(updated below [Sat.] – Update II [Sat.] - Update III [Sun.])
I’ve written several times about the coordinated smear campaign to brand writers at the Center for American Progress as “anti-Semites” in order to punish them for defying mandated orthodoxies on Israel and to deter others from doing so. While that smear campaign, having done its job, is now winding down, the predictable effects of it are only beginning: CAP is now censoring those targeted writers, and those who defended them are now being similarly smeared.
First, the self-censorship at CAP: both The Weekly Standard‘s Daniel Halper and Philip Weiss document how a post written by two of the targeted CAP writers, Ali Gharib and Eli Clifton, was censored in important, substantive ways. That post concerned a rabidly anti-Islam film, “The Third Jihad,” that was continuously shown to NYPD officials. Gharib and Clifton sought to investigate the donors behind the film, and wrote the following (emphasis added):
The film, the Third Jihad, was created by the shadowy Clarion Fund, which did not return the Times’ requests for comment. Clarion was started by Israeli-Canadian Raphael Shore, who, along with other early Clarion employees, is tied to the Israeli orthodox evangelist organization Aish Hatorah, which works within Israel’s right-wing and settler movements. The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg has referred to Aish Hatorah as “Jewish extremists.”
But at some point after that was posted (Halper says it “seems to have been a few hours”), all of the bolded words were deleted, with no explanation that it had been edited, let alone any explanation as to why. Moreover, Gharib and Clifton noted that a prior film produced by Clarion focused on Iran and was directed by Alex Traiman, whom they identified as “an Israeli-American resident of an ideological settlement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.” That bolded phrase was also deleted without explanation. Weiss summarized the censorship edits this way:
The piece originally contained four explicit references to Israel. Now it contains only one, at the end, an aside about Gingrich. This is a shocking effort to remove any description of the Israel lobby from a major ideological and political undertaking. Anyone who has had anything to do with Aish knows that it is a rightwing pro-Israel group. Imagine, that the Center for American Progress cannot say so!!
In other words, the smear campaign — to intimidate CAP out of allowing their writers to express prohibited thoughts about Israel — worked perfectly. And The Weekly Standard‘s Halper understandably gloats: “So the good news is that there seems to be at least one grown up at the Center for American Progress. Whoever he is, he can control what the bloggers are saying that might be interpreted as being borderline anti-Semitic. He can clean things up for outsiders—and make it look a little more mainstream than perhaps the institution really is.” But he also warns: “The bad news is that the grown-up is not always in the room (even if he corrects things when he returns!) and that the stable of bloggers over there have some biases that must be cleaned up by some unknown shady figure.” He adds: “it is clear the problem still remains: A think tank that is allied with the Democratic party and the president of the United States . . . is pushing troubling rhetoric.” By bowing to the discourse bullies, CAP only validates their accusations and makes them hungrier for scalps.
Meanwhile, those who have defended CAP writers from this smear campaign, including me, are now themselves being smeared — needless to say — as Israel-haters and even anti-Semites. So trite and automatic are these attacks that one almost yawns while reading them. Yesterday, Jeffrey Goldberg, who plants himself in the middle of every one of these orgies of anti-Semitism accusations, trotted out every trite accusatory line from the tired neocon playbook to attack me explicitly as an Israel-hater and, he strongly implied, as an anti-Semite (none of these accusations are accompanied by a single word I’ve said or even a link to anything I’ve written).
Goldberg begins by quoting anonymous emailers accusing me of being “part of a small coterie of Jewish anti-Semites who never miss an opportunity, as the saying goes, to blast Israel or Jews for supporting Israel” and complaining about his “endorsing the right of Glenn Greenwald to hate Israel.” Goldberg, in his own voice, then accuses me of being among “those Jews who consciously set themselves apart from the Jewish majority in the disgust they display for Israel“; that I’m one of those dreaded “Jews who define themselves in opposition to Judaism, Marxists mainly“; that I “evince toward Israel a disdain that is quite breathtaking“; and that I “hold Israel to a standard [I don't] hold any other country, except the U.S.” I also stand accused of this crime: “I’ve never seen him write with any sort of affection about Israel, Zionism, Judaism, the Jewish people, and so on.” Goldberg says that this is all likely due to the fact that “some really bad shit happened to [me] in Hebrew school. (I mean, worse than the usual soul-sucking anomie).”
