Tag Archives: anti-defamation league

The Great Islamophobic Crusade

Crossposted with TomDispatch.com.

Nine years after 9/11, hysteria about Muslims in American life has gripped the country. With it has gone an outburst of arson attacks on mosques, campaigns to stop their construction, and the branding of the Muslim-American community, overwhelmingly moderate, as a hotbed of potential terrorist recruits. The frenzy has raged from rural Tennessee to New York City, while in Oklahoma, voters even overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure banning the implementation of Sharia law in American courts (not that such a prospect existed). This campaign of Islamophobia wounded President Obama politically, as one out of five Americans have bought into a sustained chorus of false rumors about his secret Muslim faith. And it may have tainted views of Muslims in general; an August 2010 Pew Research Center poll revealed that, among Americans, the favorability rating of Muslims had dropped by 11 points since 2005.

Erupting so many years after the September 11th trauma, this spasm of anti-Muslim bigotry might seem oddly timed and unexpectedly spontaneous. But think again: it’s the fruit of an organized, long-term campaign by a tight confederation of right-wing activists and operatives who first focused on Islamophobia soon after the September 11th attacks, but only attained critical mass during the Obama era. It was then that embittered conservative forces, voted out of power in 2008, sought with remarkable success to leverage cultural resentment into political and partisan gain.

This network is obsessively fixated on the supposed spread of Muslim influence in America. Its apparatus spans continents, extending from Tea Party activists here to the European far right. It brings together in common cause right-wing ultra-Zionists, Christian evangelicals, and racist British soccer hooligans. It reflects an aggressively pro-Israel sensibility, with its key figures venerating the Jewish state as a Middle Eastern Fort Apache on the front lines of the Global War on Terror and urging the U.S. and various European powers to emulate its heavy-handed methods.

Little of recent American Islamophobia (with a strong emphasis on the “phobia”) is sheer happenstance. Years before Tea Party shock troops massed for angry protests outside the proposed site of an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan, representatives of the Israel lobby and the Jewish-American establishment launched a campaign against pro-Palestinian campus activism that would prove a seedbed for everything to come. That campaign quickly — and perhaps predictably — morphed into a series of crusades against mosques and Islamic schools which, in turn, attracted an assortment of shady but exceptionally energetic militants into the network’s ranks.

Besides providing the initial energy for the Islamophobic crusade, conservative elements from within the pro-Israel lobby bankrolled the network’s apparatus, enabling it to influence the national debate. One philanthropist in particular has provided the beneficence to propel the campaign ahead. He is a little-known Los Angeles-area software security entrepreneur named Aubrey Chernick, who operates out of a security consulting firm blandly named the National Center for Crisis and Continuity Coordination. A former trustee of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which has served as a think tank for the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a frontline lobbying group for Israel, Chernick is said to be worth $750 million.

Chernick’s fortune is puny compared to that of the billionaire Koch Brothers, extraction industry titans who fund Tea Party-related groups like Americans for Prosperity, and it is dwarfed by the financial empire of Haim Saban, the Israeli-American media baron who is one of the largest private donors to the Democratic party and recently matched $9 million raised for the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces in a single night. However, by injecting his money into a small but influential constellation of groups and individuals with a narrow agenda, Chernick has had a considerable impact.

Through the Fairbrook Foundation, a private entity he and his wife Joyce control, Chernick has provided funding to groups ranging from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and CAMERA, a right-wing, pro-Israel, media-watchdog outfit, to violent Israeli settlers living on Palestinian lands and figures like the pseudo-academic author Robert Spencer, who is largely responsible for popularizing conspiracy theories about the coming conquest of the West by Muslim fanatics seeking to establish a worldwide caliphate. Together, these groups spread hysteria about Muslims into Middle American communities where immigrants from the Middle East have recently settled, and they watched with glee as likely Republican presidential frontrunners from Mike Huckabee to Sarah Palin promoted their cause and parroted their tropes. Perhaps the only thing more surprising than the increasingly widespread appeal of Islamophobia is that, just a few years ago, the phenomenon was confined to a few college campuses and an inner city neighborhood, and that it seemed like a fleeting fad that would soon pass from the American political landscape.

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Meltdown of the Macher: Abe Foxman loses it, calls Israeli interviewer a bigot and condemns the Seinfeld “Soup Nazi”

Abraham Foxman from Blue Pilgrimage on Vimeo.

