New York Times readers found an unpleasant surprise on page A11 on Thursday. A full page advertisement by the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) attacked the Center for American Progress (CAP) and Media Matters as “anti-Israel” and listed the names and numbers of donor foundations whom they want readers to pressure into de-funding these groups. “The Center for American Progress and Media Matters claim to be in the liberal mainstream. But is being anti-Israel a liberal value?” blares the ad. Having worked at CAP for two years, I was surprised to see it characterized as “anti-Israel.”
But to understand the accusation you must first understand the players. ECI is not a group like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) that was founded by American Jews to marshal support for Israel across the American. ECI is a conservative group with a conservative agenda. Its founders are William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard and a former speechwriter for Dan Quayle; Gary Bauer, a Christian social conservative activist; and Rachel Abrams, a writer married to former Bush administration official Elliot Abrams. They are conservatives first and Zionists second. The ad turned out to be just their opening shot in a barrage of partisan attacks, mostly directed at President Obama, in the run up to his speech to AIPAC on Sunday. (To be fair, ECI presumably thinks that its agenda of driving a wedge between pro-Israel Americans versus President Obama and CAP is also ultimately in Israel’s best interest.)
CAP’s Think Progress blog and ECI have been attacking each other for months. Think Progress has noted Abrams’s penchant for using bigoted language when criticizing bisexuals and Palestinians, and that ECI executive director Noah Pollak initially praised President Obama for calling for Israel to make peace along the 1967 borders with land swaps before ECI joined the rest of the right in attacking Obama for it. (Pollak tells The Nation that he did not immediately appreciate some of the subtleties of how Obama was shifting US policy away from Israel and that he changed his views after reading an analysis of the speech.)
The strange thing about the ad is that it does not cite any actual statements or actions by either of its targets. Rather, it collects quotes from various Jewish organizations that appear to be critical of CAP and Media Matters. Several of those quoted, though, including journalist Spencer Ackerman, the American Jewish Committee and Alan Dershowitz, said they were displeased to be included in the ad and they should not be presumed to support its content.
I asked Pollak why ECI chose to use quotes criticizing CAP and Media Matters rather than objective evidence of any bias against Israel in their work. He offered to send me such evidence, but the articles he passed along simply cited the same accusatory quotes used in the ad and reported on the controversy.