Commentary Magazine


Topic: Max Blumenthal

NAF Puts Anti-Zionism on the Table

The New America Foundation (NAF) is one of the most prosperous and influential think tanks in Barack Obama’s Washington. It’s run by Anne-Marie Slaughter, who was director of policy planning in the Obama State Department from 2009 to 2011. Its executive board is chaired by Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and is filled with luminaries of the world of finance like Steve Rattner (Obama’s “car czar”), media stars like Fareed Zakaria, public intellectuals like Francis Fukuyama and even a token centrist like Walter Russell Mead as well as the likes of George Soros’s son Jonathan. In other words, it’s about as connected to the pulse of the Obama-era capital as you can be outside of the West Wing. While the NAF’s positions are predictably liberal, it has tried to position itself as a new age, high-tech group that is in the business of selling the world post-partisan answers to the country’s problems that emphasize “big ideas, impartial analysis and pragmatic solutions.” That generally is translated into programs promoting liberal ideas about education, jobs, investment, and the future of Afghanistan, just to cherry-pick some of the topics explored at events sponsored by the group in November. But next month, the NAF will put something different on the agenda: anti-Zionism.

The occasion is a December 4 book event at the foundation headquarters featuring Max Blumenthal, author of a risible anti-Zionist rant titled Goliath that was brought to our attention by an excellent article by historian Ron Radosh at Pajamas Media. We need not waste much time rehashing the book’s complete lack of intellectual merit or integrity. Suffice it to say its purpose is to libel the State of Israel as not merely an apartheid state but as a successor to the Nazis. His goal is not to force its withdrawal from the West Bank or to reform it in any matter but to work for its abolishment and replacement with a new Arab state in which those of the six million Jews who care to say will be forced to assimilate into Arab society rather than maintain a separate national identity. As I wrote earlier this month, even a virulent left-wing critic of Israel as Eric Alterman dismissed it in the pages of the Nation as the “‘I Hate Israel’ Handbook” and speculated that it would make a worthy choice for publication by “the Hamas Book of the Month Club (if it existed),” though lamentably it was put in print by his own magazine’s publishing arm.

Fortunately, most serious reviewers of books, including those on the left, have ignored Blumenthal’s trash. That is as it should be, not because bad ideas should be suppressed but because hatred and bias such as that advocated by Blumenthal do not deserve to be treated as a serious intellectual proposition up for debate. Yet that is exactly what the NAF is doing by inviting Blumenthal with the sort of breathless prose that is in the announcement on their website, calling the book “an unflinching, unprecedented work of journalism.” That means the issue here isn’t whether Blumenthal is an Israel-hater but how it is that a well-heeled and highly influential organization like the NAF has decided that anti-Zionist screeds are what they want their members to discuss. The point is not that Blumenthal will, even with the NAF’s help, persuade Americans to support dismantling Israel, but what it says about liberal elites that they think this is the sort of thing that should be on their agenda.

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The New America Foundation (NAF) is one of the most prosperous and influential think tanks in Barack Obama’s Washington. It’s run by Anne-Marie Slaughter, who was director of policy planning in the Obama State Department from 2009 to 2011. Its executive board is chaired by Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and is filled with luminaries of the world of finance like Steve Rattner (Obama’s “car czar”), media stars like Fareed Zakaria, public intellectuals like Francis Fukuyama and even a token centrist like Walter Russell Mead as well as the likes of George Soros’s son Jonathan. In other words, it’s about as connected to the pulse of the Obama-era capital as you can be outside of the West Wing. While the NAF’s positions are predictably liberal, it has tried to position itself as a new age, high-tech group that is in the business of selling the world post-partisan answers to the country’s problems that emphasize “big ideas, impartial analysis and pragmatic solutions.” That generally is translated into programs promoting liberal ideas about education, jobs, investment, and the future of Afghanistan, just to cherry-pick some of the topics explored at events sponsored by the group in November. But next month, the NAF will put something different on the agenda: anti-Zionism.

The occasion is a December 4 book event at the foundation headquarters featuring Max Blumenthal, author of a risible anti-Zionist rant titled Goliath that was brought to our attention by an excellent article by historian Ron Radosh at Pajamas Media. We need not waste much time rehashing the book’s complete lack of intellectual merit or integrity. Suffice it to say its purpose is to libel the State of Israel as not merely an apartheid state but as a successor to the Nazis. His goal is not to force its withdrawal from the West Bank or to reform it in any matter but to work for its abolishment and replacement with a new Arab state in which those of the six million Jews who care to say will be forced to assimilate into Arab society rather than maintain a separate national identity. As I wrote earlier this month, even a virulent left-wing critic of Israel as Eric Alterman dismissed it in the pages of the Nation as the “‘I Hate Israel’ Handbook” and speculated that it would make a worthy choice for publication by “the Hamas Book of the Month Club (if it existed),” though lamentably it was put in print by his own magazine’s publishing arm.