As I said, these attacks are as boring and clichéd as they are predictable: every person who deviates from orthodoxy on Israel and opposes these neocon smear campaigns is automatically subjected to them. Israel-hater. Anti-Semite. Self-hating Jew. Etc. etc. I’m boring myself even summarizing it.
There are several obvious points to make about Goldberg’s attack. Note the standard tactic of conflating “the Israeli government” with “Israel” and even “Jews”, so that if you oppose the former, then you are automatically an enemy of the latter: exactly the way that those who opposed Bush policies were “anti-American.” Additionally, just as his fellow neocon, Jamie Kirchick, recently did, Goldberg — with no recognition of the irony — prefaced his reflexive little smears by last week depicting himself as being the victim of McCarthyism. The neocons who have made a career of publicly smearing people as anti-Semites and Israel-haters — often destroying their reputations and ending their careers — now try to self-identify as the Real Victims of unfair witch hunts. Moreover, it is absolutely true that, as an American citizen, I am most concerned with the actions of my own government and those which it lavishes with massive aid (such as Israel); that’s because the first responsibility of all citizens is to oppose the bad acts undertaken by their own government (either directly or through the actions it enables), not engage in the cheap, self-indulgent, pointless act of sitting in judgment of other nations over which one has no control or influence.
But the most substantive point to all of this is the attempt to conflate all of the prohibited ideas about Israel expressed by the targeted CAP writers with the use of the term “Israel-Firster,” and thus to suggest that all criticisms of the Israeli Government and their American enablers are all of one piece with a term first coined by actual anti-Semites. Goldberg’s attack on me yesterday, for instance, was entitled: “More on Glenn Greenwald, ‘Israel-Firsters,’ and Idiot Editors (Updated).” From the start, neocons like Goldberg have attempted to tie the targeted CAP writers to that term and thus to link their targeted writings with some sort of neo-Nazi provenance. But as Robert Wright pointed out weeks ago:
Don’t be misled by the attention being given to the term “Israel-firster” into thinking that it’s the real issue here. That term was used by a single, very junior CAP staffer on his personal twitter account, and he apologized weeks ago. So if people ostensibly complaining about the ‘Israel-firster’ thing are still after CAP scalps, we know that the issue must go deeper.
Here is the real issue: Some people at CAP who haven’t used the term Israel-firster have committed a different sin–criticizing, sometimes harshly, the policies of Israel. And some defenders of those policies find it easier to stigmatize critics than to answer them.
That’s precisely the point. In general, I try to avoid terminology that is gratuitously inflammatory — meaning, language that is unnecessary to make a point and that is more likely to distract from the point with side controversies than focus attention on the point itself (by contrast, I don’t try to avoid language that is necessarily inflammatory: meaning language that is necessary to make a point even if it offends). That’s why I generally avoid using the term “fascist” to describe contemporary politics, or avoid comparisons with Nazis, or avoid using the term “Israel-Firster” (in contrast to Time’s Joe Klein, who uses it frequently, I believe in all the years I’ve been writing about Israel and American neocons, I’ve used that term once, at least that I recall: to describe Democratic members of Congress who never criticize President Obama except when it comes to the demand that he be more loyal to the Israeli government).
But though the term may be inflammatory and of malignant origins, the concept it signifies is both wholly legitimate and quite important: namely, that there are some American political and media figures (both Jewish and evangelical Christians) for whom Israel is the primary, driving political issue, outweighing all others in importance. And it is that primary concern for Israel that shapes their political advocacy. As The Nation‘s Eric Alterman wrote yesterday, his avoidance of that specific term “does not mean that a great many people—including many right-wing Jews and some conservative Christians—will never prioritize what they believe to be Israel’s interests above all else.”
