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An Anti-McCarthyite’s McCarthyism


Lawrence Hoffman is a politically liberal Reform rabbi who writes about his favorite Jewish books in his own recently released book, titled, not altogether unexpectedly, One Hundred Great Jewish Books.

Hoffman is, of course, entitled to his reading preferences, and several of his choices are certainly worthy of any such list. But what struck the Monitor in skimming the book was the implication in one of his reviews that the late Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist activities had an anti-Semitic subtext.

Now, before coming to McCarthy’s defense on this issue, it must be acknowledged that writing anything that can be perceived as less than condemnatory of Joe McCarthy is bound to upset people, as the Monitor learned firsthand a number of years ago.

On that occasion, the Senate historian had released thousands of transcript pages of executive hearings conducted by McCarthy in the mid-1950s and trumpeted them as groundbreaking, with liberal reporters and editorial writers repeating verbatim his claim that the papers revealed once and for all that when it came to investigating alleged Communist subversion, “McCarthy had shopworn goods and fishing expeditions.”

The Monitor merely pointed out that there was hardly anything new in the documents and quoted conservative writer Wes Vernon’s statement that the Senate historian and other critics of McCarthy “could not cite one instance in which [McCarthy’s] alleged ‘browbeating’ of witnesses ruined lives.”

(Vernon was referring to efforts by M. Stanton Evans, an expert on the McCarthy era, to get someone – anyone – involved in the release of the papers to substantiate the statement, jointly released by Senators Carl Levin and Susan Collins, that McCarthy’s methods “destroyed the careers of people who were not involved in the infiltration of our government.” None could.)

In response to that column the Monitor received an unusual amount of negative feedback from readers – including the Senate historian himself, who in his letter castigated McCarthy for his overall recklessness.

The Monitor has always been fascinated by the way the McCarthy period is portrayed in the liberal media and among left-wing academics – particularly in light of what is now known about the control exerted by Moscow over the American Communist Party and the extent of Soviet espionage in the middle decades of the 20th century.

What makes the McCarthy business a case study in liberal denial and media mendacity is that even after the fall of the Soviet Union and the declassification of cables and documents from both sides of the Cold War, far too many journalists continued to operate in an ideological time warp, seemingly stuck in the 1970s with its backdrop of revisionist historians blaming the U.S. for the world’s ills and American credibility festering at an all-time low in the wake of Vietnam and Watergate.

Anyway, getting back to Lawrence Hoffman, here is what he writes in his chapter on Paddy Chayefsky’s play “The Tenth Man”:

Even though Senator McCarthy wanted Americans to believe otherwise, relatively few Jewish immigrants actively fought for socialism, much less communism.” [Emphasis added]

Hoffman gives no source, nor does he offer any quote from McCarthy, to back up his outrageous claim. So here is a proud anti-McCarthyite guilty of the very sin he imputes to Joe McCarthy.

The truth is, whatever one thinks of McCarthy, one thing he was not was an anti-Semite.

In his superb and widely praised McCarthy biography A Conspiracy So Immense, the historian David Oshinsky notes that “[McCarthy] never engaged in anti-Semitic diatribes or made the loaded connection between Jews and left-wing radicalism. Despite the unrelenting hostility of organized Jewry to his crusade, McCarthy still praised the state of Israel [and] condemned the Soviet persecution of Jews.”

Political scientist Benjamin Ginsberg concurs, writing in his book The Fatal Embrace that “the McCarthyites had no use for anti-Semitism as a political weapon. Indeed, several of McCarthy’s most important aides…were themselves Jews.”

And the late Abba Eban, in his memoir Personal Witness, recalled that McCarthy once summoned him to his Senate office and asked to be added to a list of sponsors of a congressional resolution urging Israel’s inclusion in U.S. foreign aid legislation.

“Israel and the Jews,” Eban wrote, “never became a target of McCarthy’s denunciations.”

About the Author: Jason Maoz is the Senior Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at jmaoz@jewishpress.com.

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