Opinion writer October 24, 2011

Reckless Jew that I am, I muscled my way into the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Lower Manhattan despite multiple reports of virulent and conceivably lethal anti-Semitism. Projecting an unvarnished Semitism, I circled the place, encountering nothing and no one to suggest bigotry — not a sign, not a book and not even the guy who some weeks ago held up a placard with the instruction to Google the phrase “Zionists control Wall St.” Google “nut case” instead.

This was my second visit to the Occupy Wall Street site and the second time my keen reporter’s eye has failed to detect even a hint of the anti-Semitism that had been trumpeted by certain right-wing Web sites and bloggers, most prominently Bill Kristol. He is a founder of the Emergency Committee for Israel, which has been running cable TV ads alleging a virtual hate rally at the Occupy Wall Street site and calling on President Obama and other important Democrats to denounce what is — as it happens — not happening there. The commercial ran on Fox News the very day I was at the site.

Richard Cohen writes a weekly political column for The Washington Post. View Archive

Kristol’s cri de wolf (a French term of my own invention) was taken up by Jennifer Rubin, The Washington Post’s conservative blogger, who noted the Kristol group’s “eye-popping ad.” Citing an article from Israel Today that linked a single statement by someone named Patricia McAllister in Los Angeles with some vitriol on the American Nazi Party’s Web site and a reference to the editor of Adbusters, she fashioned a veritable pogrom out of pretty close to thin air and demanded, “Where is the outrage?” I have a better question: Where are the anti-Semites?

The Anti-Defamation League has managed to find a paltry few. But even this watchdog Jewish organization, while noting the odd Jew-hater on the periphery of the anti-Wall Street group, found that “anti-Semitism has not gained traction . . . nor is it representative of the larger movement at this time.” Possibly more representative is the fact that Jewish religious services were held at the protest site for the holidays of Yom Kippur and Simchat Torah. If these were disrupted by roving bands of contemporary Cossacks, the local media have failed to mention it — yet another cause for outrage, no doubt.

This right-wing attempt to discredit both the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Democratic Party’s hesitant embrace of it is reprehensible. It’s made possible, however, because no one this side of the moon knows precisely what the Occupy Wall Street movement is trying to do. On a daily basis it marches off to some location to highlight what we all know — that Wall Street guys are rich — and their slogans suggest a tired socialism that is as repugnant to me as the felonious capitalism that produced the mortgage bubble and the impoverishment of millions of Americans. Given our fastidiousness regarding vigilante justice, not much can be done.

Occupy Wall Street has become an event for its own sake, a destination for the aimless. It is something that occurs on countless iPhone cameras, a tourist attraction with the usual vendors, the usual zaftig young women doing the usual arrhythmic dance, somehow missing the beat of many drums. The nostalgic scent of pot wafts occasionally through the air, and I feel so much younger. This, I’m sure, will bring an end to the Vietnam War.

On a given day, I decide that Occupy Wall Street is about nothing and then I decide it is the Herman Cain campaign in aggregate, just a media event that has captured the flea-thoughts of many Americans. Then I decide it is an incoherent articulation of anger at the institutions that have failed us, including — by way of both self-pity and self-flagellation — the media. It seems, above all, a conspiracy to have left-leaning writers make jackasses of themselves by imparting grave and grand meaning to what is little more than a vast sleepover.

The imputation of anti-Semitism, however, adds gravitas to this lighthearted event. The smear is in deadly earnest, a reminder that the devious tactics of the Old Left have been adopted by the New Right. (No accident, maybe, that the practitioners are the descendants of lefties.) It produced alarm on the Internet, Jewish smoke signals alerting the ethnically twitchy to the presence of enemies and the demand that Obama, already suspected of harboring furious anti-Israel sentiments, do something. But there is nothing to be done — except to condemn anyone who uses anti-Semitism to advance a political agenda. To quote some of them: Where’s the outrage?

cohenr@washpost.com

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