It is this plainly true idea, above all else, that this smear campaign and its aftermath is attempting to render off-limits (Spencer Ackerman, who sat silently by while his former CAP colleagues were being smeared, has not only defended Goldberg but has also anointed himself the discourse policeman and issued rules barring this issue from being discussed, in a Tablet article today that uses a cartoon to depict those who raise this issue or even approve of its being raised as channeling Adolf Hitler). The aim here — as Ackerman explicitly acknowledges — is to render it not only illegitimate, but even evil, to suggest that “some conservative American Jewish reporters, pundits, and policymakers are more concerned with the interests of the Jewish state than those of the United States.” But Alterman yesterday pointed out exactly why that needs to be discussed: “It hardly strains credulity to imagine that folks with the views described above would welcome an attack on Iran’s nuclear program to protect Israel, regardless of its implications for the United States and the world.”
But you’re not allowed to talk about these dual loyalties even though everyone knows it’s true. As Adam Serwer wrote two years ago, it’s always been true that in the United States, a nation of immigrants, various factions have allegiances to other nations besides the U.S.; Serwer himself wrote: “I’ll cop to caring about Israel more because I’m Jewish [added:—but that doesn’t mean I’ll evaluate its actions uncritically out of blind loyalty"]. And as Alterman said previously about the attempt to render this discussion off-limits and equate it with anti-Semitism: “I find this very confusing because I was raised dually loyal my whole life.” This is perfectly benign and true of a large number of groups in American political life (indeed, American law allows dual citizenship: the pure expression of dual loyalty), but in the eyes of people like Goldberg and Ackerman, recognition of this fact is only off-limits when it comes to American Jews (I grew up in South Florida, where the importance of a hard-line U.S. policy toward Cuba — in light of the large Cuban-American exile community in Miami — was constantly discussed without anyone demanding that it be ignored, let alone anyone being accused of racism for discussing it).
To determine whether the idea Ackerman wants to ban is true — namely, that some key political figures (both Jewish and evangelical Christians) “are more concerned with the interests of the Jewish state than those of the United States” — just judge for yourself their own comments on this question:
Let’s start with Haim Saban, the Hollywood mogul who, among other things, lavishly funds the Democratic Party, as well as the center at the Brookings Institution bearing his name where pro-Iraq-War and Iran-adversary Kenneth Pollack is a “senior fellow”; this is what Saban told The New York Times [link fixed] (which described him as “the most politically connected mogul in Hollywood, throwing his weight and money around Washington and, increasingly, the world, trying to influence all things Israeli”):
I’m a one-issue guy and my issue is Israel.
Or look at these comments last year from Sheldon Adelson — who donated $10 million to Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign after Gingrich said Palestinians were “an invented people” – as uncovered this morning by NBC News’ Michael Isikoff (h/t Ali Abunimah):
In a talk to an Israeli group in July, 2010, Adelson said he wished he had served in the Israeli Army rather than the U.S. military—and that he hoped his young son will come back to Israel and “be a sniper for the IDF,” a reference to the Israel Defense Forces. (YouTube video of speech)
“I am not Israeli. The uniform that I wore in the military, unfortunately, was not an Israeli uniform. It was an American uniform, although my wife was in the IDF and one of my daughters was in the IDF … our two little boys, one of whom will be bar mitzvahed tomorrow, hopefully he’ll come back– his hobby is shooting — and he’ll come back and be a sniper for the IDF,” Adelson said at the event.
“All we care about is being good Zionists, being good citizens of Israel, because even though I am not Israeli born, Israel is in my heart,” he said toward the end of his talk.
