I recently spent three weeks in Lebanon to research the Palestinian refugee situation and the effects of the uprising in Syria on the region. I will be writing extensively about my trip when I return from Israel-Palestine later this month. For now, I have posted my appearance on Transit, a current affairs/political interview program on Lebanon’s Future TV (the official network of the Hariri family’s Future Party). To my complete surprise, the producers decided to air the complete, uncensored “Feeling the Hate in Jerusalem” video in the middle of the interview. The video punctuated a lengthy discussion of issues ranging from AIPAC to the Tea Party to the Palestinian statehood resolution to Barack Obama’s disappointing presidency. I appear at the 1 minute mark in the first clip:
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.
On my way to the Stewart/Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear, I got a text from John Legend, who has been my friend since our college days. He told me he had decided at the last second to fly into to DC to perform with The Roots on the National Mall. So within a few minutes I was backstage with John and the rest of the performers.
As I stood beside the stage watching John and The Roots play Donny Hathaway’s “Little Ghetto Boy” before a huge and relatively diverse crowd, it occurred to me that this was the first time in a long time I had witnessed a rally on the Mall that wasn’t filled with troglodytic racists and anti-abortion fanatics. The Sanity/Fear rally was calculated as the mirror opposite of the rallies I have grown accustomed to reporting on for the past six years: Blind rage and cultural despair was replaced with irony and high-minded humor, while the Tea Party was mocked not as a dangerous movement comprised of pathological bigots but as a stupid and uncool endeavor. One sign read: “Tea Parties Are For Little Girls and Imaginary Friends.”
Most of the performers had to watch the rally on a big screen TV in a tent that was set up behind the stage. I watched with them, except for the moments when Father Guido Sarducci stood in my way (his tattered cape was hard to see around). Cat Stevens aka Yusuf Islam, who now lives in Dubai, told me that he wanted his appearance at the rally to represent his return to the US since being denied entry to the country by the Bush administration for specious reasons. I talked to Tony Bennett about the influence of Yiddish Theater on Irving Berlin. “That guy knew what he was doing,” Bennett remarked. The crooner spent most of his time writing down song lyrics on a small pad of paper and quietly rehearsing them to himself. At one point, a security guard asked Kareem Abdul Jabbar to take a picture of him standing beside John Legend — a weird spectacle. When Jabbar excused himself as he nudged past me, I asked him if I was blocking his view (I wasn’t). Later, Ozzy Osbourne rushed in and out of the tent with glasses of water for himself and Sharon, while I talked to Jacob “Dude, you have no Quran” Isom about his theory on why God created gays.
As much as I enjoyed the uplifting rally, the backstage fun and clever street theater on the Mall, I was disturbed by John Stewart’s constant drawing of false equivalencies between the extremist Tea Party and mainstream liberals, which he employed again and again to supposedly reveal how the political debate has careened out of control. In Stewart’s presentation, open racist conspiracists like Glenn Beck, Pam Geller and the Fox News grotesque gallery of pundits were likened to center-left figures like Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz simply because they all broadcast their opinions at maximum volume and rely on emotional manipulation. It was like comparing the Klan to the Shriners because members of both groups wear funny costumes.
After working tirelessly to inspire a nationwide pogrom against Muslim citizens of the United States, the leading online race hustler Pam Geller is pantomiming outrage about a video showing her supporters harassing and nearly assaulting a black man they mistook for a Muslim at the rally against the construction of the Cordoba House Islamic center on August 22. Geller’s reaction to the video was couched in a typically unhinged tirade against me; she described me as a “kapo” and “notorious Jew hater.” Geller then claimed, “I have no idea what this rally is,” and went on to attack the heavily-promoted, well-publicized demonstration as a “half-assed effort,” calling it, “harmful to the cause of freedom of expression.”
It is always amusing when leaders of groups that openly promote genocide against religious minorities and other out-class members accuse their followers of crossing a red line, as though there is any threshold they will not cross. Usually these moments arise from the kind of ugly leadership struggles that are common to proto-fascist movements comprised of neurotic and otherwise psychologically dysfunctional individuals (see the demise of the Minutemen for an example). Such a scenario appears to have prompted Geller’s screed.
