Posted by on September 02, 2011 in Blog

Stupidity has an interesting quality: in small pieces it can frustrate, but in slightly bigger chunks you can’t help but laugh at it. Commentary Magazine seems to have a knack for the latter kind of stupidity. A few months ago, its Executive Director Jonathan Tobin made a fool of himself when he made a baseless charge of anti-Semitism against Hussein Ibish, prompting a devastating response from Ibish.  Shortly after, Commentary perceived a non-existent attack on Israel when AAI merely complimented a political figure for not pandering to the anti-Muslim sentiment. Eager, yet again, to perceive non-existent conspiracies and to base charges on these paranoid fantasies, Commentary just imagined they saw an attack on American Jews in AAI’s description of Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) as an “Israel Firster.”

While the Commentary piece, written by Omri Ceren, only subtly implies that AAI might be anti-Semitic, its author’s attack on AAI over Twitter made that charge explicitly, saying AAI was “pushing venomously antisemitic [sic] ‘Israel-Firster’ dual loyalty rhetoric.” Apparently, Ceren was under the impression that Ros-Lehtinen was Jewish, suggesting that AAI was “smearing…Jewish Republicans.”  Eventually (15 tweets later), Ceren realized that Ros-Lehtinen isn’t Jewish after all, but rather than coming to terms with how silly his accusations had been, his single-track mind immediately jumped to the conclusion that we must’ve made the mistake of thinking Ros-Lehtinen was Jewish, saying, “sometimes you try to smear a Jew but hit an Episcopalian. Opps.[sic]” This is worth repeating: Ceren thought we were criticizing the position of a Jewish member of Congress, and hence supposedly Jews, but upon realizing that the Congresswoman wasn’t actually Jewish, he insisted on accusing us of trying to attack Jews anyway. This is like a man wrongly accusing a woman of stealing his wife’s purse, but rather than apologizing upon realizing that the woman was in fact holding her own purse, says instead, “you idiot, you must have stolen your own purse.”

To touch on the merits of the issue, “Israel-Firsters” is a term we borrowed from MJ Rosenberg, a former AIPAC employee who came to realize that unconditional support for destructive Israeli policies was in fact harmful to both Israel and the United States in the long-run. “Israel-Firster” does not refer to members of any particular ethnicity or demographic group, but merely to those whose blind commitment to unconditional support for any and all Israeli policies is not always consistent with American interests and policy goals. Pastor John Hagee is an Israel-Firster, and he certainly isn’t Jewish (in fact, he’s an apocalyptic Christian). Ros-Lehtinen is an Israel-Firster because she’s proposing that the US should be prepared to seriously damage its standing in the international community in order to halt Palestinian efforts to pursue their rights through the United Nations, including by defunding UN agencies and other multilateral bodies important to American interests. If an anti-Semite once used the term “Israel Firster” to dispute Jewish loyalties, that’s about as relevant as an anti-Semite having once used a spray-paint canister to paint swastikas. It’s not words or paint canisters that determine whether one is a racist, but how one uses words and canisters. Context matters. Meaning matters.

Ceren closes his blog with the following question (which I will gladly answer for him):

“It’d be nonetheless interesting to know what the AAI meant when they said that others ‘like’ [Ros-Lehtinen] are Israel-Firsters. Women? Floridians? Congresspeople with vaguely Jewish last names? Maybe someone can ask them.”

If I said “dumb people like Glenn Beck aren’t qualified to be President,” no one would wonder whether “like Glenn Beck” meant people who wear glasses.  It would be pretty clear to any person with an IQ above average room temperature that I’m talking about other dumb people. Likewise, when we say “Israel-Firsters like Ros-Lehtinen,” we actually mean other Israel-Firsters (defined above), not some arbitrary demographic designation Commentary might wish to impose to pander to its readers' prejudices, or for Mr. Ceren to defend his totally unjustified and paranoid accusations.  I’d recommend that Commentary institute a new policy of basing future pieces on reality, but given the improbability of that under the leadership of Mr. Tobin, let me instead suggest that they rename the whole thing “Paranoia Magazine.”

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