Fortunately, most serious reviewers of books, including those on the left, have ignored Blumenthal’s trash. That is as it should be, not because bad ideas should be suppressed but because hatred and bias such as that advocated by Blumenthal do not deserve to be treated as a serious intellectual proposition up for debate. Yet that is exactly what the NAF is doing by inviting Blumenthal with the sort of breathless prose that is in the announcement on their website, calling the book “an unflinching, unprecedented work of journalism.” That means the issue here isn’t whether Blumenthal is an Israel-hater but how it is that a well-heeled and highly influential organization like the NAF has decided that anti-Zionist screeds are what they want their members to discuss. The point is not that Blumenthal will, even with the NAF’s help, persuade Americans to support dismantling Israel, but what it says about liberal elites that they think this is the sort of thing that should be on their agenda.

Let’s specify that NAF has not explicitly endorsed Blumenthal’s ideas. As Radosh notes, it’s doubtful that their board was consulted about the decision to host his book tour. But all the disclaimers in the world won’t change the fact that by choosing to associate their institution with a book that smears Israelis as Nazis and calls for its destruction, the NAF has crossed a line that no decent individual or group should even approach. Moreover, by doing so they are also sending a dangerous signal in the world of D.C. ideas that talk about doing away with Israel is no longer confined, as it should be, to the fever swamps of the far left or the far right. Instead, thanks to the Nation and its friends at the New America Foundation, open hatred against Israel and the campaign to delegitimize Zionism have now been given an undeserved veneer of respectability in Barack Obama’s Washington.

In one sense, it is hardly surprising that Slaughter’s group would embrace Blumenthal’s book at the same time that the current head of the State Department is counseling Congress to “ignore” Israeli concerns about Iran and betraying its democratic ally with deals that legitimize Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But policy disagreements are one thing; putting anti-Zionism on the agenda as a worthy discussion point is quite another. Just as it would be a scandal if some conservative think tank of comparable stature hosted an author of an openly racist book or one advocating the virtues of slavery, there is something shocking and fundamentally indecent about NAF’s decision to host a writer who is the moral equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan’s David Duke. It may be too much to hope that board members speak up and seek to cancel this event. But if they don’t, the NAF will lend its prestige to a disreputable author and cause and find itself tainted as an aider and abettor of anti-Israel hate.

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The Anti-Zionist Civil War on the Left

Some in the pro-Israel community are having a good chuckle at the feud that has erupted between Jewish left-wingers in the past couple of weeks. But rather than laughing, those who care not only about Israel but also the direction of the conversation about Israel in the post-Oslo era and what it portends for the future should be concerned.

The exchange between the anti-Zionist Max Blumenthal and his antagonists among the ranks of left-wingers who are often critical of Israel but defend its existence shows how pointless much of the debate that has been carried on between the left and the right about borders and settlements has been. As risible as the arguments put forward by Blumenthal trashing Israelis as “non-indigenous” interlopers in the Arab world who must be made to surrender their sovereignty, culture, and homes may be, they represent the cutting edge of left-wing thought that has come to dominate European discussions of the Middle East.

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Some in the pro-Israel community are having a good chuckle at the feud that has erupted between Jewish left-wingers in the past couple of weeks. But rather than laughing, those who care not only about Israel but also the direction of the conversation about Israel in the post-Oslo era and what it portends for the future should be concerned.

The exchange between the anti-Zionist Max Blumenthal and his antagonists among the ranks of left-wingers who are often critical of Israel but defend its existence shows how pointless much of the debate that has been carried on between the left and the right about borders and settlements has been. As risible as the arguments put forward by Blumenthal trashing Israelis as “non-indigenous” interlopers in the Arab world who must be made to surrender their sovereignty, culture, and homes may be, they represent the cutting edge of left-wing thought that has come to dominate European discussions of the Middle East.

The dustup centers on Goliath, a new anti-Israel screed by Blumenthal, the son of Clinton administration figure Sidney Blumenthal, published by Nation Books. But to Blumenthal’s chagrin, the magazine (which is no stranger to anti-Zionist articles) allowed columnist Eric Alterman to write about it in The Nation. Alterman is himself a fierce and often obnoxious critic of Israel and defenders of Israel, and has been a major promoter of the myth that the pro-Israel community has been seeking to silence the Jewish state’s critics. Yet Blumenthal’s book was so appalling that Alterman took it apart in the magazine that spawned it. Calling it “The ‘I Hate Israel’ Handbook,” Alterman scored it for its frequent comparisons of the Jews with the Nazis and its complete absence of any acknowledgement of the Muslim and Arab war to destroy Israel. As Alterman wrote in a subsequent blog post, “It is no exaggeration to say that this book could have been published by the Hamas Book-of-the-Month Club (if it existed).”

