Jeffrey Goldberg pushes false neocon smear scrubbed by Washington Post

For nearly a month, a group of foreign policy researcher-bloggers at the Center for American Progress (CAP), an influential liberal think tank based in Washington DC, have faced an unrelenting smear campaign. The smears, initiated by former AIPAC spokesman Josh Block, focused on a few sardonic tweets by CAP bloggers that raised the ire of the pro-Israel and neoconservative political community. One tweet that included the term "Israel Firster" received special attention.

"This kind of demagoguery, anti-Israel invective, and in some cases actual hate speech, is absolutely wrong whether it comes from the extreme Right or Left, and like cancer, it has to be cut out before it metastasizes and destroys the whole body," Block complained to Jennifer Rubin, a neoconservative columnist for The Washington Post who has accused CAP of "anti-Semitism" and who was recently scolded by the paper's ombudsman for endorsing a screed advocating the slaughter of Palestinians.

Block's campaign was transparently designed to force the Democratic establishment to disown a group of researchers who had generated an effective and factually solid counter narrative to the case for a military strike on Iran. And it was well orchestrated, receiving robust and sustained amplification from the right-wing of the pro-Israel community. By January 19, after a who's who of neoconservative writers and right-leaning Jewish American groups called for the firing of the researchers, and weeks after the small handful of "controversial" tweets had been deleted and apologized for, the smears graduated onto the pages of The Washington Post.

A report by Washington Post staff writer Peter Wallsten summarized the attacks on CAP in a relatively uncritical fashion. In the original edition of the story (uploaded here to Josh Block's Scribd account), Wallsten featured remarks by Jeffrey Herf, whom he presented as an academic expert on anti-Semitism:

"Israel Firsters" is a point of disagreement.CAP officials and the think tank's critics agree that the term is over the line. University of Maryland historian Jeffrey Herf, who has published books on anti-Semitism, said the phrase represented a "classic theme of modern anti-Semitism." He said the suggestion of Jewish "dual loyalty," along with the accusation that AIPAC was pushing for war with Iran, hearkened back to the early days of World War II, when certain people accused the U.S. government of entering the war as a response to powerful Jewish interests.

"This kind of nonsense is all over the place on the Internet," Herf said. "The fact that some of this is showing up on the Center for American Progress Web site makes it important."

In a lengthy blog post at the Atlantic, former Israeli prison guard Jeffrey Goldberg reproduced The Washington Post's Herf quote to buttress his attempts to prove that the term "Israel Firster" -- an accusation he faces with increasing frequency -- is anti-Semitic, and that the bloggers at CAP and a wide array of critics of Israel might therefore be driven by the irrational hatred of Jews.

Unfortunately for The Washington Post and Goldberg, Herf's statement was utterly false: The term "Israel Firster" never appeared on CAP's website as he claimed -- it appeared in a small handful of Tweets out of a body of thousands published on the personal Twitter account of a blogger, Zaid Jilani, who recently quit the think tank. Further, Herf is not an academically recognized expert on anti-Semitism. He has published two books on Nazi propaganda; his University of Maryland bio states that Herf "specializ[es] in twentieth century Germany."

In 2006, Herf joined a clique of hawkish neoliberal intellectuals to draft the Euston Manifesto, a full-throated endorsement of George W. Bush's "war on terror" which claimed the Islamic Republic of Iran sought to carry out "a second Holocaust." More recently, Herf joined Alan Dershowitz, Caroline Glick, John Bolton, Joe Lieberman and other ideologues as a talking head in the right-wing pro-Israel propaganda documentary, "Unmasked: Judeophobia and the Threat to Civilization." In leveling false innuendo at CAP and its employees, Herf apparently allowed his ideological zealotry to get the best of him.

