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Has the Israel Lobby Gone Too Far?

Will a recent attack on progressive journalists help spark a sea-change in the debate over Middle East policy?

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The story took a dramatic turn the following day, when Salon's Justin Elliot reported on “an email sent by Josh Block to a private listserv called the Freedom Community, in which he throws around accusations of anti-Semitism against liberal bloggers and calls on other list members to 'echo' and 'amplify' his assault and 'use the below [research] to attack the bad guys.'” The email incuded Smith's Politico story, and “thousands of words of opposition research” on the writers, whom Block called “the bad guys.” “These are the words of anti-Semites, not Democratic political players,” wrote Block.

Smith later acknowledged that he'd received Block's opposition research prior to writing his story.

The Response

On its blog, Think Progress, CAP's Ken Gude and Faiz Shakir  responded to Smith's Politico article and Matt Duss took on the cherry-picked quotations Block had disseminated. Alterman penned a post for the Nation calling Block's charges “ludicrous.” 

But what was different about this episode was the reaction from Block's own allies. After leaving AIPAC, he had become a fellow with the Progressive Policy Institute and a member of the Truman National Security project – two “centrist” Democratic think-tanks.

As the Washington Post's Greg Sargent reported, the two organizations were “mulling whether to sever ties with a controversial former AIPAC spokesman after it emerged that he was encouraging conservative writers to echo charges that critics of Israel are guilty of anti-Semitism.”

The fate of the former AIPAC spokesman, Josh Block, will be a big deal to people in left-leaning foreign policy circles in Washington. For them, the question of whether the think tanks will remain affiliated with Block will be seen as a referendum on the larger issue of whether demeaning Israel critics as anti-Semitic will be considered acceptable discourse among foreign policy experts.

Sargent wrote that Will Marshall, the head of PPI, “privately told Block that the think-tank would sever ties with Block if he didn’t retract the charges detailed in Salon.” Block later offered a statement to Smith denying that he had accused CAP or Media Matters of anti-Semitism, but otherwise standing by his claims.

Block Proves Critics Right

Critics of Israeli policy -- and the U.S.-Israeli relationship -- have long charged that the “Israel lobby” squelches dissenting views by accusing them of holding “anti-Israel,” and anti-Semitic views. Block and his cohorts have responded by claiming that such an analysis itself “echoes” anti-Semitic tropes, notably in attacking Measheimer and Walt, authors of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. 

The claim goes like this: the portrayal of Jews as a minority who hold no loyalty to the countries in which they live was long a traditional anti-Semitic narrative in Europe and elsewhere. Today, people like MJ Rosenberg call so-called pro-Israel politicians and groups like AIPAC “Israel firsters,” and accuse them of holding dual loyalties to the United States and Israel. The narratives are vaguely similar, ostensibly proving that the critics hold malign views of American Jews.

The problem with this is that the image of Jews as a disloyal minority preceded the existence of a modern “Jewish” state – subject to criticism like any other -- to which many American Jews openly profess some degree of loyalty. Acknowledging this is not even the slightest bit controversial in other contexts. Just this week, for example, Jonathan Tobin wrote a column in the neoconservative Commentary magazine lamenting the fact that liberal American Jews would put environmental concerns about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline over “promoting American energy independence, which would thereby reduce our dependence on the Arab oil that finances both terrorism and regimes that support the war on Israel.”

 
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