Monday, January 23, 2012

The “anti-Semitism” smear campaign against CAP and Media Matters rolls on

Thursday, Jan 19, 2012

Last month, my Salon colleague Justin Elliott revealed that AIPAC’s former spokesman, Josh Block, had been encouraging neoconservative journalists and pundits on a private email list to attack as “anti-Semites” various Middle East commentators employed by two of the most influential Democratic-Party-aligned organizations: the Center for American Progress (CAP) and Media Matters (MM). Block distributed a dossier containing posts by these CAP and MM writers about Israel and Iran that he claimed evince anti-Semitism, and then issued these marching orders (emphasis in original): “YOU SHOULD AMPLIFY this. And use the below [research] to attack the bad guys.” The predictable roster of neoconservative, hatemongering extremists on that email list – led by The Washington Post‘s Jennifer Rubin, who recruited the Simon Wiesenthal Center to the cause — dutifully spewed out articles echoing Block’s attacks against these mostly young, liberal writers: Matt Duss, Ali Gharib, Eli Clifton and Zaid Jilani at CAP’s ThinkProgress blog and Media Matters’ MJ Rosenberg (a former AIPAC employee).

Block’s once-secret email campaign followed a Politico article by Ben Smith which accused (or, rather, credited) these CAP and MM writers with deviations from “the bipartisan consensus on Israel” and voicing “a heretical and often critical stance on Israel heretofore confined to the political margins”; moreover, Smith wrote, “warm words for Israel can be hard to find on [CAP's] blogs.” Block was quoted in that article accusing the two progressive groups of publishing “anti-Israel” and “borderline anti-Semitic stuff”; Smith subsequently acknowledged that it was Block who had fed him files containing the supposedly anti-Semitic posts in order to enable the article to be written. As I wrote about on December 14, this seemed to be one of those very rare instances where this sort of smear campaign backfired and only the smear merchant (Block) would suffer any consequences, as Block’s own business partner, Lanny Davis, publicly repudiated Block’s smears, and the Democratic-aligned Truman National Security Project then expelled Block for using “mischaracterization or character attacks” in order to impede “the ability to debate difficult topics freely.”

But despite Block’s public humiliation, the disgusting smear campaign against these CAP and MM analysts rolls on undeterred, and the form it is taking reveals some very important points. In late December, The Jerusalem Post published an article about what it called “the anti-Israel writings of the ThinkProgress bloggers.” It quoted the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor accusing the CAP writers of “classical anti-Semitism,” and the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center accused them of “dangerous political libels resonating with historic and toxic anti-Jewish prejudices.” A cowardly “Democratic congressional staffer” anonymously called on “both parties” to repudiate the targeted writers and then added: “So long as CAP puts forth this kind of rhetoric, it will be difficult for them to be taken seriously” (because the hallmark of Seriousness is hiding behind anonymity to smear writers as anti-Semites).

Since then, the standard army of low-level smear merchants has continued attacking these CAP and MM writers as anti-Semites. Last week in Haaretz, Marty Peretz’ long-time assistant, Jamie Kirchick, ironically claimed that it was Block and other neocons who are the victims of “McCarthyism” even as Kirchick, in the same column, advanced the witch hunt to expose hidden anti-Semites in America’s think tanks and media outlets (an even greater irony is found in Kirchick’s self-anointed status as anti-bigotry crusader despite his long-term work for Peretz, probably the single most flagrant bigot and unapologetic spewer of hate speech in mainstream American discourse: but since it’s aimed at Arabs and Muslims, it’s all permissible). Earlier this week, Front Page Magazine singled out two of the targeted CAP writers with Arab-sounding names — Ali Gharib and Zaid Jilani — and accused them of being anti-American and driven by allegiance to Iran and Pakistan (that article also referred to them as “Muslim bloggers” even though Gharib, an Iranian-American, is an atheist). Yesterday, The New York Post published an Op-Ed by Commentary‘s Alana Goodman (under the headline “The White House’s Israel-bashing pals“) reporting that “three leading Jewish groups — the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the Simon Wiesenthal Center — have accused CAP and its staff of publishing ‘anti-Israel,’ ‘hateful’ and ‘toxic anti-Jewish’ material.”

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