Zaid Jilani, a Victim of False Anti-Semitism Charges
by Sheila Musaji
In August, the Center for American Progress, CAP released a significant report “Fear Inc., the Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America”
Within days of the release of this report, Ed Lasky at the American Thinker wrote an article The Soros-supported Center for American Progress blames rich Jews for stoking Islamophobia which seems to be the first to have made the false claim (lie) that the CAP report was anti-Semitic, or that individuals at CAP are anti-Semitic.
Lasky said that since many of the funders or anti-Muslim activists named happen to be Jewish:
By “outing” the people involved, the report puts endangers them. Furthermore, this “report” relies on the conspiracy and age-old anti-Semitic trope that Jews fan prejudice towards others and promotes divisions for their own nefarious purposes (to support Israel in this case). This mindset is straight out of Mein Kampf. The report also stokes the view that rich Jews operate behind the scenes and use their wealth to control the media and government policy (politicians are also mentioned as being ensnared in this web). … Clearly, this is a well-funded effort to chill legitimate criticism of Islamic extremism in America. There are also political motivations behind this report since it also tries to refute allegations of ties between Muslims and Barack Obama. But what is most shameful about this “report” is that it employs classic anti-Semitic tropes, blaming conspiratorial Jews for stoking fear and hatred of Muslims.
This will work its magic in the Muslim world, a substantial fraction of which believes that “defaming” Islam is legitimately punishable by death at the hands of any righteous Muslim. By thoughtfully providing a hit list, the CAP does its part to spread fear and—yes—terror among the opponents of radical Islam.
Actually, Lasky is the one who “outs” or mentions the religion of those named in the report, the report itself does not identify these folks by their religion. I was surprised that Lasky said that Steven Emerson is Jewish, as I had never heard that before.
This attempt to cast the authors of this report as anti-Semitic and as blaming Jews for Islamophobia is reprehensible, and already being repeated on the anti-Muslim blogsphere. Pamela Geller called the report “Goebbels attacking the Jew”. A Pipeline News article calls the report shades of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. and a functioning part of a greater – subversive – Islamist narrative. Daniel Greenfield aka Sultan Knish, in an article on David Horowitz’s FrontPageMag wrote “Any report on Islamophobia that scapegoats Jews is not a report on bigotry, it is an act of bigotry.”
Eric Boling on Fox News reinforced this false anti-Semitic meme by outright lying on air in a segment devoted to attacking the CAP report.
Bolling invited a three-member panel to comment, who all agreed that there isn’t an Islamophobia network in America. Bolling set up the discussion by making this outlandishly false statement:
I need to point this out – I’m reading directly from this report: “The Obama-allied Center for American Progress has released a report that blames Islamophobia in America on a small group of Jews and Israel supporters in America, whose views are being backed by millions of dollars.”
Boling has now issued a clarification, but not really an apology. Boling’s clarification said
I want to correct something from a segment we did the other night on Follow the Money regarding Islam in America. The topic was a report from the Center for American Progress. At one point, I read a brief passage which said the group blamed Islamophobia on “a small group of Jews and Israel supporters in America”. You need to know that I was reading aloud from an American Thinker magazine article critical of the group’s report and not from the report itself. Sorry for the confusion.
The American Thinker article he was referring to was the one by Ed Lasky. As Faiz Shakir (one of the CAP reports authors) noted about this whole incident If there is one key takeaway from this incident, it’s that observers have witnessed how the Islamophobia network generally operates: 1) Produce a blog post with false anti-Muslim information, 2) promote that blog post through Fox News, 3) have so-called “experts” tout the information as if it’s credible, and then 4) stand by your mischaracterizations even when they are shown to be lies. In this case, we successfully fought back against this misinformation network. That’s what it’s going to take to end Islamophobia.
