Never before on Twitter have so many pro-Israel Jews and mainstream Jewish organizations excitedly linked to the website of David Duke.
The American Jewish Committee did it. Rob Jacobs of StandWithUs Northwest did it, twice. Blogger Elder of Ziyon did it. The Executive Director of the Boston Jewish Community Relations Council did it. The Algemeiner did it.
— AJC Global (@AJCGlobal) June 22, 2014
Incredible! The former head of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, endorses and applauds Presbyterian divestiture from… http://t.co/D5BaSwb5mb
— Rob Jacobs (@RobSJacobs) June 23, 2014
Suddenly pundits and leaders in Jewish-oriented media want to know: “What does former Klansman and white supremacist David Duke think?”
And the impetus for Duke-Mania 2014 (Jewish edition)? Duke recently issued a statement in support of the Presbyterian Church USA’s move for divestment. The insinuation—rarely spelled out—is that if someone as anti-Semitic as Duke agrees with an action, the action itself is anti-Semitic.
That is, like an insecure game of cooties, anything that David Duke touches becomes anti-Semitic.
Jeffrey Goldberg went furthest when he stated twice, without substantiation, that Duke “claims credit for devising Presbyterian Church strategy”:
@drew_paton Read the piece. I'm sure it's painful for you to know that David Duke claims credit for devising Presbyterian Church strategy.
— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) June 23, 2014
@EricLevitz I find it noteworthy that David Duke claims credit for devising an ideology later adopted by some in the church.
— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) June 23, 2014
Now anybody with a basic awareness of logical fallacies understands that such guilt by association is invalid. However, since we’re talking about spurious defenses of Israel, it needs to be spelled out. Thus I offer a brief history of the David Duke endorsement smear tactic.
Eli Lake stages David Duke’s comeback
Years ago, it would have been unimaginable for mainstream US media to seek out David Duke’s opinion on anything. This changed when it became clear that an endorsement from Duke was a valuable weapon for smearing opponents.
In 2006, when Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer published their Harvard working paper version of “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” it sparked a media firestorm over the power of the Israel lobby in the United States.
David Duke was not cited in the Harvard paper, nor did he hold a perceived position of authority or expertise in academia, the mainstream media, or elsewhere. Yet Eli Lake, reporting for the New York Sun, decided to contact Duke for a review.
In an email to Lake, Duke responded that he had not read the Walt–Mearsheimer paper—only that he had “read about the report and read one summary already, and I am surprised how excellent it is.”
This was enough for Lake, who led his article on March 20, 2006 by stating that Walt and Mearsheimer’s study was “winning praise from white supremacist David Duke.” The only other person Lake quoted as praising the study was a senior member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s guidance council.
In contrast, Lake quoted several people who were critical of the study, many of whom cited in the study as being part of the Israel lobby: Alan Dershowitz, Marty Peretz, Malcolm Hoenlein, Aaron David Miller, Andrea Levin of CAMERA, Herbert London of the Hudson Institute, and Morris Amitay, formerly of AIPAC.
The Washington Post followed suit a week later, reporting that Walt and Mearsheimer had “ignited a furious debate.” In order to demonstrate the ferocity of the debate, the Post quoted eight “experts”—six of whom criticized the study: Alan Dershowitz, Dennis Ross, Shmuel Rosner, Ruth Wisse, CAMERA, and Daniel Drezner. The remaining two quotes offered praise: one from Juan Cole and the other from David Duke.
At this point, Duke realized that he was being given a platform to express his opinions in the mainstream media, and he seized the opportunity. On April 1, 2006, Duke issued a “Formal Statement … on the recent Harvard paper on the Israeli Lobby” on his website. There he wrote:
The use of my name with biased prefixes in an effort to defame the paper ironically has only made it more newsworthy. For now people discuss it all over America. Indeed, that’s all I or the author’s could hope for. The hateful attacks on the paper, its authors and me will directly lead to wider knowledge of it.
Four days later, the Washington Post published yet another attack on the Walt–Mearsheimer report, this time by neocon Eliot Cohen. The piece, entitled “Yes, It’s Anti-Semitic,” dutifully cited from Duke’s “Formal Statement”—just as Duke had hoped for.
At the same time, both Walt and Mearsheimer and other individuals associated with publishing the study were put on the defensive and forced to fight back against this contrived connection to David Duke.
Other media outlets picked up the David Duke connection. The Wall Street Journal published two editorials citing David Duke, one by Ruth Wisse and another by James Taranto, whose piece was entitled “Duke 1, Harvard 0.”
Just as the existence of the Israel lobby was finally being discussed in the mainstream, Eli Lake opened the door for David Duke to contribute to the discussion.