Anti-Defamation League National Director Abe Foxman arrived in Israel in mid-October on the heels of several controversial decisions that prompted a hail of criticism in the United States. Foxman may have hoped that while in Israel he would have been able to avoid sensitive issues like his condemnation of the construction of an Islamic community center near Ground Zero; the ADL’s honoring of right-wing media kingpin Rupert Murdoch; or the ADL’s release of a blacklist of “anti-Israel organizations.” And for most of his trip, Foxman was able to propagate his message to the Israeli public and international media without any background noise from the US.

Then the great macher agreed to an on-camera interview with David Sheen, a young writer and videographer who splits time between the center-left Israeli paper Haaretz and independent documentary projects. Sheen, an Israeli citizen who is a friend and colleague of mine, makes no secret of his strong views about issues ranging from the occupation of Palestine to animal rights. He submitted his questions to Foxman days before the interview at the request of the ADL’s press handler. But Foxman did not bother to review the questions. Instead, he walked into the interview expecting to be handled as he was by the rest of the Israeli media: gently and with a degree of deference.

This may explain why Foxman appears so shocked when Sheen confronts him with pointed questions about the ADL’s honoring of Murdoch (Foxman calls him “a media genius”) and his endorsement of the “bigoted” positions of opponents of the Park 51 mosque (Foxman claims the reporter who quoted him defending the anti-mosque crowd’s bigotry “didn’t know history from borscht”). As Sheen presents Foxman with a litany of concerns of his growing legion of detractors, who have accused him of turning the ADL into a smear machine that has nothing to do with its stated mission of promoting civil rights, Foxman furiously lashes out at his interviewer, accusing him of staging a “set up.”

On at least four occasions, Foxman threatens to end the interview, claiming the questions are “not productive” and that he has better things to do. But each time he remains in his seat and berates Sheen. As the interview progresses (or deteriorates), it is clear that Foxman has little interest in promoting the work of the ADL, or even in rebutting his critics. He is far more interested in screaming at Sheen. It is one of the strangest and most embarrassing interview performances I have seen since Sarah Palin campaigned for Vice President.

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When The ADL Gave White Nationalism A Free Pass, Did “Pro-Israel” Politics Play A Role?

A t-shirt sold by Richard Quinn's Southern Partisan Magazine

A t-shirt sold by Richard Quinn's Southern Partisan Magazine

With the Cordoba House controversy, the mainstream press has suddenly discovered that the Anti-Defamation League is more than willing to give sanction to bigotry. But the ADL has a long history of allowing cynical political calculations to trump its professed concerns about racism.

In a virtually unknown and unreported event in 1999, the ADL pointedly refused to condemn Richard Quinn, a leading white nationalist publisher who had come under fire for his history of promoting racist screeds before taking a job as a consultant for John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign. Though the ADL initially expressed concern about Quinn’s role on the McCain campaign, it backed off for reasons that appeared to relate to the calculated “pro-Israel” line of Quinn’s magazine.

The episode began after John McCain’s surprising victory in the 1999 New Hampshire Republican primary. Controversy ensued when the New Republic’s Benjamin Soskis revealed that McCain had hired the longtime editor of Southern Partisan Magazine, Richard Quinn, as a consultant. Quinn came under fire from Soskis and many others for editing a neo-Confederate magazine that promoted white nationalist themes. For his part, Quinn had authored an editorial in his publication denouncing Martin Luther King Day as “vitriolic and profane;” attacked Nelson Mandela as a “terrorist” and a “bad egg;” and wrote the following about the KKK’s former Imperial Wizard-cum-Louisiana GOP gubernatorial candidate: “What better way to reject politics as usual than to elect a maverick like David Duke? What better way to tweak the nose of the establishment?”

As the bad press piled up, and reporters discovered gems like the ad in Southern Partisan for a t-shirt emblazoned with a Republican elephant logo that read, “Lincoln’s Worst Nightmare!” Quinn began to work his contacts. Finally, his friend  Sam Tennenbaum, who served at the time on the ADL’s advisory board, intervened in his defense, ensuring that the ADL did not condemn the Southern Partisan or disturb the McCain campaign about employing an avowed neo-Confederate.

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