Over the last week, Ben Smith, my colleague Greg Sargent and I have reported on the controversy concerning the Center for American Progress’s Think Progress bloggers and others in the left blogosphere who have deployed language that invokes anti-Semitic tropes of dual loyalty and who have peddled extreme anti-Israel views.
Perhaps in an effort to distract onlookers from the serious substance, CAP and its defenders have waged a war of words with Josh Block, a prominent Democratic activist who was quoted in Ben Smith’s original column and in subsequent reports. This episode is catnip for the left but ultimately, with all due respect to Block, this is a more substantive and bigger story than simply the dealings of one activist and a handful of bloggers whose rhetorical incontinence has come back to haunt them.
In response to my inquiry, Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center sent the following that puts this all in context:
Simon Wiesenthal Center Response to CAP and Media Matters “Israel Laster” Bloggers
The Middle East is a dangerous place — and not merely for people who live there. Unfortunately, it’s becoming increasingly difficult in this country to take a position sympathetic to the Jewish state and in favor of the continuation of America’s historic strong alliance with Israel without being called “an Israel Firster” and charged with “dual loyalties.”
A case in point: recent attacks on the Simon Wiesenthal Center by the Center for American Progress (CAP)-associated bloggers on “the far-right Simon Wiesenthal Center, which purports to promote tolerance, [but] basically called Obama a Nazi” for saying that Israel should return to the pre-1967 borders (Ben Armbruster). CAP blogger Eli Clifton joined Media Matters Senior Foreign Policy Fellow MJ Rosenberg in using Twitter to promote an article accusing the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance of pushing “Western groupthink that has for centuries justified wars and countless atrocities against the Arab world . . . [that’s] representative of the way many Americans feel toward Muslims and Arabs — that they are all terrorists.” Rosenberg himself has repeatedly smeared Jewish groups such the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee as “Israel Firsters.”
First, let’s admit to the terrible sins that we are indeed concerned about the future of Israel, about U.S. security interests in the Middle East, and about the threat posed to regional and even global peace by Iran’s nuclear program which, according to the International Atomic Energy Commission and other authorities, may be within six to nine months of putting an nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime committed to annihilating Israel.
When it comes to the charges of being “Israel Firsters” and having “dual loyalty,” we not only plead innocent but also counter-charge that these sponsored bloggers are guilty of dangerous political libels resonating with historic and toxic anti-Jewish prejudices.
These odious charges have been around since Henry Ford in 1920 said, “Wars are the Jews’ harvest,” Charles Lindbergh in 1940 condemned Jews for conspiring to plunge America into World War II, and “Jewish neocons” were charged with colluding with Israel to cause the 2003 Iraq War. Recently, University of Chicago Professor John Mearsheimer, co-author of The Israel Lobby and Foreign Policy, has descended to making the accusation that American Jews — unlike American Poles, Italians, Greeks, Turks, Chinese, Africans, etc., etc. — exercise a uniquely malevolent influence over American foreign policy. Now, he writes publicity blurbs for Gilad Atzmon’s genocidal broadside, The Wandering Who?, accusing the Jews of responsibility for bringing the Holocaust on themselves.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center since its founding in 1977 has always been a mainstream institution. It has never endorsed a political candidate or party in the United States, or anywhere else. It has adhered to the bipartisan consensus that the U.S. has a vital interest in maintaining an alliance with Israel, the Middle East’s only vibrant democracy and reliably pro-American nation. In the 1990s during the era of the Oslo Peace Accords, its senior officials attended the White House ceremony convened by President Clinton where then Israeli Prime Minister Rabin and Palestinian President Arafat shook hands. We had the honor to both visit King Hussein at his Royal Palace in Amman, and later host the late monarch at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. King Hussein was a proud, card-carrying member of our Museum of Tolerance, whose 5 million plus visitors learn about not only the Nazi Holocaust but also all manifestations of contemporary bigotry. Our respected Digital Terrorism and Hate Project, has for 14 years, chronicled the leveraging of Internet technologies by anti-Semites, terrorists, neo-Nazis and Islamophobes. The Simon Wiesenthal Center has repeatedly supported a two-state solution between Israel and a peaceful, democratic Palestinian state with borders to be determined by Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations — not imposed by outside parties.
Far from slandering Islam or demonizing moderate Muslims, we’ve seized every opportunity available for interfaith outreach by organizing and/or attending conferences and dialogues from Spain to Indonesia.
Eli Clifton, ThinkProgress’ National Security reporter, has also recently articulated the view that it is “factually inaccurate” to assume that “Iran has a nuclear weapons program”—and, in any case, that the danger posed by that program is exaggerated for political purposes. Is Clifton’s view in “the political mainstream” or is he guilty of being an “Iranian Firster” by virtue of a reflexive, automatic defenses of the mad mullahs’ regime? For his views do not jive with those of Iran’s Arab neighbors, including those articulated leaders in the Gulf with whom Simon Wiesenthal Center officials personally have met and who expressed their fear of the existential threat posed to them by the Iranian regime that stands quite apart from the threat posed to Israel.
Lastly, about President Obama, Ben Armbruster’s charge that we “basically called . . . [him] a Nazi” —is a low blow that should disqualify Armbruster from participating in future civil discourse. We don’t take partisan political positions, and have never leveled a personal criticism of the President who has an open invitation to visit our Museum of Tolerance, just as other high-ranking world leaders have. About calling him “a Nazi,” we condemned that odious label when it was applied to former President George W. Bush by extreme leftists, the same way we have condemned its application to President Obama by the rightist lunatic fringe.
The Center for American Progress ought to stick to fair-minded discussion of serious issues about the U.S’. future. It ought to disown immediately “Israel Laster” bloggers who take the low road and drag down policy debates into the gutter of individual and group defamation.
That says it all.
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