If you are late to the controversy surrounding the Center for American Progress, you’ll need more than this space to catch up. In short, the think tank said to be “closely aligned with the White House” has been under fire for some tweets by staffers that critics suggest reveal an anti-Israel bias and worse. “Anti-Israel” is too strong a characterization for many of these messages, which either warn against an aggressive confrontation with Iran or urge more “even-handedness” in America’s dealings with the Israelis and Palestinians. Perhaps those aren’t views of the pro-Israel mainstream, and could spell trouble for Democrats among some Jewish voters, but they are not anti-Semitic.
Where some of the tweeters did cross the line was in their use of the odious term “Israel Firsters” to refer, narrowly, to neoconservatives and, more broadly, to the pro-Israel community. The term recalls the bigotry of Charles Lindbergh, who accused Jews of trying to force America into war with Germany. It is applied to Israeli supporters who supposedly promote policies first and foremost to help Israel, with dubious or nonexistent benefits to the United States. Its targets have included Jewish supporters of the Iraq war, and now Jews who urge that Iran’s nuclear program be stopped by any means necessary.
The phrase is a charge of disloyalty, suggesting that Jews are working against the interests of the United States. It is a preposterous and slanderous accusation. There are, of course, Jews on all sides of the political spectrum, including those who advocate hard-line policies when it comes to Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But to suggest they are disloyal as a result of these positions is an insult to the democratic process and the right to free speech. Disagree with them? Go ahead and say so. But the term “Israel Firster” bypasses the argument to attack the integrity and patriotism of an opponent. It is as lazy as it is toxic.
To its credit, CAP has said that it has a “zero-tolerance policy on anti-Semitism” and that the tweets on its staffers’ personal accounts were “inappropriate” and “objectionable.” CAP says it “always has been pro-Israel, committed to a peace process that produces a durable two-state solution negotiated by the parties, and it takes seriously the threat posed by Iran and its nuclear activities.”
Perhaps now we can go back to talking about policy, not defamation.