10.25.11

The Right's Failed Protest Smear

Right-wing figures like Bill Kristol are pushing the idea that Occupy Wall Street is anti-Semitic to scare Jews and embarrass politicians like Obama, but the tactic is not gaining traction.

When your cries of anti-Semitism fail to rile the Anti-Defamation League, you might be on the wrong track.

That, however, has not stopped various right-wing figures from pushing the idea that Occupy Wall Street is a hotbed of Jew hatred. A group called the Emergency Committee for Israel, co-founded by Bill Kristol, is running television ads designed to scare Jews about the movement and embarrass politicians who’ve been sympathetic to the protesters. They feature footage of three men saying hateful things about Jews, before a voiceover asks: “Why are our leaders turning a blind eye to anti-Semitic, anti-Israel attacks? Tell President Obama and Leader Pelosi to stand up to the mob.” Since then, other conservatives have ceaselessly amplified the message, while complaining that the rest of the media is ignoring rampant bigotry on the left.

But the Anti-Defamation League, which no one can accuse of ignoring anti-Semitism, has been less than alarmed. In a statement, ADL head Abraham H. Foxman expressed concern about a few anti-Semites who’ve showed up at the protests, but said, “There is no evidence that these anti-Semitic conspiracy theories are representative of the larger movement or that they are gaining traction with other participants.” Indeed, when Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen went to the demonstrations searching for bigots, he failed to find any. “This was my second visit to the Occupy Wall Street site and the second time my keen reporter’s eye has failed to detect even a hint of the anti-Semitism that had been trumpeted by certain right-wing websites and bloggers, most prominently Bill Kristol,” he wrote.

This is not to say that there is no one at Occupy Wall Street, or its many national offshoots, expressing despicable views. Protests always attract fringe characters, particularly when they provide free food and warm clothes to all comers. The footage that the Emergency Committee for Israel used is real, though somewhat disingenuous. For example, one of the ad’s anti-Semites, a guy holding a sign saying “Google: Zionists Control Wall Street,” has since been identified as a homeless man known to picket the area with such placards before the protests even began. Occupy Wall Street has tried desperately to get rid of him, but the police have (correctly) refused to eject him, citing his free-speech rights. “This guy with the Google Zionist banker sign, nobody wants him there,” says Daniel Sieradski, a Jewish activist who organized an open-air Yom Kippur service at Occupy Wall Street, attended by almost 1,000 people. “Everybody is harassing him, screaming at him, totally flipping out on him. Everybody wants him gone, and the police say if you have a right to freedom of assembly so does he.”

This is not the first time that the Emergency Committee for Israel, which Kristol co-founded with the evangelical leader Gary Bauer, has run a misleading ad. In 2010, it put out a commercial accusing Democratic Senate candidate Joe Sestak of raising money for “an anti-Israel organization the FBI called a ‘front-group for Hamas.'” It was a reference to a speech Sestak gave to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the country’s largest Muslim civil-rights group, an organization anodyne enough that George W. Bush met with its leaders after the 9/11 attacks.

Abrams’ rant, coupled with her group’s attacks on OWS, tells us something about who the real extremists are.

In September, even as the Obama administration announced its determination to veto the Palestinian statehood initiative in the U.N. Security Council, the Emergency Committee for Israel took out a full-page ad in The New York Times attacking the president. “Over the past two and a half years, President Obama has built a record that is not pro-Israel,” it said. “He tells Jews they cannot build in Jerusalem; he has criticized Israel at the U.N.; he has pressured Israel to apologize to terrorists; he seeks the division of Jerusalem.” The American Jewish Committee, a nonpartisan, fiercely Zionist organization, denounced the ad as “highly objectionable, indeed counterproductive, to its stated aim of supporting Israel… [it] makes us wonder what are the true goals of the sponsoring group."

Nevertheless, the uproar over the Emergency Committee for Israel’s latest bit of propaganda has succeeded in drawing attention to one dangerous hatemonger—Rachel Decter Abrams, one of the Emergency Committee’s three board members. On October 18, as the Emergency Committee was warning of “Hate at Occupy Wall Street,” Abrams, wife of former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, published a rant on her blog that seemed to call for the mass murder of Palestinians. Coupled with her group’s attacks on Occupy Wall Street, it tells us something about who the real extremists are.

Abrams’ post begins by celebrating the freeing of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Then, in an epically long, unhinged sentence, she calls on Israel to “round up his captors, the slaughtering, death-worshiping, innocent-butchering, child-sacrificing savages who dip their hands in blood and use women—those who aren’t strapping bombs to their own devils’ spawn and sending them out to meet their seventy-two virgins by taking the lives of the school-bus-riding, heart-drawing, Transformer-doodling, homework-losing children of Others—and their offspring—those who haven’t already been pimped out by their mothers to the murder god—as shields, hiding behind their burkas and cradles like the unmanned animals they are, and throw them not into your prisons, where they can bide until they’re traded by the thousands for another child of Israel, but into the sea, to float there, food for sharks, stargazers, and whatever other oceanic carnivores God has put there for the purpose.”

“This tirade comes the same week ECI slandered the social-justice movement Occupy Wall Street for—of all things—bigotry,” notes Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the liberal pro-Israel group J-Street. “The hypocrisy could not be more obvious.”