In an article that expands our knowledge base about the anything-but-grassroots “Freedom’s Watch” (about which I have posted here and here), Paul Kane and Jonathan Weisman wrote about its ambitions — among other things, to raise $250 million this year to become the right-wing answer to MoveOn.org — in the Washington Post Sunday. The article noted that the group, after focusing its initial work on Iraq and Middle East policy, is now running “aggressively negative anti-illegal-immigration ads” on behalf of Republican candidates.
As has been previously reported, the group was conceived at a meeting last March of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) and the Post article tends to confirm the notion that it is a kind of RJC project. But, apart from the article’s substance, what I found most provocative about the article was one particular paragraph toward the end in which the authors wrote: “Many in Freedom [sic] Watch’s donor base — including [multi-billionaire Sheldon] Adelson, the chairman and chief executive of the Last Vegas Sands Corp. [about whom the New York Times published a profile just last week] and [former Amb. Mel] Sembler, the strip-mall magnate from St. Petersburg, Fla. — have always been strong supporters of Israel. The group’s initial ad blitz in defense of Bush’s troops buildup in Iraq came naturally out of those interests.” I found this paragraph compelling for two reasons.
First, the latter sentence makes a connection that the mainstream media has almost entirely ignored and that remains somewhat taboo — the connection between the Iraq War and “support” for Israel . (I have long contended that, along with the kind of global geo-strategic thinking that first came to public attention in the leaked 1992 draft Defense Planning Guidance (DPG) overseen by then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Paul Wolfowitz, and I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the main impetus for war — at least, for the neo-conservatives around Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld both inside and outside the administration — was tilting the balance of power in the Middle East decisively in favor of Israel.) Unfortunately, having asserted this very controversial — if rarely voiced — connection, the Post article does not elaborate precisely how Freedom’s Watch’s backing for the “Surge” arose from its “support” for Israel. It’s as if the Post believes that the connection is common knowledge and that no further explanation is needed. Yet the Post, like other mainstream media, has never made clear what the connection between support for Israel and the Iraq War is.
That leads to the second point: the assertion that the Freedom’s Watch’s donor base, including Adelson and Sembler, are “strong supporters of Israel.” I don’t doubt that the group’s donors consider themselves “strong supporters of Israel”, but what precisely is meant by that? If the phrase means supporters of the government of Israel, then it is inaccurate, because the positions of Adelson and other Watch donors on such key questions as Jerusalem, the West Bank — indeed, any territorial compromise — even Annapolis and a two-state solution, are well to the right of the current Israeli government. In fact, Adelson, like most RJC heavyweights, are strong supporters of former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party which, the last time I checked, constituted the government’s chief political opposition and is maneuvering to bring it down. So, if they oppose the current government of Israel, in what way are they “strong supporters of Israel?”
This kind of journalistic shorthand — associating neo-conservatives and their organizations like the RJC and Freedom’s Watch — with being ”pro-Israel” or “strong supporters of Israel” — is unfortunately pervasive in the mainstream media. It is not only inaccurate; it is also dangerous. It implies that neo-conservatives have Israel’s best interests at heart, which, as in the case of the Iraq war (and last summer’s conflict with Hezbollah) and in so many other instances, is demonstrably not the case. It also puts those individuals or organizations — particularly in the American Jewish community — that are very concerned about Israel but that believe that the neo-conservatives have actually undermined the country’s security in a kind of political limbo. After all, if Adelson, Freedom’s Watch, and the RJC are considered “pro-Israel” or “strong supporters of Israel,” what does that make Americans for Peace Now or the Israel Policy Forum, both of which consider themselves “pro-Israel” and “strong supporters of Israel” but also believe, contrary to hard-line neo-conservatives, that a two-state solution with major territorial compromises that include East Jerusalem are the only way to ensure Israel’s security and long-term survival?
This kind of lazy journalistic labeling has very real and very unfortunate political consequences.