I have been writing about an extremely Jewish ethno-centric worldview that I call hasbara culture. This culture is constituted by a social construction of reality that experiences the world in very narrow terms. I have mostly used examples from the most influential hasbara culturalist in the U.S., Jeffrey Goldberg, the new editor in chief of the Atlantic, to illustrate this Jewish ethnocentric zealotry. What is problematic is not solely Jeffrey Goldberg believing the Jewish people are the best thing since sliced bread and his need to share that news every way he can. The trouble begins with his inability to realize that other people have entirely different and indeed legitimate experiences of the world, and that they are not fixated on Jews.
Which brings us to Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti Defamation League.
It is one thing for Jeffrey Goldberg to inaccurately assign Jew-hatred as motivation on the part of his political and ideological opponents. Goldberg’s agitation over the years was widely recognized as very self-serving: everyone understands that Goldberg is advancing his career and his particular ideological agendas when he clamors about anti-Semitism.
That is not the case with the ADL. The ADL has been sanctified in American culture since the days of the Leo Frank case. When the ADL passes judgment on someone, it is thought to say something more truthful about the accused than when Jeffrey Goldberg does so. When the civil rights/anti hate organization calls someone a hater, most people assume the ADL has a guilty party in the dock.
As an American Jew I am not proud to report that this is in fact not the case. The ADL can’t be relied upon to tell Americans who the Jew haters are. I have shown in my recent writings of example after example where Jonathan Greenblatt tars clearly innocent people as anti-Semites. I have argued these accusations of anti-Semitism have nothing to do with Jew hatred and everything to do with hasbara culture. Hasbara culture entails an ethnocentric experience of the world that very often does not reflect what actually is going on. It is only with the hasbara culture perspective that anti-Semitism is spotted.
In hasbara culture ”antisemitism” cases, non-Jews are just doing their own thing, following their own values and causes, and suddenly hasbara culture comes knocking. It was because of Mr. Greenblatt’s misunderstanding of what he was seeing that he maligned them. I encourage readers who want to understand this discussion better to read up on the individual cases. It is also important to be mindful of the different ways Greenblatt cultivates the sacredness of his world view, of hasbara culture: specifically, note how many times Greenblatt demands “contrition” when he addresses his innocent targets.
That is what hasbara culture looks like in action. For those paying attention, the one who should be begging for forgiveness is Jonathan Greenblatt for ruining the lives of good people.
Which brings us to the news of the day: the Anti-Defamation League’s attempt to thwart Keith Ellison from becoming head of the Democratic National Committee. The last we had heard from the ADL it had given the Minnesota Congressman a kosher certificate. Greenblatt informed the public that whatever misgivings he had about Ellison’s past he “appreciated his contrition on some matters.”
But now Jonathan Greenblatt says “new information recently has come to light” that “disqualifies” Keith Ellison from being DNC chair. This “new information” is a recording of Keith Ellison in 2010 speaking to a group of Muslim political supporters and urging them to organize to counter the political reality, that US foreign policy in the Middle East is governed by what is good or bad for a country of 7 million, Israel.
After hearing the recording, this was the updated Greenblatt statement:
Rep. Ellison’s remarks are both deeply disturbing and disqualifying. His words imply that U.S. foreign policy is based on religiously or national origin-based special interests rather than simply on America’s best interests. Additionally, whether intentional or not, his words raise the specter of age-old stereotypes about Jewish control of our government, a poisonous myth that may persist in parts of the world where intolerance thrives, but that has no place in open societies like the U.S.
The ADL is in effect eavesdropping on a group of politically-active Muslims speaking amongst themselves. If you listen in to the conversation this is a group of people who feel that it’s safe to let their hair down. Every group has a public discourse and a private discourse. We are listening in on a private Muslim discourse. Ellison says: we share roots with the 350 million people in the Middle East who are getting outweighted in US foreign policy by a country of 7 million, so we have to organize.
And this is where hasbara culture loses the thread. What is the political reality for sympathizers of Palestinians in that room? Why, it is no different from the reality expressed by Secretary of State John Kerry Sunday at the Saban Forum: That after more than 375 phone conversation with Benjamin Netanyahu, and after billions of dollars a year, and complete protection at the U.N, the U.S has little leverage or influence over Israeli bad behavior. And the people in that room, like many reasonable people around the world, believe that the Palestinians are the side of the conflict that needs relief.
The thing that hasbara culture is incapable of doing we must attempt to do: to role-take with Keith Ellison. What is his experience in the world? How much influence does Keith Ellison have in American politics on the Palestinian issue, where most of the world agrees with him, seeing a just cause? The answer is obvious: Ellison operates within an Orwellian political reality in which the Israeli “occupation” was too controversial for either political party’s platform this past election. His is a world where in the past few months he is the second influential black congressman to be “spied” upon: making a statement when he was completely oblivious to what hasbara culture deems to be “tropes” that are the subject of its holy war.
I’ve shown the hysteria in hasbara culture caused by the use of the word “termites” by Rep. Hank Johnson to describe settlement construction during a panel at the Democratic convention. Sadly, the reputations of Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia and Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota will not soon recover from ADL accusations of anti-Semitism.
