The McCarthy Paradox

If Joseph McCarthy didn’t exist, Israel’s detractors, anti-democrats and anti-Semites would have to invent him. Old Joe has become the knee-jerk answer to any effort to respond to anyone attacking Israel. The paradox is that by invoking McCarthy to suggest they are being silenced, Israel’s enemies are attempting to muzzle their critics. 

In 1983, AIPAC published a booklet, The Campaign to Discredit Israel, with information about speakers who regularly appeared on campus to express hostile views. ADL published a similar book. Both were vilified for producing a “blacklist” and never revised the publications. More recently Daniel Pipes started “Campus Watch,” which exposes faculty engaged in academic malpractice; he, too, is accused of McCarthyism. 

Like many aggrieved critics of Israel, journalist Larry Cohler-Esses describes the “New McCarthyism” as anyone who challenges “Muslims, Arabs and others in the Middle East field who are identified as stepping over an unstated line in criticizing Israel, as radical Islamists, as just plain radical or as in some way sympathetic to terrorists.” Put simply, disparaging Israel is kosher, complaining about the critics is not.

As I wrote in The Arab Lobby, the anti-Israel animus in academia goes largely unreported because students rarely complain. Usually faculty bias is only exposed when professors publish their outrageous views in mainstream media. Then they immediately retreat behind the shield of academic freedom and castigate their critics as McCarthyites.

Criticism of pseudo scholars often produces a backlash, as these professors gain sympathy as victims of “smear campaigns.” Yet no one has silenced any of these professors. Many are tenured and receive lifetime employment despite controversies surrounding their work. Moreover, academic critics of Israel are routinely invited to lecture at campuses around the world, and no one prevents them from speaking. 

This is not the case for many Israelis and their supporters. In the past Benjamin Netanyahu was prevented from speaking at Concordia, Ambassador Michael Oren was shouted down at UC Irvine and, most recently, protesters disrupted a King’s College London lecture by Ami Ayalon, the former Shin Bet head and left-wing politician and peace activist, by smashing windows, throwing chairs, and setting off the fire alarm more than 15 times.

Hypocritically, many of the same professors who allege they are being censored are the ones calling for the silencing of pro-Israeli colleagues and the boycotting of Israeli universities. More than 1,000 professors, for example, have called on the American Anthropological Association to boycott Israel. Professors who claim they have the right to denigrate Israel, and deny Israelis their academic freedom, insist that anyone who criticizes their anti-Semitic views are engaged in McCarthyism. 


One of the most prominent academic critics of Israel, Berkeley’s Hatem Bazian, has complained of students having the temerity to “write down what he says” and sharing the information with others. Bazian has helped turn “Islamophobia” into a euphemism for McCarthyism, using the accusation to slander critics of radical Islam and Muslims who preach hatred against Jews and Israel. 

Another well-known detractor is Stanford’s Joel Beinin who turns reality on its head by claiming that Israel’s supporters have failed in the marketplace of ideas and therefore seek to suppress the opinions of truth-tellers like him. He claims that “most Middle East scholars have long ago rejected” the views of scholars with whom he disagrees. “That is one of the sources of their unhappiness,” he says, and yet it is the Middle East Studies Association that he once headed, which complains its members are ignored by decision makers. Beinin and his comrades can’t believe that policymakers consider them irrelevant and ignorant or that government officials value real world experience over pedantic ideologues who peddle their political agendas rather than produce scholarship. Beinin is most aptly speaking about himself and others of his ilk when he says “neo-McCarthyites already know what they want to hear.”

The McCarthy Paradox was also on display recently in Chicago where a group invited two leaders of the Jerusalem Open House, an Israeli gay activist organization, to a reception to discuss LGBTQ life in Israel. A Wider Bridge, a pro-Israel organization committed “to building connections between the LGBTQ communities of Israel and North America in ways that strengthen both” was accused of “pinkwashing.” This term is used to suggest that Israel’s supporters want to silence critics of Israel’s persecution of Palestinians by extolling the treatment of gay Israelis. 

Hundreds of protestors stormed the reception, took over the stage, and prevented the Israelis from speaking. The executive director of A Wider Bridge, Arthur Slepian, said the “pinkwashing” accusation “is now being wielded as a sledgehammer to shut down constructive conversation and to deny the humanity of Israel’s LGBTQ community. The protestors see pinkwashing everywhere, and the only remedies they believe in are censorship, silencing and intimidation.”

Given their ignorance, it would not be surprising if Israel’s detractors were unaware that McCarthy’s anti-Communist crusade was largely directed at Jews. Ironically, Israel’s critics are the ones with the most in common with the Wisconsin senator whose name they use to smear others.