Anti-Defamation League reprises debunked quote in attempt to discredit Helena Cobban and Penn BDS conference

ActivismIsrael/PalestineUS Politics
on 20 Comments
cobban lrg
Helena Cobban (Photo: Kevin Matthews/UCLA)

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is playing a leading role in the escalating debate over the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and this week’s pro-BDS conference at the University of Pennyslvania. Over at the organization’s “Access ADL” blog, the ADL has begun to publish what they call are highlights from “five of the most anti-Israel individuals scheduled to speak at the conference.” But they completely miss the mark in their attack on Helena Cobban, and instead attribute a quote to Cobban that she says she never said and for which there is no evidence of.

Cobban, an expert on the Middle East who is speaking at the BDS conference, was attacked in an ADL blog post yesterday:

Today we profile Helena Cobban, an anti-Israel writer, publisher and the former executive director of the Council for the National Interest, an organization that regularly sends delegations of its supporters to meet with Hamas and Hezbollah representatives in the Middle East.

Cobban consistently tries to portray Israel as the only guilty party in the conflict and has alleged that Israel’s military engages in “voluntary ethnic cleansing” of the Palestinians. In January 2009, shortly after the Gaza War ended, Cobban spoke at an event at Georgetown University where she harshly criticized Israel and Israelis, saying she can’t believe “how stupid Israelis are” and claimed that Israelis are “incapable of empathy and compassion for other people.”

But the ADL provides no source or link for the claim that Cobban said that Israelis are “incapable of empathy and compassion for other people.” That’s because there isn’t one.

The alleged Cobban quote was also used in an anti-BDS press release by the right-wing Zionist organization Stand With Us that Ali Abunimah and I debunked.

When the Stand With Us press release was first published, I emailed Cobban for comment:

Throughout my 17-year career as a columnist for the Christian Science Monitor, pro-Israeli discourse-suppression groups made repeated attempts to smear my name with fabricated quotes and inaccurate claims. They always failed. I see that this organization ‘Stand With Us’ is now continuing that tradition. But they are as incapable of authenticating their current claim as any of their predecessors. My record of standing for the equal rights of all human persons, be they Palestinian or Israeli, and my opposition to all forms of violence, including the very harmful systemic violence embodied in the system of military rule that Israel’s government has maintained over the occupied territories for nearly 45 years now, speaks for itself.

The use of a fabricated quote to discredit Cobban, and by extension the BDS conference she is speaking at, is part of a larger smear effort to derail the UPENN conference. As Ali Abunimah notes here, one professor called Omar Barghouti’s book on BDS the movement’s “version of Mein Kampf,” and compared BDS to the Nazi boycott of Jewish-owned businesses. The professor, Ruben Gur, also compared Jewish supporters of BDS to “Capos in the extermination camps” in an article he wrote for the campus paper.

20 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    February 1, 2012, 7:03 pm

    Deliberate distortion and lies are valuable tools for “discourse suppression” because they sometimes “work” to get a conference called off. (University presidents are such softies for Zionist complaints, what with the need for big contributions.) Afterward a conference is canceled, it is too late, even if the “quotes” are shown to be unsupported fabrications.

    Gotta fight them early and often.

  2. Real Jew
    February 1, 2012, 8:21 pm

    Oh and the desperation continues…

    As Israel’s international standing plummet (thank God for the internet) the job of hasbarists everywhere is getting harder. Consequently, we have seen a massive increase of shameless misrepresentation and distortion in pro Israel journalism smearing any event or individual who challenges their narrative. And that’s a good sign.

  3. chet
    February 1, 2012, 9:43 pm

    What’s more likely to be reported in the Pennsylvania media – the ADL smear or Ms. Cobban’s rebuttal?

    • bangpound
      February 2, 2012, 8:50 am

      Any serious journalist would look at the dossier provided by the ADL and want to verify the authenticity of the statements and ask for a response from the person being smeared.

      It’s sad that Jewish community media is the primary outlet for these attacks, because it shows the journalistic standards are simply non-existant on this issue. The ADL is apparently exploiting this weakness to disseminate false information through Jewish community media.

      • Hostage
        February 2, 2012, 12:56 pm

        The ADL is apparently exploiting this weakness to disseminate false information through Jewish community media.

