fervent advocates of a Persian Gulf war trotted out the charge in order to silence the war's most prominent critic. All of Buchanan's columns and statements on TV were combed minutely; the effort dredged up one or two phrases yanked out of context, and on that basis a concerted effort was made to get newspapers to cancel his column or drive him off the air. None of this worked, for the simple reason that all of those arduous labors had brought forth a pitiful mouse.

Now that Buchanan has announced for the presidency, the tired and discredited old charges have been fired off yet again, despite the utter lack of any new evidence about his alleged "anti-Semitic" proclivities. Quite the contrary. One of the major charges against Buchanan concerned his defense of the innocence of Ukrainian immigrant Ivan Demjanjuk, alleged to be "Ivan the Terrible," a particularly brutal guard at the Treblinka concentration camp. But now it is generally conceded that Ivan the Terrible was another Ukrainian, Ivan Marchenko. Americans should have worried, not about Buchanan, but about the Office of Special Investigations of the Justice Department.

What is an "anti-Semite," anyway? We can begin with two cogent definitions: personal and political anti-Semitism. A personal anti-Semite is one who hates all Jews and refuses to associate with them. Yet, everyone who knows Pat Buchanan at all, Jew and non-Jew alike, and regardless of political beliefs, attests to his complete lack of personal prejudice.

Then, on what basis might we call someone a "political" anti-Semite? The only persuasive definition is someone who advocates placing some form of legal or political disability upon Jews: depriving Jews of the vote; kicking Jews out of various professions, such as law, journalism or medicine, where they exceed their numerical "quota" in the population; forcing Jews to wear special armbands; or, in the extreme case, rounding them up in concentration camps or killing them outright. Does Buchanan advocate any such measures? To ask is to see the absurdity of attempting to pin the "anti-Semite" label on Buchanan. So, who today would be an anti-Semite on such criteria? Members of Aryan Nation or the Christian Identity movement would qualify. Their obscurity is part of the point: Genuine anti-Semitism, in modern America, is a marginal phenomenon that can only be aided by wildly exaggerating its importance.

But isn't Buchanan a long-time opponent of Israel? On the contrary, he was a strong supporter of Israel until the mid-1980s, when, like millions of Americans, he became repelled by the brutal Israeli suppression of the Palestinian intifada. He believes that Palestinians, no less than Latvians or Ukrainians, deserve their own country and their own state, while at the same time maintaining that Israel must be secure within its own borders.

Finally, if Pat Buchanan is not an anti-Semite, why is his name constantly being bracketed with that of David Duke? Partly because of irresponsibility on the part of some in the media who hope that dirt will rub off by constant association. But why, then, does Buchanan often sound like Duke? The answer is that, on the contrary, Duke has, in recent years, dropped Nazi and Ku Klux Klan positions so that now he often talks like the conservative Republican that Buchanan has been all his life. Are we then to expect Buchanan to abandon positions he has held for a lifetime--on low taxes, smaller government, against governmental racism of any sort--just because a Johnny-come-lately like Duke has become a recent convert?

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