The Return of the Smear Bund

The tale of the DC Five – the five Beltway bloggers at two prominent Democratic Washington thinktanks who have been smacked down (and one fired) for being insufficiently pro-Israel – is hardly a shock to those who know their history. But before we get into that, a few details on what is only the latest chapter in the story of how the War Party operates in this country.

The DC Five are Matt Duss, Ali Gharib, Eli Clifton and Zaid Jilani, bloggers at the Center for American Progress group blog, ThinkProgress, and former AIPAC employee MJ Rosenberg who currently writes for Media Matters. The Washington Post details the charges against them:

“The Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank closely aligned with the White House, is embroiled in a dispute with several major Jewish organizations over statements on Israel and charges that some center staffers have used anti-Semitic language to attack pro-Israel Americans.

“… Among the points of contention are several Twitter posts by one CAP writer on his personal account referring to “Israel-firsters.” Some experts say the phrase has its roots in the anti-Semitic charge that American Jews are more loyal to a foreign country. In another case, a second staffer described a U.S. senator as showing more fealty to the prime U.S. pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, than to his own constituents, replacing a standard identifier of party affiliation and state with “R-AIPAC” on his personal Twitter account. The first writer has since left the staff.”

The campaign to purge CAP was apparently launched by one Josh Block, an analyst at the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), a Beltway thinktank whose progressivism is largely measured by their enthusiasm as we “progress” to a state of permanent war. This self-appointed arbiter of political correctness has certain standards we all had better abide by, as he told Politico:

“As a progressive Democrat, I am convinced that on issues as important as the US-Israel alliance and the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program, there is no room for uncivil discourse or name calling, like ‘Israel Firster or ‘Likudnik’, and policy or political rhetoric that is hostile to Israel, or suggests that Iran has no nuclear weapons program, has no place in the mainstream Democratic party discourse. I also believe that when it occurs, progressive institutions, have a responsibility not to tolerate such speech or arguments.”

So let’s get this straight: there is “no room” among those engaging in “civil discourse” to in any way cast doubt on the proposition that Iran has an active nuclear weapons program: to even suggest such a thing is prima facie proof of “anti-Semitism.”

Glenn Greenwald tears this nonsense to pieces here: it’s an admirable piece, rich with detail and electric with indignation, but I have to say I can’t quite get as exercised by all this as Glenn does. After all, smearing opponents of whatever war we’re currently engaged in as “anti-Semites” is hardly a new phenomenon.

Indeed, practically every major war we’ve fought since World War II has witnessed identical accusations hurled at anti-interventionists. Before, during, and even after World War II, opponents of US intervention in the European war were routinely smeared as proponents of Nazism. The antiwar writer and former New Republic columnist John T. Flynn detected a pattern in the activities of the pro-war groups, which were well-funded and relentless: he called them the “Smear Bund” because they specialized in tarring war opponents with the Nazi brush. Right up to today, the biggest antiwar movement in American history – the America First Committee, which had a membership of 800,000 – and which opposed US entry into World War II is widely considered to have been a pro-Nazi anti-Semitic organization, a lie that has long outlived its pro-Communist and pro-British perpetrators.

While opponents of the Korean “police action” and the Vietnam disaster were regularly denounced as pro-Communists and “fellow travelers,” the “anti-Semite” canard gained new currency in the run-up to the first Gulf War. When Patrick J. Buchanan attributed the beating of war drums to “Israel’s amen corner,” he was attacked by both the right and the left as a hate criminal for daring to point out what was patently true: that the pro-Israel lobby in the US was pushing hard for “regime change” in Iraq. The same “Israel first” crowd was leading the charge in the months prior to George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, only this time the “anti-Semitic” charge was pushed even harder. Andrew Sullivan claimed The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion was being peddled at antiwar demonstrations. As fanatically pro-Israel neoconservatives pushed their war agenda, in part, to “ensure Israel’s position,” as Gen. Anthony Zinni put it, the War Party used the “anti-Semitism” charge as a toxic meme to discredit war opponents.

The Post piece singles out the phrase “Israel-firsters” and a blog post by Eli Clifton entitled “AIPAC’s Iran Strategy on Sanctions Mirrors Mimics Run-Up to Iraq War Tactics” as indicative of the crimes of the DC Five. Attacking a statement from more than 90 US Senators calling for draconian sanctions to be placed on Iraq’s central bank, and the subsequent hailing of this by AIPAC, Clifton noted that such a move would be in itself an act of war:

“But that doesn’t seem to bother AIPAC. Indeed, they’ve been down this sanctions road once before before the invasion of Iraq. In June, Robert Dreyfuss interviewed former AIPAC senior Iran analyst Keith Weissman who offered details of how its allies in the Bush administration pushed the allegation that Saddam Hussein was in league with al Qaeda.”

