In today's edition of "How Many Jews Can Dance on the Head of a Pin?," certified leftist Spencer Ackerman goes after Glenn Greenwald and others -- rather successfully, I think -- for using anti-Semitic rhetoric to smear (Glenn's favorite word) Jews with whom they disagree:
Some on the left have recently taken to using the term "Israel Firster" and similar rhetoric to suggest that some conservative American Jewish reporters, pundits, and policymakers are more concerned with the interests of the Jewish state than those of the United States. Last week, for example, Salon's Glenn Greenwald asked Atlantic writer Jeffrey Goldberg about any loyalty oaths to Israel Goldberg took when he served in the IDF during the early 1990s. (On Tuesday, writer Max Blumenthal used a gross phrase to describe Goldberg: "former Israeli prison guard.") The obvious implication is that Goldberg's true loyalty is to Israel, not the United States. For months, M.J. Rosenberg of Media Matters, the progressive media watchdog group, has been throwing around the term "Israel Firster" to describe conservatives he disagrees with. One recent Tweet singled out my friend Eli Lake, a reporter for Newsweek: "Lake supports #Israel line 100% of the time, always Israel first over U.S." That's quite mild compared to some of the others.
Ackerman makes this important observation:
Many of the writers who are fond of the Israel Firster smear are--appropriately--very good at hearing and analyzing dog-whistles when they're used to dehumanize Arabs and Muslims. I can't read anyone's mind or judge anyone's intention, but by the sound of it these writers are sending out comparable dog-whistles about Jews.
By the way, I don't consider "former Israeli prison guard" a "gross phrase," just so Ackerman understands. It's an inaccurate phrase -- I wasn't a guard, I was a military policeman (the actual title of my position was "prisoner counselor," believe it or not, which meant that I saw after the culinary, hygiene and medical needs of the prisoners, but I also, on more than one occasion, actually did give advice to Palestinian prisoners on how to apply to college in America -- I stressed that the essay portion of any application would be an easy home run for any of these Intifada prisoners. A few of them did end up at universities here).
One amusing note: When Max Blumenthal (who now writes a column for a pro-Hezbollah Beirut newspaper, by the way -- and no, I'm not making this up) calls me an Israeli prison guard, I invariably receive one or two e-mails like this one, just recently received:
"You can tried to hide your past but it's not working. We all know now that you worked in a concentration camp for Palestinians."
As loyal Goldblog readers know, I've done a very poor job of hiding my perfidious past: Writing a book about my service at this Israeli army prison camp was probably not the best way to keep this a secret.
But, onward. Here's Ackerman on why it is important for leftists to avoid smearing Jews they are ostensibly trying to convert to their position on the occupation and on bombing Iran:
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. I can't co-sign that. The attempt to kosherize "Israel Firster" is an ugly rationalization. It shouldn't matter that the American Jewish right proliferates the term "anti-Israel." The easiest way to lose a winnable argument is to get baited into using their tactics. I don't fetishize false civility; bullies ought to get it twice as bad as they give. People disagree, so they should argue. Shouting is healthier than shutting up.
The handful of Jews who use anti-Semitic terminology to demonize other Jews (and it really is a handful -- I'm not sure they could fill a synagogue) do serve an important purpose, however: They open-up space for anti-Jewish invective in mainstream discourse. Here is Lee Smith, also in Tablet:
Why is it that no one bats an eyelash when a former United States national security adviser says, "The Israelis have a lot of influence with Congress, and in some cases they are able to buy influence"? Last week in an interview, Zbigniew Brzezinski accused the government of Israel of a crime. If he has evidence that Israeli officials have broken the law by bribing U.S. politicians, law enforcement authorities should compel him to produce it. But of course Brzezinski's not really talking about Israelis. What he means is that American Jews have subverted the interests of the United States on behalf of a foreign power.
You don't need to know much about history to recognize that Brzezinski here is trading in a classic anti-Semitic trope. Why didn't his Salon interviewer call him out on it? Why hasn't anyone else? Where are the American elites--the intellectuals, writers, policymakers, and political activists--when it comes to vigilance against anti-Semitism?
An attempt to answer that question must come in a separate post; I'm running off soon to an interview at the TSA (of all things). But I would note that Brzezinski is speaking at an event for his new book this Sunday at the Sixth and I Synagogue (!) in Washington. Maybe someone could go ask him what he thinks of the term "Israel-firster."
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