Middle East studies in the News
Why Did Diane Rehm Fall For An Anti-Semitic Hoax? [incl. Juan Cole]
by David Bernstein
NPR talk show host Diane Rehm had the following exchange yesterday with Senator Bernard Sanders:
After Sanders noted that he knows that there is a lot of nonsense circulating on the Internet, Rehm pressed on, "Are there members of Congress who do have dual citizenship or is that part of the fable?"
Rehm later explained that she found the list in question in a Facebook comment. CNN today explains how it all came about:
Now that can't be all that there is to it, because Rehm also alluded to a list of Congressmen with dual citizenship; one assumes that Couture did a Google search to verify the question, and found such a list. Unfortunately, the only such lists on the Internet come from its darker corners, falsely that various prominent American Jewish political figures are dual Israeli citizens. (In the CNN piece, an NPR spokesperson says that Couture found an article about dual citizens in Congress, but the only articles on that theme that readily come up are about alleged Jewish dual citizens of Israel.)
That's not to say it wasn't an innocent mistake, but it does raise the question of why both Couture and Rehm fell for an anti-Semitic hoax.
For the answer, I think we need to look at what passes for "mainstream" discourse in circles that are highly critical of Israel and its American supporters.
Consider that in 2005, when he was perhaps the most influential progressive commenter on the Middle East, University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole wrote this of Bush Administration official Doug Feith: "Having a Likudnik as the number three man in the Pentagon is a nightmare for American national security, since Feith could never be trusted to put US interests over those of Ariel Sharon." Feith, according to Cole, "played fast and loose with the truth ... on behalf of on behalf of a non-American political party, the Likud coalition of Israel."
Or go back to 2007, when Yale University professor David Bromwich took an innocuous statement by Elliott Abrams to the effect that Jews, as a minority religion bound by a unique covenant, stand somewhat apart from the rest of society unless they live in Israel, and claimed that Abrams had written that Israel is a "country with which he confessed himself uniquely at one," an interpretation that it's hard to believe a professor of English could come up with honestly.
Or consider from 2012 the willingness of several prominent liberal bloggers to call American supporters of Israel "Israel-firsters," and, in some cases, to continue to defend doing so even after it was revealed that the term had migrated from "white nationalist" sites to the "progressive" anti-Zionist left.
Then consider that since Bernie Sanders announced he was running for president, he has been pilloried on a variety of "progressive" websites such as this one for not holding "progressive" views on Israel, i.e., for not being hostile to Israel. The (false) assumption is that someone on the left would naturally be anti-Israel, unless he had some ulterior motive.
Given this context, in which it's become acceptable on a wide swath of the left to question the motivations of Jews who support Israel, and in which it's considered anomalous for a strong progressive to be at all sympathetic to Israel (and Sanders is both sympathetic and often quite critical), I don't find it entirely shocking that a website listing Sanders and other prominent Jews as Israeli citizens didn't strike Rehm and her staff as inherently ridiculous.
Note that I'm not suggesting that Rehm herself is hostile to Jews in any way. In fact, the opposite may very well be true; in educated American mainstream liberal circles, the level of anti-Semitism is quite low, which can lower can lower the "immune system" of liberals like Rehm when real anti-Semitism pops up. Even the individuals noted above–Cole, Bromwich, etc.–likely have nothing against Jews, per se; they just are hostile to Israel or at least its current policies.
As a result, in some cases they don't mind playing on age-old anti-Semitic themes to advance their agenda. In other cases, they are so certain that their negative views of Israel are correct that they truly can't believe that anyone would disagree with them unless they were blinded by loyalty to Israel. When they make what might otherwise seem to be scurrilous accusation, they are not being disingenuous.
In any event, strange accusations about supporters of Israel, especially Jewish supporters, have become sufficiently commonplace that what should have seemed like an obvious anti-Semitic hoax didn't ring any alarm bells.
UPDATE: Another one from the archives: Joe Klein accusing "Jewish neconservatives" of putting Israel's interests before those of the United States.
Meanwhile, Josh Marshall isn't impressed with Rehm's apology, which he describe as BS.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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