Right in the wake of House Majority leader Dick Armey's explicit call for two million Palestinians to be booted out of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and Gaza as well, came yet one more of those earnest articles accusing a vague entity called "the left" of anti-Semitism. This one was in Salon, by a man called Dennis Fox, identified as an associate professor of legal studies and psychology at the University of Illinois. Salon titled Fox's contribution, "The shame of the pro-Palestinian left: Ignorance and anti-Semitism are undercutting the moral legitimacy of Israel's critics."

Over the past 20 years, I've learned there's a quick way of figuring just how badly Israel is behaving. There's a brisk uptick in the number of articles here by Jews accusing the left of anti-Semitism. These articles adopt varying strategies, but the most obvious one is that nowhere in them is there much sign that the author feels it necessary to concede that Israel is a racist state whose obvious and provable intent is to continue to steal Palestinian land, oppress Palestinians, herd them into smaller and smaller enclaves, and in all likelihood ultimately drive them into the sea or Lebanon or Jordan or Dearborn or the space in Dallas Fort Worth airport between the third and fourth runways (the bold Armey plan that I discussed last week.)

Eschewing these realities, the author stigmatizes leftists (who assert that Israel is a racist state whose obvious and provable intent is to continue to steal Palestinian land, oppress Palestinians, herd them into smaller and smaller enclaves, and in all likelihood ultimately drive them into the sea or Lebanon or Jordan) as anti-Semitic

Here's how Fox begins his article for Salon: '"Let's move back," my wife insisted when she saw the nearby banner: "Israel Is a Terrorist State!" We were at the April 20 Boston march opposing Israel's incursion into the West Bank. So drop back we did, dragging our friends with us to wait for an empty space we could put between us and the anti-Israel sign.'"

Inference by Fox: Those who say Israel is a terrorist state are anti-Semitic.

But on the basis of that statement, they're not. There are plenty of sound arguments that from the Palestinian point of view Israel is indeed a terrorist state, and anyway, even if it wasn't, the description would not per se be evidence of anti-Semitism. Only if the banner read "All Jews are terrorists," would Fox have a point. The rhetorical trick is to conflate "Israel" or "the State of Israel" with "Jews," and argue that they are synonymous. Ergo, to criticize Israel is to be anti-Semitic.

The real problem is most Jews here just don't like hearing bad things said about Israel, same way they don't like reading articles about the Jewish lobby here. Mention the lobby and someone like Fox will rush into print saying, "Cockburn toys with the old anti-Semitic canard that the Jews control the press." I even got accused of anti-Semitism the other day for mentioning that the Jews founded Hollywood, which they most certainly did, as recounted in a recent very funny, pro-Semitic book.

So cowed are commentators (which is, of course, the prime motive of those charges of anti-Semitism) that even after the U.S. Congress recently voted full-throated endorsement of Sharon and Israel, with only two senators and 22 U.S. reps voting against, you could scarcely find a mainstream paper prepared to analyze this astounding demonstration of the power of AIPAC and other Jewish organizations lobbying for Israel.

Look at the following tricky paragraph by Fox: "Was Ehud Barak's Camp David offer to Yasser Arafat generous, or simply a guarantee of continued Palestinian dependence? Let's go even further back: What did Britain intend in 1917 when it issued the Balfour Declaration? Did Israeli officials intentionally drive out the Palestinians in the 1948 war, or was their flight a largely unplanned result of the fear and destruction inherent in conflict? The position of many who support Israel -- that Arab governments enticed most Palestinians to leave -- has been thoroughly discredited by historians across the political spectrum; its frequent repetition reminds us that even demonstrably erroneous assumptions persist when they serve other purposes. The claim by many Middle East Muslims that the Israeli Mossad attacked the World Trade Center last September may attain similar status. Facts are slippery. Myths persist."

Can you figure out what Fox is really saying here? My guess is that although Barak's offer was indeed a guarantee that Palestinians would be imprisoned in tiny, separate Bantustans; that though Israel did drive out Palestinians deliberately in 1948, Fox is -- despite his line about "thoroughly discredited by historians" -- somehow implying that there's no way one can properly make a straightforwardly factual statement about Israel's motives or historical record.

The encouraging fact is that despite the best efforts of the Southern Poverty Law Center to prove that the Nazis are about to march down Main Street, there's remarkably little anti-Semitism in the United States, and none that I've ever been able to detect on the American left, which is of course amply stocked with Jews. It's comical to find people like Fox trudging all the way back to Leroi Jones and the '60s to dig up the necessary anti-Semitic jibe. The less encouraging fact is that there's not nearly enough criticism of Israel's ghastly conduct toward Palestinians, which in its present phase is testing the waters for reaction here to a major ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, just as Armey called for.

So why don't people like Fox write about Armey's appalling remarks, instead of trying to change the subject with nonsense about anti-Semitism? It's not anti-Semitic to denounce ethnic cleansing, if it is being a strategy, which, according to recent polls, a majority of Israelis now heartily endorse.

Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2002 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.