The Smear Campaign

Charges of anti-Semitism against GOP Senate candidate Tom Campbell are completely overblown.

The charge of anti-Semitism is increasingly in the air these days. Andrew Sullivan was recently accused of it. Few were convinced. Now Tom Campbell is coming under fire. He's been attacked, among others, by Commentary's blog Contentions, the Weekly Standard, and the American Spectator for being anti-Israel. And, to some degree, the attacks are working.

Campbell is running for the Republican nomination for the Senate in California. Campbell attended the University of Chicago and Harvard Law School. He clerked for Byron "Whizzer" White on the Supreme Court. He's served in Congress. Campbell's record is also firmly conservative; he's an admirer of Milton Friedman.

Now he hopes to challenge Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer in the general election. By all accounts, Campbell is the favorite to win the nomination against Carly Fiorina and former-State Assemblyman Chuck DeVore. But as the Los Angeles Times recently observed, "the participants are stuck on one subject: Israel." Crocodile tears abound: Fiorina claimed that she was "deeply troubled" by Campbell's record. DeVore simply called Campbell "a friend to our foes." They figure that maybe the brouhaha will damage Campbell with evangelical Christian voters. Meanwhile, former-Secretary of State George Shultz has vouched for Campbell's Israel bona fides, calling him an "unwavering" supporter of the Jewish state.

According to the LA Times, it began when "Former California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson said in an interview that when he called Fiorina manager Marty Wilson to tell Wilson he planned to endorse Campbell, Wilson replied, "Bruce, how can you do that? He's an anti-Semite." Wilson denies saying that.

But the fat was in the fire. Campbell's critics point to a record that, they say, is evidence of a systematic bias against Israel. They adduce a welter of charges. Here are some of them: Campbell voted to slash foreign aid against Israel. He was also soft on Sami Al-Arian. Campbell accepted a $1,300 donation for his 2000 Senate campaign from Al-Arian. In 2006 Arian pleaded guilty to aiding terrorism. The Los Angeles Times states that Campbell, who was then the business school dean at UC Berkeley, "wrote a letter to the University of South Florida protesting its decision to fire Al-Arian over comments he made." Campbell didn't support making Jerusalem the capital of Israel. So far, about the only thing Campbell has not been accused of is refusing to don a kippah upon entering a synagogue.

One of Campbell's public defenders and supporters observes, "on the basis of Campbell's proven public record, such aspersions seem to have arrived from somewhere outside the space-time continuum, in some outer dimension created by wild and unchecked oppo research." The defender is David Frum of the indispensable "FrumForum." Frum, as ardent a supporter of Israel as there ever was, notes, among other things, that the sum that Campbell voted against in the foreign-aid bill was a mere pittance. Campbell didn't want funds for Africa to be reduced. Furthermore, George W. Bush himself posed with a picture with Al-Arian and Campbell says he was unaware of his terrorist connections. But as Frum notes, Campbell's detractors have produced new allegations, among them that he has lauded Alison Weir, the head of "If Americans Knew," which can justly be described as anti-Israel. Campbell says his praise of Weir was offered years ago and that "I never stated agreement with any statement made by Alison Weir." Frum patiently and forensically goes on to make the case for Campbell's sympathy for Israel, including the fact that he flew to it on El Al in 1990 and stayed in the King David hotel to show solidarity with Israel as it was attacked by Iraq.

At a certain point, though, it becomes wholly otiose to examine Campbell's record in such granular detail. Can it really be that someone who flew to Israel in those circumstances is, in fact, a closet foe of the country? It beggars the imagination. The episode has the whiff of a joke recounted Sunday in the New York Times about the new play Lenin's Embalmers:

Three Russians are in the gulag. The first one says, "What are you in for?"
The second one replies, "I called Zbarsky a revolutionary."
"That's funny," the first one says. "I called Zbarsky a counterrevolutionary."
"That's funny," the third one says. "I'm Zbarsky."

 

Jacob Heilbrunn is a senior editor at The National Interest.