There's been a controversy raging over the past month or so that I've avoided writing about mainly because it has a Groundhog Day quality to it. It began with this very interesting Ben Smith piece, but lately it has become tiresome. Apparently, it is not tiresome to other pepole, because it just keeps going. The seemingly most urgent question to emerge from this controversy is whether or not the term "Israel-firster" is anti-Semitic. The term is used by Media Matters, the left-wing advocacy group, to describe American Jews with whom it disagrees on American Middle East policy, and it was also used by staffers of the Center for American Progress, the important liberal think tank, to describe same. CAP has disavowed the language, and apologized on behalf of the staffer who used the term; Media Matters doesn't seem to care.
So, is "Israel-firster" anti-Semitic? Its origins are certainly anti-Semitic, and the idea that Jews are incapable of being loyal to the country of their citizenship and are only loyal to world Jewry, or the Jewish state, is an age-old anti-Semitic trope. This doesn't mean that those who use it are anti-Semitic. They just might be ignorant, like J Street's Jeremy Ben-Ami, who to my surprise buys into the trope. Obviously, "Israel-firster" is a term deployed by opponents of Israel, and opponents of a close relationship between the U.S. and Israel, to stoke resentment of Jews they find objectionable (though the two most important scapegoating stokers, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, have been too sophisticated to use the actual term in their public pronouncements -- though Mearsheimer has clearly gone off the deep end in other ways).