Or consider the oath that Goldberg himself took (and that Adelson says he wishes he took) when he voluntarily joined a foreign army, the Israeli Defense Forces, in the 1990s (my email to Goldberg asking for confirmation that he took this oath, one he then went and published, is what so upset Ackerman):
I swear and commit to pledge allegiance to the State of Israel, its laws, and authorities, to accept upon myself unconditionally the authority of the Israel Defense Force, obey all the orders and instructions given by authorized commanders, devote all my energies, and even sacrifice my life for the protection of the homeland and liberty of Israel.
(It’s fine if Goldberg wants to claim that he no longer harbors these loyalties, but the fact that someone who joined a foreign army is now leading the crusade to brand as anti-Semites those who discuss the dual loyalty issue illustrates just how grotesquely that accusation is abused).
Or consider the American writer in Atlanta who just suggested that Israel assassinate his own country’s President in order to “forcefully dictate that the United States’ policy includes its helping the Jewish state obliterate its enemies.” Meanwhile, neocons continuously attempt to persuade and pressure American Jewish voters into voting for the GOP based on the explicit appeal that Republicans are more loyal to Israel: in other words, urging them to cast their votes in American elections based upon what is best for Israel. Joe Lieberman’s close political ally, Rev. John Hagee, spoke for many evangelicals when he demanded fealty to Israel on religious grounds; as The New York Times put it in a profile: “Many conservative Christians say they believe that the president’s support for Israel fulfills a biblical injunction to protect the Jewish state, which some of them think will play a pivotal role in the second coming.” Hagee said that “support for Israel was ‘God’s foreign policy’.” GOP House Majority Leader Eric Cantor vowed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he and his GOP colleagues would protect and defend Israeli interests against his own Government.
In all of these cases, it doesn’t take mind-reading or speculation, let alone resort to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, to know their allegiances. They’re telling you themselves what they are (“I’m a one-issue guy and my issue is Israel”). To demand that these statements be ignored and not spoken of is itself illegitimate and anti-intellectual. To insinuate that those who don’t ignore them are channeling anti-Semitism or, worse, are guilty of it, is irrational and offensive in the extreme. U.S. policy toward Israel affects every aspect of American political life. That American politicians are constrained in what they can do because of the political priorities of the Israel Lobby (namely, that the actions of the Israeli Government must not be opposed) is — as even Tom Friedman pointed out – a key factor driving and shielding those policies. There is no justification for demanding that these realities be placed off-limits from discussion, and there is no excuse for continuously smearing those who refuse.
UPDATE [Sat.]: Corey Robin shows how easy it is to play this accusatory game by ironically condemning Jeffrey Goldberg for trafficking in classic anti-Semitic tropes. Meanwhile, in Haaretz, the Israel-American Mairav Zonszein weighs in on this matter with an excellent Op-Ed.
UPDATE II [Sat.]: The Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf has a short but superb post on this debate as well.
UPDATE III [Sun.]: Here’s Eric Alterman, last year, summarizing the writings of Norman Podhoretz on this matter:
Three years later Podhoretz put his new view quite plainly in an article with the deliberately provocative—from the point of view of Commentary’s history of universalism and anti-Zionism—title, “Is It Good for the Jews?” Podhoretz explained why Jews ought to look “at proposals and policies from the point of view of the Jewish interest.” [III] And he later announced that “the role of Jews who write in both the Jewish and general press is to defend Israel.” Critical reporting of Israel, Podhoretz insists, “helps Israel’s enemies–and they are legion in the US.”
But for those who look to Spencer Ackerman for decrees on what is and is not permitted in Appropriate Discourse (and, really, given his impressive history in exemplifying lofty argumentative standards, who among us wouldn’t?), none of this is permitted to be spoken of. It’s all off-limits, along with the above-listed quotes. Even when prominent American political and media figures explicitly state that their devotion to Israel is a key factor — even the primary factor — in shaping their political advocacy, all Decent People will pretend this did not happen and never speak of it; if you do, then you’re a McCarthyite anti-Semite. That is how anti-intellectual and censorious this little campaign is, and why (as the campaign to attack Iran heats up) it deserves attention — and nothing else other than defiant scorn.