Occupy Wall Street
Occupy Wall Street took off in September 2011 and for weeks became the leading news story. Duke offered his endorsement of the movement, producing a video entitled “Occupy Zionist Wall Street,” in which he proclaimed:
I cheer the men and women on the streets condemning international banks that hold America hostage …. Yes, occupy Wall Street! Occupy the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Washington. Bring the biggest financial criminals in the world to jusice! Finally Americans are rising up, and it feels great.
Duke also defended the Occupy movement from attacks by conservative commentators such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.
Glenn Beck pounced on the story, failing to appreciate the irony that Duke had also supported the Tea Party. Meanwhile, an article on the conservative website The Blaze reported that “Racist David Duke Joins The Unions, Maoists, Communists, Socialists, & Anti-Semites at OWS.”
The American Nazi Party also threw in its support for Occupy, which drew hackles from Gateway Pundit, The Blaze, and Fox News. Fox also noted that Occupy had received kudos from Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
— American Nazi Party (@ANP14) October 15, 2011
In response, Todd Gregory in Media Matters for America stated what should have been obvious:
If a Nazi says something nice about you, that doesn’t make you a Nazi.
In 2012, Duke produced an 8-minute video as an unsolicited endorsement for the Congressional candidacy of New York City Council Member Charles Barron, a radical African-American activist and former Black Panther.
Barron, who had strongly criticized Israel in the past, was running in the Democratic primary against Hakeem Jeffries, a state assemblyman with strong ties to the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC).
Jeffries had already taken the obligatory JCRC-sponsored junket to Israel and Israeli settlements in 2008. Barron, on the other hand, insisted on an “evenhanded policy of negotiated settlement” for Palestine-Israel, and “not a military settlement.” In 2009, Barron participated in the Viva Palestina convoy to Gaza.
Prior to the Duke endorsement, major New York politicians had already denounced Barron at a press conference at the “Museum of Jewish Heritage—A Living Memorial to the Holocaust,” where they labeled Barron an “enemy of the State of Israel” and “a snake.”
Thus when Duke released his endorsement video, Barron’s opponents gleefully publicized it. The Daily Caller announced that “David Duke’s back and this time he’s black—And a Democrat,” also referring to Barron as a candidate “who doesn’t like Jews very much.”
BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith, who apparently does not read the articles on his own website, claimed that “The old Nazi–Black Nationalist alliance rears its vestigial head,” falsely suggesting that the endorsement was reciprocal.
The old Nazi-Black Nationalist alliance rears its vestigial head in Brooklyn http://t.co/batDKVF9
— Ben Smith (@BuzzFeedBen) June 21, 2012
In fact, Barron shrugged off the endorsement and dismissed the attention around it as “foolishness”:
We’re staying focused—and we demand respect for our campaign …I don’t think that’s a campaign issue. I don’t think it’s intelligent.
And though the media obsessed over the Duke endorsement and noted that it would hurt Barron’s campaign, it failed to ask the obvious question:
Barron was running in a majority-black district that stretched across Brooklyn and Queens, with at best a 30% white population—though that 30% also includes white Jews and “white Hispanics.” It was clear from the beginning that an endorsement from the Louisiana-based ex-Klansman would not benefit the campaign.
If an endorsement from Duke would only damage Barron’s candidacy, what did Duke hope to achieve by offering an unsolicited endorsement?
None of the media that reported on the endorsement bothered to ask.
Jeffries who had also raised close to ten times the amount of money that Barron had raised, defeated Barron in the primary by a landslide.
Late last year when Eric Alterman penned a series of poorly argued pieces attacking Max Blumenthal’s book Goliath, he could not resist mentioning that Goliath had been endorsed on David Duke’s website (though not by Duke himsef). Again, not only was the argument spurious—and Alterman knew so, as he had tellingly situated the accusation as an aside—but others pointed out that Alterman’s own work, unlike Blumenthal’s, had been praised by Duke himself.
Thus, by Alterman’s own false logic, he had more in common with Duke than Blumenthal had.
More recently, critics of Blumenthal, ranging from Rush Limbaugh to an unnamed reporter in the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz, attempted to implicate him in the Jewish center shootings in Overland Park, Kansas, which had been committed by neo-Nazi Frazier Glenn Miller. As Alex Kane and I had noted, the evidence came down to a single mention of “Jew journalist Max Blumenthal” that Miller had posted on a white supremacist forum two years before the shootings.
The fact that critics could only find one reference to Blumenthal out of Miller’s 12,683 forum posts indicated that the connection was contrived. Instead of seriously investigating the causes of what appeared to be an anti-Semitic hate crime, critics employed a Google search to falsely implicate Blumenthal and punish him for daring to criticize Israel.
