An article labeling neoconservative movement leader, Fox News pundit and orchestrator of the #NeverTrump movement William Kristol as a “Renegade Jew” has sparked a frenzy on online news and social media forums. Written by David Horowitz, another neoconservative, for the pro-Trump Breitbart website, the piece trashed Kristol for his plans to back a third party candidate against Trump, the populist evildoer at the top of the Republican establishment’s political kill list.
The phrase “Renegade Jew” has trended on Twitter for days after the publication of Horowitz’s tirade, with many anti-Trump conservatives echoing Republican pollster Frank Luntz’s positive spin: “To be fair, “Renegade Jew” sounds remarkably badass.” Liberals, meanwhile, touted the Horowitz attack as evidence of the anti-Semitism unleashed by the Trump campaign, which has provided fertile soil for grassroots white nationalist organizing.
In almost every case, the commentary on Horowitz’s outburst misses the ironic subtext that explains the origins of the ugly slur: As a leader of the neoconservative faction that formed in the defense of and in alignment with Israel’s right-wing Likud Party, Kristol himself has been a prime promoter of the “Renegade Jew” smear, presiding over campaigns to brand left-wing and liberal Jews as anti-Semitic apostates and demanding they be treated as pariahs by the community in which he and his ideological fellow travelers claim to be the authorities.
Kristol’s Weekly Standard magazine and the Washington Free Beacon online tabloid edited by his son-in-law, Matthew Continetti, have functioned as key vehicles for these smears against “Renegade Jews,” especially targeting liberal supporters of Israel for diverging from the Likudnik party line. Ethnically charged attacks against liberal Jews by Kristol’s media apparatus are so frequent and numerous that compiling them all might drive a researcher to exhaustion. A brief round-up is enough to demonstrate how zealously and routinely Kristol and his cadres have resorted to the “Renegade Jew” smear.
Condemning Goldstone as a traitorous snitch
There are few “Renegade Jews” that Kristol and his Weekly Standard loathe more than those who staff J Street, the liberal pro-Israel lobbying organization established to support the Obama administration’s negotiation efforts in Israel-Palestine. Back in 2009, when J Street was founded, the Weekly Standard’sMichael Goldfarb described the group as “nothing more than a partisan, Democratic organization trying to provide Jewish cover to an administration that is hostile to Israel -- they only stand with the [Iranian] mullahs because Obama stands with the mullahs.”
That same year, Goldfarb composed a satirical poem in the voice of two Jewish poets supposedly disinvited by J Street from the group’s first annual convention. The fake poem written by Goldfarb included the following line: “I write the names of the censored, the silenced, the forgotten the J Street capo has handed my name to the new Jew Gestapo I read my words distorted by neocon distorters.”
In 2010, following Israel’s brutal assault on the Gaza Strip, the United Nations appointed Richard Goldstone, a distinguished Jewish jurist from South Africa, to lead its fact-finding mission into alleged war crimes. Goldstone fell under immediate attack from the demagogic pro-Israel lawyer Alan Dershowitz, an attorney who has represented Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate who is the major financial backer of both the Israeli Likud and US Republican Parties and has now pledged $100 million to the campaign of Donald Trump. Dershowitzengaged in character assassination against Goldstone, calling him a “moser” and an “absolute traitor.”
Drawn from Talmudic teachings, the condemnatory term “moser” refers to Jewish snitches that betray fellow Jews to Gentile authorities. The traditional punishment for moserim has ranged over the centuries from the severing of tongues and ears to execution. Faced with a torrent of pro-Israel threats, Goldstone was eventually prevented from attending his grandson’s Bar Mitzvah, a family event that Dershowitz accused him of “politicizing” through his mere presence.
The Weekly Standard eagerly signed on to Dershowitz’s campaign to brand Goldstone as a Renegade Jew. Leading the charge was Rachel Abrams. The late wife of the former Reagan official Elliott Abrams, who pled guilty for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal, Rachel Abrams was an outspoken proponent of genocide against Palestinians, describing them as “child sacrificing savages” and “unmanned animals.” After denouncing Goldstone as the “favorite judge” of Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (the horror!) during the dark days of apartheid South Africa, Rachel Abrams hailed Dershowitz’s screed against Goldstone’s report on Gaza as “a masterpiece of dismantlement.”
In the end, Goldstone felt the strain of the sustained campaign of vitriol and recanted key aspects report he oversaw, even disowning the co-authors who did the bulk of the research.
The family that smears together
The neoconservative movement is an incestuous enterprise that journalist Jim Lobe called “an extended clan of friends, spouses and children who have known each other for generations.” Rachel Abrams, a former board member of Kristol’s Emergency Committee for Israel, was the daughter of founding generation neocons Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter, who are also the parents of New York Post columnist John Podhoretz and Ruthie Blum, a writer the Adelson funded, pro-Netanyahu daily newspaper Israel Hayom who has lived in an illegal Israeli settlement.