Let’s stop here, for station identification: Weissman, formerly AIPAC’s top Iran analyst, was indicted along with AIPAC’s top lobbyist, Steve Rosen, for committing espionage against the United States for the benefit of Israel. The duo was busted after not one but two FBI raids on AIPAC’s posh Washington headquarters. However, the case ground to a halt when the defense, in effect, greymailed the government into dropping legal proceedings by insisting on the release of highly classified information as part and parcel of their clients getting a “fair trial.” As it was, there was no trial, and neither Rosen nor Weissman was ever cleared of the charges. The Rosen-Weissman tag team had been milking Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin for all the classified information they could lay their hands on, and funneling it to Israeli government officials: when the FBI came to Franklin’s door, they found a treasure trove of top secret documents in his home going back many years. Sneaking around Washington, the traitorous trio met on dark street corners and held meetings in out of the way restaurants, changing venues regularly for fear of being followed. They were caught anyway, and the FBI – having snagged and “turned” Franklin first – lured the conspirators into a well-laid trap, which was sprung just as the two AIPAC officials thought they were reeling in a really big fish – top secret information promised them by Franklin, who was wearing a wire.

Having established the context, let us proceed with Clifton’s blog post:

“More importantly, Weissman discusses AIPAC’s plans for ultimately bringing regime change in Iran. Dreyfuss writes:

“’Weissman says that Iran was alarmed at the possibility that the United States might engage in overt and covert efforts to instigate opposition inside Iran. He says that many in AIPAC, especially among its lay leadership and biggest donors, strongly backed regime change in Iran. ‘That was what Larry [Franklin] and his friends wanted,’ he says. ‘It included lots of different parts, like broadcasts, giving money to groups that would conduct sabotage, it included bringing the Mojahedin[-e Khalgh], bringing them out of Iraq and letting them go back to Iran to carry out missions for the United States. Harold Rhode backed this…. There were all these guys, Michael Ledeen, ‘Next stop Tehran, next stop Damascus.’”

Clifton then goes on to note: “Indeed, as shown in the AIPAC press release, Iran is now the target of similar sanctions and bellicose rhetoric similar to those that targeted Iraq in the late 1990s and early 2000s.” He also notes AIPAC’s cozy relationship with the Saudis, saying they welcomed sanctions on Iranian oil because it would drive up the price of the Kingdom’s petroleum exports. Weissman recalls:

“Prince Bandar used to send us messages. I used to meet with Adel al-Jubeir a couple times a year. Adel used to joke that if we could force an American embargo on Iranian oil, he’d buy us all Mercedes! Because Saudi [Arabia] would have had the excess capacity to make up for Iran at that time.”

Here we have someone who spied on the US on behalf of Israel giving us the inside scoop on the Israel Lobby’s machinations around the issue of war with Iran. What could be clearer than the testimony of this veteran fifth columnist, who — for whatever reason — has come clean about Israel’s campaign to drag us into war with Iran? This is the real reason for the Israel Lobby’s phony outrage at CAP and its heavy-handed tactics of suppression. They don’t want the American people to know that the Lobby is doing everything in its power to provoke war with Iran – a natural function of its role as the Israeli government’s Washington mouthpiece. Clifton’s citing of Weissman hit a particularly sensitive spot, and that’s no doubt what had the Lobby howling: even mentioning Israel’s extensive covert activities in the US, including aggressive technology theft as well as traditional spying, is considered prima facie evidence of “anti-Semitism” by the Lobby.

Oh, but don’tcha know it’s a hate crime to even use the term “Israel-firster? It is because Eli Lake says so: You see, Eli — prodigy that he is— has traced the terminological origins of this phrase, and discovered that Willis Carto, nut-job extraordinaire, was supposedly the first to use it. So even if you’ve never heard of Carto, and are as Jewish as M.J. Rosenberg, you’re still an “anti-Semite” if you use it. (Naturally Jamie Kirchick, self-proclaimed “homosexual warrior” and lately an “analyst” at the ultra-Likudnik Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, re-tweeted Lake’s “discovery.”)

We aren’t allowed to say Iran gave up its nuclear program in 2003, just like the US intelligence community said in its National Intelligence Estimate on the subject (don’t you know the CIA is full of “anti-Semites”?): we aren’t allowed to say that people who passed classified data to Israeli officials are “Israel-firsters,” not even if they are named Jonathan Pollard. The reason is because these are “toxic” themes which are” corrosive and unacceptable,” according to Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, denounced the writings of the DC Five as “anti-Semitic and borderline anti-Semitic.” Jason Isaacson, of the American Jewish Committee, averred:

“For any serious policy center there are certain lines of fairness and objectivity and good sense that should not be crossed, and yet, disturbingly, those lines have regularly been crossed.”