An editorial in the Jewish Forward also notes that a number of those named in the report happen to be Jewish, although to their credit, they discuss this in an entirely different context, one of disappointment:
There is, unfortunately, one disturbing way that a small number of Jews are contributing to the unfair characterizations and discrimination of Muslims. A new study by the Center for American Progress reveals that seven foundations have spent more than $40 million in the last ten years to spread misinformation about Muslim Americans. And who leads those efforts? Far too many Jews, including blogger Pamela Geller, co-director of the group Stop Islamization of America; David Yerushalmi, whose attempts to promote anti-Sharia laws were detailed recently in the Forward; Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum, which gave a platform for Yerushalmi’s dangerous ideas; Steven Emerson of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, who has even criticized President George W. Bush and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for being soft on Muslims.
Philip Weiss notes that Lasky did not mention the fact that George Soros whose think tank he claims is fostering anti-semitism, is himself Jewish.
In December, Ben Smith at Politico published an article which included the following paragraph regarding an article by Eric Alterman at CAP
“There’s two explanations here – either the inmates are running the asylum or the Center for American Progress has made a decision to be anti-Israel,” said Josh Block, a former spokesman for AIPAC who is now a fellow at the center-left Progressive Policy Institute. “Either they can allow people to say borderline anti-Semitic stuff” – a reference to what he described as conspiracy theorizing in the Alterman column – “and to say things that are antithetical to the fundamental values of the Democratic party, or they can fire them and stop it.” (Alterman called the charge “ludicrous” and “character assassination,” noted that he is a columnist for Jewish publications, and described himself as a “proud, pro-Zionist Jew.”)
Justin Elliott published an article documenting that Josh Block had sent out an email 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.”
Elliot also notes in this article that Block was quoted in Ben Smith’s Polito article of accusing CAP columnist Eric Alterman of writing “borderline anti-Semitic stuff,” a charge Alterman (who is himself Jewish) dismissed as “ludicrous.”
In a follow-up article, Elliot notes that two think tanks that Block is associated with, the Progressive Policy Institute and the Truman National Security Project — were apparently rattled by the incident:
PPI head Will Marshall privately told Block that the think tank would sever ties with Block if he didn’t retract the charges detailed in Salon, according to a source familiar with the discussions. Block subsequently offered Politico a statement on the charges, claiming he had never accused people at CAP in particular of anti-Semitism, but not walking back or apologizing for the gist of what was reported in the Salon piece. It’s still unclear how PPI — which declined to comment — will proceed at this point.
Meanwhile, at Truman, top officials privately debated via email whether to cut ties with Block after the Salon story broke, a source says. They had already been unhappy with Block’s attacks on critics of Israel, and the Salon piece exacerbated tensions, I’m told.
Eric Alterman noted that after these events:
The decision in late December by Rachel Kleinfeld, founder of the Truman National Security Project, a defense-oriented Democratic think tank, to sever publicly all ties with former fellow and ex-AIPAC spokesman, Josh Block, brought to an end what was an ugly episode in Washington’s Israel-focused policy community. Block had orchestrated a sloppy smear campaign against a group of progressive writers and bloggers with the aim of painting their dovish views on Israel as beyond the pale of acceptable discourse. His specific target was two left-leaning think tanks, Media Matters and the Center for American Progress, where I have been a senior fellow since 2003.
… In Kleinfeld’s email cutting off ties with Block, she wrote, “This has nothing to do with your policy views, and is a decision solely made on the basis of the need for this community to privilege the ability to debate difficult topics freely, without fear of mischaracterization or character attacks.”
What were the comments that were found in emails or tweets from individuals at CAP that were worthy of the charge of anti-Semitism? The two terms that are considered beyond the pale of civilized conversation are “Israel-firsters” (or dual loyalty) and “Israeli apartheid”. (See Philip Weiss commentary on Jews using this term here)
Jason Isaacson, the AJC’s director of government and international affairs, told the Jerusalem Post by e-mail that “think tanks are entitled to their political viewpoints – but they’re not free to slander with impunity. References to Israeli ‘apartheid’ or ‘Israel-firsters’ are so false and hateful they reveal an ugly bias no serious policy center can countenance.”
The ADL, told the Jerusalem Post’s Benjamin Weinthal it considered two specific comments from CAP bloggers to be anti-Semitic, including the “Israel Firster” remarks and claims the Israel lobby had pushed the U.S. into the Iraq war.
