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Following weeks of smears, Zaid Jilani resigns from Center for American Progress to take new job

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Zaid Jilani
Zaid Jilani

Last month Israel lobbyist Josh Block smeared several writers who work for two Democratic Party-linked organizations– Center for American Progress (CAP) and Media Matters– as anti-semites. Since then, CAP has done little to stand up for its writers’ comments, and today a writer targeted by Block has left CAP, the Washington Post reported.

Zaid Jilani confirmed to me that he’s leaving. The job was long in the works, and he’s excited: he is going to United Republic, a nonprofit that fights the corporate influence in politics. “I moved to a new spot I like and I wish everyone well at the Center for American Progress,” he says.

I still regard this news as a big setback. Jilani is a fabulous young journalist. He should be allowed to voice a critique of the Israel lobby inside the Democratic Party machinery. As Glenn Greenwald says today, there’s racism in the focus on Jilani and Ali Gharib, another wonderful young journalist. The New York Post went after Jilani yesterday and focused on a tweet of last summer:

“Waiting 4 hack pro-Dem blogger to use this 2 sho Obama is still beloved by Israel-firsters and getting lots of their $$”

Still, I refuse to believe that Block won the battle. I persist in this opinion because this ideological battle is the most important one of our time in foreign policy, and it’s about time it’s taking place inside the walls of the Democratic Party. The more openly it takes place in the discourse, the more reasonable people who see what’s happening will come to our side. I hope the New York Times now writes about this and the New Yorker too.

Though today’s Washington Post piece by Peter Wallsten continues Block’s campaign by trying to paint the writers as outside the mainstream, an effort CAP is only too willing to assist:

Jason Isaacson, an official with the American Jewish Committee, which often collaborates on policy issues with CAP, pointed to “very troubling things that have been written on a pretty regular basis by certain people associated with the organization.”

“For any serious policy center there are certain lines of fairness and objectivity and good sense that should not be crossed, and yet, disturbingly, those lines have regularly been crossed,” Isaacson added.

Officials from the center counter that the “inappropriate” language came only in personal tweets from staffers — not on CAP’s Web site or its Think Progress blog. The tweets were deleted and the authors apologized.

Officials said the center is staunchly pro-Israel….

Though Wallsten says this: “Some young liberal Jews are expressing disaffection from a country their parents had taught them to revere.”

The New York Post column yesterday by neoconservative Alana Goodman showed once again that rightwingers are able to pressure the Dems/Obama on this question because they are the conservative members of the Jewish family. She battened on to a Jilani reference to Israeli “apartheid.”

CAP hasn’t distanced itself from these comments or even acknowledged that they’re anti-Israel. If it deems them acceptable public comment, one wonders what the internal dialogue is like at the think tank — and among the alumni who have gone on to the Obama administration.

At a minimum, the controversy highlights how progressive groups are working to undermine traditional Democratic support for Israel.

Glenn Greenwald says the anti-Semitism charge is being used to staunch criticism of the idea of attacking Iran:

So according to Block, you are not allowed (unless you want to be found guilty of anti-Semitism) to use “policy rhetoric that is hostile to Israel” or — more amazingly — even to “suggest that Iran has no nuclear weapons program.” Those ideas are strictly off limits, declares the former AIPAC spokesman. Apparently, then, America’s National Intelligence Estimates of 2007 and 2010 are both anti-Semitic, since they both concludedthat Iran ceased work on developing a nuclear weapon back in 2003 and that there is no conclusive evidence demonstrating it resumed; to cite those reports and to embrace their conclusions makes you an anti-Semite, since you’re not allowed to “suggest that Iran has no nuclear weapons program.” Israel’s government is also evidently suffused with anti-Semites,

Let me say here, I think this is a great battle. And it is mortal combat. People get hurt. I met Jilani at Netroots last summer and have the highest opinion of him. He will be successful despite these attacks. And if pro-Israel hoodlums don’t think that they have not given this young man a great object lesson in how politics works, and thereby armed him for more effective writing in the future, well– they shall harvest the whirlwind.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of

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29 Responses

  1. PeaceThroughJustice on January 19, 2012, 4:54 pm


    “More Intellectual Dishonesty at The New York Times”
    Michael Harrington

    “For years, we, the reporters who inform the American people about the goings-on in Israel and occupied Palestine, a group that — as Allison Weir and Jonathan Cook have shown — is overwhelmingly comprised of Jews with deep emotional, and quite often familial, attachments to Israeli society, have systematically downplayed the scale and impact of religious fundamentalism within the Zionist state.

