“This is where James Baker and George H.W. Bush were, this is where Brent Scowcroft is, this is where Tom Pickering and Colin Powell are – this is not crazy stuff, we’re talking about mainstream, bipartisan positions,” said Jeremy Ben Ami, the executive director of J Street, which has sought in recent years to build an American “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby. – Israel rift roils Democratic ranks, by Ben Smith
File this under in case you missed it.
Unfortunately, the piece by Ben Smith linked above, posted in early December, begins with an unfair characterization of MJ Rosenberg, someone with whom I’ve had exchanges, usually after New America Foundation events on the Middle East, back before I began work on my book, which has taken my focus elsewhere. Smith’s report will give you a foundation for what’s been brewing, for those who care about progressive power inside the Middle East debate, though you’ll have to skip over the editorializing.
It revolves around Media Matters and the Center for American Progress, both of which are trying to open up debate on U.S. Israeli policy. It begins with pushing back on the idea that criticizing Israel means you’re anti-Israel or worse, anti-Semitic, the most scurrilous accusation hurled at people in order to silence dissent, debate or discussion.
Justin Elliot reported on a right wing listserv, first reported by Smith in 2010, which revealed Josh Block, a former AIPAC spokesperson, was fishing for coverage of a screed against anyone who dared to discuss Israel openly, honestly and critically. One of Block’s targets was Eric Alterman, himself a Jew, with Block leveling a full tilt attack. From early December:
Block was quoted in the story accusing CAP columnist Eric Alterman of writing “borderline anti-Semitic stuff,” a charge Alterman (who is himself Jewish) dismissed as “ludicrous.”
Block’s email to the Freedom Community list arrived under the subject line “Important piece to echo and the research to do it….” – a reference to the Politico story. He wasted no time throwing around more accusations of anti-Semitism.
“This kind of anti-Israel sentiment is so fringe it’s support by CAP is outrageous, but at least it is out in the open now — as is their goal – clearly applauded by revolting allies like the pro-HAMAS and anti-Zionist/One State Solution advocate Ali Abunumiah and those who accuse pro-Israel Americans of having ‘dual loyalties’ or being ‘Israel-Firsters’ – to shape the minds of future generations of Democrats,” Block writes. “These are the words of anti-Semites, not Democratic political players.”
Greg Sargent has also written about the anti-Semitic slurs and tactics.
Well, it finally came to a head last week when Josh Block was officially excommunicated, so to speak, from the pack.
From another report from Smith, this one just before Christmas Day:
“There’s two explanations here – either the inmates are running the asylum or the Center for American Progress has made a decision to be anti-Israel,” said Josh Block, a former spokesman for AIPAC who is now a fellow at the center-left Progressive Policy Institute. “Either they can allow people to say borderline anti-Semitic stuff” – a reference to what he described as conspiracy theorizing in the Alterman column – “and to say things that are antithetical to the fundamental values of the Democratic party, or they can fire them and stop it.” (Alterman called the charge “ludicrous” and “character assassination,” noted that he is a columnist for Jewish publications, and described himself as a “proud, pro-Zionist Jew.”)
Truman National Security Project founder Rachel Kleinfeld notified Block he was out.
“This has nothing to do with your policy views, and is a decision solely made on the basis of the need for this community to privilege the ability to debate difficult topics freely, without fear of mischaracterization or character attacks,” she said in the email. “Your actions outside the community have caused too many to fear conversation within the community. That fear is not baseless, given your own actions. As the point of the Truman Fellowship is to help the next generation of leaders think about hard topics together, we need people to feel that they can debate with security.”
Ms. Kleinfeld made the right decision, in my opinion, and she deserves credit for calling Mr. Block out, which his actions and words proved was earned.
With 2012 about to heat up, as they say, stay tuned, because Who is more pro-Israel?, however shameful to ask, is a seasonal political sport during elections.
If you know anything at all about Harry Truman, beyond his important backing of the state of Israel, it’s hard to imagine Mr. Truman allowing invective like “anti-Israel” or “anti-Semitic” without push back. Truman was never afraid of debate, which is all we’re talking about here.
As for the “Clinton Democrat” view, which Smith characterizes in one of his posts as the “Clinton Democrats’ traditional staunch support for Israel,” once again he joins in to imply that criticism of Israel is inherently proving lack of support, which is nonsense and damaging to open debate.
In the other of his posts (linked above), Smith gets a blind quote from “a liberal Israel policy thinker and CAP ally”:
“They’re obviously a progressive place, but if you want to attract a mainstream Clinton, New Democrat milieu, you can’t really do real progressive Israel stuff.”
Smith goes on to write that most of the criticism doesn’t come from Clintonites, citing Matt Duss, someone also present at most of the Middle East forums at NAF I’ve attended.
What side you come down on is another subject, but free and open discourse simply must be the foundation of any foreign policy discussion, especially when it comes to the Middle East.