Surfin’ the Net
By Steve Sheffey, NJDC Activist
In today’s age of divisive politics, all Americans should be proud that strong support for Israel remains bi-partisan. Last session’s Republican Congress was very pro-Israel, and this session’s Democratic Congress is continuing that tradition.
It is troubling that 80% of House Republicans voted against foreign aid to Israel and that the bi-partisan fight against the sale of sophisticated arms to Saudi Arabia consists overwhelmingly of Democrats, but it would be premature to declare that Republican support for Israel is waning.
Those who warned that a Democratic take-over of Congress would be bad for the U.S.-Israel relationship should be rejoicing now that Democrats in Congress have proven their strength on Israel. But instead of celebrating the continuation of bi-partisan Congressional support for Israel, some Republicans are grasping at any straw they can find to insinuate that Democrats are weak on Israel. One can only wonder why they feel the need to tear down bi-partisan support for Israel instead of encouraging it.
Whether it is because they have too much time to surf the net or whether it is because they are still chagrined that Al Gore claimed he invented it, some Republicans are now blaming Democrats for anti-Semitic postings on certain web sites. Let’s be very clear: There are some anti-Semitic comments that have been posted on some left-wing web sites. There is absolutely no excuse for it. It is irrelevant if the right-wing does it too. Anti-Semitism is a betrayal of everything the Democratic party and the progressive movement stands for, and anyone who tolerates or excuses anti-Semitism does not deserve to be called a Democrat or a progressive.
However, it does not follow from the presence of bad comments posted on left-wing web sites or on sites that support causes that Democrats are weak on Israel. What matters is how Democrats in Congress vote, not what people who claim to be supporters of Democrats say on web sites that collectively host hundreds of thousands if not millions of posts. If 80% of Democrats starting voting against foreign aid, then we might wonder if there is a connection. But as long as the Democrats remain firmly committed to Israel, if there is any conclusion to be drawn, it is that this hateful speech is not at all representative of the Democratic party, for if it were, the Democrats in Congress would certainly be behaving differently.
We could play the same game and condemn Republicans for tolerating anti-Semitism in their midst, but that would be just as misleading. What if there were a convention that included people who have referred to Israel as an apartheid state, who said that the Israeli government was one of the “most evil lobbying groups in Washington,” who said “f**k the Jews, they didn’t vote for us anyway,” and who referred to Capitol Hill as “Israel occupied territory”? Well, there is such a convention. It happens every four years. It’s called the “Republican Convention” and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), former Secretary of State James Baker, and former White House speechwriter Pat Buchanan are all members. But does that mean that every Republican who attends that convention condones anti-Semitism? Of course not.
One of the most basic logical fallacies is the “association fallacy,” or “guilt by association.” “Guilt by association” is the attempt to discredit an idea or person based upon disfavored people or groups associated with it.
Expect to see this fallacy repeatedly as our Republican friends frantically search for something, anything with which to attack Democrats on Israel. Israel, after all, is the only issue the Republicans have that could appeal to most Jews, and they know that now that the Democrats have proven to be strong on Israel, they are in trouble.
A shocking illustration of this fallacy recently occurred when supporters of Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) alleged that Dan Seals and Jay Footlik, the Democratic candidates vying for the opportunity to defeat Kirk, were not strong on Israel because they attended the YearlyKos convention. The “logic” of this allegation was that since some anonymous anti-Semitic remarks appeared on left-wing web sites, and since some of those left wing sites are on DailyKos, and since Jay and Dan attended the convention (along with all the major Democratic candidates for president and many other candidates), Jay and Dan should be held accountable for anonymous posts that are the 21st century equivalent of graffiti on the bathroom wall above the urinal.
As the National Jewish Democratic Council pointed out, “to blame all attendees and participants in the YearlyKos convention – which was sponsored by JetBlue airlines, Warner Independent Pictures, the National Education Association, and other mainstream organizations – for objectionable comments posted by a small handful of people is the height of absurdity. If this logic were applied to the Republican Party, all its presidential candidates would be deemed anti-Israel because they regularly participate in debates with anti-Israel firebrand Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX).”
Indeed, if the Democrats are expected to condemn anonymous bloggers, why have none of the GOP candidates criticized presidential candidate Ron Paul for his stands on Israel? Paul, after all, is right there on stage with them, not sitting alone in some apartment with nothing better to do than bang away at a keyboard. The Republican presidential candidates have been in debates with a known enemy of Israel, and they've remained silent on his anti-Israel positions. Debates are the perfect forum to disagree. That’s why they are called “debates.” But the Republican candidates stand next to Ron Paul and say nothing about his hateful comments about Israel. Does this mean that they condone his positions? According to the logic of those who seek to link the Democrats with these bloggers, it sure does.
Any institution, be it the Council on Foreign Relations, the National Press Club, or most universities, will at one time or another have speakers that are objectionable. Holocaust denier Arthur Butz is a professor at Northwestern University. Does that make every student and professor at Northwestern an anti-Semite? Should every professor and student at Northwestern be required to periodically condemn Butz? Of course not. Yet our Republican friends would seek to hold us accountable for remarks made by anonymous haters who represent the views of no one but themselves.
Our Republican friends are entitled to their own opinions, but not to their own facts. There are real differences between the two parties, but Israel is not one of them. There is not one iota of evidence that this disgraceful activity on the Internet is affecting the positions that the Democrats who matter—the Democrats who hold office—are taking regarding Israel. If our Republican friends spent as much time watching how Republicans vote in Congress as they do surfing the net, maybe we could focus on strengthening bi-partisan support for Israel. That, after all, is what we all agree on. Don’t we?