Credit Where It's Due: Tablet Calls Out Media Matters, Center for American Progress, J Street on Antisemitism

Tablet magazine, the new online Jewish-themed publication that focuses on a broad range of current affairs topics, has taken Media Matters for America (MMfA) and the Center for American Progress (CAP) to task for using antisemitic language in criticizing Israel.

Illustration from Tablet: Daniel Hertzberg

In two separate articles, Tablet takes on the organizations that are the core of the Democrats’ media and policy strategy, joining a debate in which the defenders of MMfA and CAP have resorted to the worn-out fallacy that their critics are trying to silence debate on Israel.

One article by Spencer Ackerman–whose blog was once hosted by CAP–addresses “fellow progressives” and insists that while criticism of Israel is sometimes appropriate, those who use anti-Jewish tropes–like specious charges of dual loyalty and “Israel first”–undermine the case they are trying to make. He singles out Media Matters, CAP, and the radical pro-Palestinian lobby J Street, among others, for their rhetorical record of bigotry:

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….

“Israel Firster” has a nasty anti-Semitic pedigree, one that many Jews will intuitively understand without knowing its specific history. It turns out white supremacist Willis Carto was reportedly the first to use it, and David Duke popularized it through his propaganda network. And yet [Media Matters’ M.J.] Rosenberg and others actually claim they’re using it to stimulate “debate,” rather than effectively mirroring the tactics of some of the people they criticize….

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 other article, by Lee Smith, addresses the effect that casual anti-Israel bigotry of the kind found at MMfA and CAP has had on allowing antisemitism to become legitimate in mainstream political discourse. Smith attacks the “gatekeepers” of the mainstream media, who routinely–and appropriately–filter out racism, but have been facilitating antisemitism:

The editors of magazines and newspapers have a responsibility as gatekeepers of polite society. It turns out the gatekeepers haven’t been vigilant. We live in a culture where the social taboo against anti-black racism is so fierce that violating the taboo means certain expulsion from polite company. But the very reverse process is taking place when it comes to anti-Semitism: The taboo is being rapidly eroded, and those who ought to confront it are enabling it.

Among the culprits: CAP, MMfA, and J Street. Smith notes that CAP attacked the Middle East Media Research Institute, which performs the invaluable service of translating Arab media into English–and which, as a result, has been maligned by CAP and the anti-Israel left:

How do the Jews who run this translation organization promote Islamophobia, according to CAP? By translating the opinions of those who want to persecute and kill Jews. Try fitting this twisted reasoning into Gude’s zero-tolerance policy against any form of discrimination: Women’s rights groups stir up male hatred by collecting statistics of violence against women; the NAACP fans the flames of racism because it advocates on behalf of equal rights for African-Americans.

Smith also notes the hypocrisy of those left-wing Jews–like Rosenberg and J Street’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami–who try to defend the use of antisemitic rhetoric by claiming that pro-Israel Americans are using false charges of bigotry to silence debate on Israel:

What makes people insensitive to racism is when American political and intellectual elites refuse to confront racist language. The use of phrases like “Israel Firster” and “dual loyalist” that are based on anti-Semitic tropes is anti-Semitic. So is the belief that Jews fan the flames of hatred for discussing the opinions of those who hate them. What is even more vile than the anti-Semitic language impugning the political motives of pro-Israel American Jews is someone like Ben-Ami crying foul when those Jews object to being slandered as disloyal. In effect, the message is, don’t defend yourselves against the calumnies heaped upon you, Jews, because the more noise you make the more trouble there will be for you in the long run.

Tablet’s message–not just in these articles, but elsewhere–is aimed at a liberal-to-left readership. Therefore, the fact that the magazine has confronted antisemitism at MMfA, CAP, and other left-wing organizations so forthrightly is both remarkable and commendable.