Jacob Heilbrunn

The Neocon Charge of a Jewish Purge at the New Republic

One of the more lamentable traits of neoconservatism has been steadily to try and lower the bar of who—or what—is deemed anti-Semitic. Elliott Abrams, for example, recently denounced former Senator and Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel as an anti-Semite, a grave accusation that boomeranged on him as even Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haass, nominally Abrams' boss, felt constrained to observe that it was a preposterous statement. Now a web site called the Washington Free Beacon, which is edited by Matthew Continetti, a son-in-law of William Kristol, who is the editor of the Weekly Standard, has descried anti-Semitism at the New Republic.

The Beacon alleges that the new owner of the magazine, Chris Hughes, is purging Jewish contributing editors from the masthead. It says,

The New Republic has quietly dropped at least five prominent Jewish writers from its masthead in a move that may signal the publication’s continued drift away from a staunchly pro-Israel standpoint.

The magazine has launched an aggressive new editorial direction under the ownership of wealthy socialite Chris Hughes, who is best known for sharing a room with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard University.

The names of several prominent Jewish writers from both the left and right of the political spectrum were dropped from TNR’s masthead in the latest issue.

Now this would be rather ominous if it were true, if Hughes were really intent on making his new premises Judenrein. But to use vice-president Joe Biden's favorite term, it's malarkey. The fact is that the magazine has periodically trimmed its contributing editor masthead (to which I once belonged). It's an honorific rather than a formal post. Moreover, as Jonathan Chait points out, the Beacon itself notes by the end of its note that a number of other writers are being dropped as contributing editors as well: "the facts of the story turn out to be that a magazine has conducted some routine trimming of its unpaid, ceremonial list, and five of the writers deprived of their ceremonial title are Jewish and seven are not!" It's also the case that Peter Beinart, who has made waves with his criticisms of Israel and its American advocates, is also dropped from the masthead, an inconvenient fact that directly contradicts the already tendentious claims of the Beacon, which are attracting widespread ridicule.

Nevertheless, it does seem clear that in dropping several neocons from its masthead the magazine continues, at least symbolically, to sever its links to the movement whose foreign policy credo it once championed, particularly during the Iraq War. The era of Martin Peretz is over. A new one looms. What the future precisely holds for TNR, which is making a bold attempt to try and revivify itself, remains an open question. But it is clear that the neocons are becoming increasingly shrill as they watch a magazine they once relied on to mainstream their ideas seek out more fertile territory than the arid doctrines of yesteryear. This development has nothing to do with anti-Semitism and everything to do with intellectual honesty.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Knowtex. CC BY 2.0.