NAF Puts Anti-Zionism on the Table
Jonathan S. Tobin
The New America Foundation (NAF) is one of the most prosperous and influential think tanks in Barack Obama’s Washington. It’s run by Anne-Marie Slaughter, who was director of policy planning in the Obama State Department from 2009 to 2011. Its executive board is chaired by Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and is filled with luminaries of the world of finance like Steve Rattner (Obama’s “car czar”), media stars like Fareed Zakaria, public intellectuals like Francis Fukuyama and even a token centrist like Walter Russell Mead as well as the likes of George Soros’s son Jonathan. In other words, it’s about as connected to the pulse of the Obama-era capital as you can be outside of the West Wing. While the NAF’s positions are predictably liberal, it has tried to position itself as a new age, high-tech group that is in the business of selling the world post-partisan answers to the country’s problems that emphasize “big ideas, impartial analysis and pragmatic solutions.” That generally is translated into programs promoting liberal ideas about education, jobs, investment, and the future of Afghanistan, just to cherry-pick some of the topics explored at events sponsored by the group in November. But next month, the NAF will put something different on the agenda: anti-Zionism.
The occasion is a December 4 book event at the foundation headquarters featuring Max Blumenthal, author of a risible anti-Zionist rant titled Goliath that was brought to our attention by an excellent article by historian Ron Radosh at Pajamas Media. We need not waste much time rehashing the book’s complete lack of intellectual merit or integrity. Suffice it to say its purpose is to libel the State of Israel as not merely an apartheid state but as a successor to the Nazis. His goal is not to force its withdrawal from the West Bank or to reform it in any matter but to work for its abolishment and replacement with a new Arab state in which those of the six million Jews who care to say will be forced to assimilate into Arab society rather than maintain a separate national identity. As I wrote earlier this month, even a virulent left-wing critic of Israel as Eric Alterman dismissed it in the pages of the Nation as the “‘I Hate Israel’ Handbook” and speculated that it would make a worthy choice for publication by “the Hamas Book of the Month Club (if it existed),” though lamentably it was put in print by his own magazine’s publishing arm.
Fortunately, most serious reviewers of books, including those on the left, have ignored Blumenthal’s trash. That is as it should be, not because bad ideas should be suppressed but because hatred and bias such as that advocated by Blumenthal do not deserve to be treated as a serious intellectual proposition up for debate. Yet that is exactly what the NAF is doing by inviting Blumenthal with the sort of breathless prose that is in the announcement on their website, calling the book “an unflinching, unprecedented work of journalism.” That means the issue here isn’t whether Blumenthal is an Israel-hater but how it is that a well-heeled and highly influential organization like the NAF has decided that anti-Zionist screeds are what they want their members to discuss. The point is not that Blumenthal will, even with the NAF’s help, persuade Americans to support dismantling Israel, but what it says about liberal elites that they think this is the sort of thing that should be on their agenda.
Let’s specify that NAF has not explicitly endorsed Blumenthal’s ideas. As Radosh notes, it’s doubtful that their board was consulted about the decision to host his book tour. But all the disclaimers in the world won’t change the fact that by choosing to associate their institution with a book that smears Israelis as Nazis and calls for its destruction, the NAF has crossed a line that no decent individual or group should even approach. Moreover, by doing so they are also sending a dangerous signal in the world of D.C. ideas that talk about doing away with Israel is no longer confined, as it should be, to the fever swamps of the far left or the far right. Instead, thanks to the Nation and its friends at the New America Foundation, open hatred against Israel and the campaign to delegitimize Zionism have now been given an undeserved veneer of respectability in Barack Obama’s Washington.
In one sense, it is hardly surprising that Slaughter’s group would embrace Blumenthal’s book at the same time that the current head of the State Department is counseling Congress to “ignore” Israeli concerns about Iran and betraying its democratic ally with deals that legitimize Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But policy disagreements are one thing; putting anti-Zionism on the agenda as a worthy discussion point is quite another. Just as it would be a scandal if some conservative think tank of comparable stature hosted an author of an openly racist book or one advocating the virtues of slavery, there is something shocking and fundamentally indecent about NAF’s decision to host a writer who is the moral equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan’s David Duke. It may be too much to hope that board members speak up and seek to cancel this event. But if they don’t, the NAF will lend its prestige to a disreputable author and cause and find itself tainted as an aider and abettor of anti-Israel hate.