You’re not Serious if you fail to give Israel and its American partisans a free pass: once you “cross the line,” you’re relegated to the fever swamps of “anti-Semitism” and “extremism” – oh, and by way, the very real extremism of fanatic Zionists is also never to be mentioned by Serious People. Giving this regime of strict thought control an academic imprimatur, the Post article cites one Jeffrey Herf, a historian at the University of Maryland, “who has published books on anti-Semitism” (impressive!) and who says:

“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.’”

Well then, that settles it: we have a college professor who says poor little Israel is being “singled out” for “unfair” and quite possibly bigoted criticism, and is subjected (by bigots) to a standard not applied to other countries. We have Josh Block, who thinks anyone doubting the “evidence” for Iran’s alleged nuke program is a Hitlerite; Abe Foxman, who sees anti-Semites everywhere; and last, but hardly least, Jamie Kirchick, who used to work for – and regularly defend – an editor who routinely compared Arabs to “animals.” All these sterling examples of human virtue and politically correct righteousness are telling the White House it’s time for a purge at the Center for American Progress. And, guess what – they are getting their wish.

The DC Five have been muzzled: CAP management has clamped down on the ThinkProgress blog. You’ll find no more talk of “Israel-firsters” there – because the Israel-firsters don’t want to be identified as such. Being foreign agents, they prefer to operate under cover of night: but they’ll gladly execute their enemies in broad daylight, if need be, in order to make an example.

This they have certainly done in the case of the DC Five: they’ve shown that any thinktank close to the White House must be “purified” of elements whose loyalty to the “special relationship” is in doubt. The White House, according to the Post, was horrified by the reports from the complainers, and no doubt laid down the law to CAP. The Post reports Ken Gude, chief of staff and vice president for CAP, saying:

“We have a zero-tolerance policy for racism, sexism, anti-Semitism or any form of discrimination,” Gude wrote. He said CAP has adopted a new policy requiring staffers to adhere to professional standards on Twitter. In addition, Zaid Jilani, the author of the ‘Israel-firster’ tweets, apologized and left CAP’s staff in recent days to take another job. Jilani could not be reached for comment.”

“Professional standards” = no criticism of Israel. That’s the Washington thinktank rule, and you break it at your peril.

For the Smear Bund, it’s always 1939, and the Eternal Enemy is always “Hitler,” or an unreasonable facsimile thereof. If you oppose their war agenda, then you’re an “anti-Semite,” plain and simple. They been using these tactics for many years– even bending the language to suit their propagandistic purposes.

Where else do you think the term “isolationist” came from? “Anti-Semitism” used to mean hatred of Jews per se, for being Jews: today it has morphed into “disproportionate criticism” of Israel. If you don’t denounce every violent act ever perpetrated by Arabs in the same breath you critique Israel’s policy of subjecting Palestinians to conditions of helotry, then you’re spreading “hatred,” according to the learned Prof. Herf. Whether this means that every criticism of, say, Saddam Hussein’s atrocities ought to have been accompanied by denunciations of war crimes perpetrated by Americans, I’ll leave that as an open question: somehow, however, I suspect that isn’t what Prof. Herf means.

The Smear Bund has always been with us, and it will continue to be there, looking over our shoulder and parsing our words for thought-crimes, unto eternity. Indeed, I expect to hear from them shortly that anyone who advocates peace, under any circumstances, is an “anti-Semite” and a “conspiracy theorist” who deserves to be banished to intellectual Coventry for their crimes.

As we approach a state of war with Iran, this tired old accusation is going to be hauled out and pushed with renewed zeal. The Isra-bots will “argue” that since Iran represents an “existential threat” to Israel’s very existence, anyone who opposes a war with Tehran is calling for a replay of the Holocaust. If you’re for peace, and see no vital US interest in going to war with Iran, well then you’re a “Holocaust-denier.” And, hey, didn’t Willis Carto “invent” the term “Israel-firster”? Why, how dare you advocate a policy of non-intervention – what are you, some kind of Nazi? When the price of oil quadruples as US warplanes bomb Tehran, don’t even think of complaining – unless you want to be tagged as an “anti-Semite.” And if you’re caught wondering what we are doing fighting Israel’s wars, at great cost to our own interests – well then, don’t even think about working for the Center for American Progress, or, indeed, any “serious” thinktank.

Israel’s lobby in the US is reflexively defensive, and covertly authoritarian: they can’t afford to have an open discussion of our “special relationship” with Israel — and Israel’s sick relationship with its Arab helots – and so must resort to silencing their opponents. The case of the DC Five is meant to sow fear among the policy analysts and thinktankers who inhabit the Washington Beltway: “do not cross the line,” they are telling them – and the closer we get to war with Iran, the faster the boundaries of the impermissible are growing. There is a method to this madness: it is a preemptive strike aimed at opponents of US intervention, and on the left as well as the right it is turning out to be quite effective.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].