Under pressure from the pro-Israel community, embattled former Media Matters for America fellow M.J. Rosenberg has finally parted ways with the left-wing media watchdog group. As Contentions has reported, Rosenberg was one of a handful of staffers at Democratic-affiliated Washington think tanks who used terms like “Israel-firster” and other dual-loyalty charges to attack Israel supporters and members of the Jewish community.
WFB’s Adam Kredo reports on Rosenberg’s resignation:
Months of public pressure and outrage from across the pro-Israel spectrum forced Media Matters for America staffer M.J. Rosenberg to tender his resignation Friday from the left-wing media watchdog group.
Rosenberg is the notorious proprietor of the term “Israel-firster,” a phrase with origins in the white supremacist movement that many consider anti-Semitic. During his tenure at MMFA, Rosenberg proudly used the term in his weekly columns and on his Twitter feed in an attempt to paint pro-Israel lawmakers and American Jews as being more loyal to the state of Israel than America.
In a final post titled, Last Media Matters Column, Rosenberg signed off by admitting that he had tarnished the liberal group’s image.
“The reason for this step is that it disturbed me greatly to see an organization to which I am devoted facing possible harm because of my critical writings about Israel,” he wrote. “I have no doubt that the crowd that opposes any and all criticism of Israeli government policies will continue to turn its guns on Media Matters if I am associated with it.”
Even J Street critics were baffled last January when the group’s founder and President Jeremy Ben-Ami more or less randomly decided to defend “Israel-Firster” rhetoric against pro-Israel Americans. The term was condemned as anti-Semitic by the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and its use by Center for American Progress contributors eventually caused the White House to distance itself from the organization. Self-professed pro-J Street blogger Jeffrey Goldberg expressed himself “surprised” by Ben-Ami’s stance.
The mystery became somewhat less mysterious after Alana pointed out a potential financial incentive behind J Street’s position, connecting J Street with groups that use the term. The link helps explain why mere hours after publicly walking back Ben-Ami’s statements, J Street took to Facebook to blast Sheldon Adelson as an “Israel-Firster” and to push a piece attacking anti-Semitism watchdogs for “Likudnik Paranoia.”
JTA editor Ami Eden draws our attention today to the fact that M.J. Rosenberg has waved the white flag on his penchant for labeling supporters of Israel as “Israel-firsters.” That term is redolent of anti-Semitic stereotypes that seek to smear Jews with the charge of dual loyalty. On his Media Matters blog, Rosenberg writes he won’t use the term any more, but writing in his characteristically obnoxious and abusive manner, Rosenberg doesn’t admit that what he had done was wrong but merely discards it now as a “distraction” from his great work of preventing a war with Iran. That is, I suppose, some sort of progress. With Rosenberg, style long ago became substance as his impotent rage at the fact that his views have been rejected by Israel’s voters and the vast majority of American Jews, bubbled over in abusive language aimed at anyone who disagreed with him. “Israel-firster” was just the tip of the iceberg for Rosenberg, whose writing and tweeting has become an object lesson in the myth that liberals or leftists believe in civil discourse.
However, Eden takes Rosenberg’s concession as an opportunity to play the moral equivalence game with those who have criticized the Media Matters staffer. He pivots the discussion into one about the way the term “anti-Israel” has been applied to critics of Israel’s government and asks whether right-wingers will give up that practice now that Rosenberg has taken the pledge. But the problem with this argument put forward by my old friend and colleague is that there is a big difference between the two charges.
One of the standard arguments currently being employed against supporters of the State of Israel is that the true friends of the Jewish state are those who are doing their best to undermine its democratically-elected government and force it to submit to foreign pressure to make concessions to the Palestinians. It is an old and somewhat disingenuous ploy that is, at best, an effort by supporters of the losing side in Israeli elections to win back what their friends have lost in the ballot box. There are times when those who like the right-of-center parties in Israel have played this game. However, since the evisceration of the Israeli left by the refusal of the Palestinians to make peace, it is the sole consolation of those who despise Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies. But the anger and frustration of the Jewish left is such these days that some have expanded this tactic and taken to using anti-Semitic tropes about “Israel-firsters” which are straight out of the Walt-Mearsheimer Israel lobby thesis. To listen to people like Media Matters scribbler M.J. Rosenberg these days, it is hard to distinguish the bile he spews at AIPAC and liberal supporters of Israel (forget about what he says about conservatives) from that of out-and-out anti-Zionists.
Rosenberg’s old friend J.J. Goldberg writes in the Forward this week to defend his buddy. It is an unconvincing piece marred not so much by the frame of reference of friendship as it is by a refusal to come to grips with the way Rosenberg’s anger at his former employers at AIPAC and everyone who doesn’t share his opinion has distorted this debate. According to J.J., M.J. is still pro-Israel at heart but just doesn’t like the policies of its government and those Americans who back it. But Rosenberg’s willingness to adopt the rhetoric of Israel-haters undermines his defenders. That this apologia for Rosenberg ran in the same issue of the paper that also contained a flattering profile of Ali Abunimah, one of the leading advocates of the campaign to boycott Israel in the United States, only reinforces the impression that some on the Jewish left are so deeply invested in the effort to undermine backers of the pro-Israel consensus that they are seeking to erase any boundary between mere criticism of the government in Jerusalem and activity whose aims are clearly more sinister.