    “Since its founding, and with ever-increasing intensity since the rise of the Likud Party under Begin in the late 1970s, the discourse of Israeli identity has been predicated on the idea that Israel is a bastion of Modernity, Rationality, and Democracy surrounded by a sea of essentially medieval people, savage beings beholden to the dark superstitions and violent dictates of the Quran.

    • Henry Norr on January 19, 2012, 5:40 pm

      Thanks for that link, PTJ, but for the record the author is Thomas Harrington, not Michael.

    • thetumta on January 19, 2012, 7:54 pm

      “medieval people”! If it wasn’t so terribly sad, I would literally die of laughter. Which doesn’t seem like a particularly bad way to go, but.

  2. seafoid on January 19, 2012, 5:21 pm

    “staunchly pro-Israel”….

    I wonder who will identify with this in 2030.

    The slur of antisemitism is so meaningless today.

    The Zionists are like a mother desperate to arrange a date with a nice girl for her Aspergers son who has a personality disorder, is prone to violence and has no table manners.

  3. seafoid on January 19, 2012, 5:24 pm

    Antisemitism now means opposition to war with Iran according to Greenwald

    This is what will happen if Israel attacks Iran

    • thetumta on January 19, 2012, 7:57 pm

      I guess the question is, “Who’s the gator”? Persia’s been there a long, long time. America not so long.

      • annie on January 19, 2012, 8:39 pm

        “Who’s the gator”?

        seafoid referenced greenwald:

        But those pushing this particular smear campaign have over-played their hand in several important ways and, in doing so, have revealed more starkly than ever the true purpose and the real premises underlying their attacks.

        and here’s phil:

        The more openly it takes place in the discourse, the more reasonable people who see what’s happening will come to our side. I hope the New York Times now writes about this and the New Yorker too.

        i think the boa constrictor is the lobby. and if we attack iran the gator is the american public.

      • Chaos4700 on January 20, 2012, 9:20 am

        But you know what people overlook in that picture, Annie? The boa constrictor still managed to kill the gator.

      • seafoid on January 20, 2012, 11:21 am

        There is one boa constrictor in the Middle east and plenty of gators

    • American on January 19, 2012, 8:26 pm

      LOL! seafoid………gruesome but apt.

  4. justicewillprevail on January 19, 2012, 5:29 pm

    Absolutely standard Israel tactics. Smear, and then ensure your echo chamber repeats it across the MSM, turn it into a talking point, fudge the original point and make it a general libel. Keep the heat on. It has worked before and sadly it still works. Unless people stand up to the bully boys. What an absurdity that political opinion and debate is stifled by the little israel thought police. And why, you might wonder, does CAP think it has to declare that it is ‘staunchly pro-Israel’ – is it required to be staunchly pro China, when the China lobby comes threatening, or are they anti-China? In a dispute with Belgium, are they nevertheless staunchly pro-Belgium? What does it even mean. These people are absurd, shallow, shills who have private interests at odds with their self-righteous public baiting of decent people.

  5. annie on January 19, 2012, 5:38 pm

    wow, what a loss for CAP for letting this happen. horrid. they should be ashamed for not standing up for Jilani. it shames their reputation after the trashing block took after his despicable display of manipulations he has come out on top and CAP is the looser.

    what a loss. Jilani got thrown under a bus and cap has lost lots of luster in my eyes.

  6. Dan Crowther on January 19, 2012, 5:47 pm

    Your kind of insinuating Greenwald is “in the democratic party machinery” here Phil. I dont think my main man Glenn see’s himself this way – and I know I don’t see him that way.

