Mask Slip

Commentary Mag Defends Bigoted Smears Against Palestinian NFL Player

Ali Gharib on Commentary Magazine's defense of an Islamophobic attack on a New York Jets player.

After the right-wing website FrontPage's attacks on the Palestinian American NFL player Oday Aboushi got a little attention beyond the Islamophobic fringes, a backlash quickly ensued. Yahoo! took down its article recycling FrontPage's smears and an employee of Major League Baseball quickly retracted and apologized for his comparison of pro-Palestinian activism to murder. "Times have changed," the Jerusalem Fund's Yousef Munayyer said on Huffington Post Live, discussing his Open Zion article on the subject. "The reaction that we saw is not the reaction that we would have seen, certainly not as vociferous and certainly not as promptly as we would have seen several years ago." The episode even garnered coverage on the front page of the New York Times's sports section, in an article headlined "Jets’ Aboushi Faces Aspersions for Being Palestinian." The smears against Aboushi were nearly universally condemned. Nearly.

One of the few publications to come to FrontPage's defense was Commentary, the flagship journal of neoconservatism. Following a weekend where the furor seemed to have subsided, Commentary's Jonathan Tobin decided to weigh in to exonerate FrontPage and its editor David Horowitz of any serious wrongdoing. Tobin took note that some of the charges against Aboushi were "over the top" and admitted, "There is no evidence that Aboushi is a terrorist." Then Tobin went off the rails: "Aboushi may not be a terrorist but, contrary to the Times and others bashing FrontPage, neither is he much of a victim." Tobin wrote that "it was not an 'aspersion' or racist for FrontPage or any website to take note of Aboushi’s political opinions." If only FrontPage had limited themselves to that.

A cursory glance at Joe Kaufman's two FrontPage articles about Aboushi show that the most prevalent accusations are those of guilt by association; one family friend who Aboushi had—gasp!—tweeted at was declared a "rabid anti-Israel activist" that has family in prison in Israel and a sister who works for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Got that? A friend of Aboushi's—at least on Twitter—is critical of Israel, and that friend had family who worked for an Islamic group and served time in Israeli prisons. But wait! The friend's sister's boss (who, obviously, works for CAIR) has also said things harshly critical of Israel! After those descriptions, Kaufman gets into the evidence about Aboushi himself—evidence that shows just how anti-Semitic Aboushi really is:

Far from being an American dream, Oday Aboushi has exhibited this exact type of extremism. He too has targeted Israel with his Twitter account, one tweet even having anti-Semitic overtones. This past January, he posted a photo depicting an old woman looking down while three clearly Orthodox Jews talk to each other in the background. The caption reads, “88 year-old Palestinian evicted from home in Jerusalem by Israel authorities to make room 4 Orthodox Jews.

In case you didn't get the message, go ahead and click the link there at the end. It will take you to a saved screen capture of Aboushi's Twitter account, where the photo is helpfully labeled: "Oday_Aboushi_old_woman_anti-semitic_photo.jpg." Just to be clear: the photograph is a picture of an elderly Palestinian woman being evicted from her home to make room for Orthodox Jewish settlers. So Aboushi posted an image—whose provenance was not contested—and accurately described it; for these sins he is called an anti-Semite. And Tobin, by somehow completely ignoring the definition of the word "aspersion," said this wasn't one. Instead, Tobin contends Aboushi was "posting of a photo criticizing the settling of Jews in Jerusalem"—with no mention, of course, of the evicted woman—and FrontPage merely "tak(ing) note of Aboushi's political opinions." In what universe is plainly stating facts a "political opinion"?

Tobin also took on Aboushi's "mention of the 'Nakba'—the Palestinian way of referring to the birth of the State of Israel as a 'disaster.'" The term, usually translated as "catastrophe," is actually one, as Munayyer put it, "Palestinians use to describe the period of their expulsion and dispossession from 1947 to 1949." And why not? Let's be blunt: while supporters of Israel may consider the country's birth a joyous occasion, the roughly coinciding departure of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes under duress—and Israel's prevention of their return home—was a catastrophe for Palestinian society. Would Tobin contend that Palestinians ought to refer to the period as a joyous time in their history as well? What nonsense.

Lastly, Tobin's defended FrontPage and David Horowitz. "Frontpage founder David Horowitz is not an Islamophobe," wrote Tobin. Horowitz has described Islam as a religion of "hate, violence and racism" and Palestinians as the most "morally sick" people to walk the face of the earth. Horowitz once said: "Osama bin Laden is a very good Muslim—a model one, in fact, and one of the most devout in the 1,400 years of Islam." Are these not the words of someone harboring anti-Muslim bias? What about the fact that Horowtiz's modestly-named David Horowitz Freedom Center is the parent organization of Jihad Watch, the website of one of America's best known Islamophobes and Pamela Geller's sidekick Robert Spencer? As for Joe Kaufman, the FrontPage writer who attacked Aboushi, he was skewered last year for his Islamophobia on the Daily Show. Tobin's throwing in his lot with this motley crew tells us more about his "political beliefs"—and willingness to make apology for bigotry—than anything we've learned about Oday Aboushi.