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Right Turn
Posted at 02:11 PM ET, 01/19/2012

Uproar over anti-Semitic writings reaches the White House

As Right Turn readers know, we’ve been covering the controversy over the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic tweets and postings by certain left-wing bloggers associated with the Center for American Progress, the favorite think tank of the Obama administration.

The Post’s Peter Wallsten has the next chapter in the story:

Among the points of contention are several Twitter posts by one CAP writer on his personal account referring to “Israel-firsters.” Some experts say the phrase has its roots in the anti-Semitic charge that American Jews are more loyal to a foreign country. In another case, a second staffer described a U.S. senator as showing more fealty to the prime U.S. pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, than to his own constituents, replacing a standard identifier of party affiliation and state with “R-AIPAC” on his personal Twitter account. The first writer has since left the staff. . . .
Several major Jewish groups have demanded corrective action by the think tank and asked for answers from friends in the White House.
“The language is corrosive and unacceptable,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He added that the blog posts and tweets from CAP staffers “are the responsibility of the adults who run the place, not only the kids who play.”
Cooper conveyed his concerns about CAP during a private White House meeting last week with Obama’s newly hired Jewish community liaison.
The White House official, Jarrod Bernstein, told Cooper that the situation at CAP was “troubling,” adding “that is not this administration.”

What is remarkable, more so than the fact that this issue has reached all the way into the White House, is that the controversial, left-wing J Street doesn’t get what the fuss is about:

Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, a left-leaning voice on Israel issues, said he had no problem with “Israel-firster.”
“If the charge is that you’re putting the interests of another country before the interests of the United States in the way you would advocate that, it’s a legitimate question,” Ben-Ami said.
Ben-Ami added that Jewish groups “should tread lightly” when they make accusations of anti-Semitism. “Because when they do need to use that word, people won’t take you seriously,” he said.

He then must have realized the danger of being in bed with the disowned bloggers. He rushed out a statement assuring everyone, “I agree that the use of the term ‘Israel Firster’ is a bad choice of words. The conspiracy theory that American Jews have dual loyalty is just that, a conspiracy theory and must be refuted in the strongest possible way.” But unable to contain himself, he asserted this wasn’t real anti-Semitism at all: “American Jews and communal leaders should not overreach with charges of anti-Semitism in incidents like this. When real anti-Semitism actually rears its ugly head, people will be far less likely to listen.” Yeah, the White House and CAP shouldn’t be so fussy.

While J Street doesn’t see the gravity of the problem, CAP seems to and is trying to clean house:

“The clear and overwhelming record of the literally hundreds of articles and policy papers from the Center for American Progress and ThinkProgress demonstrates our longstanding support both for Israel and the two-state solution to the Middle East Peace Process as being in the moral and national security interests of the United States,” wrote Ken Gude , chief of staff and vice president for CAP, in an e-mail response to questions from The Post.
“We have a zero-tolerance policy for racism, sexism, anti-Semitism or any form of discrimination,” Gude wrote.
He said CAP has adopted a new policy requiring staffers to adhere to professional standards on Twitter. In addition, Zaid Jilani, the author of the “Israel-firster” tweets, apologized and left CAP’s staff in recent days to take another job. Jilani could not be reached for comment.

So let’s review. CAP, which initially said this was no big deal and indeed complained about Right Turn’s coverage of the anti-Semitic tweets, has now seen the light and is trying its best at damage control. The White House thinks it is toxic stuff and CAP agrees. But not J Street! Its president appears to be the only one (save the offending bloggers) who don’t think questioning the loyalty of pro-Israel American Jews is a problem. Well, perhaps then the White House should cease to invite J Street to its briefings and functions and stop sending officials to participate at J Street’s events. After all, CAP has terminated its relationship with those whose language has gone beyond the bounds of civil discourse, so you’d expect the White House, which has been embarrassed by this mess, would cease hanging out with the bloggers’ last line of defense.

Bill Kristol, co-founder of the Emergency Committee for Israel, told me this morning: “Does the president of J Street not know the history of the term ‘Israel-firster’? Or doesn’t he care? Every serious participant in the debate agree that the slander of “Israel-first” is beyond the pale. Even CAP acknowledges this. But not J Street. So there’s no excuse for anyone to take J Street seriously any longer when they claim to be pro-Israel.” Indeed, J Street’s pretense to be “pro-Israel” has been rendered laughable.

Josh Block, the pro-Israel Democrat who took on CAP, noted to me that one offending blogger admitted the language was “terrible anti-Semitic” language and left CAP but others remain. He argued, “If CAP wants to continue having people writing the organization’s day-to-day views on national security and Middle East policy who truck in language and theories more at home on White Power and anti-Jewish conspiracy websites than in the mainstream of the Democratic party, that is their choice, but the organization and their work will be judged accordingly, and CAP will continue eroding their credibility to zero.”

He sounded an optimistic note, however. “It’s not too late. I don’t think this is who CAP, its new leadership, or its allies want the organization to be, in the short or long term. This kind of demagoguery, anti-Israel invective, and in some cases actual hate speech, is absolutely wrong whether it comes from the extreme Right or Left, and like cancer, it has to be cut out before it metastasizes and destroys the whole body.”

I tend to agree with Block on the last point and think there is a range of healthy debate on the U.S.-Israel relationship that can go on within the broad boundaries of civil discussion. It is also a reminder that, while liberal elites are exquisitely sensitive to racism and homophobia (as they should be), they often simply don’t recognize anti-Semitism until an incident of this nature occurs. It should be a reminder to Jewish groups in the United States that the greatest danger in America is not from overt, neo-Nazis who are recognizable and ostracized, but from respectable groups and individuals who tolerate what should be intolerable — namely, the centuries-old hatred of Jews.

By  |  02:11 PM ET, 01/19/2012

Categories:  American Jews, Israel, Obama White House

 
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