It would seem that American Jewry has lost its sense of honor. In early 1984, as he sought the Democratic nomination for the presidency, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson made a major misstep. In a conversation with African-American Washington Post reporter Milton Coleman, Jackson referred to Jews as "Hymies," and to New York City as "Hymietown."
When the remarks were reported, a storm of protest erupted. Jewish leaders and organizations issued uniform demands that Jackson publicly apologize for his remarks. Jackson accused Jews of conspiring to defeat him. Appearing on a radio broadcast with the notorious anti-Semite and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, Jackson was silent as Farrakhan threatened Coleman and then issued a public warning to Jews: "If you harm this brother [Jackson], it will be the last one you harm."
Yet the Jews of America did not relent. And the U.S. media also did not relent. In February 1984, Jackson belatedly issued a public apology to Jews in a synagogue in New Hampshire. But his electoral prospects had dried up by that point. When he ran again for president four years later, then-New York mayor Ed Koch said ahead of the New York Democratic primary, "Jews and supporters of Israel who are not Jewish would be crazy to vote for him." Jackson lost big in New York and shortly thereafter retreated from the race.
Compare the properly angry and unforgiving response of American Jewry in 1984 to the American Jewish response earlier in the month when General Wesley Clark made a similar anti-Semitic slur in remarks to the press. Clark, who ran in the Democratic presidential primaries in 2004 and has made noises about another run in 2008, expressed his anger to popular left-wing blogger Arianna Huffington over reports that the Bush administration may order preemptive military strikes against Iran's nuclear installations.
When asked why he felt that the administration is heading in that direction, Clark responded, "You just have to read what's in the Israeli press. The Jewish community is divided but there is so much pressure being channeled from the New York money people to the office seekers."
Clark's anti-Semitic attack received precious little attention in the mainstream media. Jewish organizations have uttered no significant outcries against him. Clark put the remark behind him by writing an abject letter to Anti-Defamation League National Director Abe Foxman, but the ADL's website makes no mention of the incident.
From the perspective of the American Jewish leadership, apparently, Clark's obscene attack on Jews was a non-incident.
Unfortunately, Clark's attack was anything but unique. Indeed, it fits into a larger trend in which politicians and public figures feel an unacceptable level of comfort in attacking Jews and accusing both Israel and its American Jewish supporters of nefariously subverting America's national interest in order to advance Israel's security interests.
These attacks go hand in hand with an overall denial of the existence of the global jihad or of an international campaign of radical Islam that targets the U.S. and its allies throughout the world.
There are a number of those on the right side of the political spectrum, who like former secretary of state James Baker and former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, have repeatedly sought to convince the American people that the only reason the U.S. is being targeted by jihadists from Chicago to Iraq to Iran is because Israel has refused to cede Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem to Hamas and Fatah and the Golan Heights to Syria. Yet the fact of the matter is that the growing chorus of voices accusing the so-called "Israel Lobby" of subverting America's national interests is largely found on the Left and increasingly in the leadership ranks of the Democratic Party.
In the January issue of Commentary magazine, Gabriel Schoenfeld noted that after the jihadist Hamas terror organization won the Palestinian Authority elections last January and formed the Palestinian government, Congress moved to pass the Palestinian Anti-Terror Act of 2006. The act, which prohibits the administration from funding the PA until the president could verify that terrorist organizations would not be among the aid recipients and the Palestinian government recognized Israel's right to exist, passed handily in both houses. And yet, in the House of Representatives the bill was opposed by 37 members while nine more abstained from voting on the measure.
Of those 46 members of the House who refused to support a bill that denied taxpayer money to terrorists committed to Israel's physical annihilation, 41 were Democrats.
The willingness of Democrats in Congress to oppose anti-terror legislation goes hand in hand with the increased willingness of leading figures in the party to emphasize their hostility toward Jews and Israel. That hostility is most prominently reflected today in former president Jimmy Carter's newly minted anti-Israel screed Palestine Peace not Apartheid and his repeated broadsides against Israel and American Jewry in his public appearances since his book was published late last year.
While Carter has long been suspected of anti-Jewish prejudices, his current willingness risk his reputation as a public figure by openly attacking Jews and Israel shows just how hostile the current intellectual climate on the American Left is toward Jews. The silence of Democratic leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, New York Senator Hillary Clinton, and Illinois Senator Barack Obama in the wake of Carter's anti-Jewish campaign speaks volumes about the acceptability of his sort of behavior in the Democratic Party today.
Unfortunately, to a degree, American Jews share a large portion of the blame for the current state of the Democratic Party. In last November's Congressional elections, exit polls showed that some 88 percent of American Jews voted for Democratic candidates. The Republican Jewish Coalition was the only major American Jewish group to demand that Wesley Clark apologize for his anti-Semitic outburst.
If American Jewry is not willing to stand up for itself by denying electoral support to a party that is increasingly hostile to Jewish interests, there is no reason for the Democratic Party police itself. If American Jews refuse to responsibly reconsider their support for a party whose leading voices either do not hesitate to malign Israel and American Jews or tolerate those who do, then why should the Democratic Party behave responsibly?
Originally published in The Jewish Press