Ali Gharib issued a clarification and apology for his Kirk comment on Twitter: One my tweets several months ago, a crude characterization of a senator is being seized upon by critics branding me as an anti-Semite. While the accusations are completely false and contemptible, I do apologize for the crudeness of the flippant tweet in question.
Alana Goodman reported that she had “asked the Truman Project today whether it believed the ADL and AJC were also wrong for calling the comments from CAP bloggers anti-Semitic. The center’s spokesperson, Dave Solimini, declined to answer the question directly:
I think our position has been very clear on this. Josh was removed from our community because he was unable to differentiate between an honest debate and damaging personal attacks. There is real anti-Semitism in the world and we cannot debase the term by using it for everyone who disagrees with us on Israel policy. We are a community of trust, and his actions have caused too many to fear discussion within our community.
Okay – so in other words, the Truman Project doesn’t believe that the comments from CAP bloggers about dual-loyalty and “Israel-Firsters” rise to the level of “real” anti-Semitism?
Philip Weiss notes that Even Saturday Night Live is talking about Israel firsters.
It is now January of 2012, and this continuing saga continues to get more and more convoluted.
Eric Alterman’s article on the supposed end of this controversy included this statement But just as McCarthy’s tactics wore themselves out over time, so, too, does Jewish McCarthyism appear, by virtue of this incident, to be on its last legs. Everyone so accused by Block still has a job and the confidence of his or her respective employer. Block, on the other hand, has seen one think tank gig end and seen himself denounced by his own business partner. A third employer, the Progressive Policy Institute, has distanced itself from his comments but has not so far seen fit to let him go. Score one, therefore, if not for the “pro-Israel” side, then at least for the right to keep arguing about what it really means.
If only that were true. Glenn Greenwald reports that the “anti-Semitism” smear campaign against CAP and Media Matters rolls on. In this detailed and lengthy article, Greenwald gives a lot of background and provides many links documenting the history of these false anti-Semitism charges. Greenwald also notes
Is this not the most blatant evidence yet that these organizations and their adherents are manipulating and exploiting charges of anti-Semitism in order to stifle and punish perfectly legitimate political and policy debates about Israel? They are effectively admitting that “anti-Semitism” does not mean irrational hatred or animosity toward Jews — its actual definition — but rather now means: challenging or even questioning the policy assumptions and preferences of certain Jewish groups and the Israeli government. They are literally decreeing that you are barred from challenging the dubious premises of those who crave war with Iran, are further barred from questioning their fear-mongering about the Iranian nuclear program, are also barred from assigning blame to the settlement-expanding Israelis for the lack of a peace agreement, and are even barred from condemning the increasingly unsustainable and anti-democratic treatment of the Palestinians — all upon pain of being formally condemned as anti-Semitic.
… What’s really going on here is as obvious as it is odious. The primary factor in AIPAC’s astonishing success has been ensuring that its mandated policies are fully bipartisan, that there are zero differences on Israel between the two parties, so that election outcomes change nothing. They are most petrified that some actual dissent may seep into the mainstream of the two parties; that’s why Bill Kristol has demanded that Ron Paul be expelled from the GOP, and it’s why these CAP and MM writers are being attacked so savagely. Especially with a possible war with Iran on the horizon, the last thing they want — especially in the mainstream of either party — is a permissive environment where one can freely debate the accuracy of their fear-mongering premises about Iran and challenge the wisdom of that aggression.
They are particularly panicked by their eroding power to monopolize the discourse. When Time Magazine’s Joe Klein is warning of “Israel-Firsters” and pointing out the role they played in bringing about the Iraq War and now trying to repeat that feat with Iran, and when The New York Times‘ Tom Friedman is warning that U.S. policy is “held hostage” by the Israel Lobby and the U.S. Congress is “bought and paid for by the Israel Lobby,” it’s clear that things have changed. Being able to display a new scalp on their wall will enable them to exhibit that they can still dictate debate limits and punish heretics. The problem, though, is that Joe Klein and Tom Friedman are too protected (to say nothing of being too Jewish and too devoted to Israel) to bring down with anti-Semitism smears (though they certainly have tried).
