Bashing the left in the name of protecting Israel
The article by Noam Sheizaf on Benjamin Weinthal is followed by one from the New Yorker on the ECI. Notes and links at foot.
From a full-page ad in the NY Times last month: the wolf is the true body of every American liberal group, like the Center for American Progress; the sheep is the mask such groups put on when they say they don’t want to destroy Israel, or even the USA. See second item here about the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI), a group seen by Benjamin Weinthal, first item, as sensibly pro-Israel.
By Noam Sheizaf, +972
June 7, 2013
The paper’s correspondent in Berlin, known for his ties with a radical right-wing groups, has done it again.
In a couple of articles published last month, the widely-read Jerusalem Post compared the European Union’s decision to label Israeli settlement products to nothing less than Nazism.
A year ago, the European Union passed a decision to label Israeli goods produced in the occupied territories, differentiating them from products of Israel proper. The Union is objecting to Israel’s settlement policy, but nevertheless has many trade agreements and joint projects with Israel. (The EU is Israel’s largest trade partner.) The decision to label products from the occupied territories was seen as a political compromise, allowing consumers to decide whether they want to purchase them or not, but remaining very far from a total ban of those products, let alone a boycott of Israeli goods.
Recently, 13 European Counties wrote [to] EU Foreign Affairs chief Catharine Ashton, requesting that she formulate guidelines for product labeling. Some EU countries have already taken some independent steps in this direction.
In Germany, the Green Party sent a questionnaire to the government asking what steps it plans to take on the issue of settlement labeling. The government has confirmed that it doesn’t view the settlements as part of the European-Israeli trade agreement.
In response, The Jerusalem Post published a piece in which the paper (citing various “public figures,” all expressing the same opinion) accuses the Green Party of no less than Nazi policy – naturally, the most serious accusation one could make in Europe, and most of all in Germany.
Another item in the Post targeted Bundestag deputy Kerstin Müller, who is set to be the new head of the Tel Aviv office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, which is affiliated with the Green Party (disclaimer: +972 Magazine has received support from the Heinrich Böll Foundation). The piece cites a rabbi from the Wiesenthal Center who says that “Ms. Müller should relocate to Riyadh, not Tel Aviv.”
There is a back story here: the reporter behind both stories – the one who called politicians and Jewish community leaders asking for their comments on the Green Party questionnaire – is Benjamin Weinthal, who is credited as the Post’s correspondent in Berlin. Weinthal, however, is a paid fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a U.S.-based neo-conservative think tank dedicated to fighting “militant Islamism” through “strategic communication” and similar means – a fact which is conveniently absent from his bio on the Jerusalem Post website. Obviously, neither of Weinthal’s items include a disclosure on his paid affiliation with the think tank.
This week, Weinthal continued his campaign against the German Green party with an op-ed in Haaretz. This time he signed his piece as a “fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies,” ommitting the fact that he is supposed to be a reporter for the competition.
Weinthal, who lives in Berlin, is also known for his ties with radical right-wing American-Israeli groups like NGO Monitor, who conduct blacklists of people and organizations that oppose the occupation. In fact, many of Weinthal’s stories are no more than NGO Monitor press releases (examples: here, here, here, here, here, here, here). He specifically targets institutions and funds that support human rights organizations in Israel – hence the attacks on the Heinrich Böll Foundation, that has a long track record of working with left-leaning and environmental organizations, as well as with groups who promote co-existence between Muslims, Christians and Jews.
The right-leaning Post’s articles serve two causes then: with the worst of accusations and slurs, intimidating European policy-makers who are ready to critically engage with Israel; and undermining the work of the human rights community in Israel through personal attacks on its supporters.
Even those who support Israeli policies should be alarmed by such tactics. By politicizing the memory of the Holocaust or comparing product labelling to the exclusion of Jews from German life, which was followed by their extermination, Weinthal and the Post are seriously undermining the fight against real anti-Semitism, which targets Jews just for being Jews.
This is of little important to the Post, which was once a decent paper but has mobilized in recent years for the sole cause of defending the occupation and all subsequent policies. The fact that some German politicians and Jewish leaders are ready to take part in this game is much more alarming.
By Connie Bruck, New Yorker
March 05, 2013
In the last few days, just before the highly-charged meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama, and, also, the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee meeting, where both Netanyahu and Obama were to address about fourteen thousand Israel supporters, the Emergency Committee for Israel moved into high gear. E.C.I., which aims to be the most pro-Israel of all pro-Israel groups—and is the brainchild of Bill Kristol, a leading neoconservative—has a Super PAC, and it has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on this most recent advocacy, in what is surely a kickoff for the coming campaign months. In a two-pronged maneuver, E.C.I. sought to intimidate critics of Netanyahu, and of Israel’s most powerful American backers, for the escalating drive to war with Iran, and to damage Obama.
