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. Jon you did read the Smith piece and at least gave some thought to what was said. I would like to point out to you that Walt refered to Smith as part of the ‘lobby’ in his rebuttal, something I find quite shocking.
    The clear and present anti semitism in the comments of these blogs is a clear and present reminder that yes, birds of a feather flock together and these bloggers appeal to the worst elements of our society.
    Quite frankly, I fear as a Jewish person for the future of my children and my family as I agree that the numbers of followers of these people who blame Jews for Iraq and nine eleven and whatever else they can come up with are really growing.
    This troubles me and should worry all good people of our country and planet. There are only 13 million Jews left, we stand at the knife edge of extinction, lets all take a breath and think long and hard about where this seems to be going.

  2. @Vered
    I find our comment quite shocking.

    “we stand at the knife edge of extinction”

    Where does that thinking come from? Are you being persecuted in the U.S. for being a jew? Are jews in the U.S. a discriminated ethnic or religious group?

  3. @bandalero

    “are you being persecuted in the u.s. for being a Jew?”

    Yes, of course. Our synagogues and community centers and museums and schools are all required to have gates and bomb proofing and other layers of security. Our children are shot in Seattle. America is the most wonderful place to be a Jew, yes, but it’s clearly not free from danger.

  4. @Mrein
    I’m even more shocked. I understand, that such fear is real, but is it rational? Where does this fear come from?

    “Our synagogues and community centers and museums and schools are all required to have gates and bomb proofing and other layers of security.”

    Isn’t it a privilegue to have such a level of security? Wouldn’t it be rational to have that layers of security for black people as well? If I understand the data rigt, there were ten times more black victims of racially or reigious motivated hate crimes than jewish in 2007:


    “Our children are shot in Seattle.”
    It sounds like something like a regular event. Is it true? How many jewish children were shot at for racial or religious reasons in Seattle this year? And last year? And the year before? I have not heard of any such incident in the last three years. Were they?

    All I know about Seattle violence against jews is that there was one incident called the “Seattle Jewish Federation shooting” on July 28, 2006, where several people were shot and one woman was killed in a anti-jewish hate crime. And as far as I understood, the very vast majority of the people in the US and worldwide condemned that hate crime and the justice system quickly incarcarated the offender. Is that persecutation? I doubt it.

    But it’s interesting to have a look, what was the motivation for the “Seattle Jewish Federation shooting”. The offender said it had to do with the war of aggression against Iraq, where hundreds of thousands of people were killed, scores of mothers made poverty prostitues and millions made refugees.

    To remember who was in the middle of those advocating a liberation of Iraq by a war of aggression based on lies I will just quote a piece from the Washington Times from the year 2002 about Israeli FM Shimon Peres remarks on Iraq at that time:

    “Mr. Peres, interviewed from Rome yesterday on CNN’s “Novak, Hunt & Shields,” said, “You cannot sit and wait” while Saddam develops weapons of mass destruction. … “But Iraq is an issue in their own right, and a very terrible one. I think that everybody is a little bit impatient because there is a feeling that Iraq is developing nuclear weapons. They possess chemical weapons. They possesss biological weapons. They are building missiles. And simply, you cannot sit and wait for meeting this challenge,” Mr. Peres said.”

    I find it quite understandable when people are upset about hundreds thousand of killed people due to the slander of other people. How can it be, that the offender believed the Jewish Federation in Seattle and the people there were responsible for atrocities committed by the government of Israel and their lobby in the U.S.? May it have something to with the fact that the website of The Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle stated it exists to “ensure Jewish survival and to enhance the quality of Jewish life … in Israel …”?

    “America is the most wonderful place to be a Jew, yes, but it’s clearly not free from danger.”
    I doubt there is any place in the world for anyone not free from danger. Persecution is something different than the complete absence of danger. What I’m shocked about is your fear, which looks for me very irrational.

    I suspect, that such fear prepared the ground for scores of dead, wounded and orphaned people in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq, the occupied territories, the U.S. and last not least in Israel itself and many more places.

  5. I quite enjoyed the way Lee Smith managed his selective quotation from my comment to a previous thread here. He adroitly left out my statement that “I regard myself as a marxist.”

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