Posted by on March 02, 2012 in Blog

This piece first appeared on Jadaliyya.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the smear campaign launched against two progressive groups, the Center for American Progress (CAP) and Media Matters, for the crime of permitting criticism of Israel to occasionally appear in their analyses. That “crime” is then grossly exaggerated not only into “anti-Israel” accusations, but also into accusations of “anti-Semitism.” The latter charge comes in line with a long history of baseless accusations of “anti-Semitism” leveled against groups, academics, and intellectuals who are critical of Israeli policies. The smear campaign has been exposed and combatted by many, perhaps most comprehensively by Glenn Greenwald of Salon. Well, yesterday the witch-hunt further escalated in the form of this full page ad in The New York Times.

The ad is paid for by the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI), a shady organization which is forever entangled in its own concocted emergencies, putting out silly ads attacking politicians they don’t deem to be sufficiently pro-Israel (i.e. politicians who are capable of critical thinking). A board member of ECI is Rachel Abrams, wife of Elliot Abrams, and author of a pretty despicable racist rant describing Palestinians as “savages” and “unmanned animals.” Classy!

The ad features Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz, the single most dishonest intellectual I’m familiar with. Just watching this 5-minute video I created would give you a pretty solid idea of his stunning and ongoing record of distorting facts and attacking his opponents with false charges. For this professional distorter of truth to be taken seriously by anyone when he’s running around accusing people of “anti-Semitism” (as he did in this ad) would be a travesty on its own.

The ad also features Wired writer Spencer Ackerman, who is widely acknowledged for his instrumental role in exposing Islamophobia within FBI training manuals. Ackerman is quoted for having taken issue with the term “Israel Firster,” but by no means is he a supporter of this ECI attack on CAP and Media Matters. Upon seeing the ad yesterday morning, he tweeted: “So apparently the Emergency Committee for Israel has hijacked a quote of mine for a NYTimes ad. I didnt approve that & ECI are clowns.” What an endorsement!

Also in the ad is the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC), which “condemned” President Obama for suggesting that Israel should withdraw to what SWC calls the “1967 ‘Auschwitz’ borders.” Really? Auschwitz? Apparently, for these reasonable people, suggesting that Israel should be held to the same responsibilities as other countries (abide by their legal borders) is the equivalent of calling for another Holocaust. How sensible and tasteful! The American Jewish Committee (AJC) is also in the ad, protesting the use of the word “apartheid” in relation to Israel. I guess we’re supposed to take the separate road systems, the diverting of 80% of Palestinian water to Israelis, the systematic denial of building permits for Palestinians while Israel expands illegal Jewish settlements, and the exclusively Jewish “right of return” all as examples of equality.

And of course, no such ad would be complete without the inclusion of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). That’s the group whose commitment to fighting bigotry and protecting religious freedom led them to stand with the bigots who opposed the establishment of a Muslim community center in lower Manhattan. What was their reasoning? It was that the anguish of relatives of terror victims “entitles them to a position that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted.”  That position was so ridiculous that (I kid you not) even Alan Dershowitz came out against it. Of course, only the anti-Muslim sentiment is understandable to the ADL on those terms. Don’t expect them to defend anti-Semitism from some Palestinians on the grounds that Palestinians are regularly victims of Israeli state terrorism.

More humorous was the ADL’s grievance with CAP: “most of their blogs come from a perspective of blaming Israel for the lack of progress in Israeli-Palestinian affairs and minimizing or rationalizing the Iranian threat.” Translation: most of their blogs accurately fault Israel and its illegal occupation for the lack of positive progress in Israeli-Palestinian affairs and they refuse to exaggerate the Iranian threat to join the war-cheerleading. I tend to think these are praiseworthy accomplishments.

The charge these groups seem to be most amped up about is the one alleging that using the term “Israel Firster” makes one an anti-Semite. What they don’t seem to be getting (or maybe pretending not to get) is that the charge is not being made at “Jews,” but at individuals, regardless of their ethnic or religious background, whose blind commitment to unconditional support for any and all Israeli policies comes before virtually all other considerations, and is not always consistent with American interests and policy goals. Words are not, in and of themselves, racist; it’s the context in which they’re said that determines whether they’re racist. And the way individuals within CAP and Media Matters used the term “Israel Firster” is clearly not racist at all. Context matters. Meaning matters. While you can fairly accuse Media Matters’ MJ Rosenberg of being highly critical of Israeli policies and U.S. support for them, you cannot legitimately accuse him of anti-Semitism. It’s just preposterous to do so. And frankly, you can't even call him anti-Israel, especially in light of his views on the BDS campaign.

The ad unsurprisingly ends by calling for pressure to be placed on the foundations supporting CAP and Media Matters for allegedly supporting “bigotry” and “extremism.” But the ad opens more interestingly by questioning whether CAP’s and Media Matters’ views really represent “the liberal mainstream.” In effect, the ad is pushing for the American liberal mainstream (including liberal media) to distance themselves from progressive groups that criticize Israel if they want to remain in the mainstream and avoid charges of “anti-Semitism.” Dershowitz has gone even further, explicitly saying that he will campaign to make Media Matters a problem for the Democrats and President Obama in the upcoming election.  Getting a little desperate, aren’t they?

As far as I’m concerned, this ad’s silly attempt at stifling criticism of Israel is reflective of the contemptible attitude of the demagogues who stand behind it, and I hope that CAP and Media Matters (and the American liberal mainstream at large) will not cave to this nonsense. Recent reactions to earlier smear efforts against the organizations leave us hopeful on that front. It is essential to the health of our public discourse that open and honest discussion about Israel’s policies (and our role in them) not be censored or stifled.

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