Rula Jebreal and the desperate Anti-Israel Lobby
It must be real tough to work for the anti-Israel Lobby: as the results of a recently published Gallup poll show, bipartisan American support for Israel “remains at historically high levels” – which means that the anti-Israel Lobby is fighting an uphill battle against the enduring positive sentiments that a majority of Americans has long shown towards Israel (where the overwhelming majority views the US favorably). One of the organizations that work hard to make Americans who like Israel see the error of their ways is the Institute for Research Middle Eastern Policy (IRmep), which maintains an “Israel Lobby Archive” to diligently document “one of the most harmful forces driving policy formulation in the US political process,” and which is getting ready to co-host a “Conference to Examine Israel’s Influence on America.”
IRmep has co-sponsored previous versions of this conference; in 2014, the Anti-Defamation League noted that the conference featured “a number of virulently anti-Israel speakers who made conspiratorial claims about Zionism, the influence of the ‘Israel Lobby’ and much more;” the “much more” included conspiracy theories implicating Israel in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Holocaust denial during the Q&A part of the conference. Among the speakers at the 2015 conference was the discredited Richard Falk — who gained notoriety by posting an anti-Semitic cartoon and comparing Israel to Nazi Germany — as well as Gideon Levy of Ha’aretz, who was apparently a big hit and has been invited back as one of this year’s keynote speakers. The other keynote speaker for this year’s conference will be the Israel-born Palestinian-Italian Rula Jebreal, who is described as “an award-winning journalist, author, and foreign policy analyst.”
But as a media personality, Jebreal can perhaps even claim celebrity status: she has been profiled in Vogue and in the Fashion & Style section of the New York Times (NYT); and the New York Post’s Page Six reported on her 2013 wedding with Arthur Altschul Jr. under the headline “Power couple tying knot.”
It seems that until recently, Jebreal didn’t mind being described and pictured as “sexy,” or being praised as “at once strong and beautiful, sexy, elegant and a survivor,” or being complimented by the NYT for her “delicate curves” and her “slender, tawny stomach,” or chatting about make-up and beauty tips, or being listed among the “25 Sexiest New Yorkers” because “she makes foreign policy hot.”
However, she has now made headlines as a victim of vicious AIPAC sexism. In the run-up to their conference on the evils of AIPAC, IRmep partnered with The Intercept — part of Pierre Omidyar’s lavishly funded media venture — in a somewhat desperate attempt that uses Jebreal to generate a rather pathetic post with the clickbaiting title, “Read the Sexist Email Exchange about Rula Jebreal with Former AIPAC Spokesman.”
Astonishingly, IRmep had nothing better to do than to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain a short email exchange between Hooman Bakhtiar, a producer with Voice of America (VOA), and Josh Block who heads The Israel Project (TIP). Last October, Bakhtiar had turned to Block because he was looking for an Israeli counterpart to debate Rula Jebreal, who was scheduled to appear in a program to present the Palestinian side. While the email exchange is hardly respectful of Jebreal’s professionalism as a Mideast commentator, the “sexist” content had little to do with AIPAC: Bakhtiar explained that despite Jebreal’s questionable credentials as a Middle East analyst, his editor was supposedly “keen” on having her on the program “because of her looks”; Bakhtiar added that she was not his “type.”
The Intercept piece came to the attention of Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director of the Middle East and North Africa Division, Human Rights Watch (HRW), who promptly declared on Twitter: “.@VOAnews crediiblity [sic] sunk — Hooman Bakhtiar sexist emails re @RulaJebreal w former AIPAC spox = fireable offenses.” Needless to say, Jebreal retweeted Whitson. And needless to say, Whitson is absolutely right: when a VOA employee claims in an email he presumes to be private that his editor wanted a media personality who loved media coverage flattering her looks on a program “because of her looks” and adds that she was not his “type,” it most definitely constitutes an outrageous human rights violation and a “fireable” offense. Maybe we should all donate to HRW to finance a campaign to right this insufferable wrong???
In any case, Whitson’s tweet blaming VOA’s Bakhtiar for “sexist emails” would seem to indicate that both she and Jebreal understood very well that The Intercept headline screaming about AIPAC and sexism was just so much cheap spin. But hey — if there’s yet another annual “conference” about the evils of the almighty Israel Lobby coming up, the famously “fearless” journalists at The Intercept — including prominent Israel-hater Glenn Greenwald — will rise to make the most of the occasion. It’s also, I am sure, entirely coincidental that Ha’aretz, whose very own Gideon Levy will join Jebreal as a keynote speaker at the anti-AIPAC confab, quickly published a detailed summary of The Intercept’s post under the title “Emails Reveal Degrading Attitude of Jewish Lobbyist to Palestinian Journalist.” Incidentally, Ha’aretz reported in 2009 that after Jebreal had gone to Italy, “[her] good looks and sharp tongue soon earned her a top spot in the Italian media.” The Ha’aretz report also revealed that she had been called a “brainless hottie” in Italy and that some of her colleagues felt that “if it weren’t for her beauty, Jebreal would never have rocketed to such a prime position in the Italian media,” with some claiming “that her dramatic style as an interviewer served to camouflage her lack of knowledge and understanding in the areas she was covering.”