  7. ritzl on January 19, 2012, 6:33 pm

    Maybe these writers could be encouraged to write freely here.

  8. jewishgoyim on January 19, 2012, 6:36 pm

    Where exactly do you get that from, Dan? I just don’t see it.

    • Dan Crowther on January 19, 2012, 8:54 pm

      Well, what can I say….

      “I moved to a new spot I like and I wish everyone well at the Center for American Progress,” he says.”

      That is the only non-greenwald quote in support of the guy in a article about “the democratic party machinery” the other half of the “battle” CAP, Block and others are mentioned, cited etc – but glenn greenwald, aside from phil is the only writer making a defense of jilani. He frames it as a guy who gets fired at a “democratic party linked organization” so, his defense is framed within the context of the democratic party, like greenwald and phil are defending their fellow democrat

      “Let me say here, I think this is a great battle. And it is mortal combat. People get hurt. ”
      “Still, I refuse to believe that Block won the battle.”
      Who else is on the other side other than Greenwald?

      “I still regard this news as a big setback. Jilani is a fabulous young journalist. He should be allowed to voice a critique of the Israel lobby inside the Democratic Party machinery. As Glenn Greenwald says today, there’s racism in the focus on Jilani and Ali Gharib, another wonderful young journalist. The New York Post went after Jilani yesterday and focused on a tweet of last summer:
      Here is probably the most obvious example, here Phil is, speaking almost like a democratic party stake holder – talking of “what should be allowed” in the party, like it’s the elk’s or something – and then its right back to a quote from greenwald to support phil’s argument, also the “setback” is at once a setback for the democratic party and the author’s cause.

      “The New York Post column yesterday by neoconservative Alana Goodman showed once again that rightwingers are able to pressure the Dems/Obama on this question…. ”
      And then he goes right to Greenwald, almost as a rebuttal – in block quote form.
      and again, phil’s rootin for the democrats in the piece, and greenwald is the only one on the other side of the “battle” – and notice its “neoconservative alana goodman” but greenwald gets no such distinction, “civil libertarian” for example. I just dont think Phil makes it clear that Greenwald is coming at this whole thing from an “outside the battle” view – at least as far as the democratic party and its media organs are concerned.

      Greenwald goes to great lengths to make clear he’s talking about both parties, liberals and conservatives. Greenwald wrote a piece about a jewish dude who did some dirt on other bloggers because he’s a racist authoritarian obsessed with israel, and some of the jewish people who abuse the anti-semitism charge – phil’s making this a democratic party battle, when its actually about an intensely authoritarian strain of american jews who think they can intimidate, shout-down and ruin people because they are entitled – as jews- to do so. Nothing to do with the democratic party.

      The other thing, is block and others are jewish making the anti-semitic charge; greenwald – also jewish- is defending him. Again, in a story that can read “democrat gets fired” One of things I love about Greenwald is: the guy almost never even so much as mentions he’s jewish, never qualifies anything he says with, “as a jew” – and he doesnt ever seek to have his voice elevated over others because he is jewish, which unfortunately is not the case all the time.

      • ToivoS on January 20, 2012, 3:40 am

        phil’s making this a democratic party battle

        Your obsessive dislike of Democrats are leading you to talk nonsense. Of course Phil knows the discussion must be much larger. If the debate actually breaks out inside the DP, then this is major development. It is a sign that the debate that Phil has been advocating is moving into the mainstream. This is a tiny step, but it is step in a direction that hopefully will lead to break the strangulation Zionists currently have over the national political discussion of the Palestinians. As long as US foreign policy is dedicated towards supporting Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, the Palestinians will not be free.

        By itself such a change will unlikely be sufficient, but we believe it will be necessary to see a free Palestine.

      • Dan Crowther on January 20, 2012, 8:45 am

        “By itself such a change will unlikely be sufficient, but we believe it will be necessary to see a free Palestine.”

