Isikoff expose of Gingrich backer — ‘All we care about is being good citizens of Israel’ — puts ‘Israel firster’ issue in mainstream

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Video of Gingrich supporter Sheldon Adelson saying he “unfortunately” wore the uniform of the American military not the Israeli army, and that he wants his son to be a sniper for the Israeli army (4:45 on). “All we care about is being good citizens of Israel.”

The last day has seen a remarkable battle in the mainstream discourse. We have won the battle of “Israel firsters.” It may be a controversial phrase, but it is not anti-semitic. 

Yesterday Tablet sought to forever disqualify the use of the expression “Israel firster” by running two pieces linking the idea to Hitler. (Spencer Ackerman, and Lee Smith). So Tablet joined Israel lobbyist Josh Block, in his two-month-old smear campaign aimed at the Center for American Progress, by arguing that It is anti-semitic to say that an American Jew who propagandizes for Israel has loyalty to Israel.

The Center for American Progress has been wobbly under the attack, but MJ Rosenberg at Media Matters refused to fold. He knows this idea is both true and important. And his shop stood up for him. In recent days Rosenberg has gotten backup from Glenn Greenwald in a big piece, from Jerry Haber, and from Richard Silverstein. The smart set.

The most important blow was delivered yesterday by Mike Isikoff in a great piece of reporting on Sheldon Adelson at NBC, featuring the video above. Isikoff squarely addresses the issue of Who benefits from an attack on Iran— by reporting that Adelson has Israel in his heart. The thrust of the piece is that Adelson has conflated Israel’s interest and the United States, and that’s wrong. This graphic from Adelson’s Israeli newspaper says it all. The translation in Isikoff’s piece says that Gingrich states that Obama is risking a second Holocaust with his Iran policy.

Gingrich ad in Adelsons newspaper
Gingrich ad in Adelson’s newspaper says Obama is denying a potential Holocaust in his Iran policy

Here are key moments of Isikoff’s reporting:

But while Adelson and Gingrich have bonded on the issue of a hawkish Mideast policy, especially over the threat of a nuclear Iran, some of the casino mogul’s comments could prove embarrassing. 

In a talk to an Israeli group in July, 2010, Adelson said he wished he had served in the Israeli Army rather than the U.S. military—and that he hoped his young son would come back to Israel and “be a sniper for the IDF,” a reference to the Israel Defense Forces. (YouTube video of speech

“I am not Israeli. The uniform that I wore in the military, unfortunately, was not an Israeli uniform.  It was an American uniform, although my wife was in the IDF and one of my daughters was in the IDF … our two little boys, one of whom will be bar mitzvahed tomorrow, hopefully he’ll come back– his hobby is shooting — and he’ll come back and be a sniper for the IDF,” Adelson said at the event….“All we care about is being good Zionists, being good citizens of Israel, because even though I am not Israeli born, Israel is in my heart,” he said toward the end of his talk.

Gingrich, who stirred controversy recently by calling the Palestinians “an invented people,” appeared on the cover of Adelson’s Israeli newspaper blasting the Obama administration for its policies on Iran. 

“The Obama administration is denying reality,” reads the headline in Hebrew. “The refusal to confront evil could cause a second Holocaust.”

When Gingrich was questioned about the money from Adelson this week, he immediately cited the casino mogul’s backing of Israel as a major reason he had received his support. 

“Sheldon Adelson is very deeply concerned about the survival of Israel and believes that the Iranians represent a mortal threat to Israel and the United States,” Gingrich said in an interview while on the campaign trail in Florida.  “And he is deeply motivated by the question of having a commander-in-chief strong enough and willing to make sure the Iranians do not get nuclear weapons.”

Asked if he had promised the casino mogul anything in exchange for the money to the super PAC, Gingrich replied: “I promised him that I would seek to defend the United States and the United States allies.”

So a major mainstream outlet, NBC, has said that the motivation of Israel supporters in pushing an attack on Iran is fair game.

P.S. Ackerman called me “a leftwing polemicist” in his piece opposing those who say “Israel firster.” This is interesting. A polemic is defined by Webster’s as “an aggressive attack on or refutation of the opinions or principles of another.” But wait, Ackerman’s own blog is called “Attackerman”!

So here is a journalist who bases his own reputation on polemics who suddenly turns around and deploys the word as a term of abuse! And why? Because of the sacred cow of Israel. I believe Ackerman is a Zionist, he thinks Jews need a Jewish state. And so his religious ideology trumps all other attachments, even his professional self-definition. 

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The founding Zionist intelligentsia never expected wealthy Jews to settle in Palestine. From Let us search our ways (1881) by Peretz Smolenskin. [English explorers] have established that the [Land of Israel] is very good and that, if cultivated with skill and diligence, it could support fourteen million people. Even if we assume some exaggeration (though in truth there is none) and that there is room for only half that number, Eretz Israel can nonetheless contain… Read more »

Greenwald in his superb takedown of Goldberg writes In general, I try to avoid terminology that is gratuitously inflammatory — meaning, language that is unnecessary to make a point and that is more likely to distract from the point with side controversies than focus attention on the point itself (by contrast, I don’t try to avoid language that is necessarily inflammatory: meaning language that is necessary to make a point even if it offends). That’s… Read more »

When using a word like “fascist” I think we have to distinguish between using it as an epithet and using it as a scientific term. As an epithet ( “a word, phrase, or expression used invectively as a term of abuse or contempt, to express hostility, etc. “) it is inflammatory and has little content. It usually is just part of shouted name-calling. It is easy to fall into when it is something you are… Read more »

max ajl’s “one state, two states: who is the subject of the palestine liberation” (yesterday’s mw) insists that “pinning the blame for the occupation merely on the lobby and the foreign influences on our government is a raw appeal to racist-white power jingoism which won’t liberate palestine.” does this mean he’s against using the term israel firster? even when israel-firstness is what stokes antisemitism? it’s not as if jewish israel firsters can’t be identified by… Read more »

Chris Matthews has been out in front on this Adelson/ A greater Israel issue. Finally Isikoff dipping in his toes. But no one in the MSM is touching how much Adelson gives to Israeli chaities, money that ends up being used to build illegal settlments etc, that is more than likely tax exempt, that this money undermines UN resolutions, international treaties and US national security. Phil have you heard any mention of this? Any deeper… Read more »