By Dylan Byers, Politico
September 16, 2012
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd set the Jewish political community on fire today with a column about the Republican ticket's foreign policy proposals that, according to her critics, peddled anti-Semitic imagery.
Dowd fairly observed that neither Mitt Romney nor Paul Ryan are experts in the field of foreign policy, but asserted their strategy was orchestrated by a "neocon puppet master" who was leading the neocon effort to "slither back" into power.
Such language, to say nothing of the questionable legitimacy of her claims, struck experts on American-Israeli relations as an inappropriate (though perhaps unintentional) appeal to anti-Semitic stereotypes, and especially offensive ahead of the first night of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah.
"Dowd's use of anti-Semitic imagery is awful," Steven A. Cook, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote on Twitter.
"Maureen may not know this, but she is peddling an old stereotype, that gentile leaders are dolts unable to resist the machinations and manipulations of clever and snake-like Jews," Jeffrey Goldberg, the Atlantic columnist and leading journalist on Israeli issues, wrote.
"[A]mazing that apparently nobody sat her down and said, this is not OK," Blake Hounshell, the managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine, tweeted.
On the right, The Weekly Standard's Daniel Halper called it "outrageous," while Commentary's Jonathan Tobin described it as "particularly creepy."
"Dowd’s column marks yet another step down into the pit of hate-mongering that has become all too common at the Times," Tobin wrote. "This is a tipping point that should alarm even the most stalwart liberal Jewish supporters of the president."
Dowd did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday afternoon. New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson referred POLITICO to the paper's editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal, who did not comment prior to deadline.
Dan Senor, a top Romney adviser and former George W. Bush administration staffer, and the principal target of Dowd's column, declined to comment. (Though he did tweet a link to Goldberg's column.) The Romney campaign also declined to comment.
Beyond Dowd's laguage, critics took issue with the factual accuracy of her thesis -- that Romney and Ryan, like George W. Bush, are devoid of the ability to think for themselves and are instead controlled by Jewish forces working behind the scenes.
In her column, Dowd called Ryan a "foreign affairs neophyte" and suggested he was merely "moving his mouth" while laying out Senor's "neocon" rhetoric on American foreign policy. Yet back in mid-August, just days after Ryan was chosen as Romney's running mate, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal wrote a column titled "Paul Ryan's Neocon Manifesto," in which he credited Ryan with delivering "one of the most thoughtful speeches in years about America's global role and the means required to maintain it."
Dowd's assertion that Jewish neoconservatives -- chiefly Paul Wolfowitz -- dictated the Bush administration's handling of Iraq also ignored the influences of the other individuals most often credited with that responsibility, namely Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Condoleezza Rice -- none of whom are Jewish. (As Future of Capitalism's Ira Stoll points out, Dowd also ignored the fact that during the Iraq war Senor was more closely aligned with Paul Bremer, who opposed the neocons.)
Finally, Dowd's column suggested that Senor got "out over his skis" when he said Romney would respect Israel's right to make a unilateral attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. Yet Goldberg notes that Romney's stance on the issue varies little from President Barack Obama's, who has acknowledged Israel's sovereign right to defend itself as it sees fit.
Those and other questions about Dowd's column led many to criticize the columnist not just for style, but for substance.
"[The] weirdest part of the anti-semitic tropes on the Dowd column is how lazy they are," Max Fisher, an editor at The Atlantic who is leaving to launch a foreign policy blog at the Washington Post, tweeted.
The Obama campaign, which tweeted a link to Dowd's column on Sunday afternoon with the message, "Why Romney and Ryan’s foreign policy sounds 'ominously familiar,' did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
UPDATE (8:01 p.m.): Rosenthal emails, via a Times spokesperson:
"No fair-minded reading of Maureen Dowd's column supports the allegations you and others are making. She makes no reference, direct or implied, to anyone's religion."