Greenwald: Why the Scare Campaign Against Foreign Policy Bloggers Critical of Israel Is Bad for the Truth
Salon's Glenn Greenwald writesabout why the conservative-led campaign to level charges of anti-Semitism against investigative foreign policy writers at the Center for American Progress may have already led to self-censorship of CAP posts when it comes to issues related to Israel.
And, he notes, this chilling effect has bled into the reporting of plain and simple facts--and has nothing to do with actual anti-Semitism.
Truth in reporting is already suffering, says Greenwald, as a number of factual statementsin a recent CAP piece about the funding of the NYPD's screening of a racist anti-Muslim video were deleted because of their references to "pro-Israel" donors, and it's being chalked up by conservatives as a victory. He writes "In other words, the smear campaign — to intimidate CAP out of allowing their writers to express prohibited thoughts about Israel — worked perfectly. And The Weekly Standard‘s Halper understandably gloats..."
Greenwald is right: Right-wingers who claim to be calling out bad linguistic choices like "Israel-Firster" are really concerned with discrediting writers whose views on Israel don't match up with the Netanyahu government. (In fact, a substantial majority of American Jews stand against Right Wing Israeli policies and support an independent Palestinian state as polls have shown time and again).
Of course now there's a larger and more complex debate going on about the term Israel-Firster--which,as this Atlantic column notes, doesn't really have much to do with the CAP staff in the first place. It was used one one staffer's Twitter account once, and he apologized.
The issue at stake in this larger debate is parsing out just when language deliberately or unnecessarily echoes racist tropes, and when it is telling uncomfortable truths based in real facts.
And even though they are slamming each other, various parties in this debate are basically in agreement on this:--Israel-Firster is an overly loaded and distracting term, but the concept it describes deserves to be interrogated.
In general, I try to avoid terminology that is gratuitously inflammatory — meaning, language that is unnecessary to make a point and that is more likely to distract from the point with side controversies than focus attention on the point itself (by contrast, I don’t try to avoid language that is necessarily inflammatory: meaning language that is necessary to make a point even if it offends). That’s why I generally avoid using the term “fascist” to describe contemporary politics, or avoid comparisons with Nazis, or avoid using the term “Israel-Firster” (in contrast to Time’s Joe Klein, who uses it frequently, I believe in all the years I’ve been writing about Israel and American neocons, I’ve used that term once, at least that I recall: to describe Democratic members of Congress who never criticize President Obama except when it comes to the demand that he be more loyal to the Israeli government).
But though the term may be inflammatory and of malignant origins, the concept it signifies is both wholly legitimate and quite important: namely, that there are some American political and media figures (both Jewish and evangelical Christians) for whom Israel is the primary, driving political issue, outweighing all others in importance. And it is that primary concern for Israel that shapes their political advocacy. As The Nation‘s Eric Alterman wrote yesterday, his avoidance of that specific term “does not mean that a great many people—including many right-wing Jews and some conservative Christians—will never prioritize what they believe to be Israel’s interests above all else.”
Ultimately, it's important to observe the lessons raised in this debate about language and quickly move on to an environment where the true facts of Israel's current administration's truly disastrous policies--and its Right Wing supporters here in the US--can be held to the light of factual scrutiny.
Even though he's allegedly on the opposite side of Greenwald, Spencer Ackerman makes a similar point that the term distracts from a genuinely meritorious argument:
The left, I think, will win that debate on the merits, because it recognizes that if Israel is to survive as a Jewish democracy living in peace beside a free Palestine, an assertive United States has to pressure a recalcitrant Israel to come to its senses, especially about the insanity of attacking Iran.
But that debate will be shut down and sidetracked by using a term that Charles Lindbergh or Pat Buchanan would be comfortable using.
The reference to Pat Buchanan is apt--there's tons of anti-Semitism on the Right Wing, often coded in terms of loving Israel (and waiting for the Rapture to come there and convert the Jews) that deserves much more scrutiny than it gets. And there's certainly plenty of Islamophobia in the debate that gets a pass, too. It's a complex topic, which is why the kind of chilling effect Greenwald describes is dangerous.