Israeli media has blared headlines over the past three days charging UK MP Jack Straw with making anti-Semitic statements during a Global Diplomatic Forum held in the Houses of Parliament. The charge was made by former Labor Party MK, Einat Wilf, who participated on the panel with him, and wrote on her Facebook page:
Listing the greatest obstacles to peace, he said “unlimited” funds available to Jewish organizations and AIPAC in the US are used to control and divert American policy in the region and that Germany’s “obsession” with defending Israel were the problem. I guess he neglected to mention Jewish control of the media…
…“It was appalling to listen to Britain’s former foreign secretary…His remarks reflect prejudice of the worst kind.
Though Wilf never produced (nor apparently did any reporters ask for) any documentation to substantiate her charge, and though she never produced any exact quotation of anything Straw said, headlines in Haaretz, Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel and elsewhere trumpeted charges that Straw had blamed a shadowy conspiracy of “Jewish money” for causing all manner of evil in the world, specifically in the Middle East.
Unfortunately, Straw waited two days to issue his own statement, in which he categorically rejected the charges against him, saying he’d never uttered or written any anti-Semitic statements, and that in fact he was a strong supporter of Israel:
I spoke of the problems which faced President Obama from AIPAC and the “Israeli lobby” more generally. I pointed out that Prime Minister Netanyahu was a player in domestic US politics on the Republican side, and that under US political funding rules (or their absence) huge sums were spent by AIPAC [sic] in support of some elected politicians (or candidates), and against others. This is in sharp contrast to the rules in the UK, where spending is tightly controlled, and, for example, no political advertising is allowed at all on television and radio.
A second set of headlines in most of the above publications blared the equivalent of: “Straw Refuses to Deny ‘Jewish Money’ Charges.” The Times of Israel’s sub-headline read:
“Veteran politician doesn’t deny account of his comments in debate last week.”
It reminds me of a newspaper reporter who witnesses a press conference in which a murder suspect says: “I didn’t kill my wife.” The reporter returns to the newsroom and writes up the paper’s lead story with the headline: “Husband doesn’t deny stabbing wife.”
One of the reasons Straw didn’t explicitly deny the statements imputed to him by Wilf is that she didn’t quote anything he said except the word “unlimited” as in “unlimited Jewish money.” A subsequent story in the Jerusalem Post even questions whether he used that specific term:
Straw did not say that AIPAC has “unlimited” funding or that Germany had an “obsession” with Israel – as Wilf had claimed – and he did not directly link AIPAC to obstruction of Middle East peace.
So why should someone deny a specific statement or word attributed to him if it doesn’t quote him? What are you supposed to deny: I didn’t make the statement that wasn’t even a quotation of anything I purportedly said?”
The problem with the Times of Israel and Jerusalem Post both saying that Straw didn’t refute Wilf’s charges is that they’re claiming he didn’t specifically deny the claim he had talked about “Jewish money.” But that’s penalizing Straw for not making the statement they, the reporters, wanted him to make. It’s not a reporter’s job to write stories attacking someone for not saying something. It’s their job to report what they DO say. And Straw denied saying anything anti-Semitic, which by inference was a denial of Wilf’s charges.
Unlike all the Israeli reporters covering this story, I actually tried to contact Wilf via Facebook, Twitter, and her website. Since the latter features a link to her old Knesset e-mail address, I sent an email instead to her “advisor,” Noah Slepkov. I asked him to forward my query to her for response. I asked her if she had a video, audiotape, or contemporaneous notes documenting any statements she attributed to Straw.
Slepkov replied with a statement that is so troubling and revealing, I’m going to quote it in full:
As you may have seen from Straw’s subsequent comments as reported in some media including the Times of Israel and Jerusalem Post…he doesn’t dispute what Einat said he said, rather he denies that it was anti-Semitic. He clarified his comments in a statement he issued this week that “the problems which faced President [Barack] Obama from AIPAC and the ‘Israeli lobby’ more generally” had “pointed out that Prime Minister Netanyahu was a player in domestic US politics, on the Republican side, and that under US political funding rules (or their absence) huge sums were spent by AIPAC in support of some elected politicians (or candidates), and against others”.
What that statement is clearly implying [ed. my italics], and perhaps it was less subtle in his actual comments, that Jewish money is controlling American politics to negatively influence American foreign policy in favour of Israel. In other words, there is an international Jewish conspiracy that is preventing Middle East peace. At the heart of this debate is whether such claims are anti-Semitic. I would argue that taking classic anti-Semitic rhetoric, such as “Jewish money controls the world”, and using it in the context of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, as Straw did so unapologetically, is still anti-Semitic rhetoric.
Do you agree?
It is important to add, that on a factual basis, Mr. Straw’s comments quoted above are objectively false. As you may recall, Mitt Romey and Newt Gingrich, who both received stupid amounts of campaign funding from Sheldon Adelson, a strong supporter and ally of Netanyahu, lost their elections. Lee Rosenberg, one of Obama’s staunchest Jewish allies in the 2008 campaign, later became president of AIPAC. AIPAC does a good job of making sure they are politically neutral. As much money was spent by Jews electing Obama and other democrats as was spent on republican campaigns, but that is less relevant, although Mr. Straw might not be aware of the overwhelming support democrats, including Obama, receives from Jews (69% of Jews voted for Obama in 2012).
Of course, AIPAC does lobby for Israel’s interests. But if Mr. Straw’s belief that the lobbying for Israel is taking pressure off of Israel to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians, isn’t it logical to assume that Jewish money is causing pressure on the Palestinians to resolve the conflict with Israel? That is to say, the absence of Jewish funding to the Palestinian cause has not enabled American pressure on the Palestinians to resolve the conflict. Was it the Israel lobby that forced Arafat to reject Barak and Clintons peace offer in 2000? Was it the Israel lobby that forced the Arab states to reject the partition plan in 1947?
