Bloggers drag US think tank into scandal

Historian says ‘Israel Firsters’ sobriquet stokes the classical anti-Semitic dual-loyalty charge.

keyboard computer Internet cyber warfare 311 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
keyboard computer Internet cyber warfare 311
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
A group of bloggers affiliated with the Center for American Progress think tank has sparked sharp criticism because of an anti- Israel agenda that spilled over into modern anti-Semitism, according to NGOs in Israel and the US.
The Washington-based CAP seeks to inform the direction of the Democratic Party’s policies with progressive ideas, and advocates for its congressional candidates.
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Josh Block, a former spokesman for the Clinton administration and a former spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, first brought attention to the anti-Israel writings of the ThinkProgress bloggers.
“Israel Firsters fighting each other over whose position on the Middle East conflict is more unreasonable,” and, “... Obama is still beloved by Israel-firsters and getting lots of their $$,” CAP blogger Zaid Jilani tweeted.
In an e-mail to The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, Prof. Gerald Steinberg, president of the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor, wrote, “Invoking the term ‘Israel firsters’ and claiming that Jews are war-mongers is precisely the embodiment of new anti-Semitism. The Center for American Progress (CAP) ignored vitriolic and highly offensive rhetoric of the ThinkProgress reporter and bloggers. As we see in Israel, individuals on the far Left that consider themselves ‘enlightened progressives’ resort to personal attacks and misinformation when criticized. ThinkProgress should have stopped the offensive rhetoric rather than distorting Josh Block’s statements.”
Another CAP blogger, Eli Clifton, cast doubt on the accuracy of a Quinnipiac University poll that referred to the existence of Iran’s “nuclear program.” Clifton also wrote that AIPAC “is now using the same escalating measures against Iran that were used before the invasion of Iraq.”
CAP’s director of Middle East Progress, Matt Duss, has compared Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza to racial discrimination. “Like segregation in the American South, the siege of Gaza (and the entire Israeli occupation, for that matter) is a moral abomination that should be intolerable to anyone claiming progressive values,” Duss wrote.
Steinberg said, “It follows from classical anti-Semitism, with inferences of dual loyalty and foreign policy control, and should have no place in American political discourse. This is part of a continuing pattern at ThinkProgress. Two of its reporters, Eli Clifton and Ali Gharib, have blogged for the Electronic Intifada, a highly influential anti-peace and anti-Israel organization. Clifton’s doubts about an Iranian nuclear program are further evidence of his fringe ideological views.”
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, wrote that the “bloggers are guilty of dangerous political libels resonating with historic and toxic anti-Jewish prejudices.”
Jennifer Rubin, a prominent Washington Post blogger, termed the ThinkProgress bloggers’ language “not merely anti-Israel, they are anti-Semitic.”
CAP spokeswoman Andrea Purse wrote the Jerusalem Post by e-mail on Tuesday, “The allegations against CAP of ‘vitriolic and highly offensive rhetoric’ are based on blatant misinformation. Eli Clifton and Ali Gharib have never written for the website ‘The Electronic Intifada.’ They wrote for a global newswire called IPS and some of their writings were republished by The Electronic Intifada website without permission. The term ‘Israel First’ has never been used on CAP’s blogs, other than to criticize it. Nor have CAP bloggers ever asserted that ‘Jews are war-mongers’ or anything similar.”
Purse continued, “The Center for American Progress favors a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict [that] is the consensus view of administrations of both parties dating back to president Clinton. Our position is based on our strong belief that it is in the national security interests of the United States to achieve a resolution to this conflict. We categorically reject and are offended by the idea that any of our work is anti-Semitic, unless one believes the Middle East peace plan itself and ensuring Israel’s long-term security by securing its neighborhood is anti- Semitic. We welcome a discussion of these ideas on the merits."
Steinberg told the Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, “If CAP wants to disassociate itself from Electronic Intifada, it should demand that Clifton and Gharib’s blogs be removed.”
Purse declined to say whether CAP would ask EI to remove the CAP bloggers’ posts from its website. When asked if CAP disagreed with Duss’s characterization of Israel as racist, she declined to provide a specific answer. Critics argue that singling out Israel as a racist endeavor meets the criteria of the European Union’s working definition of anti- Semitism.
Steinberg told the Jerusalem Post that “Matt Duss, CAP’s director of Middle East Progress, should serve as an example by retracting his claim – published on – that equates Israeli policy with ‘segregation in the American South.’ This absurd and inflammatory statement certainly will not help promote peace.”
In a telephone conversation with the Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, University of Maryland historian Jeffrey Herf, who has authored books on anti-Semitism, said the phrase “Israel firsters” is “dangerous.” The notion of “Israel firsters” “delegitimizes support for Israel” and stokes the “dual-loyalty” charge against American Jews, he said.
The dual-loyalty conspiracy theory existed on “the far Left and far Right of American politics but has not yet seeped into the center of American politics,” Herf said.
Repeated efforts to reach John Podesta, the president of CAP and White House chief of staff under Bill Clinton, were not immediately returned.
Responding to Commentary magazine writer Alana Goodman’s query about “Israel firsters,” Jilani, the CAP blogger, wrote that he “deleted the tweets to avoid offending any more people. I apologize deeply to those who saw the phrase in the timeline of my personal Twitter account and was [sic] offended. Bigotry and anti-Semitism are against my values.”
Goodman wrote that “CAP’s Ali Gharib, Eli Clifton, Matt Duss have views on Israel that are far to the left of mainstream Democrats....”
Gharib wrote that Senator “... Mark Kirk (RAIPAC) should care about *anyone* other than Israel.”
When asked about Gharib’s statement that the senator from Illinois represents AIPAC, Purse declined to comment.
Steinberg said, “And Gharib’s inference that Senator Kirk is controlled by AIPAC because he supports tough Iran sanctions is equally absurd and sadly reminiscent of campaigns that allege that Jews control American foreign policy. Gharib’s statement also should be publicly condemned by CAP.”
A Democratic congressional staffer told the Jerusalem Post via telephone on Tuesday that “I think it is important for voices in the Democratic to speak out against anti-Semitism wherever they see it. It is better to err on the side of being against any anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic rhetoric. [anti-Israel blogger] M.J. Rosenberg has gone too far and should not be welcomed in either party.”
He added that the term “Israel Firsters is dangerous, and plays into an anti-Semitic narrative that has led to some of the worst atrocities against Jews. Once you pick the Jews as the ‘other’ it gets dangerous.”
Rosenberg frequently invokes the phrase “Israel Firsters” to describe Americans who are pro-Israel.
When asked if CAP should retain the faction of anti-Israeli bloggers, the Democratic congressional staffer said, “So long as CAP puts forth this kind of rhetoric, it will be difficult for them to be taken seriously.”