Commentary Magazine


Topic: MJ Rosenberg

The Casual Smearing of a Conservative

Anyone who follows the criticism of the “Israel Lobby” hears the constant refrain that the worst thing about these pro-Israel groups is that they supposedly seek to silence their critics, hurt them financially, and ruin their careers. Longtime Israel critic and former Media Matters staffer M.J. Rosenberg is one such complainant, who took the accusation far enough to compare the Jewish Federations of North America—a philanthropic group primarily concerned with getting food and medicine to Jews in need here and around the world—to the worst tendencies of Joe McCarthy.

But it turns out that Rosenberg is actually a full-throated supporter of using people’s political opinions to render them silenced and unemployed–as long as it’s not anyone Rosenberg is friends with. Rosenberg has initiated a movement to get the Guardian to fire new columnist Josh Treviño before Treviño’s first column appears. (The Guardian’s decision to hire Treviño in the first place was one of the smartest decisions the paper has made.) That is, Rosenberg disagrees with Treviño’s views (more on that in a moment), and would like to be responsible for doing to Treviño what he has always regarded as reprehensible and undemocratic (Rosenberg usually uses slightly less diplomatic language, of course). This morning, Rosenberg tweeted this:

PROTEST Guardian hiring of White Supremacist Josh Treviño. Email woman who hired him. janine.gibson@guardian.co.uk

Now, Treviño is Hispanic, a vocal supporter of Latino immigration to the U.S., a critic of anti-immigration politicians, and was recently vice president of communications at a free-market-oriented think tank, so it’s safe to say he has worked pretty hard make the conservative movement more—not less—open to and inclusive toward racial minorities. So the casual smear from Rosenberg is quite clearly the opposite of the truth. (Treviño’s only geographical bias, as anyone who follows him on Twitter is aware, is in favor of the great state of Texas.)

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Anyone who follows the criticism of the “Israel Lobby” hears the constant refrain that the worst thing about these pro-Israel groups is that they supposedly seek to silence their critics, hurt them financially, and ruin their careers. Longtime Israel critic and former Media Matters staffer M.J. Rosenberg is one such complainant, who took the accusation far enough to compare the Jewish Federations of North America—a philanthropic group primarily concerned with getting food and medicine to Jews in need here and around the world—to the worst tendencies of Joe McCarthy.

But it turns out that Rosenberg is actually a full-throated supporter of using people’s political opinions to render them silenced and unemployed–as long as it’s not anyone Rosenberg is friends with. Rosenberg has initiated a movement to get the Guardian to fire new columnist Josh Treviño before Treviño’s first column appears. (The Guardian’s decision to hire Treviño in the first place was one of the smartest decisions the paper has made.) That is, Rosenberg disagrees with Treviño’s views (more on that in a moment), and would like to be responsible for doing to Treviño what he has always regarded as reprehensible and undemocratic (Rosenberg usually uses slightly less diplomatic language, of course). This morning, Rosenberg tweeted this:

PROTEST Guardian hiring of White Supremacist Josh Treviño. Email woman who hired him. janine.gibson@guardian.co.uk

Now, Treviño is Hispanic, a vocal supporter of Latino immigration to the U.S., a critic of anti-immigration politicians, and was recently vice president of communications at a free-market-oriented think tank, so it’s safe to say he has worked pretty hard make the conservative movement more—not less—open to and inclusive toward racial minorities. So the casual smear from Rosenberg is quite clearly the opposite of the truth. (Treviño’s only geographical bias, as anyone who follows him on Twitter is aware, is in favor of the great state of Texas.)

Rosenberg also tweeted this: “Treviño is every Jew’s nightmare.Protest to Guardian. Creepy white racist.” In fact, one of the reasons people like Rosenberg and some of his more viciously anti-Zionist allies in this crusade against Treviño—like Ali Abunimah, whose site has gleefully compared Jews to Nazis—is that Treviño is not only an admirer, though not a practitioner, of the Jewish faith, but he’s also a staunch, unapologetic defender of Israel. And here we get to the crux of the “fire Treviño” bandwagon.

Treviño was among the vast majority of Americans to stand up for Israel’s right of self-defense against the “flotilla” movement seeking to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza. Since the first such flotilla included a terrorist-funded boat full of armed extremists who tried to kill Israeli soldiers, Treviño was on fairly solid ground here—and most Americans felt the same way.

You can agree or disagree with Israel’s blockade—which even the United Nations declared was legal—but Treviño held a majority opinion (at least in the United States) and has nothing to apologize for. The totalitarian-minded mob that wants Treviño blacklisted for expressing conservative views on politics and broadly mainstream views on Israel has been gaining steam on Twitter and other social media platforms.

It is a movement that seeks to do harm to the Guardian and its reputation by bullying one of the most widely read newspapers in the world into submission. The Guardian, one hopes, will stand on principle even if they do not agree with all of Treviño’s views. That is the purpose of a free press in a free society. Based on the overall reaction to Treviño’s addition to the Guardian, the paper has already earned many new readers simply by signaling it would be a more inclusive newspaper with a wider range of opinion. As for Rosenberg and Co., they have finally unmasked themselves not as McCarthy’s foils, but as his heirs.

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Why Has J Street Defended Media Matters?

Back when the “Israel-Firsters” controversy first started to get picked up by major newspapers, J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami spoke to the Washington Post and defended Media Matters and Think Progress staffers who used the dual-loyalty charge.

“If the charge is that you’re putting the interests of another country before the interests of the United States in the way you would advocate that, it’s a legitimate question,” he told the Post.

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Back when the “Israel-Firsters” controversy first started to get picked up by major newspapers, J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami spoke to the Washington Post and defended Media Matters and Think Progress staffers who used the dual-loyalty charge.

