Terra Incognita: McCarthyism!

For all the hysteria, no government is behind the "campaigns against groups and people on the Left."

mccarthy 311 (photo credit: Library of Congress)
mccarthy 311
(photo credit: Library of Congress)
Hardly a week goes by here without the claim, usually by groups on the Left, that people are being silenced and censored by McCarthyism. In an October 2009 article, Benjamin Pogrund claimed that university groups such as Isracampus and Israel Academic Monitor were attacking leftist professors in “classic McCarthyite style.” David Newman of Ben-Gurion University has written that “the academic McCarthyism of the right endangers Israeli democracy and society. It threatens the very basis of freedom of speech.”
The hullabaloo over Naomi Chazan, former Knesset member, professor and chief of the New Israel Fund, in early 2010 resulted in a wave of claims of McCarthyism. An interview with her by Donald Macintyre in The Independent was titled “The new McCarthyism sweeping Israel.” Hagai El-ad of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel claimed “these are classic McCarthy techniques, portraying our organizations as enemies of the state.”
Then earlier this month, the Education Ministry ordered its logoremoved from a Web site called Common Ground that is supported by theAbraham Fund, an organization that claims it supports “coexistence.” Inresponse, a senior official at a non-governmental organization claimedthat “this is a McCarthyist period we’re going through.” Prof. DanielBar-Tal and many others have, in recent years, joined the chorusclaiming McCarthyism is growing in Israel.
When Joel Kovel, author of the anti-Israel book Overcoming Zionism, was sacked at Bard College, one commentator claimed it was a sign of “McCarthyism.” In a 2007 article in The Nation,Larry Cohler-Esses argued that Nadia Abu el-Haj, a Barnard professor,was a victim of McCarthyism because pro-Israel groups were angered thatsomeone they perceived as a radical ideologue was up for tenure; “Thisis the modus operandi of the New McCarthyism. It targets a new enemyfor our era: Muslims, Arabs and others in the Middle East field who areidentified as stepping over an unstated line in criticizing Israel.”
ITIS obvious that a lot of people think that McCarthyism is in the air.But do their fears and claims truly illustrate knowledge of whatMcCarthyism was? The use of words like “McCarthyism,” “apartheid” and“Nazism” in contemporary parlance should require that those using themand those reading them at least have a modicum of understanding of whatthey originally described.
Joseph McCarthy was born in 1908 andraised on a farm in rural Wisconsin. At 33 he served as a Marine Corpsofficer in World War II and was decorated. McCarthy was elected to theUS Senate in the postwar Republican landslide. He came to the nation’sattention in 1950 with his speech at Wheeling, West Virginia in whichhe claimed that “the State Department is infested with communists.”
In1953, after winning reelection, McCarthy was made head of the SenateCommittee on Government Operations, an obscure body that he transformedinto a center of investigations into communist influence in the USadministration. He used this committee and his legal lieutenants, suchas Bobby Kennedy, to go after government bodies such as Voice ofAmerica and the International Information Agency (an overseas libraryprogram).
In 1954 McCarthy laid into the US Army and ran afoulof Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had so recently left the service to becomepresident. By this time, the American public had tired of McCarthy’sclaims and outbursts and famed journalist Edward Murrow noted, “Wecannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.”
By December 1954 it was all over. McCarthy was censured by the Senate and he died two and a half years later.
Theirony of McCarthy’s life is that his activities became associated with“McCarthyism.” In fact it was the House Committee on Un-AmericanActivities in the House of Representatives that became infamous forblacklists and subpoenaing civilians, such as Hollywood writers. It wasthis committee that demanded to know: “Are you now or have you everbeen a member of the Communist Party of the United States?”
Theblacklist was a series of directives by Hollywood studio executives inwhich they refused to hire communists. Many of the Hollywood directorsaffected were Jewish. Never did the US government order people to befired.
The truth about McCarthyism is that while originally somepeople had their careers harmed or ruined by having been, or accused ofhaving been, communists, the claim of being a “victim” of McCarthyismhas been far more helpful to people’s careers than actually being avictim was ever harmful. Those who today claim they are victims ofMcCarthyism dream of being victims; they want to be the lone voicestanding up to the government.
But theirs is a fantasy, no government is behind the campaigns againstHaj, Chazan or the Abraham Fund. Instead, private individuals,expressing their right to freedom of speech, have condemned theactivities of those they disagree with. When, several years ago, astudent at the Hebrew University’s Rothberg International School pennedan editorial on Ynet about how his professors were using the classroomto spread anti-Israel propaganda, he was called in by administrators toexplain himself; “they basically made me promise not to write anythingelse.”
He didn’t cry “McCarthyism!”
Those who cry McCarthyism want attention. They are fear-mongers andextremists with little understanding of the concept of free speech andless understanding of history.
The writer is a PhD researcher at Hebrew University.