A Confederacy of Dusses

For Matt, Serge, and Brian Duss, criticism of Israel is all in the family

Matt, Serge, and Brian Duss / americanprogress.org, kairosusa.org, LinkedIn

The recent publication in a blog post of Nazi-era propaganda posters by Center for American Progress (CAP) policy analyst Matt Duss has cast a spotlight on the writer’s controversial views of Israel.

Duss, a blogger at the CAP Action Fund’s ThinkProgress website, used the Nazi posters to substantiate his accusation that a political cartoon published by a right-leaning Israel group was "blatantly anti-Semitic."

When reached for comment, Im Tirtzu, the Zionist group Duss criticized, struck back.

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"If the cartoon was actually anti-Semitic, wouldn't Duss be praising it, or at least justifying it?" Ronen Shoval, Im Tirtzu’s founder, told the Washington Free Beacon.

Duss is a relative newcomer to the fight against anti-Semitism, according to a Washington Free Beacon analysis. He has not authored a single post during the past two years reprimanding the Muslim community for its frequent use of anti-Semitic materials.

The comparison of Im Tirtzu’s parody posters to Nazi propaganda was completely unwarranted, anti-Semitism experts said.

"It’s far fetched to say they’re using Nazi propaganda," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. "It just doesn’t fit."

While the parodies may be viewed as harsh political criticism, "it’s simply not accurate to say this was lifted off of the Nazi playbook," Cooper said.

Duss earned notoriety in 2011 when he and several other ThinkProgress bloggers were engulfed in a scandal surrounding their writing on Israel and Jews, with some critics saying the language was borderline anti-Semitic. That prompted a rare rebuke by the Obama administration of the think tank, which has close ties to the White House.

Articles penned by Duss and other CAP Action Fund bloggers were said "to be infected with Jew-hatred and discriminatory policy positions toward Israel," according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which combats anti-Semitism.

Duss wrote that Israel’s naval blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip was like "segregation in the American South" and a "moral abomination."

The scandal began when one of Duss's colleagues came under fire from numerous Jewish groups for using the term "Israel firster," which originated in the white supremacist movement and is considered by some to be anti-Semitic.

"It follows from classical anti-Semitism, with inferences of dual loyalty and foreign policy control and should have no place in American political discourse," Gerald Steinberg, president of the watchdog group NGO Monitor, told the Jerusalem Post in December 2011 at the height of the scandal.

A White House representative, speaking to the Washington Post, called the inflammatory writings "troubling."

Most of the writers involved have since apologized and left the organization. However, Duss himself has remained at CAP and continues to blog for the CAP Action Fund.

In March 2012, for instance, Duss was criticized for accusing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of "religious incitement."

Cooper at the time called Duss’ remarks a "slur against a religion and the leader of Israel."

Officials at Jewish organizations have consistently said Duss’ Israel criticism crosses the line. The use of Nazi imagery, these officials say, is just the latest example.

"Given CAP's disturbing familiarity with, and history of, deploying what leading global anti-Semitism experts and watchdog organizations identified as actual anti-Semitic language, it is both ironic and troubling to see CAP's Matt Duss dubiously objecting to imagery that is not being described as such by such experts in his transparent attempt to smear those with whom he disagrees," one senior Jewish official said.

"Instead of deploying offensive speech himself, Duss and CAP are resorting to accusing others of doing so," the officials said. "Clearly they feel that is just a smarter way for them to get away with similar behavior."

What is often overlooked, these critics say, is that criticism of Israel is a family activity for the Dusses.

Duss’ father, Serge, and his brother, Brian, work for Christian organizations known for their extreme reproach of the Jewish state.

"What we see in a lot of instances is anti-Israel activism becomes a family business," said Dexter Van Zile, a Christian media analyst at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting (CAMERA). "It seems like these people are part of a constellation of anti-Zionism."

Serge Duss serves as a top official at Kairos USA, the American affiliate of church groups that have pushed for boycotts of the Jewish state and accused it of "war crimes."