As a stereotypical, shrieking figure who exhibits the classically sadomasochistic pathology of authoritarian demagogues — the simultaneous drive to destroy the weak and worship power — Geller is utterly incapable of summoning any moral opposition to the raw racism that was on display at Park51. After all, she played a central role in inciting the ugly spectacle.
Thus it appears Geller’s attempt to distance herself from the rally is purely cynical, the result of a row between her and the group that organized the rally, The Coalition To Honor Ground Zero. Richard Bartholomew speculated that Geller may have flown into a petulant frenzy over the pointed exclusion of her outfit, Stop The Islamization Of America, from the protest. Acrimony between her and Tom Trento of the Florida Security Council over the handling of a past anti-Muslim initiative may have also provoked her snit. Whatever the reason, it is increasingly clear that Geller is going to extreme lengths to keep the movement under her heel; any event planned outside the purview of her organization presents a direct threat to her celebrity and paycheck.
Geller’s claim that she had “no idea” about the August 22 rally is ridiculous. According to the Daily Caller, “Beth Gilinsky, an organizer for The Coalition to Honor Ground Zero and founder of the Jewish Action Alliance, is coordinating the rally.” And Gilinsky and Geller have worked hand-in-glove for years. At the April 25 Stand With Israel rally in New York City, Gilinsky introduced Geller as “a very dear friend” for whom she holds “enormous admiration.” (Geller proceeded to wave a scarf reading “Yid Army” before the crowd, making a cartoonish attempt at Jewish ethnic identification while at the same time expressing her admiration for violent British football hooligans.) Geller has also lavished praise on Gilinsky, hailing her as one of the “warriors” who attempted to stop the Khalil Gibran Academy from opening in Brooklyn.
Considering that Geller and Gilinsky spearheaded the campaign against the Girban Academy and that they at least claim to be “very dear” friends, it is hard to imagine that Geller had “no idea” that Gilinsky and company were planning a major rally on August 22. So Geller is simply deceiving her readers. And given that many of those on the list of organizations and individual racists supporting The Coalition To Honor Ground Zero are scheduled to appear at the rally Geller is planning on 9-11 against Cordoba House, Geller appears to be disparaging her own allies as well, conceding that they are in fact a bunch of deranged, potentially violent bigots whose actions are “harmful to the cause of freedom of expression.”
It is up to Geller to explain to her readers why she is lying to them and why she holds her confederates in such contempt. Until then, she can respond to the following questions:
1. Does Geller condemn the August 22 Park 51 rally or not? Put up or shut up.
2. Does Geller condemn the groups and individuals associated with the “half-assed” and “harmful” effort?
3. If Barack Obama is Malcolm X’s illegitimate child as Geller has claimed, is Geller the mistress of Mel Gibson?
4. If Geller is such a good Jew, why does she endorse a British fascist group that is led by anti-Semitic skinheads and is connected to the whites-only British National Party?
5. Does Geller condemn Glenn Beck as an anti-Semite for saying the Jews killed Jesus? Yes or no. Anti-semitism, yes or no.
Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs — the diplomatic disaster area of Avigdor Lieberman — is promoting Glenn Beck’s infamous episode on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla on its “selected articles” page. Apparently Israel’s department of hasbara does not realize that Beck is looked at by everyone but the most ardent members of the Tea Party movement as a conspiratorial, racist demagogue with no credibility. Nor does it seem to care that Beck has an extensive record of endorsing the work of virulent anti-Semites like the Nazi apologist Elizabeth Dilling.
Didi Remez has an excellent analysis at Coteret on what he calls “the Tea Partying of the US-Israel relationship.” Remez reports that numerous mainstream Israeli opinion leaders have posted the Beck clip on the Facebook pages along with Caroline Glick’s notoriously racist, “We Con The World” video. Now the Israeli government has gotten in on the act. It’s no wonder being “pro-Israel” in the US is becoming increasingly synonymous with being a Tea Party-style Republican.