To give you a taste of how outrageous this book is, Blumenthal even has the nerve to recount a conversation with Israeli author David Grossman who has been an important figure in the peace movement in which he lectured the Israeli about the need for the state to be dismantled and for its citizens to make their peace with the need to rejoin the Diaspora rather than to cling to their homes. Grossman responds to Blumenthal by walking out and telling him to tear up his phone number. Blumenthal attributes Grossman’s reaction to Israeli myopia.

But it gets better. As the Forward’s J.J. Goldberg writes in his own column on the dispute, Blumenthal appeared at a Philadelphia event with the University of Pennsylvania’s Ian Lustick (whose recent anti-Zionist diatribe in the New York Times was discussed here).

Almost halfway through their 83-minute encounter (minute 34:00 on YouTube), Lustick emotionally asks Blumenthal whether he believes, like Abraham at Sodom, that there are enough “good people” in Israel to justify its continued existence — or whether he’s calling for a mass “exodus,” the title of his last chapter, and “the end of Jewish collective life in the land of Israel.”

Blumenthal gives a convoluted answer that comes down to this: “There should be a choice placed to the settler-colonial population” (meaning the entire Jewish population of Israel): “Become indigenized,” that is, “you have to be part of the Arab world.” Or else …? “The maintenance and engineering of a non-indigenous demographic population is non-negotiable.”

This is sobering stuff and, as Goldberg, put it, “a chilling moment even for the anti-Zionists among us.”

The bottom line here is that the real debate about the Middle East is not between the so-called “Jewish establishment” and left-wing critics of Israel like the J Street lobby and writers like Alterman and Goldberg. Rather it is between anyone who recognizes that Jews have a right to a state and those who wish to see that state destroyed. The vitriolic nature of Blumenthal’s disingenuous responses (here and here) to criticisms from these left-wing writers is, in its own way, a mirror image of the way Palestinians and European anti-Zionists have raised the ante in the past two decades as the line between critiques of Israel and traditional Jew-hatred have been blurred. Suffice it to say that in Blumenthal’s world, anyone who believes in the Jewish right to a state even in a tiny slice of their ancient homeland is a fascist, a Nazi, or a fellow traveler.

This shows how the discussion of Israel has deteriorated in the last generation of peace processing. Instead of appeasing its critics, every move toward peace in which Israel has given up territory has only convinced its enemies that it can be portrayed as a thief that can be made to surrender stolen property. While some of Israel’s critics think that conception can be limited to the lands beyond the 1949 cease-fire lines, people like Blumenthal remind us that this is an illusion.

For 20 years since the Oslo Accords Israel tried to trade land for peace only to have each offer of statehood for the Palestinians be rejected. Despite the spin that is directed at the West by some Palestinians, their culture of hatred for Israel and the Jews has made it impossible for even their most “moderate” leaders to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. While Israel’s political thinking has shifted in this period to the point where even the supposedly “hard line” Benjamin Netanyahu has accepted a two-state solution, the Palestinians remain stuck in a time warp in which Fatah and Hamas compete for support based on their belligerency toward the Jews.

Unfortunately many American Jews are similarly stuck in the past and cling to the belief that Israel could entice the Palestinians to make peace via concessions. But rather than continuing to bang away at each other, as they have for a generation, the pro-Israel left and the pro-Israel right need to focus on the real opponent: the growing BDS (boycott, disinvest, sanction) movement that seeks to wage economic warfare on the Jewish state whose aim is its destruction and its allies.

Alterman and Goldberg may think that if only Netanyahu and the overwhelming majority of Israelis who have drawn logical conclusions from Oslo’s collapse would change their minds, peace would be possible. But they, like those on the right who see them and J Street as the real enemy, are wasting their time. The only argument that means anything in the post-Oslo era is between those who stand with Israel’s right to exist and those who oppose it. While Blumenthal’s despicable hate is deserving of every possible condemnation, he deserves our thanks for reminding us of this.

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Man-Made Disaster

It is, of course, axiomatic that George W. Bush was to blame for natural disasters that struck during his presidency. In the case of Hurricane Katrina, it goes without saying that Bush failed on three major fronts: First, he did not go back decades in time and demand construction of more resistant levies. Second, he did not force Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco to accept his offer of National Guard troops to help bail out New Orleans — when she refused, Bush didn’t invoke the Insurrection Act and invade a U.S. state. And third, as Al Gore helpfully pointed out, strong hurricanes are a more likely weather phenomenon when the U.S. ignores carbon-emissions warnings the way the Bush administration did.

And let’s not forget the wise words of one Kanye West, who, after the hurricane struck, told the country on national television, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”

An administration-defining, open-and-shut case if ever there was one.