Even after the claim was disproven, and after Haaretz removed the accusation, dedicated apologists for Israel such as Hen Mazzig and Michael Dickson, both of StandWithUs, attempted to take the story further:
— Hen Mazzig (@HenMazzig) April 16, 2014
— Hen Mazzig (@HenMazzig) April 17, 2014
White Supremacists for Obama
In the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, Esquire reported on “Why White Supremacists Support Barack Obama,” citing prominent neo-Nazi leaders such as Tom Metzger of the White Aryan Resistance, Erich Gliebe of the National Alliance, and Rocky Suhayda of the American Nazi Party. Suhayda praised Obama as “the kind of negro that I can respect,” while Gliebe stated,
I give Obama credit, he seems to have stuck to his guns as far as pulling the troops out of Iraq. He’s a very intelligent man, an excellent speaker and has charisma. John McCain offers none of that. Perhaps the best thing for the white race is to have a black president. My only problem with Obama is perhaps he’s not black enough.
It’s hard not being David Duke
According to Jeffrey Goldberg, receiving an endorsement from the “KKK” should compel reflection on one’s actions and choices:
@AaronMagid I disagree. I think a KKK endorsement should cause Presbyterian leaders to reflect on why David Duke likes their policy.
— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) June 22, 2014
Aside from the fact that Duke has not been a KKK member for decades, he has taken positions on several issues which would supposedly compel much “reflection,” though it is unclear what is to be reflected. Duke has:
- run for government offices as both a Democrat and a Republican
- opposed George W. Bush and has called for his impeachment
- decried the Iraq war as “going to war against an entire nation on false pretenses in violation of international law”
- opposed torture at Abu Ghraib
- opposed Israeli mistreatment of African asylum-seekers
- endorsed articles published in the Times of Israel, Haaretz, and the Jewish Daily Forward
- endorsed a low-carb, high-fat diet
Duke even condemned the March 2008 Mercaz HaRav shooting—an attack in which a lone Palestinian shot and killed eight yeshiva students in Jerusalem and left many more wounded. As Duke stated at the time:
I do condemn and have the utmost contempt for that Jerusalem attack and all attacks on innocent life. Every decent human decries all terrorism and murderous acts against the innocent … Everyone should find despicable the terrorist attack in Jerusalem by apparently a Palestinian.
In fact, Duke considers himself a staunch advocate of nonviolence. In a recent radio program, Duke implored Palestinians to refrain from attacking Israeli civilians and to practice nonviolence. This brings Jeffrey Goldberg in line with Duke, as Goldberg recently lectured the Palestinians similarly:
@mattduss Also, btw, he's wrong. I would say mass non-violent resistance would achieve goals sooner than kidnapping and rockets.
— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) June 15, 2014
@mattduss Disagree with you emphasis placed on non-violent vs. violent, but: If Palestinians could mobilize 100s of non-violent sit-ins….
— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) June 15, 2014
In a piece on stress relief, David Duke endorsed scientific studies published by the Journal of Experimental Psychology and the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Employing Jeffrey Goldberg’s dictum, researchers associated with the two studies “should reflect on why David Duke likes” their research.
In order to not be confused for David Duke, a conscientious individual would have to support the Iraq War, detest Occupy and love Wall Street, support the killng of civilians, endorse Palestinian violence and the Israeli mistreatment of African refugees, and eat a lot of carbohydrates.
For that matter, the same individual should check Duke’s website frequently to stay apprised of other activities to avoid.
An interview with David Duke
As part of the research for this article, I contacted David Duke by phone. Duke, it should be noted, rejects the notion that he is an anti-Semite, racist, or White supremacist. He also rejects the label of “ex-Klansman,” as it defines him by a membership that he had ended forty years ago. I asked whether he considered himself a “White nationalist”—particularly since he is a frequent contributor to the self-proclaimed “White nationalist” forum Stormfront.
No, I consider myself a human rights activist. And when I do go on Stormfront posts, that’s what I preach, and that’s what I teach.
One wonders then, if other human rights activists should renounce human rights—as the term has now been claimed by Duke—or if Amnesty International “should reflect on why” they promote a concept shared by Duke. And despite endorsing the Presbyterian Church USA divestment move, Duke qualified his endorsement by dismissing the undue weight with which critics have attempted to give it.
I think it just shows the bankruptcy of their argument. You don’t criticize any principle because someone else endorses it.
“I certainly agree with disinvestment—I have a right to speak like everyone else does,” Duke told me. But he found it ridiculous to reject PCUSA’s divestment “because of some guilt by association, which is not even an association.”
In fact, in my conversation with Duke, it was clear that he would endorse almost any action that was critical of Israel. Duke disagreed with but didn’t have any serious objection to the clauses in PCUSA’s divestment measure that asserted Israel’s “right to exist” and support for the two-state solution.
