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Topic: M.J. Rosenberg

M.J. Rosenberg Out at Media Matters

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.”

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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.”

Rosenberg maintains he wasn’t forced out, and says he chose to leave because he felt his position opened the organization up to attacks. Either way, the implication is that Rosenberg’s continued affiliation with MMFA was damaging its image. His decision is best for both sides. Rosenberg saves face by saying he left on his own accord, and MMFA gets rid of one of its biggest headaches.

A little credit for MMFA. Breaking with Rosenberg is an acknowledgement that the organization may want to move closer to the center on Israel issues. But that credit only goes so far – after all, MMFA still defended Rosenberg for months after Ben Smith first drew attention to his anti-Semitic, dual-loyalty slurs in a Politico article. There have been no public apologies from the organization, and there were no apparent attempts to rein in Rosenberg’s continued attacks on Israel supporters during the past several months. Instead, the two cut ties on the afternoon of the first night of Passover, which is kind of like making a public announcement at 5 p.m. on New Years Eve.

Well, good for Rosenberg, who will undoubtedly find fringier outlets to promote his anti-Semitic “Israel lobby” conspiracies. And better for Israel policy writers, who no longer have any obligation to write about or pay attention to him. But maybe it wouldn’t have had to end this way if Rosenberg and MMFA hadn’t taken the cowardly way out – if admissions of wrongdoing, or apologies were made. Instead, they cut ties as quietly and unrepentantly as possible. And by doing so, the organization will continue to carry a small mark of shame.

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“Anti-Israel” the Same as “Israel-Firster?”

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.

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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.

Calling someone “anti-Israel” is wrong if the persons at whom it is aimed are in fact merely supporters of Israel who are critics of its current government. But it is more than apt when applied to those who actually are foes of Israel, such as those who are either neutral about or supporters of the movement to boycott, divest and sanction the Jewish state.

But contrary to Eden’s formulation, it is not just the right that plays the “anti-Israel” game. In recent years, people like Rosenberg and others on the left have taken to labeling those who support the settlement movement or even those who regard the issue as superseded by security concerns as “anti-Israel” because they think the “occupation” is a threat to the country’s future. Eden is right when he lambasts those who seek to view anyone who dissents from a particular position on Israeli politics as foes of the state though nowadays that’s a sin that left-wingers are as likely to commit as their foes. However, he goes too far when he claims the term “anti-Israel” has led “to as much bullying and violence, probably even more, than the use of terms like ‘Israel-firster’ (see the Yitzhak Rabin assassination and the failed assassination plot against Shimon Peres, death threats and attacks against left-wing activists, and efforts to blackball some liberal groups from communal settings).”

Bringing up the Rabin assassination in conjunction with an argument about whether American Jews are sufficiently supportive of Israel is nothing but a red herring. It has long been used in Israel as unfair tactic intended to smear anyone who opposed or raised questions about the Oslo Accords as having somehow been connected to an extremist unconnected with any real political movement. It has no bearing on this discussion and dragging it into this dispute does nothing but to further muddy the waters. Moreover, the idea that liberal American Jewish critics of Israel are living in fear seems the stuff of satire more than anything else. If there is anything that we have learned in the last 30 years as Israel-bashing has become one of the mainstream media’s favorite sports it is that it takes little courage to run with the pack of abusers of the Jewish state.

As for the charge of “bullying,” it is more than a little out of place when discussing a vigorous public debate about the future of Israel. Civility and good manners are always to be encouraged, but as M.J. Rosenberg and others of his ilk on the far left has showed us the idea that the right has a monopoly on bad behavior is a joke.

Let’s also remember that while “anti-Israel” is sometimes used promiscuously and incorrectly, there are a lot of people out there who really are “anti-Israel” and many, if not most of them, are on the left. Even worse, when Jewish newspapers like the Forward honor those who call for economic war to be waged on Israel with flattering profiles, editors should not be surprised when some observers begin to question their motives.