This neoconservative hothouse has reflexively reverted to the “Renegade Jew” charge as a substitute for reasoned debate with critics of Israeli policies. When the Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt published her famous essay on the Adolph Eichmann trial and the "banality of evil" in 1963, Norman Podhoretz led the crusade to publicly discredit her and bully her editors at the New Yorker into disowning her work. John Podhoretz has regularly re-enacted his father's histrionics, albeit in much cruder form. He once took to Twitter to call me a “kapo,” or a Jewish guard in a Nazi concentration camp, then fired off the same insult against Eli Valley, a Jewish cartoonist whose send-ups of the pro-Israel political establishment have frequently appeared in the Jewish Daily Forward.
The next generation of character assassins
The son of first generation neocons Irving Kristol and Gertrude Himmelfarb, William Kristol founded the Weekly Standard in 1995. The magazine functioned as a farm system for young right-wing writers like Matthew Continetti, who broke into the conservative movement through a group co-founded by Kristol’s father, the Institute for Collegiate Studies. That organization provided Continetti with his salary when he went to work for the Weekly Standard. It was there that Continetti was essentially handed his first book deal by William Kristol, The K Street Gang, assigning him an editor to help write his proposal, and then helping arrange for its sale and promotion. (Continetti’s second book, The Persecution of Sarah Palin: How the Elite Media Tried to Bring Down a Rising Star, was a defense of the Republican vice presidential nominee in 2008 who Kristol discovered during a Weekly Standard cruise to her home state of Alaska. Palin employed Michael Goldfarb as a spokesman on her 2008 campaign).
In 2012, Continetti married Anne Kristol, the daughter of his boss.
That same year, Continetti helped found The Free Beacon with help from Kristol, who served as a board member of the Goldfarb-run shell organization whose sole function was presiding over the newborn magazine’s funding and publication. Vowing in the Free Beacon’s founding manifesto to conduct ruthless “combat journalism,” Continetti -- the son of Catholic parents -- proceeded to deploy the “Renegade Jew” smear with reckless abandon.
“Hughes Drops Jews,” the Free Beacon headline blared in January 2013. Chris Hughes, a Silicon Valley tech baron, had just purchased The New Republic, provoking an exodus of writers that included several unpaid contributing editors who had contributed almost nothing to the magazine for several years. Although only five of the twelve writers happened to be Jewish, the Free Beacon accused Hughes of leading the digital media equivalent of an anti-Semitic pogrom in collaboration with another person the Free Beacon considered a Renegade Jew: The New Republic’s then-editor-in-chief Franklin Foer.
One of the most recent targets of a Free Beacon-crafted Renegade Jew smear was Simone Zimmerman, a founder of the left-wing Jewish protest group, If Not Now, and former campus activist for J Street. When she was appointed this year as Jewish outreach director by Senator Bernie Sander’s presidential campaign, Zimmerman came under ferocious attack from a host of right-wing pro-Israel organizations. The campaign culminated when Noah Pollack, the director of Kristol’s pro-Likud Emergency Committee for Israel, publicized a Facebook post in which Zimmerman wrote, “Fuck you, Bibi, for daring to insist that you represent even a fraction of Jews in the world...” Posted during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s military campaign against the Gaza Strip in 2014, Zimmerman’s item led to her suspension from the Sanders campaign.
Declaring Jewish liberalism a form of apostasy
A Free Beacon review of a diatribe against Jews who criticize Israel perfectly captured the magazine’s mindset. Headlined “The Enemies Within,” the review provided fulsome praise for “Jews Against Themselves,” an obscure book that described both J Street and the left-wing Jewish Voice for Peace as “internal enemies” and accused them of embracing “the ‘sissy’ Jewish school of thought.”
The Free Beacon reviewer highlighted what he considered an “important suggestion” from the book: “Remember that exclusion is as much a function of human intellect as inclusion. And view them as apostates—Jews who, in Maimonides’s words, are indifferent to their people when they are in distress and therefore have no share in the World to Come.”
Now that Kristol has been branded as a Renegade Jew, his cadres appear mystified. “What does [David] Horowitz think Kristol has betrayed? And what does his being Jewish have to do with it?... I’m a little hazy,” the Free Beacon’sMatthew Walther wrote of the notorious Breitbart headline.
While Kredoexpressed horror that Kristol had been of “smeared with anti-Semitic slurs,” Jonathan Tobin, executive editor of the Commentary Magazine edited by John Podhoretz and a close ally of Kristol, berated Horowitz for daring to “wrap him[self] in the Star of David and to somehow brand his opponents as traitors to the pro-Israel cause.” Tobin, however, has been an avid user of the “Renegade Jew” smear. He deployed it, for example, in 2011 against New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, an occasional critic of Israel's settlement enterprise, for supposedly trafficking in “a new form of anti-Semitism” as well as “feed[ing] off of traditional themes of Jew-hatred.”
Ultimately, it was Kristol and his allies who popularized this vicious tactic and helped generate the smear they now decry. Yet they react with shock that their chickens have finally come home to roost.