So what they do instead is target young, relatively obscure writers — especially ones with names like “Zaid Jilani” and “Ali Gahrib” — in order to make an example of them. This is a truly disgusting spectacle: these commentators — all of whom are writing well within the range of mainstream opinion on Israel — are being publicly smeared early in their careers as anti-Semites as part of a coordinated, ongoing campaign planned by Josh Block and carried out by numerous journalists with large media platforms, and aided and abetted by Jewish groups trading on their credibility to suppress debate.
These accusers know that their institutional employer (CAP) — dependent both upon White House access and funding by Jewish donors — can ill-afford to be smeared as anti-Israel and anti-Semitic regardless of whether those allegations are valid or not. And that’s exactly why they’re doing it: because they sense that these young CAP writers in particular (who, revealingly, have not been heard from in their own defense since the accusations against them were first voiced) are vulnerable to character assassination and career destruction. Unsurprisingly, CAP has alternated between distancing itself from and even repudiating their writings to desperately assuring everyone that they are fully on board with standard “pro-Israel” orthodoxies.
So this smear campaign not only threatens to suppress legitimate debate about crucial policy matters in the U.S., but it also is aimed at the reputations and careers of numerous young liberal writers who have done absolutely nothing wrong. As Wildman put it about those who “debase the term by using it as a rhetorical conceit against those with whom we disagree on policy matters”: “When anti-Semitism is falsely applied, we must also stand up and decry it as defamation, as character assault, as unjust. . . .There comes a time when we must insist on common sense. We must reject the absurd. There comes a time when we must say, ‘Enough’.” We are way past that point now: both with the general smearing of Israel critics as anti-Semites and the specific, baseless attacks on these writers.
Early in January, the Jerusalem Post published an article E-mail reveals anti-Semitism at US think tank. Here is their “proof” of the charge made in the title In the e-mail that the Post obtained exclusively from the CAP account of Faiz Shakir, who serves as editor-in-chief of the ThinkProgress.org website and is a vice president at CAP, he wrote, “Yes, I agree ‘Israel Firster’ is terrible, anti-Semitic language. And that’s why that language no longer exists on Zaid’s personal twitter feed, because he also knows and understands the implications.” Zaid Jilani wrote on his Twitter account, where he identifies himself as a “Reporter-Blogger for ThinkProgress,” that “…Obama is still beloved by Israel-firsters and getting lots of their $$.”
Obviously, the Jerusalem Post is thrilled that the anti-Semitism charges seem to be accepted even by those targeted. Also, obviously, all of the propaganda is having an effect on CAP.
This week, the Jerusalem Post reported that
According to a Washington Post online article on Thursday, Jarrod Bernstein, the new White House liaison with the Jewish community, told Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, that what was unfolding at CAP was “troubling,” and, “that [the attitude toward Israel at the think tank] is not this administration.
… Zaid Jilani had blogged for the Center for American Progress’s ThinkProgress website; he used Twitter to call US supporters of the Jewish state “Israel Firsters” and compared Israel to the former apartheid regime in South Africa. A CAP employee who said her name was Amanda told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that Jilani was no longer employed by ThinkProgress. Jilani’s biography and photo no longer appear on the ThinkProgress website “About” section. His Twitter feed no longer identifies him as a reporter for ThinkProgress. His last CAP blog posting was on January 12.
It is very difficult watching all of this unfold not to lose hope that free speech still exists. It seems that simply charging an individual with anti-Semitism, whether or not there is any truth to that charge, particularly if that individual is a Muslim is enough to destroy their career.
At the beginning of this article I quoted Faiz Shakir’s statement If there is one key takeaway from this incident, it’s that observers have witnessed how the Islamophobia network generally operates: 1) Produce a blog post with false anti-Muslim information, 2) promote that blog post through Fox News, 3) have so-called “experts” tout the information as if it’s credible, and then 4) stand by your mischaracterizations even when they are shown to be lies. In this case, we successfully fought back against this misinformation network. That’s what it’s going to take to end Islamophobia.
