Justin Raimondo with a useful corrective in Antiwar.com. While James Kirchick and Spencer Ackerman claim the term “Israel Firster” comes from an anti-Semitic newspaper in the 198os, it ends up it was coined several years earlier by anti-Zionist writer Alfred M. Lilienthal:
Today’s war propagandists have figured out a way to make the issue of American interests, as opposed to Israeli interests, go away, and that is by policing the language of the debate. Are you calling someone who wants to pursue Israeli interests over and above those of his or her own country an “Israel firster”? Well, then, you are “anti-Semitic,” you are employing the oldest “anti-Semitic tropes” and echoing “neo-Nazis,” who – James Kirchick assures us – are the originators of the phrase. This is the argument made by “progressive” Spencer Ackerman in a recent issue of the Tablet, in which he joins the neoconservative assault on Glenn Greenwald, M.J. Rosenberg, and four bloggers over at the Center for American Progress who got slapped down for daring to wield (or imply) this supposedly “toxic” phrase.
There’s just one problem with this argument: it isn’t true. Ackerman cites Kirchick as the authority in this matter, but as a researcher the man Time columnist Joe Klein called a “dishonest prick” and a cheap “propagandist” leaves much to be desired. Kirchick claims the phrase originated with Willis Carto’s Spotlight newspaper, a cesspool of anti-Semitism, but this is false: it originated, as one can see here, with Alfred M. Lilienthal, an anti-Zionist Jew who wrote several books in the early 1950s and 1960s, notably What Price Israel?
It wasn’t any neo-Nazis, but Lilienthal, a political conservative and a devout Jew, who was the first to raise the question of “dual loyalty.” The “Israel Firster” meme originated, not with the neo-Nazi fringe, but with conservative Jews who, like Lilienthal, objected that:
“My one and only homeland is America. I am proud of my belief in the age-old Judaic concept of one God in Heaven and one Humanity here below. But my faith does not pull me into a feeling of narrowly tribal kinship with all others who worship God in this way. Whenever I read of Americans singing the Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem, or see youth groups raising Israel’s flag beside the Stars and Stripes. I am outraged. For Israel’s flag and anthem are symbols of a foreign state; they are not mine.”
The Kirchicks, the Ackermans, the Goldbergs – and also the Cartos – want us to forget this heritage, which has been buried under the landslide of pro-Israel propaganda, because it challenges the premises of both the Israel-Firsters and the anti-Semites.
Lilienthal was no fringe character: a diplomat who worked in the State Department during the war, he served in the US Army in the Middle East, and was later a consultant at the founding conference of the United Nations. His opposition to Zionism as a political movement was initially shared by many if not most American Jews: see Jack Ross’s new book, Rabbi Outcast, for a biography of the most well-known figure in this movement, Rabbi Elmer Berger, which also serves as a detailed history of the American Council for Judaism, the organizational expression of this tendency. These Jews did not think it extraordinary that they would oppose the claims of a foreign government on their loyalties, and they warned – presciently, as it turned out – that American Jews would face charges of harboring dual loyalties because of the Zionists’ insistence that all Jews somehow owed allegiance to Tel Aviv.
In short, the “neo-Nazi” origins of the “Israel Firster” meme is a myth that depends on ignorance of the real history of American Jewish opposition to Israeli nationalism. Like all war propaganda, it is based on blanking out whole portions of the historical record in favor of a black-and-white version of events.