If the Israel lobby in the US ceased to exist, perhaps American politicians and the general public would be less informed about Israel, but it wouldn’t change the intractable nature of the Arab/Israeli conflict.
So much bizarre logic and unexamined assumptions here, where does one even begin?
I wrote back to Slepkov noting that he stated that Straw “implied” that “Jewish money” undermined the Israel-Palestine peace process. But I pointed out that Slepkov’s use of the term “implying” was itself an interpretation of what Straw said, not what he actually said. I asked once again if the could produce any original evidence of what he actually said.
Slepkov’s reply was a stunner:
In case my email below wasn’t clear, there is no dispute with what Mr. Straw said. I accept Mr. Straws version of what he said. I simply explained why such statements are anti-Semitic.
Do you think it is anti-Semitic to say that there is an international jewish conspiracy to control the world?
Here is the crux of the matter. Is it anti-Semitic to state what seems obvious: that tons of cash (hundreds of millions of dollars) donated by American Jews at the behest of the Israel Lobby have a toxic effect on the peace process?
Those donors give that money to protect Israel’s interests before Congress and the executive branch. The Lobby’s definition of “Israel’s interests” includes limiting any pressure on Israel to make any compromises or concessions to the Palestinians. This power and these funds ensured the U.S. would veto a Security Council resolution criticizing Israeli settlements, and veto a resolution calling for UN recognition of a Palestinian state. Saying that this phenomenon is harmful is almost stating the obvious, rather that what Slepkov-Wilf say it is.
Neither Straw nor I believe that this is a conspiracy out of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. We simply believe that well-intentioned (I know some of my readers will argue with me here, but for the sake of argument, hear me out) American Jews are harming, rather than helping Israel. We believe that these bags of cash exert a stranglehold on Mideast policy and prevent a reasonable compromise. That is not “anti-Semitic.” It is an accurate depiction of reality.
In fact, Slepkov-Wilf’s inability to accurately quote Straw, and their immediate translation of his actual statements into traditional anti-Semitic rhetoric show that it is they who have no concept of reality. They are living in a world in which danger lurks around every street corner, and anti-Semites eager to destroy Israel work their nefarious plots. It may be that they sincerely believe this or that they maintain such views out of cynical pro-Israel political calculation. It matters little what their real motivation is. The cold hard facts of the matter are that Einat Wilf made a false allegation against Jack Straw and most of the Israeli and American Jewish press bought it.
Only after Asa Winstanley began preparing his piece for Electronic Intifada and approached Straw did any media outlet obtain his perspective. Further, none of these outlets pressured Wilf to support her charges with verbatim documented accounts of the speaker’s remarks. This is some of the sloppiest journalism I’ve seen in a long time. It’s journalism, whether intentional or not, in service to an ideological cause.
I asked Haaretz editor Aluf Benn why he’d run a JTA story accusing Straw of anti-Semitism under the headline, ‘Ex-U.K. FM: Jewish money biggest obstacle to Mideast peace,’ (and note the quotation marks around a phrase that isn’t a quotation), without determining whether the story was provable. He responded that Haaretz doesn’t vet third-party stories it publishes. That explanation didn’t satisfy me. You participate, whether wittingly or unwittingly, in a campaign to destroy a politician’s reputation and your excuse is it isn’t your policy to check whether such stories are supportable? My hope is that neither Haaretz nor other media outlets will ever trust anything Einat Wilf says again, unless she can support it with facts. Her word is no longer sufficient and should not be trusted.
The fact that Wilf, when she served in Knesset, was in the Labor Party caucus, further illustrates that it is not a real left party, but rather a part of the rejectionist Israeli political consensus opposed to compromise with the Palestinians. Another ‘sterling’ piece of legislation she endorsed wholeheartedly when she served in Knesset, was a bill that would declare Israel the national state of the Jewish people. Haaretz called it (Hebrew) a means to erase the nation’s Declaration of Independence, which calls Israel a Jewish and democratic state. The newspaper further said that the bill would be a means to enshrine the supremacy of the Jewish majority and the subordinate status of the non-Jewish minority in violation of democratic values.
Thanks to her alliance with Ehud Barak and her move into his Atzmaut faction, which was obliterated in the past elections, she was tossed out of the Knesset. But she continues to do her damage. She is invited to speak at prestigious forums like the J Street national conference and the Global Diplomatic Forum. She is seen by some as a voice of the moderate pragmatic center. A view that should be blown to smithereens by now.
In case it hasn’t, keep in mind that Wilf (along with another figure long known falsely as a voice of humanity and conscience, Elie Wiesel) is a member of the NGO Monitor board of directors. Indeed, her performance in this encounter with Straw is quite reminiscent of the gutter fighting that characterizes Gerald Steinberg’s tactics. These are tactics that have no place in reasoned discourse, nor should they be featured in any mainstream media forum. They belong in FrontpageMagazine or Middle East Forum, rather than JTA, the Jerusalem Post or Haaretz. By opening the gate to such swill, the editors have allowed the ultra-nationalist Israeli right to further coopt political discourse.
A note about Noah Slepkov, Wilf’s political advisor. He’s an “adjunct fellow” at the Jewish People Policy Institute, which has also included Dennis Ross among its ‘distinguished’ members. Current fellows include the Jerusalem Post’s rightist columnist, Shmuel Rosner and Prof. Yehezkel Dror, who I’ve profiled here as a devout war hawk who argues on behalf of an Israeli attack on Iran. If Slepkov’s argument is characteristic of the quality of JPPI analysis in general, it’s a piss-poor lot.