Jewish groups mostly AWOL in defending Napolitano

Friday, April 24th, 2009

James Besser in Washington

I’m sort of wondering why so many Jewish groups have been AWOL as the Obama administration defends itself from furious attacks from conservatives upset because the Department of Homeland Security is worried about far-right extremism, along with extremism from other segments.

The Jewish Funds for Justice (JFSJ) was the first to raise the issue two weeks ago.  Most Americans were finishing up their tax returns, but some were gathering for anti-tax “tea party” events that quickly became magnets for a frightening assortment of right-wing extremists.

“For the  most part, the protests are attracting the kinds of far-right wackos we haven’t heard much from since the Clinton years,”  JFSJ’s Mik Moore wrote. “But the imagery and the rhetoric being used is pretty disgusting. For anyone with any knowledge of antisemitism, much is familiar here, starting with focus on bloodsucking elites.”

The hate groups are getting a lot of help from legitimate cable news and talk show commentators, he said.

““Glenn Beck has emerged as the lead provocateur and promoter of the tea bagging protests,” he said. “He is also likes to compare the Obama administration with… you guessed it! The Nazis!”

The issue was ratcheted up a few degrees with the leak of a  Department of Homeland Security (DHS)  warning to law enforcement officials to be alert to the dangers posed by  right-wing extremist groups that are using the current economic crisis to boost recruitment.

That made Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano Public Enemy Number 1 for the far right.  The hunt for Napolitano’s scalp quickly spread to mainstream Republicans who are not in that camp but somehow feel compelled to defend it. So did the report’s warning that disaffected Iraq and Afghanistan veterans might be rich targets for recruitment by extremist groups.

“Let me be very clear: we monitor the risks of violent extremism taking root here in the United States,” Napolitano said in a statement last week in response to the furor the report generated. “We don’t have the luxury of focusing our efforts on one group; we must protect the country from terrorism whether foreign or homegrown, and regardless of the ideology that motivates its violence.”

Nobody at DHS is talking about wiretapping George Will or peeking through Newt Gingrich’s windows; they are suggesting the need to closely monitor an increasingly active far right, some of which may be prone to violence and much of which is devoted to the kinds of scapegoating and conspiracy theories that often produce violence and almost always produce intolerance.

The far right isn’t alone, and I haven’t heard anybody suggest the Homeland Security folks are targeting them alone; the nut case left (whose theories are often so similar to those of the far right as to be indistinguishable, with Jews and Zionists leading the cast of villains) deserve just as much monitoring.

Sounds like a natural issue for Jewish groups, most of which respond with alacrity to attacks from the anti-Israel left. Right?

Apparently not; the only group aside from JFSJ that’s spoken out on the issue has been the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

While it didn’t issue a formal statement, the ADL “conveyed to Secretary Napolitano personally at our National Leadership Conference on April 21 our thanks and support for the DHS report which mirrors our research confirming that the resurgence of right-wing extremism is, in fact, occurring,” said Deborah Lauter, ADL Civil Rights Director.  Napolitano was a keynote speaker at the ADL gathering.

That resurgence “has been fueled in particular by the election of the nation’s first African-American president and the severe economic recession.  White supremacists have tried to blame the economic crisis on ‘Jewish bankers and financiers,’ and anti-government extremists promote conspiracy theories about gun confiscations and FEMA concentration camps.”

The federal government didn’t respond to a similar resurgence of right-wing extremism in the early 1990s, Lauter said, “and the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995 was a deadly consequence.  Secretary Napolitano and DHS are to be applauded for trying to raise awareness and to help our country’s law enforcement officers prevent acts of violence before they can occur.  That is the definition of homeland security.”

So ADL and JFSJ are on record. Where are the other Jewish groups?  And who besides JFSJ is talking about the link between rising extremism and popular talk show hosts who enjoy huge audiences?

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.