        So, having this “battle” or “debate” within the democratic party is NECESSARY to see a free palestine. WOW. And, I’m talking nonsense. OK.

        What kills me about the democratic party/mainstream obsessed is – it doesn’t take into account, at all, the grassroots people lead movements of the last couple of years. In fact, it belittles them. The Occupy movement has done more the “change the mainstream discourse” on a whole host of topics, what exactly does Occupy have to do with democrats? Exactly, nothing. Same with BDS. But now you want the unwashed masses to step aside and let the grown ups take it from here

        Im sure the Egyptians, Tunisians, Bahrainians, Greeks, Italians, Spainards, British, French ( just gonna stop here, knowing im leaving people out) were all thinking of political parties or what the mainstream thought when they filled the streets of their respective countries.

        What’s funny about this, is Greenwald makes pretty much the same argument as I do, about democratic party cooption of the occupy movement, and other grassroots movements ( like BDS etc) – but because I dont have the cred of a greenwald, im talking nonsense. We’ve heard all of this before, this condescension from politically aligned elitists, thankfully, now more than ever, efforts to shut people up and box them into the two party mainstream are failing – I can only hope this continues.

        My “obsessive dislike” is not really of the “democrats” its of the people who voted for the Iraq war (both times), its the people who supported Clintons endeavors in the Balkans, its for the people who voted to kill Afghani, Iraqi and Iranian children, its for the people who voted for torture, spying, rendition, indefinite detention of anyone with no charges, its for the people who lied about their support of single payer health insurance, who lied about their support of employee free choice, and its for the people who lied about their objections to war, torture, spying etc while a republican was in office, but when a democrat was elected, had nothing to say about it. If these people ( and this is in no way a comprehensive list of the gross misdeeds of the democrats over the years) happen to be democrats, yeah – F them. I am at the point where I am comfortable saying that, if your not, OK – but Im definitely not talking nonsense.

      • Dan Crowther on January 20, 2012, 9:13 am

        And again, aside from non aligned glenn greenwald, who within the democratic party machinery is coming to Jilani’s aid – there isnt a “battle” breaking out… greenwald here exposes the democratic party for what it is, phil casts it as a “battle” within the party…..rrrrright

      • ToivoS on January 20, 2012, 1:24 pm

        Most of what you are saying about the importance of grass roots organizing, about BDS and about the importance of the non-establishment is absolutely correct. However, as long as the world’s only superpower provides unquestioning support for any Israeli government, the Palestinians will remain under the yoke of Israeli oppression. We saw this in South Africa and we even saw this in with the Civil Rights movement here in the South. The Democratic Party was the bastion of support for segregation in the South from the civil war until 1964. But in 1964 when Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, Jim Crow died. A mass movement forced that change within the party. If the party was left to its own internal dynamics we would still have Jim Crow. But they changed slowly from within.

        Phil is quite correct to point out that this one tiny fissure exemplified by the CAP inside the DP is significant and important. Once that fissure grows wide enough it will be a sign of the end of America’s proZionist policies. The Ron Paul phenomena is a sign that there are growing fissures on the right as well. Though a Democrat myself, that is why many of encourage if not downright support his candidacy as well.

        We are talking about seeing signs of change. Your obsessive dislike of the DP makes it very difficult for you, Dan, to see progress when it appears.

      • Dan Crowther on January 20, 2012, 3:36 pm

        Im also down with Paul at this point…..

        Lets be clear here – south african apartheid was condemned officially for years, and democratic administrations supported it through trade etc at the same time (the US was apartheid SA’s #2 trading partner the whole time it existed)

        Sure, the democratic party was the “bastion of support” as long it meant black folks becoming a wing of the democratic party. But lets go past the Civil Rights Act. King got assassinated while he was organizing workers and poor people, after years of being spied on by the FBI during democratic administrations; COINTELPRO speaks for itself; de-industrialization and financial liberalization began in earnest under Carter, and soon after came the drug war(supported by democrats). So, yeah, democrats “supported” civil rights – but they worked as hard as anyone against “economic rights” for working class people, blacks in particular. Your argument is fallacious.

