Published January 06, 2012, issue of January 13, 2012.
Washington — A month-long war of words within Democratic circles has exposed vulnerabilities and sensitivities on all sides when it comes to criticizing and defending Israel.
The conflict, reflecting a broader split that shows up in opinion polls of the Democratic party’s rank and file, shows that advocates confront politically fraught boundaries when they discuss their divisions over Israel. Yet these boundaries, even after weeks of mudslinging, remain foggy and unpredictable and, to some extent, merely dependent on the political exposure of those who dare tiptoe near them.
The Center for American Progress, a leading progressive policy think tank closely aligned with the Democratic Party, was forced to distance itself from terms such as “apartheid,” referring to Israel, and from claims that the pro-Israeli lobby was pushing for war with Iran, due to a barrage of criticism hurled at the group from Jewish and pro-Israel activists.
But another group, Media Matters, which came under fire for similar statements, has stuck to its guns and is continuing to use the term “Israel firsters,” a reference to hawkish defenders of Israel that is seen as offensive by many in the pro-Israel community.
Meanwhile, Josh Block, the pro-Israel activist who set off this recent tussle, has suffered some consequences for criticizing opponents from the progressive camp for engaging in “borderline anti-Semitism.”