Bret Stephens’ malign view of the Squad as antisemitic is distorting the politics of Israel

Bret Stephens wrote a New York Times column a few days ago where he attacked the progressive House members who voted against the billion dollars for the Iron Dome military program for Israel.

When objective people look at the votes against the Iron Dome legislation it is no mystery why those who voted against it voted the way they did. Agree with the nine or not (plus the two who voted present, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Hank Johnson), there is no reason to suspect that they didn’t act according to their principles. They can make totally coherent arguments why the billion dollars should be spent elsewhere.

But look at how Stephens describes their motive. He called their vote a “supremely foul piece of political grandstanding.” Why does he need to do that? Why can’t he grant his ideological opponents their own principles?

Mondoweiss Podcast Episode 22: How Iron Dome funding split the Democratic Party on Israel

The answer to this question is that for Stephens when it comes to Israel there is no other side. For him there is no “pro-Palestinian” perspective. There is only a pro-Israel perspective and an anti-Israel/antisemitic perspective.

Bret Stephens can’t imagine the “pro-Palestinian” viewpoint. The Palestinian perspective is only experienced as an anti-Israel perspective, in what I have called hasbara culture– a construction of alternative reality centering on the victimization of the Jewish people. From that  perspective these nine votes are antisemitic votes.

That’s why Bret Stephens called their vote– and the successful progressive move a few days before the vote to block the billion dollars from a government spending bill — a “supremely foul piece of political grandstanding.”

You will almost certainly not see Representative Jamaal Bowman of New York, Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan or their fellow travelers in the House progressive caucus paying any serious reputational cost for this supremely foul piece of political grandstanding.

Similarly, in the article Stephens writes as it were self-evident that Rep. Ilhan Omar was guilty of a “string of anti-Semitic remarks.” Stephens believes that when Ilhan Omar looks at Israel she sees nothing more than a bunch of Jews– not human rights abuses supported by U.S. aid. I have argued ad nauseum that hasbara culture journalists like Stephens, Bari Weiss, and Yair Rosenberg should be the last people whose judgment should be taken seriously on what’s going on in Omar’s and Tlaib’s heads when they consider the Palestine question. It’s all hasbara culture projection. 

Here is Stephens on what Michigan congresswoman Rashida Tlaib is guilty of:

Last month, Tlaib gave a talk to the Democratic Socialists of America in which she darkly alluded to certain people “behind the curtain” who “make money” by oppressing people “from Gaza to Detroit.” Wonder who she had in mind?

In plain English Stephens is accusing Tlaib of telling the DSA that it is “the Jews” who are behind the curtain making money by oppressing the rest of us. This is a very serious allegation. If his accusation is true, she should be drummed out of American political life.

But is it true? Any objective person realizes that it’s nonsense. Read what Tlaib said about oppressors behind the curtain:

We also need to recognize– this is for me as a Palestinian-American. As I think about my family in Palestine, that continue to live under military occupation and how that really interacts with this beautiful Black city I grew up in, I always tell people that cutting people off from water is violence, and they do it from Gaza to Detroit, and it’s a way to control people, to oppress people, and it’s those structures that we continue to fight against…If you open the curtain and look behind the curtain, it’s the same people that make money, and yes they do, off of racism. Off of these broken policies. There is someone there making money. You saw it, it was so exposed curing the pandemic, because all those structures, everything that was set up, they made record profit while we were having some of the most challenging most difficult times in our lifetime.

Agree with Tlaib or not about the “1%,” she is voicing a common worldview on the left, that the rich are profiting from the misery of the rest of us, as I wrote when I defended her against the smears of Bari Weiss and ADL head Jonathan Greenblatt.

Of all the people watching Tlaib’s speech to the DSA only a minuscule amount would think that Tlaib is thinking of or alluding to Jews at any point. However, the “hasbara culture” self-appointed experts on antisemitism interpret her words to mean that Tlaib’s “they” does not mean the billionaires who are making record profits off “those structures” or getting rich off the pandemic. No, she means Jews. The experts say that Tlaib is saying: Just as the Jews are oppressing the Palestinians in Palestine, when you look behind the curtain in the U.S., it’s the Jews who fuel our misgivings here too.