It is also a mistake to minimize the damage the term “Israel-firster” can cause. To call the pro-Israel community “Israel-firsters,” as Rosenberg repeatedly did, is an attempt to delegitimize more than just his ideological foes. It’s a canard intended to silence all Jews. Using it is an implicit endorsement of the Walt-Mearsheimer conspiracy theory that is thinly veiled anti-Semitism. Those who do so cross a line that no supporter of Israel or Jew should cross. The fact that Rosenberg has begrudgingly and belatedly given it up does little to restore his credibility.

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How Do We Define “Pro-Israel?”

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.

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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.

Given the viciousness of his rhetoric, it is not surprising that Rosenberg has become a lightening rod. Liberal icon Alan Dershowitz has called on the White House to disassociate itself from his current employer, the prominent liberal group Media Matters, due to Rosenberg’s conduct. That is a matter for the left to hash out. I am more interested in the attempts by people like Goldberg to defend Rosenberg on the grounds that he is just a garden-variety critic of Netanyahu. Indeed, Goldberg claims the whole dustup is the fault of Netanyahu and his anti-peace policies. This is an absurd distortion of Netanyahu’s record, but its main fault is that he ignores the fact that it is the Palestinians who have conclusively rejected peace. Goldberg and Rosenberg’s positions on the peace process have been rendered not so much incorrect but irrelevant by the ruthless dynamics of Palestinian politics that has made peace unlikely for the foreseeable future. But rather than acknowledge this reality, they prefer to keep up their fight against the Jewish right. In the case of Rosenberg, his position is now so extreme that he is not only unable to put forward his opinions in a reasonable manner unmarred by hate speech, he also seems unwilling to recognize any distinction between attacks on supporters of Israel’s current government and the right of its people to have their democratic verdict respected abroad and the violent rhetoric employed by those who literally wish to see the state destroyed.

Many on the left these days lack the humility that ought to always be part of American Jewish attempts to diagnose Israel’s problems. Even worse, some like Rosenberg are so frustrated by the way their assumptions about how to make peace have been overtaken by events that they have come to see any attack on Israel’s leaders or the vast majority of Americans who have stepped forward to support that government as being fair comment. In doing so, he has resorted to the lowest sort of smear that had heretofore been the province of Israel-haters. Though Goldberg assures us M.J. is the same lover of Israel he was in his youth, that only goes to show how politics can distort a man’s vision and his moral compass so as to allow him to try to destroy that which he once held dear in the name of preserving that same thing.

As the decision by the Forward’s editors to publish a puff piece on Abunimah shows, Rosenberg is not alone in having stepped over the line from honest Zionist criticism to that shadowy no man’s land in which those who are neutral about Israel’s existence live. Abunimah’s Electronic Intifada website is the source of a non-stop flow of hatred at the Jewish state and Zionism. For a Jewish newspaper that considers itself to uphold the liberal end of the pro-Zionist spectrum to have made such a decision calls into question not only the judgment of the editors but also whether they believe there is any line across which Jews may not stray before their conduct can be properly termed “anti-Israel.”

There is no one definition of the term pro-Israel. It does not require anyone to be a cheerleader for Netanyahu or any other Israeli leader or party. One need not be pro-settlements or anti-settlements or espouse any particular position on Iran or any other issue that divides Israelis and American Jews. But there are some things one cannot do and still claim to be within the pro-Israel camp. One of them is to adopt rhetoric that apes the efforts of Israel-haters to delegitimize supporters of Israel and which adopts the classic themes of anti-Semitism. The other is to espouse neutrality about attempts to wage economic warfare on Israel via the BDS movement that calls for Americans to boycott, divest and sanction the Jewish state.

What is needed now is not so much ideological conformity within the pro-Israel camp as some soul-searching by a Jewish left that appears to have lost its way. Let us pray they come to their senses and recognize that however frustrated they may be by the current state of Israeli and Palestinian politics, there are some things they may not do and still be included under the rubric of “pro-Israel.”

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