“If the charge is that you’re putting the interests of another country before the interests of the United States in the way you would advocate that, it’s a legitimate question,” he told the Post.

Ben Ami is obviously no stranger to controversy, and by now he’s probably used to catching flack from the Jewish community. But the public condemnation in this instance was so swift and forceful that Ben Ami felt the need to rush out a clearly-panicked apology and weak clarification of his comments just hours after the article was published.

“I agree that the use of the term ‘Israel Firster’ is a bad choice of words. The conspiracy theory that American Jews have dual loyalty is just that, a conspiracy theory and must be refuted in the strongest possible way,” conceded Ben Ami, before urging the American Jewish community to stop debating the subject and focus on other issues.

The whole quote-and-recantation dance wasn’t exactly a surprise, considering J Street’s unlucky history with public relations. But the comments Ben Ami made to the Post were so wildly tone-deaf, so offensive, so far-off from reality – and in an interview he had no real obligation to give – that it was hard to imagine why he would ever make them in the first place.

So why do it? The Daily Caller reports on a funding overlap between J Street and Media Matters that raises one intriguing idea:

A source told The DC that [liberal philanthropist Bill] Benter donated to Media Matters, at least in part, so the liberal organization could bring MJ Rosenberg on board as its foreign policy voice.

Rosenberg has become a lightning rod for questioning the loyalty of American supporters of Israel by calling them “Israel-Firsters,” and for taking other radical positions. Alan Dershowitz, the liberal Harvard Law School professor, has denounced him in a series of recent interviews and articles, saying that Rosenberg’s rhetoric and ideas are similar to what neo-Nazi and pro-Hezbollah websites offer.

Bill Benter is the wealthy horse-better who helped financially prop up J Street when it was first getting off the ground. He also reportedly solicited over $800,000 in J Street contributions through a mysterious Hong Kong frontwoman named Consolacion Esdicul.

J Street didn’t return a call for comment about its current association with Benter today. But if Benter did specifically fund MJ Rosenberg’s position at Media Matters, it raises questions about whether this connection had anything to do with Ben Ami inserting himself into the controversy and initially defending Rosenberg’s indefensible dual-loyalty smears. Of course, J Street is the only group that would have the answer to that, and until they respond to requests for comment, it’s impossible to know for sure.

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Media Matters’ Worst Nightmare?

If you’ve been keeping up with Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, you know he’s recently been battering President Obama for his association with the anti-Israel group Media Matters. While Dershowitz is a Democrat who supported Obama in 2008, he’s demanded the president cut ties with the left-wing media watchdog group, whose writers have made anti-Semitic remarks.

Today, Dershowitz took it a step further, promising to turn the issue into an election matter during an interview with WABC’s Aaron Klein (via BuzzFeed):

Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, a leading Democratic lawyer who takes a hawkish line on Israel, has declared a personal war on the liberal group Media Matters, which has branched out into sharp criticism of Israel.

“Not only will [the Media Matters controversy] be an election matter, I will personally make it an election matter,” Dershowitz, a professor at Harvard Law School, told WABC’s Aaron Klein today. …

“I don’t know whether President Obama has any idea that Media Matters has turned the corner against Israel in this way,” he said. “I can tell you this, he will know very shortly because I am beginning a serious campaign on this issue and I will not let it drop until and unless [writer and activist MJ] Rosenberg is fired from Media Matters, or Media Matters changes its policy or the White House disassociates itself from Media Matters.”

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If you’ve been keeping up with Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, you know he’s recently been battering President Obama for his association with the anti-Israel group Media Matters. While Dershowitz is a Democrat who supported Obama in 2008, he’s demanded the president cut ties with the left-wing media watchdog group, whose writers have made anti-Semitic remarks.

Today, Dershowitz took it a step further, promising to turn the issue into an election matter during an interview with WABC’s Aaron Klein (via BuzzFeed):

Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, a leading Democratic lawyer who takes a hawkish line on Israel, has declared a personal war on the liberal group Media Matters, which has branched out into sharp criticism of Israel.

“Not only will [the Media Matters controversy] be an election matter, I will personally make it an election matter,” Dershowitz, a professor at Harvard Law School, told WABC’s Aaron Klein today. …

“I don’t know whether President Obama has any idea that Media Matters has turned the corner against Israel in this way,” he said. “I can tell you this, he will know very shortly because I am beginning a serious campaign on this issue and I will not let it drop until and unless [writer and activist MJ] Rosenberg is fired from Media Matters, or Media Matters changes its policy or the White House disassociates itself from Media Matters.”

Dershowitz launched his campaign today with a column denouncing Media Matters’ use of the term “Israel Firster” in the New York Daily News. The law professor has successfully battled left-wing anti-Israel groups in the past, including J Street. Here’s what Dershowitz had to say about J Street during a debate with its president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, last year:

“The reason you have to attack me is very simple: I am J Street’s nightmare. Let me tell you why. Because I am a liberal Democratic Jew who strongly opposes the settlements, who strongly favors a two-state solution, who supports Obama, who supports Hillary Clinton, who supports Petraeus, but who does not support J Street. You have to create the illusion that everybody against J Street is a member of the right, and is part of the Sarah Palin-Rush Limbaugh group. And you can’t explain me.”

A vocal campaign against Media Matters, especially if it includes other prominent Democrats in the Jewish community, could cause major problems for Media Matters and increase pressure on Obama to distance himself from the group.

But it will also be a test of whether Democrats are willing to call out anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing within their own ranks. After former AIPAC spokesman Josh Block criticized Media Matters staffers for making anti-Semitic comments late last year, the Truman Institute cut its association with him, claiming Block was trying to shut down “honest debate.” Will Democratic Party institutions side with Dershowitz on this issue? Or will they continue to stay silent on the uncomfortable but very real Israel problem at Media Matters?

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