Obama administration allies at left-leaning media outlets are dabbling in borderline anti-Semitic conspiracy theories as debate over how to respond to Iran’s nuclear program heats up, according to a bipartisan chorus of critics.
Both Media Matters for America and Think Progress, activist groups with links to far-left funding sources, recently accused the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) of waging a behind-the-scenes battle aimed at forcing the Obama administration to attack Iran’s nuclear sites. These groups and their representatives used language some critics consider anti-Semitic, relying on terms with origins in the white-supremacist movement like "Israel Firsters" to describe those concerned by a nuclear Iran.
On occasion, they’ve gone even further. "The people I call ‘Israel Firsters’ are, in fact, Netanyahu Firsters," wrote Media Matters’ M.J. Rosenberg. Rosenberg has also written numerous times that AIPAC "has Obama's back to [the] wall on Iran," and that the so-called "lobby" is pushing for war.
In August, Think Progress ran an article headlined, "AIPAC’s Iran Strategy On Sanctions Mirrors Run-Up To Iraq War Tactics." In the piece, reporter Eli Clifton writes that AIPAC’s support for economic sanctions against Iran "brings to mind eery [sic] parallels between the escalation of sanctions against Iran and the slow lead up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003."
Foreign policy observers called the rhetoric bizarre and dangerous.
"Their imagined conspiracies in which Jews all meet secretly, share secret handshakes, would be laughable if these progressives’ obsessions didn’t handicap long-term American national security," said Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser on Iran and Iraq who is now a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
"When you look at groups like CAP [the Center for American Progress], one of the narratives they have is that the Americans and the Israelis have always been saying Iran is a year or so off [from acquiring a nuclear weapon], but this is anachronistic, because it ignores that some Western strategies might have slowed Iran’s pursuit," Rubin explained. "One of the issues which drives me nuts is an embrace of a policy of procrastination. People should not take solace in the fact that the Iranians have not yet succeeded. What they fail to realize … is that you can learn just as much from a failure as from a success."
At least one Democratic foreign policy insider chastised these liberal writers for creating the impression that conservative Jews are leading the charge against Iran.
"If you examine the writings of the folks who are putting this stuff out, you'll see them making the wildest type of excuses in order to insulate Iran," said a former Democratic Hill staffer who follows nonproliferation issues closely. "And not only do they do all this crazy denial stuff, but there's this notion they push that Iran isn’t seeking nuclear weapons capability and they actively ignore IAEA documented reporting on work directly related to nuclear warheads—and then they blame the concern about it on the Jews."
The former Democratic aide speculated that this biased reporting is meant to prevent the U.S. from taking action against Iran.
"Are they trying to condition an environment where the left will become upset with the Obama administration for any further pressure or action to stop Iran?" the Democrat asked. "These guys aren't progressives, they are propagandists—spreading propaganda that sounds eerily like what the Iranians say themselves."
Even Jewish liberals like Peter Beinart have joined the chorus of leftwing voices arguing that Iran will become the next Iraq or, as they see it, a war based on flawed intelligence.
"The Iran debate has followed the same pattern" as Iraq, Beinart wrote in a January column for the Daily Beast. "The extraordinary thing about today’s Iran debate is that being wrong about Iraq has barely undermined the hawks’ influence at all."
The Obama administration itself seems to be proud of its rocky relationship with the Jewish state. More and more, its officials have been publicly highlighting the daylight that exists between the U.S. and Israel.
"I’ll be forthright, we have differences" with Israel, Dan Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, said during a panel discussion at the Herzliya Conference, an annual national security confab held in Israel. "It’s not as if we always agree on everything."
But "those are signs of a healthy and strong partnership," Shapiro maintained. "It underscores the point of the strength of the relationship."
Liberal writers routinely question the veracity of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) November report on Iran. The report builds the case that the regime is aggressively pursuing nuclear weapons.
On January 10, for example, Robert Kelley, a former IAEA inspector who worked in Iraq, and is now associated senior research fellow at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, called the group’s report "sketchy," and claimed that "the way the data have been presented produces a sickly sense of deja vu."
Kelley also argued that, much like with Iraq, the IAEA is withholding information and potentially relying upon forged documents.
But a top nuclear expert dismissed this claim, concluding that there is no reason to believe the documents are inauthentic.
"We’re always worried about forged documents, but one of things I’ve been impressed by is how the IAEA has developed this narrative and is well aware of the possibility of forgeries," said David Albright, founder of the non-partisan Institute for Science and International Security. "They continue to report on this and reject the idea that the data are forged."