Online video service Netflix has received massive attention (and general kudos) for its first original television production House of Cards. Based on a BBC series by the same name, Kevin Spacey plays a high ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives who gets passed over for Secretary of State and decides the sabotage the agenda of the incoming administration. The first task at hand is to take down the man being put forth instead of him and it doesn’t take long for the series to cover the most surefire way to derail someone in DC — impugn their record on Israel.
MJ Rosenberg picks up the plot in the second episode of the series:
Spacey’s staffer comes up with a Williams College editorial on Israel, published when the Secretary of State nominee was editor-in-chief of the college paper. The editorial calls the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza illegal.
Spacey figures that should be enough to destroy the would-be secretary’s chances EXCEPT it turns out that he did not write the editorial, another student did. Spacey dispatches a corrupt, drug addicted Congressman (really) to visit the guy who wrote the article and convince him to say that it was, in fact, the Secretary of State nominee who was responsible.
The guy doesn’t want to do it. He says that, even as a student, the Secretary-designate was a total wuss who would never take any controversial stands.
So the doped up Congressman bribes him with pot and cocaine and, voila, he changes his mind. He will go public with the fact that it was the Secretary guy who opposed the occupation.
Spacey gives the story to the Washington Post and then the Secretary nominee is confronted by the real George Stephanopoulos on his Sunday show who nails him for having criticized Israel 30 years ago! The addled nominee laughs!
Spacey calls the head of the Anti-Defamation League (not played by the real Abe Foxman) to inform him that the Secretary-designate disrespected Israel while in college. The Foxman character rushes to CNN to announce that he will stop the anti-Semite from being confirmed. Spacey, watching the television, smiles, looks at the camera and says, “This is too easy.”
The nominee is forced to withdraw.
In the series Washington DC is more or less portrayed as a cesspool of greed, scandal and self-aggrandizement where the ADL serves as a blunt instrument used to manipulate and destroy.
Unable to avoid the Pavlovian urge to confirm the television show’s farcical characterization of his organization, Abe Foxman has taken to the Huffington Post to respond:
Spacey’s character calls ADL after it is revealed that the president’s choice for Secretary of State criticized Israel’s “illegal occupation” of Palestinian land in an editorial 30 years ago when he was the editor of his college student newspaper.
In the second scene, the fictional head of ADL is shown telling a press gaggle that “he’s an anti-Semite” for saying those words.
On one level, we see it as a form of flattery that the creators of the program thought of ADL for such a theme. This reflects well as to recognition of our outspokenness regarding unjust criticism of Israel and testifies to our wide name recognition.
On the other hand, it plays into an image of ADL which distorts who we are. It suggests, as some do, that ADL will call anyone who criticizes Israel an anti-Semite with the connected implication that we are trying to stifle legitimate criticism of Israel.
The truth is that we would be sharply critical of someone who refers to Israel’s situation in the West Bank as “illegal occupation” but would not refer to such an individual as anti-Semite unless there were other things he had said, whether delegitimizing Israel or comparing Israel to Nazis or accusing Israel of crimes that fall under the category of blood libels and conspiracies.
Criticism of Israel sometimes may be legitimate, sometimes not. When it is not, it may or may not rise to the level of anti-Semitism.
We understand that House of Cards is fiction so we have no interest in protesting. But the more nuanced view that we have just described is the real ADL, an organization to whom credibility is everything and one that makes sure that the term anti-Semitic is used when it is truly warranted.
So, the ADL doesn’t care to respond to House of Cards, except it clearly does. And Foxman doesn’t consider the characterization of the occupation as illegal to be anti-Semitic, except he clearly does. In a nutshell, House of Cards comes across as a documentary.
Joe Klein chimes in on the Time magazine website:
the Anti-Defamation League shines briefly and fairly accurately as an over-the-top, paranoid organization that finds anti-Semites under ever floorboard. This has roused the inevitable Abe Foxman to protest. The ADL would never call a member of Congress anti-semitic for opposing the illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank! He opines. The ADL would merely be “sharply critical,” he says. . .
Foxman really needs to get ahold of himself or retire. Anti-Semitism exists. It is historically toxic and dangerous. But he is seriously devaluing the currency by throwing the accusation hither and yon–and House of Cards has called the ADL on it. Good for them.