Why Does Lee Smith Have A Job?

Many readers will already have seen that this blog was mentioned, along with Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Greenwald, Phil Weiss, and Steve Walt, as one of the sites “using the Internet to make anti-Semitism respectable,” in a Tablet article by their neoconservative politics columnist Lee Smith. The article is silly and substanceless enough that I won’t bother responding — Walt, Weiss, and Jerry Haber have already written fine rebuttals, and even journalists who are far from sympathetic to our politics, like JTA’s Ron Kampeas and the New Jersey Jewish News‘s Andrew Silow-Carroll, have picked apart Smith’s article for the idiocy that it is. (Although Kampeas feels compelled to take a gratuitous and frankly bizarre shot at Phil Weiss–he “gets up in the morning and plans a day that includes harming Jews”? Really, Ron? This is the kind of hysteria that one expects from Jeffrey Goldberg–who, no surprise, is the only source for Smith’s article.) I’ll just note how revealing it is that Smith is unable to produce a single instance of anti-Semitism from any of his targets, and is forced to rely on random and anonymous blog comments to make his case. His gloss on Jim’s political views also indicates that he has probably never read anything Jim’s written.

The real question is why the piece was published in the first place. I’ve written for Tablet before, and found the editors to be smart, thorough, and open-minded (as evidenced by their willingness to publish my piece in the first place). Reading Smith’s screed, I have to wonder how it made it through the publication process without anyone forcing him to provide some evidence for his claims.

More generally, it’s an interesting question why Smith has his gig at Tablet in the first place. I have no objection to the magazine airing neoconservative voices–they are a small minority in the American Jewish community, but an important one–but it is strange that the magazine would give its only weekly politics column to a neoconservative political operative who uses it exclusively as an echo chamber for talking points from Commentary and the Weekly Standard (where Smith also writes). I’ve gone through just about all of Smith’s Tablet columns, and virtually without fail they fall into one of two genres: there are hit pieces against whoever the neocons’ enemy of the week is (e.g. Trita Parsi, the Leveretts, and this latest article), and there are sycophantic puff pieces touting the wisdom of various Likudnik policymakers (e.g. Elliott Abrams, Michael Oren). Last week, he attempted a deeper think piece on Israel, Intellectuals, And The Fate Of Western Civilization, and it didn’t go too well–the kind of turgid pop philosophy that would be more at home in a college newspaper.

So why are we treated to Smith’s insights every week? Is it his good looks? His winning personality? A condition imposed by a funder? Regardless, his columns are jarringly out of place with the tenor of the rest of the magazine–and if his last couple are any indication, they’re only getting worse.

Daniel Luban

Daniel Luban is a postdoctoral associate at Yale University. He holds a PhD in politics from the University of Chicago and was formerly a correspondent in the Washington bureau of Inter Press Service.



  1. Much like Walt, it’s obvious that you did not read Smith’s piece, and are simply repeating the most conventional kind of talking points in a manner you hope will seem fresh. You can’t even manage to keep yourself from using the same tired old adjectives to smear those you are trying to smear.

    Why are we treated to your insights here at whatever this silly little blog is, Daniel Luban, when you can’t even write a decent paragraph? If this is indicative of the body of your work, I suggest a new line.

    Of work.

    Of course, it could be that “Lobeblog” is looking for tired “screed[s]” if you will, where the intent is not to address opponents about the issue (Israel) but rather to dress them down and never once make an actual argument about the issue (Israel).

    Petty personal conflicts drive the internet, it’s understandable, but really, we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel now with people like Daniel Luban.

  2. Daniel, excellent post. It seems Lee Smith took a beating from the majority of commentors at Tablet for the intellectually lazy, superficial hit piece. Ironically, his first-draft, high school newspaper caliber column has attracted over 200+ hits, probably his most-read article ever posted.

    That now begs the question he originally asked: is he attempting to attract web traffic for his article by deliberately playing into anti-Semitism like the five great writers he criticized? Or is it that any intellectual discussion of Israel’s conduct with US taxpayer funds has been so suppressed, there’s now a wellspring of interest/passion on the topic?

  3. Snobbery and then flattery will get you everywhere, Oscar.

    And as I’m sure we all know, on the internet, and particularly concerning Israel, quantity of commenters on one side or another has little if anything to do with the merits of the position.

  4. In my opinion, the Smith piece deserves rather more thought than you’ve given it here. On the one hand, it’s simply awful that it smears people like Walt by calling them (directly or by innuendo) anti-Semites. On the other hand, it raises an important point, viz., that some commenters at blogs like Walt’s, or the Race for Iran, or here at Lobelog are undoubtedly anti-Semitic. It’s probably true that some commenters, frustrated by the pro-Israel bias of major U.S. media outlets and other power centers, allow their emotions and frustrations to boil over. However, there seems little doubt that other commenters really are anti-Semites (if not, then they’re certainly good at pretending to be). This should be troubling to those of us who are seeking to level the playing field in the U.S. media and influence U.S. public opinion.

    Comments are important to any blog. But the bigotry displayed by some commenters is troubling. The solution? I wish I knew. The content of all of the blogs referenced in Smith’s article is straight stuff; none of the bloggers need have second thoughts about what they’ve written. That leaves the commenters themselves. No use, in my opinion, asking them to think before they click “submit.” It’s clear from online conversations I’ve had with some of them that they see nothing wrong with even their most outrageous remarks. Does one then attempt to censor comments? That seems to me a road best not taken. Where does one stop, once one tries to decide what constitutes “acceptable” opinion, and what is out of bounds? Nevertheless, the intrusion of bigotry can only detract from any blog.

    Returning to Smith’s piece, it contains the usual digs and smears. For example, it equates anti-Zionisn with anti-Semitism. Personally, I find this particularly aggravating. As I have written both here and elsewhere, I consider myself to be an anti-Zionist (although I believe that Jews should be allowed to live in Palestine, and further I would support the creation of Zion elsewhere, perhaps on federal lands in the U.S.) but a philo-Semite. I’m being libeled when I’m called an anti-Semite because I oppose a Jewish-dominated state in Palestine. But then Smith and his ilk will stoop very low in the name of their cause.

    I think attacks like Smith’s are motivated by fear of people like Walt and Lobe. Such people are well-educated, articulate, and ethical. Their audience, though relatively small, appears to be growing. The Lee Smiths of the world see them as a danger in a time when Israel’s stock may be dropping. And so efforts are made to discredit these voices.

    By dragging the more extreme commenters on these sites into his argument Smith is, obviously, playing with guilt by association. An unfair tactic, certainly. However, we do need to think about the issue of anti-Semitic commentary contaminating these sites. The best and most solid house you build can be ruined by termites and roaches.

  5. Smith’s piece made a number of excellent points and I am surprised you didn’t bother to address any of them in your rebuttal.

    To answer your question, he has a job because people are interested in what he has to say.
    He was very brave to have written that, and posting a link to this nonsense in the comments section has to be one of the most entertaining attempts at self promotion I have ever seen.

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