Soon after Herf's quote appeared in Wallsten's article, it quickly and mysterious disappeared from the href=http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/center-for-america-progress-group-tied-to-obama-accused-of-anti-semitic-language/2012/01/17/gIQAcrHXAQ_print.html>article's online version -- and with no acknowledgement by Wallsten or the Post's editors. The quiet scrubbing of the quote seemed like a tacit admission by The Washington Post that the two aforementioned points were true: Herf's statement was false, and Herf was not an academically credible or intellectually objective scholar of anti-Semitism. The task of explaining why the paper's editors did not require Wallsten to publicly acknowledge the erroneous statement's removal might ultimately fall to Washington Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton. Goldberg, for his part, still features the disappeared, discredited quote on his blog (and the link Goldberg provides to The Washington Post article does not even work).

Curiously, Herf gave voice to attacks on CAP before he was quoted by The Washington Post. On December 28, Herf featured prominently in a hit piece published at the right-wing Jerusalem Post by neoconservative activist Benjamin Weinthal. Weinthal's article included a segment that read almost like a mimeograph of the passage that had mysteriously disappeared from Wallsten's article:

In a telephone conversation with the Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, University of Maryland historian Jeffrey Herf, who has authored books on anti-Semitism, said the phrase “Israel firsters” is “dangerous.” The notion of “Israel firsters” “delegitimizes support for Israel” and stokes the “dual-loyalty” charge against American Jews, he said.

The dual-loyalty conspiracy theory existed on “the far Left and far Right of American politics but has not yet seeped into the center of American politics,” Herf said.

Instead of performing a diligent search for a credible, academically renowned scholar of anti-Semitism, Wallsten apparently poached his source from Weinthal, a neocon zealot who has spent weeks crusading against CAP's foreign policy research team. If Wallsten did not share Weinthal's ulterior ideological motives, he was incredibly lazy.

Though Weinthal poses as a "correspondent" for the Jerusalem Post, he is in fact a research fellow for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), an ultra-hawkish think tank at the center
of the push
for American military intervention in Iran.

Underlining the incestuous right-wing nature of the smear campaign against CAP, another FDD fellow, James Kirchick, took to the Israeli daily Haaretz to accuse Jilani and other left-wing writers of parroting the rhetoric of the long-deceased anti-Semitic conspiracist Willis Carto by using the term “Israel firster” (I’m sure Jilani was cutting and pasting Carto’s old newsletters directly into his Twitter postings). Meanwhile, Kirchick oversaw an off-the-record email listserv called the Freedom Community that provided a private forum for neoconservative activists and writers to devise strategy and talking points. Josh Block, a Freedom Community member, initiated the smear campaign against CAP by shopping his trove of “research” to fellow email list members, who then disseminated the information in the form of op-eds and blog posts.

FDD’s leadership bears a longstanding grudge against the CAP bloggers it is now targeting. CAP researcher Eli Clifton, who produced a damaging report on href=http://thinkprogress.org/security/2011/07/19/271431/fdd-donors/>FDD's funding sources and who reported that the Islamophobic mass killer Anders Breivik href=http://thinkprogress.org/security/2011/07/25/278677/islamophobic-right-wing-blogger-breivi/>cited FDD in his manifesto, is a particular nuisance to the think tank. FDD also has an axe to grind with Ali Gharib, who revealed in December 2010 (before CAP hired him) that FDD held a fundraiser at the Pakistani ambassador to the US’s house without bothering to tell the embassy it was hosting a hawkish conference on Iran where money was raised for FDD. Given the damaging stories Clifton and Gharib produced about FDD, is there any wonder the think tank provided encouragement and promotion for Weinthal and Kirchick's attacks?

While Weinthal and Kirchick launched their attacks from the shores of the neocon right, Jeffrey Goldberg waded into the campaign against CAP under the cover of mainstream Beltway respectability. In his bid to legitimize the smears, however, Goldberg (who has deceptively accused me of "quote fabrication") wound up hanging his argument on an erroneous quote that has since been scrubbed by its original source. Unless he is comfortable hosting a false and now non-existent quote on his blog, Goldberg might consider issuing a correction.

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