        In many cases, the ADL could accurately be described as the Defamation and Intimidation League. I stopped taking the organization’s word for its claims at face value after several plaintiffs had obtained judgments or settlements against the ADL for defamation and spying. Only gullible people believe that the way things appear in ADL publications is the way they really are:

        link to

        link to

  4. Daniel Rich
    February 1, 2012, 11:05 pm

    Can the ADL debunk this individual?


    Extremely Foul Language

    • Mndwss
      February 2, 2012, 3:34 pm

      Possible ADL explanation:

      Hamas must have fed her Muslim halal food. If you eat any Muslim food you will become a Muslim Terrorist. And then you explode on the bus.


      Maybe not. I think the woman was on drugs.

      But, why did the driver not stop the bus and call for an ambulance or police to take care of her? He just drives on and let people on an off, and all the time this crazy woman is scaring the children next to her. (And may be a danger to them). Are not the driver responsible for the security of his passengers?

      • Annie Robbins
        February 2, 2012, 3:56 pm

        she could just be autistic or mentally challenged.

        • Mndwss
          February 2, 2012, 4:35 pm

          Yes. You have a point.

          She could have been off her drugs.

          I put ambulance before police because i think she needs treatment in a hospital and not a jail cell. Even if she was on drugs.

  5. Annie Robbins
    February 2, 2012, 12:05 am

    i remember when they spread lies about her a month ago. helena is helena, there’s simply no one else like her. and she’s wonderful!

  6. Chaos4700
    February 2, 2012, 12:10 am

    So the ADL are confirmed and documented liars. They don’t care about combating real anti-Semitism, let alone discrimination against anyone except Jews. They’re just another shill organization for Israel. They’re first and last concern is Israel, and Israel alone.

    • Oscar
      February 2, 2012, 8:24 am

      Shingo, are you possibly suggesting they might be . . . *GASP!* . . . “Israel-Firsters!??”

      • Chaos4700
        February 2, 2012, 10:05 am

        Not that I find it altogether unflattering, but I’m not Shingo. ;)

        • Oscar
          February 4, 2012, 7:18 am

          Chaos – I should know better. After all, there were no typos in your comment.

          Hey, just kidding around, Shingo! ; )

    • seafoid
      February 2, 2012, 11:15 am

      All Zionist organisations are familiar with the dark arts of the media. The narrative is in trouble and they want to muddle through somehow. And Israel is a sacred mission. To get closer to Moshiach. So you can do whatever.

  7. tombishop
    February 2, 2012, 10:14 am

    The link to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s February 1st report on the BDS conference, now in the Education section, continues to have the inflammatory headline: “Pro-Palestinian gathering sparks fears”. link to The article itself has the headline: “BDS conference sparks free-speech debate at Penn”

    The Education Section also has the anti-BDS Viewpoint article: “A conference of falsehoods”
    link to

    After days of Zionist diatribes against the BDS conference in the University of Pennsylvania’s Daily Pennsylvanian, they finally have a column pro-BDS column by Max Blumenthal, “Torture, violence advocate to keynote anti-BDS event
    Alan Dershowitz, supporter of bulldozing Palestinian towns and torturing criminal suspects, is coming to campus”

    link to

  8. David Samel
    February 2, 2012, 11:27 am

    It’s about time the ADL removes the “A” from its title. Defamation has long been their bread and butter.

  9. jayn0t
    February 2, 2012, 11:45 am

    A good article about a successful suit against the Anti Defamation League is here:

    link to

    • American
      February 2, 2012, 12:06 pm

      They should be sued more often…a lot of character assassins should be sued…then these groups and individuals would be cut down a bit.
      I saw where Prof Plaut (a uber zio) in Israel got sued by another Israeli Prof he called an anti semite or self hating Jew, and wonders of wonders, Plaut got convicted by the Israeli court and had to pay a good sum in damages.

  10. American
    February 2, 2012, 12:13 pm

    “ADL has begun to publish what they call are highlights from “five of the most anti-Israel individuals scheduled to speak ”

    This reminds me of the CAMERA group who had Wanted posters of anti semites and published names of university professors who they claimed were anti Israel.
    Repulsive and sleazy tactics.