But back to Jebreal as a victim of AIPAC sexism: reflecting her apparent new resolve to shed her previously cultivated image as a media personality who happily posed in designer outfits and collaborated with outlets that presented her as sexy and fashion-conscious, Jebreal now thanked The Intercept on Twitter, adding: “Sexism is just another weapon the Israel lobby uses to shut down debate & destroy critics…”
Speaking from personal experience, it would seem to me that Jebreal might underestimate the pervasiveness of sexism just a teeny-weeny bit. Among the many who retweeted her verdict on the Israel lobby’s vicious use of sexism was her admirer Max Blumenthal (the admiration is mutual, by the way) – and here is how Blumenthal reacted when my paper documenting his anti-Semitism was published [pdf] two years ago: he referred to me as a “Cats extra;” declared that it was “sad that Petra Marquardt Bigot has chosen to spend her twilight years as a Twitter troll. She needs a cruise;” and he favorited a tweet that advised me to return to Germany because I needed “the psychiatric help they offer.” I have had many other similar tweets directed at me by the Israel-hating fans of Blumenthal and other leading anti-Israel activists.
Blumenthal also claimed I was a “far-rightist” (never mind my public support for a two-state solution and various leftist positions) and gloated that The Nation censored its own columnist Eric Alterman when he dared to mention my documentation on Blumenthal’s anti-Semitism (surely the Blumenthals had nothing to do with this highly unusual step, right?) So, how is this for sexism and shutting down debate, Ms. Jebreal?
Jebreal’s willingness to play her part in the joint IRmep-Intercept PR exercise by denouncing sexism as a “weapon the Israel lobby uses” may not be particularly dignified, but it is a good indication of her pronounced hostility to Israel. As already mentioned, she is as much a fan of Max Blumenthal as he is a fan of hers — and it says something when a supposedly respectable journalist and Middle East analyst admires an author who has gained notoriety with a book written to make the case that Israel is the Nazi Germany of our time, receiving well-deserved praise on all the sites popular among neo-Nazis and assorted other Jew-haters.
Of course, Blumenthal has already followed up on this “success” with another book that, again for good reason, has garnered rave reviews on sites that are sympathetic to Hamas. But Blumenthal is by far not the only prominent anti-Semitic anti-Israel activist Jebreal promotes and/or interacts with on Twitter. Indeed, based on her Twitter timeline, it seems she is trying to keep up with the output of many of the major anti-Israel activists who write for outlets like the “hate-site” Mondoweiss and Ali Abunimah’s anti-Semitic and terror-supporting Electronic Intifada. She may be prudent enough not to credit or mention them in her own writings, but there is ample evidence that she shares their views.
Media monitor Camera has described Jebreal as a “Palestinian propagandist” who dispenses “the most outrageous falsehoods to promote enmity toward Israel” and to advance a “narrative of grievance.” While a detailed analysis of Jebreal’s writings and statements on Israel is obviously beyond the scope of this post, even a cursory review will quickly reveal that she indeed repeats many of the demonstrable falsehoods that are regularly promoted on sites catering to anti-Israel activists. She has repeatedly attempted to blame Israel and the West for problems like the spread of Islamic extremism – while at the same time energetically denying well-documented Muslim support for al-Qaeda and widespread preference for ultra-conservative religious views . She also faithfully echoed the odious propaganda given out by leading anti-Israel activists after Israel dispatched a rescue and aid mission to earthquake-stricken Nepal last year. As Ari Kohen put it so pithily: “if your first response to Israel sending medical aid to Nepal is to criticize Israel about Gaza, you’re an anti-Semite. Full stop.”
Jebreal is also an outspoken advocate for the so-called “right of return” that would entitle Palestinians who fled the Arab war against Israel in 1948 and their millions of descendants to settle in Israel, thus transforming the world’s only Jewish state into yet another Arab-Muslim majority state. As far as Jebreal is concerned, this “would not only be a humanitarian gesture, but also an act of justice.”
In short, Jebreal is an ideal keynote speaker for yet another “conference” featuring speakers who share the vision of a “world without Zionism” that was once championed so passionately by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It is hardly surprising that in previous years, this gathering not only featured speakers known for anti-Semitic comments, but also attracted an audience that included people eager to bring up their own favorite anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Oh, by the way: did you know that the “Israel lobby” hasn’t just weaponized sexism, but that the “debate on Israel-Palestine is rigged according to a script that has been drafted in Washington & Tel Aviv”? This vicious script requires US media “to keep Palestine boring,” and it’s because of this vicious script that Rula Jebreal isn’t a “household name” in the US and “all over the US media every time Israel-Palestine is in the news.” Maybe she will elaborate on that in her upcoming keynote address.