First, in a full-page ad in the New York Times — featuring an image of a particularly malevolent-looking wolf, attired in a suit and tie, and holding a sheep mask — E.C.I. attacked two liberal advocacy organizations, the Center for American Progress (closely aligned with the White House) and Media Matters. It quoted the American Jewish Committee; the Anti-Defamation League; Alan Dershowitz, of Harvard Law School; and others, denouncing the groups’ work as anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic. Listing some of CAP’s and Media Matters’ donors, and their phone numbers, E.C.I. demanded, “Call these foundations and ask them: Why are you funding bigotry and anti-Israel extremism?” Second, E.C.I. launched an attack on Obama in a thirty-minute video, seemingly designed to ratchet up the pressure on him to support a preëmptive Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities or military action by the U.S.—and, in any event, to peel away Jewish voters from Obama in the election. (The apparent ratcheting tactic failed, judging by President Obama’s speech on Sunday to AIPAC. He described the lengths to which he has gone to satisfy Israel’s needs and requests, as evidence of his unequivocal support, and also said that he would not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran. But he insisted that he believes “an opportunity still remains for diplomacy,” and made plain that he wouldn’t be pressured into military action at this time, saying that “as part of my solemn obligation to the American people, I will only use force when the time and circumstances demand it.”)
A trailer for the E.C.I. video, entitled, “Daylight: The Story of Obama and Israel,” shows Obama and Netanyahu together, with a commentary that refers to a “public shaming,” and “slap in the face,” of Netanyahu; Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden in a convivial moment with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas; and Obama, declaring, “It’s time for these settlements to stop.” The trailer ends with a clip of President Obama at his town hall meeting with Turkish students in Istanbul in April 2009, saying, “I want to make sure that we end before the call to prayer.” That President Obama is biased against Israel and in favor of the Palestinians is the video’s explicit message; that he may, secretly, be Muslim himself is its insinuation. (Noah Pollak, E.C.I.’s executive director, has said that the idea that E.C.I. is questioning Obama’s religious affiliation is “ludicrous.”)
Kristol, the editor and co-founder of the Weekly Standard, started E.C.I. in 2010; it ran attack ads against Democrats in the mid-term elections. Kristol’s hallmark venture was the Project for the New American Century, which played a significant role in the runup to the Iraq War, but he has seeded numerous conservative policy groups—most recently, the Center for American Freedom, and its online journal, the Washington Free Beacon. (“It’s an old Communist idea,” said a conservative activist who is familiar with Kristol’s operations. “You set up a number of front groups that you really run but you’re sort of behind the screen.”)
The other E.C.I. board members are Gary Bauer, a Christian Zionist who heads the lobby group American Values, and is a member of the executive board of evangelical pastor John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, and Rachel Abrams, the wife of Elliott Abrams, who in 1991 pleaded guilty to criminal charges of having withheld information from Congress in the Iran-Contra scandal, and was Deputy National Security Adviser under President George W. Bush. Last October, on her blog, Bad Rachel, Abrams wrote about the release of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit by Hamas, “Then round up his captors, the slaughtering, death-worshiping, innocent-butchering, child-sacrificing savages who dip their hands in blood and use women … as shields, hiding behind their burkas and cradles like the unmanned animals they are, and throw them not into your prisons … but into the sea, to float there, food for sharks, stargazers, and whatever other oceanic carnivores God has put there for the purpose.”
Noah Pollak has worked at Israel’s Shalem Center, a Likud-affiliated think tank funded, in part, by Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson, and has written for Commentary magazine. One of his political allies is Gerald Steinberg, founder of the right-wing, Jerusalem-based N.G.O. Monitor, which is dedicated to exposing what it sees as the pernicious nature of many Israeli human-rights and civil-society N.G.O.s engaged in a “campaign to delegitimize Israel”—and their funding, in many cases, by European governments. Pollak, too, has attacked these Israeli N.G.O.s, and their foreign funding.
The battle against liberal N.G.O.s in Israel, and the one that E.C.I. is now seeking to fuel against liberal advocacy groups here, have their differences but, also, a measure of commonality in their intolerance of dissenting views. When the controversy about the Center for American Progress and Media Matters first broke in the press last December, stories reported that M. J. Rosenberg of Media Matters and several CAP bloggers had used the term “Israel firsters” and blamed AIPAC for pushing the U.S. into a war with Iran. In an article in the Jerusalem Post, Gerald Steinberg was quoted as saying, “Invoking the term ‘Israel firsters’ and claiming that Jews are warmongers is precisely the embodiment of the new anti-Semitism.”