Thus if one sought to engage in ways to hold Israel accountable for its actions without gaining approval from Duke, one would be immobilized. In the end, freedom for Palestinians—or for that matter any other oppressed peoples—should not be dependent on whether the US “Jewish community” approves or whether David Duke disapproves.
An all-around poor argument
So again, when Jeffrey Goldberg writes that
I think a KKK endorsement should cause Presbyterian leaders to reflect on why David Duke likes their policy.
he is not making a legitimate argument. In place of premises and a conclusion, Goldberg offers only prescription: “Presbyterian leaders should reflect.”
Instead of spelling out his conclusion, Goldberg obligates others to do so. Goldberg himself only implies a conclusion because an actual attempt to connect the dots would expose the fallacy. The prescription is nothing more than an arbitrary rule (“If David Duke says X, you must do Y.”)—imposed in this adult game of cooties.
Thus the level of maturity required to impose this arbitrary rule—and the extent to which any argument can possibly be made from Duke’s endorsement—is summed up in this tweet by Philippe Assouline, former StandWithUs “advocacy strategist” and blogger for the Times of Israel:
David Duke and Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) sitting in a tree, h-a-t-i-n-g. http://t.co/y6Gl9ftUxg
— Philassie (@Philassie) June 23, 2014
That is the full extent of the argumentation.
When neo-Nazis attempted to co-opt Rachel Corrie
I will conclude with a personal anecdote that demonstrates how similarities are contrived and then exploited, and which reveal how little neo-Nazis have in common with Palestine solidarity activists or the Left in general.
In late March 2006, a neo-Nazi group known as the National Socialist Movement (NSM) announced that it would be in Olympia, Washington, on April 2 for a “RALLY TO SUPPORT RACHEL CORRIE.” Rachel grew up in Olympia, and it had just been three years since she was killed in the Gaza Strip by a weaponized Caterpillar bulldozer operated by the Israeli military.
The NSM website referred to Rachel as a “White Martyr” and claimed that
Rachel Corrie died as a Martyr to the white cause. She shown [sic] to all leftists the true colors of the jew. Her death forced many to see the reality of kike government sponsored war crimes against non-jews.
On the same day that the NSM was scheduled to appear in Olympia, local organizers staged an opposing rally in which Rachel’s mother Cindy spoke against the NSM’s appropriation of Rachel’s name.
Soon afterward, when the NSM finally held its own rally, they were shouted down by counter-demonstrators. I was living in Olympia at the time and was present at this rally, which lasted only half an hour before the neo-Nazis were escorted away by the police. Just before they left, however, one of the neo-Nazis decided to taunt the crowd by making a joke about Rachel’s death.
It was a tasteless joke not unlike the many others that I had heard from Israel apologists. Yet coming from a neo-Nazi, it carried a different context: it demonstrated that the neo-Nazis did not view Rachel as a “white martyr.” They exploited her death to the extent that they felt they could, hoping to draw sympathizers from her hometown and among Leftists. Once they realized it was futile, they promptly abandoned it and had no qualms turning against Corrie.
This is, of course, the strategy of many fringe groups, and even mainstream ones—tapping into legitimate grievances in order to recruit new members. To appeal to a broad audience, they try to emphasize similiarities, real or imagined.
Thus when Israel apologists attempt to marginalize all criticism of Israel, they not only silence legitimate criticism but also empower the fringe. When they scare away the principled critics of Israel, observers will ask why the only people willing to speak out against Israeli wrongs are the fringe elements. And suddenly the fringe doesn’t seem so kooky anymore.
And when Israel apologists blur the line between legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism, they might successfully stifle their opponents, but they also risk making the anti-Semites sound more legitimate.
In my phone conversation with Duke, he compared the reach of his message to that of Mondoweiss and challenged me to consider which would prevail:
In terms of educating the western world, you tell me who’s reached more people with the truth about Palestine and the truth about the crimes of Israel? Who’s reached more people about Jewish political power in America? The buying up of politicians—has it been me or has it been Mondoweiss?…
Who has really actually changed more minds and reached more people on this subject, positively?
In 2006, prior to holding its rally in Olympia, the NSM had published on its website excerpts from Rachel Corrie’s diary. Conspicuously absent, however, was the following passage, which Rachel wrote in her diary on January 19, 2003, two months before her death, as she was making her way to Palestine:
I try to ask myself – whose interests does it serve to identify Israeli policy with all Jewish people? All I can think of is that it serves people who want to stifle all critique of Israeli policy, people who want to execute various foreign policy goals under the guise of doing something humanitarian for Jewish people (i.e. U.S.), and neo-Nazis who want to use Israel’s policy as a way to justify their hate.
In this way the neo-Nazis, and the Israel supporters who cite the neo-Nazis, are connected. They both attempt to exploit each other for political gain at the expense of the truly oppressed.