It is worth emphasizing here that hasbara culture is not about people, it is not concerned with actual human beings. Hasbara culture is not even concerned with Jews or even with the state of Israel. Hasbara culture is a “social construction of reality” and its greatest concern is to propagate a self-serving ethnocentric narrative that is generated by an extremely ethno-centric Jewish experience of the world. To hasbara culture that social construction of reality is sacred. And it has been my project to show how this narrative has hardened into a reality for anyone who participates in our political life; and statements that create cognitive dissonance for that reality are treated as anti-Semitism.
So even if Keith Ellison were to repeat the exact words of a J Street critique of the “special relationship” in that recording, Hasbara Culture would come away thinking Ellison hates Jews. Because Greenblatt is so ethnocentric he experiences Ellison’s (accurate) vantage point about the place of Israel in American culture and politics as– fixated with Jews.
What chutzpah this Greenblatt has! He listens in on people talking privately, and he doesn’t like what
His words imply
Additionally, whether intentional or not, his words raise the specter of age-old stereotypes about Jewish control of our government.
Greenblatt isn’t claiming Ellison said something untrue! Just that his statements create cognitive dissonance in the reality he’s constructed.
Think how Orwellian hasbara culture is. He would like Muslims who are sympathetic with Palestinians talking amongst themselves to be mindful of what the conversation “implies” if Jonathan Greenblatt were sitting there.
Maybe Greenblatt & the ADL shouldn’t listen in on that Muslim conversation. How about the ADL just let Ellison be. He didn’t make this audio public. The ADL is the one spreading this story. And as for that conversation, Keith Ellison didn’t “imply” anything to the people in the room: he wasn’t hinting at some hidden meaning. Every person in that room has their own idea of why the US/Israeli relationship is as lopsided as it is. Just like non-Muslims and even Jews who pay attention to the subject have their own theories; because let’s not fool ourselves, it is a mystery to everyone. No one will overhear a conspiracy theory in that recording, about how Jews control America, no matter how many times you listen to it.
And I’m also willing to bet that whatever the truth is of the puzzle of the US/Israel special relationship, it’s much closer to what people in that room thinks than the story that the ADL demands everyone repeat lest they be labeled an anti-Semite.
Realize that this audiotape tells us nothing new about the man Keith Ellison is. We know who the person Keith Ellison is. The Jewish people who know him best are unanimous he is a “Muslim peacenik” as JJ Goldberg in the Forward called him. Others chimed in:
I know Keith Ellison well, and for many years. Accusing him of anti-Semitism is the most despicable and baselsess racism and Islamaphobia. https://t.co/TQ8FpXhggN
— Daniel Seidemann (@DanielSeidemann) November 19, 2016
J Street agrees:
— Jeremy Ben-Ami (@JeremyBenAmi) December 2, 2016
right wing trolls: Keith Ellison hates Jews and hates Israel!
actual Jewish member of the Israeli Knesset, Tammy Zandberg: pic.twitter.com/uGxbDRIvth
— Isaiah Breen (@isikbreen) December 4, 2016
J Street called it a witch hunt.
The recent spate of attacks on Rep.Ellison’s record of support for Israel & the Jewish community must come to an end https://t.co/X6djyI391N
— J Street (@jstreetdotorg) December 2, 2016
Here is another Israel supporter supporting Ellison:
2) This shameful treatment of Ellison is a natural outcome of organized Am-Judaism ceding our identity as Jews to a modern-day nation-state.
— Emily L. Hauser (@emilylhauser) December 4, 2016
Seidemann calls out hasbara culture:
True friends of Israel will stand by Keith Ellison & reject Saban's tribal branding of "pro-Israel" that prevents decent, thoughtful support
— Daniel Seidemann (@DanielSeidemann) December 3, 2016
Does it make sense that the ADL’s concern is really anti-Semitism? If that were the case, why wouldn’t they just let Keith Ellison and his 2010 Muslim fundraiser be? Does it make any sense that if you’re concerned about people ‘implying” things about Jewish power, you exercise the most intrusive cultural, moral, and political power against those people?
Look how stacked the deck already is against a discourse sympathetic to Palestinians:
There has never been a people as dishonest, immoral, bloodthirsty & unworthy of respect as the Palestinian Arabs. https://t.co/QfHohwLe2a
— David Horowitz (@horowitz39) August 11, 2016
It goes without saying that the ADL and Jonathan Greenblatt in the midst of their “world without hate” campaign did not ask Horowitz for “contrition” after that tweet. No: in hasbara culture reality it feels perfectly right that David Horowitz’s sentiments are “understandable” and not morally objectionable. But be very careful what Jonathan Greenblatt will say about you if you merely “imply” something that makes him uncomfortable.
Isn’t it self evident that the cure is worse than the disease? Greenblatt is doing a bang-up job showing Jews don’t wield excessive power in this country. How? By wielding excessive power.
JJ Goldberg reaches the obvious conclusion:
“If the campaign were to succeed at this point, it would be easy to make the case that “the Jews” had blocked the advance of an African American and a Muslim to a deserved leadership post. That would likely stir resentment and reinforce those old rumors about Jews controlling American politics by bullying and strong-arming whoever we don’t like.”
In closing I would caution Jonathan Greenblatt to contemplate his own words:
“Jewish power is like a muscle. If you exercise it right you build it up, if you abuse it, you destroy it.”
Jonathan Greenblatt needs to realize that attempting to destroy politicians’ political careers and reputations on the altar of hasbara culture and Jewish political power is actually toxic for the American Jewish community and real living American Jews and non-Jews.