In December, Rosenberg responded to the criticism of the term, “Israel firster.” “Can anyone argue with the assertion that, for neocons, Obama is always wrong and Bibi is always right? Not only that, they denounce those who dare criticize Netanyahu over anything while never ever letting up on Obama.” He added:
But I need to offer a clarification. By the term “Israel firster,” I do not mean that right-wingers and neocons who advance bellicose Middle East policies are putting the interests of Israel first…. They are putting the interests of Binyamin Netanyahu and his hardliners first. After all, if they were putting Israel first, they would not be promoting policies (such as war with Iran or the perpetuation of the occupation) that could very easily lead to Israel’s destruction or, at least, to the loss of its Jewish majority. The people I call “Israel firsters” are, in fact, “Netanyahu firsters.”
The idea that Rosenberg (whom I have known for years as someone who is profoundly devoted to Israel and, at the same time, abhors the Israeli occupation) could be labelled an anti-Semite is an indicator of the lengths to which this smear-campaign has gone. It is hardly the first time in American history that those with a political agenda have sought to demonize others whose views they dislike, as a means of destroying them and silencing any potential sympathizers.
Judging by the virulence of the E.C.I. attack, the term, “Israel firster,” seems to have struck a chord. And while truth is generally an early casualty in the political heat of an election year, E.C.I. stands out in its disregard for it. Of the five principals quoted in the E.C.I. ad in the New York Times, four have objected to how their words were used. For example, the ad quoted the Anti-Defamation League, regarding the Center for American Progress: “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.” The statement, made a couple months ago, was accurate, A.D.L. president Abraham Foxman told me. “But since that quote, if they’d bothered to look—and maybe they did—they would find statements from us that say, O.K., CAP has taken our complaint seriously, has set up a monitoring system—they even let go at least one person, maybe two. So this is misleading, distorted, inaccurate.” (In response, Pollak has said, “Every quote in E.C.I.’s ad was accurate, in proper context, correctly attributed to its source, and taken from widely read publications.”)
Foxman continued, “You know, if you want people to change their ways, and then you don’t give them credit for changing their ways, why should they bother changing their ways?”
Like Foxman, Professor Alan Dershowitz has objected strenuously to the ad, in part because he, too, has since withdrawn his criticism of CAP. (The American Jewish Committee released a statement, calling the ad “a blatant attempt to use a specific quote in a particular context to advance a broader political agenda” and also saying, like Foxman, that the quote was from December and CAP had since mended their ways. Spencer Ackerman tweeted, “So apparently the Emergency Committee for Israel hijacked a quote of mine for a NYT ad. I didn’t approve that and ECI are clowns.” ) But Dershowitz is on a tear about Media Matters; last week, he went on Fox News to demand that the White House disassociate itself from Media Matters, and that Media Matters fire Rosenberg for repeatedly employing the term “Israel firster.” I asked Foxman about the call for Rosenberg’s firing. “No, that’s not where I’m at. I think Rosenberg is over the top. But I just don’t bother to read him.”
Foxman went on to say that his clash with E.C.I. is not new. “The last time we had to correct them, it was on the issue of Occupy Wall Street. They said it was permeated, controlled, by anti-Semites and anti-Israel people, and we said, no, they’re there, but it’s not controlled, it’s not permeated! They happen to be there, but that is not what the movement is about.” And several months ago, after the A.D.L. and the American Jewish Committee, two stalwarts of the pro-Israel community, issued a joint statement arguing that Israel should not be used as a wedge issue in this political campaign season, Foxman continued, the people at E.C.I. “criticized us mightily.” He paused, and gave a short laugh. “They said we were stifling debate.”
Group slams Jewish funding of 2 organizations Benjamin Weinthal, JPost
Foundation for the Defense of Democracies ‘FDD is a non-partisan institution focusing on national security and foreign policy. FDD was founded by a group of former U.S. officials and visionary philanthropists shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001 to help free nations defend themselves.’ Oddly, the primary threats to democracy are all Islamic and President Obama.
A recent public act by the ECI was to post a letter to PM Netanyahu, assuring him that the 100 liberal Jews urging him to make territorial sacrifices for peace ‘don’t speak for us or for a majority of Americans’. How kind.
ECI’s Letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu
The letter from 100 liberal Jews was organised by the Israel Policy Forum.