Kairos’ Canadian affiliate had a $7 million government grant revoked in 2009 due to what officials said was the group’s anti-Israel activism and support of Jewish boycotts.

Kairos USA has taken similarly controversial positions, decrying "injustice in Palestine" in a 2012 "Call to Action" that Christian critics said unfairly demonized Israel.

"Kairos USA's 2012 ‘Call to Action’ is deeply troubling," said David Brog, executive director of Christians United for Israel (CUFI). "By failing to mention—let alone condemn—Palestinian terror, Kairos USA forfeits any claim to moderation."

"Kairos may claim to understand the Middle East, but the history they tell ignores Israel’s serious peace offers and the repeated, violent rejections thereof," Brog said.

Additionally, Serge Duss has come under fire for publicly promoting a controversial theory that claims modern Israelis are not descended from Biblical Jews.

During a speech at the 2011 J Street conference, Duss pushed back against the "belief that the modern state of Israel and modern Israelis are the extension of the Children of Israel of the Old Testament," according to a recording of his remarks.

CUFI’s Brog condemned Duss’s comments at the time.

"It was deeply disappointing to learn that J Street gave a platform for Serge Duss to deny the heritage of the Jewish people," Brog told the Free Beacon when the statements came to light. "We’ve learned from bitter history that theologies which posit Jewish rejection and replacement often open the door to anti-Semitism.

Serge Duss also spent 18 years as the director of policy and advocacy at World Vision, a Christian nonprofit group that has vociferously chastised Israel and promoted what critics say is an anti-Israel agenda.

"World Vision has basically been an anti-Israel charity for a long time," said CAMERA’s Dexter Van Zile. "When they talk about Israel they basically demonize the Jewish state."

Asked to comment on his family’s activism, Serge Duss declined.

"No, I really don’t. Thanks," he said before hanging up on a reporter.

Brian Duss, the youngest Duss, is the former "public engagement manager" of World Vision’s branch in "Jerusalem-West Bank-Gaza," according to his LinkedIn profile.

Duss discussed his views on Israel last year during a video interview that centered on his time "living in Palestine."

"I think we need to rethink some of our policies in the Middle East, whether it’s the U.S. government, the British government, or Israel and how Israel treats her neighbors, because there’s some pretty strong warnings in Jewish scripture about what will happen if you don’t respect the widow and the orphan and the alien among you," Duss said.

"Go see for yourself some of the reality on the ground and see some of the ridiculous things that are going on," Duss said. "And the things that are going on, I don’t think it’s too bold to say they are sinful."

"I would be a horrible person to overlook what is going on here and not do anything about it," he adds.

Brian Duss currently works as the director of communications at Sojourners, a Christian "social justice" organization that has rallied against "Israeli apartheid" and accused the Jewish state of driving out Christians.

Sojourners "basically offers up an image of what progressive Christians should be and their vision is that you’re going to view Israel as the enemy," said Van Zile. "All of these folks are part of a campaign to undermine support for Israel in the Evangelical community."

Brian Duss has taken to Twitter in the past to express his support for Richard Goldstone, the controversial author of a now discredited United Nations report that falsely accused Israel of committing war crimes.

Additionally, he has wondered via Twitter, "Why are so many Israeli politicians rapists?"

Pro-Israel officials say that the Duss family’s bias against Israel could not be clearer.

"Christian and Jewish groups have criticized Serge Duss for promoting anti-Jewish race-based theology," said another senior official with a pro-Israel group. "The Anti-Defamation League, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and the American Jewish Committee have all slammed Matt Duss' blogger team at ThinkProgress for publishing anti-Semitic posts. Brian Duss has instructed audiences to emphasize that, based on Jewish theology, Israeli Jews are sinful."

"It's not too difficult to draw a picture of what's going on here," the official said, "and it doesn't have anything to do with politics or human rights or even Zionism."

Neither Matt Duss nor Brian Duss responded to a Free Beacon request for comment.

Anne Shoup, a CAP communications official, also did not respond to a request for comment.