Faiz Shakir’s most recent statement seems to contradict those noble principles, and CAP’s throwing of Zaid Jilani to the wolves doesn’t speak well for their courage or integrity. It is possible that there is some other explanation for Zaid Jilani’s departure from CAP, but it doesn’t look good.
It’s a shame that CAP didn’t have the courage of their convictions to fight back against the misinformation network. As, in the end, they will have been seen to have been on the right side of history to begin with. Americans for Peace Now who identifies themselves as “a Jewish, Zionist organization that is dedicated to achieving peace and security for Israel” said in a statement
We are deeply concerned about the ongoing attacks against staff of the Center for America Progress (CAP). We believe that these attacks do not reflect genuine concerns about anti-Semitism, or even the use of language that some people may find offensive. Rather, they appear to be part of an effort to stifle discussion on America’s Middle East policy, while using Israel as a partisan wedge issue, both inside the Democratic Party and between Democrats and Republicans.
As a non-partisan organization, we have no interest in CAP’s political identity or its relationship to the Obama Administration. However, as a Jewish, Zionist organization that is dedicated to achieving peace and security for Israel, we believe that a vibrant public debate over issues related to peace and security for Israel and the Middle East – the kind of debate that takes place every day in the Israeli press – is vital for both Israel and the United States. We believe that the current charges of anti-Semitism are intended, cynically, to have a “chilling effect” on such debate. Such attacks cannot be allowed to succeed.
We recognize that the tone adopted by many commentators – on both sides of these very contentions issues – has grown uglier in recent years. This is especially true in blog posts and tweets. All of us operating in this sensitive policy sphere would do well to de-escalate the tone. Intemperate rhetoric only distracts from the important policy issues that, for the sake of both Israel and the U.S., deserve serious debate. Name-calling has no place in policy discussions and, as has been seen in the current context, can pave the way for both unintended offense and for manufactured controversy.
CAP and its staff have a long record of pro-Israel, pro-peace work. This includes hosting numerous Israeli security and policy experts, in addition to providing timely, thoughtful analysis and commentary on the issues. It includes a long record of support for peace, Israeli security, and the two-state solution. Such positions are consistent with the policies of successive U.S. presidents from both parties and with the aspirations of most Israelis and their leaders.
This sounds remarkably similar to Zaik Shakir’s original statement, and it is just a shame that it seems that in Shakir’s case, it may have been only talk. It will be interesting to follow further developments and statements.
What is most ironic about all of this is that just yesterday, I wrote an article about Andrew Adler, owner and publisher of the Atlanta Jewish Times who had published an article calling on the Israeli Mossad to assassinate President Obama.
I thought about the term “Israel-firster” when I was writing that article, as it seemed to me that he is a perfect example of the fact that there really are individuals for whom this is a factual statement of their ideology. Interestingly, I am not the only one who had that thought. Chemi shalev wrote onHaaretz:
It is ironic that Adler’s despicable diatribe comes against the backdrop of a fierce blogosphere debate that flared up yesterday about the term “Israel-firsters” and whether it is a legitimate critique or an anti-Semitic slur. Adler, for his part, has provided an example of a sub-specie of “Israel-firsters” that have not only lost track of where their loyalties lie, they have gone off the tracks altogether. He has pleased anti-Zionists and delighted anti-Semites by giving them the kind of “proof” they relish for accusing American supporters of Israel not of “double loyalty” but of one-sided treachery, plain and simple.
… There is something eerily familiar in all this, of course, for anyone who was present 16 years ago at Tel Aviv’s Kikar Malchei Yisrael, as it was then known, on the night that Yitzhak Rabin was murdered. One can already envisage how Adler will be disowned, described as a “wild weed,” depicted as a lone wolf who does not represent anyone in his or in anyone else’s community and used as a springboard for a righteously indignant, preemptive counteroffensive that will show how his solitary case is being exploited to score points against anyone who legitimately criticizes Obama.