  9. Chespirito on January 19, 2012, 7:11 pm

    A loss for CAP. CAP has many fine people working for it, especially the younger set, doing good policy research and writing good stuff. Glad to hear that Jilani is heading to a decent job.

    Still, given the lack of backbone shown by the higher-ups at CAP in the face of this smear campaign, I can’t help but wonder if CAP really stands for Chickensh*t And Pusillanimous.

    Might be harder to get grant money with that name, but doesn’t the shoe fit a little?

  10. yourstruly on January 20, 2012, 12:46 am

    why so much concern about israel-firsters in their usual attack mode. so they scare a few people. meanwhile mw and other internet sites go into their own attack mode. msm is more effective? yeah, then how come an online response to a senate censorship bill scared off senators who had signed on as co-sponsors. remember, same thing happened 4 years ago with the original house bailout the banksters legislation, when on the first vote the house overwhelmingly turned the bill down. for sure it’ll take more than the internet to liberate palestine but for starting up has there ever been anything better?

  11. iamuglow on January 20, 2012, 1:02 am

    Not sure if it was mentioned but Goldberg at the Atlantic has the following masquerading as journalism

    “Is the Term ‘Israel-Firster’ Anti-Semitic?”

    “There’s been a controversy raging over the past month or so that I’ve avoided writing about mainly because it has a Groundhog Day quality to it. It began with this very interesting Ben Smith piece, but lately it has become tiresome. Apparently, it is not tiresome to other pepole, because it just keeps going. The seemingly most urgent question to emerge from this controversy is whether or not the term “Israel-firster” is anti-Semitic”

    He doesn’t mention the controversy about Bock losing his job for feeding journalists like himself info for them to use to smear writers critics of Israel..instead he goes into a pathetic…I’m not saying its antiSemitic, but

    ..”Its origins are certainly anti-Semitic….” but Goldberg is a nuanced guy, maybe you’re not antisemitic, maybe

    “They just might be ignorant, like J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami, who to my surprise buys into the trope”

    Its kind of ballsy article as it is exactly the hit piece that Bock was calling for. But then he was outed and disgraced…its as though Goldberg doesnt know that…or as is the case, he doesnt care. He should have been run out of town after Iraq, he’s just become emboldened to lie now.

    Wasn’t this guy supposed to move to the Tablet? Did I confuse the J.Goldbergs?

  12. atime forpeace on January 20, 2012, 7:15 am

    Justin Raimondo over at Antiwar has an excelled piece on this issue.

    I hope that the U.S intel community can throw us a bone and maybe catch some other american Israel firster and let the media play it out for all to see.

    “The tale of the DC Five – the five Beltway bloggers at two prominent Democratic Washington thinktanks who have been smacked down (and one fired) for being insufficiently pro-Israel – is hardly a shock to those who know their history. But before we get into that, a few details on what is only the latest chapter in the story of how the War Party operates in this country.
    The DC Five are Matt Duss, Ali Gharib, Eli Clifton and Zaid Jilani, bloggers at the Center for American Progress group blog, ThinkProgress, and former AIPAC employee MJ Rosenberg who currently writes for Media Matters. The Washington Post details the charges against them:
    “The Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank closely aligned with the White House, is embroiled in a dispute with several major Jewish organizations over statements on Israel and charges that some center staffers have used anti-Semitic language to attack pro-Israel Americans. ”

  13. Haytham on January 20, 2012, 8:22 am

    Zbig: Israelis “bought influence” and outmaneuvered Obama
    The president “should have stuck to his guns” in pursuing Mideast peace, says former NSC advisor

    • Chaos4700 on January 20, 2012, 9:19 am

      What I don’t understand is why commentators like Zbig keep desperately ignoring the elephant in the room vis-a-vis Obama’s relationship with Israel: His first chief of staff was a man who volunteered for the IDF and left the US while we were at ware with Iraq the first time.

    • seafoid on January 20, 2012, 10:02 am

      Nice to see you back, Haytham. Ahlan wa sahlan biik

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