But we didn’t know the half of it. As it turns out, Bush is also responsible for calamities occurring after his presidency. Mother Jones has the scoop on the master of natural disaster:

In the aftermath of September 11 and the Bush administration’s numerous adventures around the world, Haiti returned to its usual state of invisibility in Western eyes. Few people noticed a remarkable report that appeared in the New York Times in 2006, based in part on the analysis of former ambassador Brian Dean Curran, showing how US policy helped to destabalize [sic] Haiti in the years leading up to 2004, when Aristede was again forced out by armed rebels under an accused death squad leader. … For the most part, Europe and the United States have continued to sit by as Haiti has grown poorer and poorer. … It is hard to imagine what a magnitude 7 earthquake might do to a city that on any ordinary day already resembles a disaster area.

Max Blumenthal weighs in with a far more sober reflection on the tragedy. “Of course, the earthquake can’t be blamed on the so-called Washington consensus.” Of course, Max. Good of you to point it out.

Or not. “However,” he goes on,

the Haitian government’s inability to mount even a band-aid relief effort, combined with the fact that the decimated rural economy has overwhelmed Port-au-Prince with new residents, placing enormous stress on its already inadequate infrastructure and leading to the mass casualties we are witnessing, are factors directly linked to American meddling.

In 2004, when the national press corps failed to report the American hand in the coup that overthrew Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide, I embarked on a long and exhaustive investigative report on role of right-wing operatives in Washington and Haiti in toppling the government.

Don’t you love the self-congratulatory bit at the end there?  Through his evident grief for dead, maimed, and mourning Haitians, Blumenthal courageously forces himself to settle some personal scores. “Below the fold I have reprinted my piece for Salon.com, “The Other Regime Change” (which the NY Times’ Walt Bogdanovich basically plagiarized), in full.” Never let a crisis go to waste, and all that.

There is bound to be more of this stuff to follow. There is no cliff over which the liberal establishment will not follow the fringe. Some high-profile op-eds blaming Bush should be hitting the New York Times any day now, just in time to coincide with his and Bill Clinton’s joint-effort to help Haiti recover.

It is, of course, axiomatic that George W. Bush was to blame for natural disasters that struck during his presidency. In the case of Hurricane Katrina, it goes without saying that Bush failed on three major fronts: First, he did not go back decades in time and demand construction of more resistant levies. Second, he did not force Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco to accept his offer of National Guard troops to help bail out New Orleans — when she refused, Bush didn’t invoke the Insurrection Act and invade a U.S. state. And third, as Al Gore helpfully pointed out, strong hurricanes are a more likely weather phenomenon when the U.S. ignores carbon-emissions warnings the way the Bush administration did.

And let’s not forget the wise words of one Kanye West, who, after the hurricane struck, told the country on national television, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”

An administration-defining, open-and-shut case if ever there was one.

But we didn’t know the half of it. As it turns out, Bush is also responsible for calamities occurring after his presidency. Mother Jones has the scoop on the master of natural disaster:

In the aftermath of September 11 and the Bush administration’s numerous adventures around the world, Haiti returned to its usual state of invisibility in Western eyes. Few people noticed a remarkable report that appeared in the New York Times in 2006, based in part on the analysis of former ambassador Brian Dean Curran, showing how US policy helped to destabalize [sic] Haiti in the years leading up to 2004, when Aristede was again forced out by armed rebels under an accused death squad leader. … For the most part, Europe and the United States have continued to sit by as Haiti has grown poorer and poorer. … It is hard to imagine what a magnitude 7 earthquake might do to a city that on any ordinary day already resembles a disaster area.

Max Blumenthal weighs in with a far more sober reflection on the tragedy. “Of course, the earthquake can’t be blamed on the so-called Washington consensus.” Of course, Max. Good of you to point it out.

Or not. “However,” he goes on,

the Haitian government’s inability to mount even a band-aid relief effort, combined with the fact that the decimated rural economy has overwhelmed Port-au-Prince with new residents, placing enormous stress on its already inadequate infrastructure and leading to the mass casualties we are witnessing, are factors directly linked to American meddling.

In 2004, when the national press corps failed to report the American hand in the coup that overthrew Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide, I embarked on a long and exhaustive investigative report on role of right-wing operatives in Washington and Haiti in toppling the government.

Don’t you love the self-congratulatory bit at the end there?  Through his evident grief for dead, maimed, and mourning Haitians, Blumenthal courageously forces himself to settle some personal scores. “Below the fold I have reprinted my piece for Salon.com, “The Other Regime Change” (which the NY Times’ Walt Bogdanovich basically plagiarized), in full.” Never let a crisis go to waste, and all that.

There is bound to be more of this stuff to follow. There is no cliff over which the liberal establishment will not follow the fringe. Some high-profile op-eds blaming Bush should be hitting the New York Times any day now, just in time to coincide with his and Bill Clinton’s joint-effort to help Haiti recover.

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