“Emergency” Committee for Israel Uses Israel as a Wedge Issue


The Emergency (sic) Committee for Israel video to which I regrettably subjected readers last Thursday is doing its job and drawing more attention. More people are talking about it and more people are talking about the bogus issue of anti-Semitism at the Occupy Wall Street protests.

One point of hypocritical confusion requires immediate clarification. Every cheap political opiner on the right who objected to claims of racismwithin the Tea Party movement who is now raising the specter of anti-Semitism within OWS is an example of the contagion that ails political culture. You take your political guidance from them, you lie down without a mask in the flu ward. This is not to argue for uncritical equivalence: it is possible for one of those claims to be true and the other false. It is also necessary to be precise about the claim. Of the Tea Parties, for instance: There are racists among them? Some? Many? They appeal to racists? They espouse racist ideas? They are racist in their origin and intent? These are all different claims requiring varied kinds of evidence and levels of argumentation. Go ahead – do your own careful, fair-minded review of the evidence, of both movements. (An example of not fair-minded would be claiming that a depiction of President Obama as an African witchdoctor with a bone through his nose is not racist.)

But what does any of that matter when there are minds to be misled?

And still, this is not the issue with ECI.

Jeffrey Goldberg reported the other day about all the people emailing him links to the ECI video. Sure, get one of the most prominent, moderate supporters of Israel – regularly reviled by extremists on right and left – to call OWS anti-Semitic, and you have well advanced the ECI purpose.

But what is the purpose?

As I wrote earlier, the true purpose of the ECI video distortion is not to identify a new source of anti-Semitism. Kristol, Bauer, and company are not trying to warn the good people of OWS off a bad element in their midst. They actually could not be more delighted to find it there. They are, merely by the way, identifying that element as if it were itself the character of OWS, but even that is not ECI’s true purpose. The video, as I indicated, takes a further, more clearly pointed step in identifying President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and other well-known Democrats with OCS, which ECI has by that point in the video smeared with anti-Semitic accusation. Thus, so, too, are Obama and the Democrats smeared.

Last time around, I left it there. The pretend “emergency” action on behalf of Israel is, in reality, foul U.S. domestic politics. So while ECI aims, it claims, to help Israel, it attempts to do so only in the form of partisan attack on domestic political opponents who are already and anyway its antagonists. They are all Democrats, and targets have all been Democrats in key roles or in key races, such as, in the latter case, Joe Sestak during his Pennsylvania senatorial race last year. Conversely, among the most effectively anti-Israel politicians in the United States is Ron Paul. I say effectively because Paul has stated on multiple occasions, including Tuesday night’s GOP candidates debate, that he would end foreign aid to Israel along with all other foreign aid. Paul is not only a sitting member of the congress, unlike Sestak, but a candidate for President. Yet you will not find any “emergency” video attacking him. In contrast, ECI used Harry Reid’s dissent from the President’s unexceptional characterization of the 1967 boundaries as a starting point for border negotiations – since accepted by Benjamin Netanyahu, just like three prime ministers before him – as a cudgel with which to hammer Obama, claiming in the most blatant kind of distortion that Obama had “sided with the Palestinians.” But, of course, ECI did not run ads supporting so unblinking a supporter of Israel as Reid in his 2010 reelection bid, and one would be gambling foolishly to bet on ECI doing so in the future. ECI may “thank” a Democrat, but always while using footage of the Democrat criticizing Obama or another, current Democratic candidate for office.

It is so obvious (one keeps rubbing one’s tongue against the roof of the mouth in objection to the taste) that what ECI is doing is developing – cynically and crassly using – Israel as a wedge issue, no different from the way the right uses abortion or gay marriage, in domestic U.S. politics. Along with Ed Koch, ECI drove uncritical support of Israel as a wedge in the race to replace Anthony Weiner – the intent to separate the Jewish vote from Democratic candidates. The truth is, though, that while a decisive difference in a handful of races will make no difference in the overwhelming U.S. congressional – and presidential – support for Israel, that difference can be all that is needed to alter the balance of GOP-Democratic power domestically. What it can mean adversely for Israel, however, is an amplification of the growing identification of support for Israel with American conservatism, an outcome ECI would dearly love: for as it works to tear Jewish support from the Democratic Party and attach it instead to the GOP, it also exacerbates the misguided disillusionment among various segments of the left with Israel.

This may be good for the GOP, but not so good for Israel, which loses in consequence a deeper well of supporters. One should expect true friends of Israel to seek to expand that base of sympathy and of understanding of the true history of the region and nature of the contending forces.

One can be judgmental about the left and what it says about those segments of it that are so deeply confused, ignorant, and misguided about the nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At the same time, work like ECI’s repulsively dishonest video, purporting to help Israel, potentially hurts it instead, with a thinly veiled effort at tactical and shorter-term domestic political gains. Using and abusing a friend’s name, pretending to do the friend a favor, in order really to help yourself, which has been the clear practice of ECI in its every campaign – that’s cynical. That’s hypocrisy of a very high order.


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