There has been little objection from the mainstream Jewish establishment to Representative Peter King’s anti-Muslim hearings that took place yesterday, and some commentators are asking why. Given the history of discrimination against Jews in the U.S., it should be an easy call to speak out against the McCarthy-like hearings that seek to demonize Muslim-Americans (laudably, J Street has spoken out, as well as, surprisingly, the Anti-Defamation League).
But it should come as no surprise that the likes of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC), the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) have been silent about the March 10 hearings titled, “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response.” It all comes down to Israel.
Rep. King, for one, a Long Island Republican with a past of strong support for the Irish Republican Army, is a staunch advocate for Israel, making any potential criticism of him by mainstream Jewish organizations all the less likely.
Immediately after the Israeli naval attack on the Gaza-bound aid flotilla last May, which resulted in the deaths of nine activists, King introduced a House resolution to “prohibit United States participation on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and prohibit contributions to the United Nations for the purpose of paying for any United Nations investigation into the flotilla incident.”
On his website, King proclaims that he has “consistently voted in favor of military and economic aid packages benefiting Israel and sponsored legislation that prohibits direct assistance to Palestinian Government entities associated with Hamas or other terrorist organizations.”
In return for his “Israel can do no wrong” attitude, King rakes in the dough; according to Open Secrets, over $100,000 in pro-Israel contributions have been deposited in King’s campaign war chest between 1998 and 2010.
And then there’s the larger issue of the Israel lobby turning a blind eye to Islamophobia, or actively aiding it, in service of their larger political goal: unquestioning support for anything Israel does. These hearings do nothing more than give Islamophobia more mainstream credibility in the United States, something that even the Anti-Defamation League, the AJC and others have no problem with, as demonstrated by these organization’s shameful positions when the furor over Park 51 occurred last summer.
Maintaining blind support for Israel in the United States requires the demonization of Muslims and Arabs, and contributes to the narrative, pushed by neoconservatives, that Israel is the West’s bulwark against Islamist extremism. As Scott McConnell, the founding editor of the American Conservative magazine, put it, “it is hard to miss that anti-Muslim bigotry is becoming embedded in American political culture, and Israel and its supporters are playing a substantial role in generating it.”
M.J. Rosenberg, a liberal blogger and former staffer at the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, made this point succinctly in an interview I conducted a couple of months back. Islamophobia “is tactical bigotry to weaken the voices of Arab-Americans and friends of Arab-Americans when it comes to Israel/Palestinian issues,” he said.
Establishment groups are “just trying to protect AIPAC and the pro-Israel lobby’s political power. In other words, if you discredit every Arab group by saying they’re extremist or ‘pro-terror,’ then who’s ever going to stand up to the lobby on Capitol Hill?”
So there shouldn’t be any astonishment at the deafening silence from the mainstream Jewish establishment on these hearings. If there was dissent, that would be news.