As I have shown repeatedly, there are even lots of Jews who don’t accept Stephens’s Jewish authority for interpreting Omar and Tlaib.  There are many Jews who defend them from these “Jewish” accusations: 

Like all previous incidents with Tlaib and other members of the Squad, there were other Jews and Jewish organizations defending her and even expressing outrage at the antisemitism charges. For instance, Peter Beinart, Rabbi Sharon Brous and J Street condemned attacks on Tlaib as “reckless” — constituting “vitriolic and divisive ads against women lawmakers of color.”

These Jews detected no dog whistles about Jews when watching the same video. To these Jews it’s self-evident that the “same people” making record profits whom Tlaib is alluding to are not “Jews.

So how should we make sense of the fact that anti-cancel culture warriors like Stephens and Weiss are making an accusation that most people would find libelous? Why doesn’t it bother them that these dark allegations aren’t true? Isn’t “telling the truth” among Stephens’s high principles he’s constantly patting himself on the back about?

The answer to these questions is that according to Stephens and Weiss, defamation and dishonesty are no vice when fighting the enemies of the Jews. Omar and Tlaib are guilty of being Jew-haters even before opening their mouths. Because being on the other side of Israel, or opposed to the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel, makes you an enemy of the Jews according to hasbara culture journalists like Stephens and Weiss. And there are no rules when hasbara culture journalists are fighting the enemies of the Jews.

The fact that all sorts of well-respected human rights organizations have labeled Israeli rule “apartheid” offers no protection to Rashida Tlaib when she does the same. They’re antisemites and self-hating Jews as well.

Read what Hagai El-Ad of B’Tselem and Lara Friedman of Foundation for Middle East Peace say on this matter.


When @RepRashida speaks of Israel’s apartheid regime, she not only echoes her family’s lived experience — but is also articulating the growing consensus of Palestinian, Israeli, and international human rights groups, including @alhaq_org, @btselem and @HRW.

Friedman echoes the point:

As members of Congress – from both parties – gleefully pile on @RepRashida for using the word “apartheid” on the House floor to describe Israeli policies, great time to review who else has used the word in this context…

But according to hasbara culture, Rashida Tlaib is using the apartheid accusation as “an excuse” for her Jew hatred. That’s how Yair Rosenberg and others frame the enmity Israel’s behavior causes among Palestinians and around the world.

Thus, from the hasbara culture perspective Stephens and Weiss can in good conscience attempt to destroy Tlaib by any means necessary.

And Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida duly rises in the House to castigate Tlaib as an alleged antisemite.

To understand more of Stephens and Weiss’s thinking it’s imperative to unpack the ideology behind the hasbara culture “antisemitism” discourse. What is the function of the “trope and canard” accusations, like those aimed at Omar and Tlaib, for hasbara culture? The answer is that when an “enemy of Israel” supposedly commits a trope and canard crime what it does is confirm an already held belief. According to hasbara culture’s alternative reality Tlaib and Omar are already Jew haters. Them having a pro-Palestinian perspective is ipso facto anti-Semitic. According to ethnocentric hasbara culture, being on the other side of Israel is being guilty of hating Jews.

The tweet from journalist Mairav Zonzsein in response to Ted Deutch’s attack on Tlaib makes the accurate observation that this view has conquered not only Jewish political culture but American political culture as well.

One of the biggest double standards in DC politics is Jewish American politicians being as “pro-Israel” as they want and not being called anti-Palestinian but Palestinian American politician @RashidaTlaib not being able to be pro-Palestinian without being called an antisemite

Thus, the supposed trope and canards transgression merely confirm that Omar and Tlaib are “classic antisemites.” They are no different than the antisemites that Jews are familiar with from European history. That’s the theme throughout Bari Weiss’s book on antisemitism. And again, that’s because there are no two sides to the Israeli Palestinian conflict according to hasbara culture, it’s all about how you feel about “the one Jewish state in the world,” as Ted Deutch put it when he said that Rashida Tlaib was an antisemite.

Tlaib of course has a perfect right to oppose more funding for Israel. This is how JJ Goldberg puts the difference between Jew hatred of the past and Israel hatred of today:

[U]nlike classical anti-Semitism, which entailed the persecution of a minority for no reason that the victim could control, this new conflict has two active parties, each with claims against the other. The conflict has spillover effects on others around the world, Jews, and Muslims, who identify with one side or the other. It is ugly and getting uglier. But to call it merely a rebirth of the old hatred is to deny that there are two sides to the conflict.

Hasbara culture journalists have another weapon against critics of Israel– whataboutism, or changing the subject to some other country. You see the same ideological, sociological, and psychological processes in their “whataboutism” argument. Whataboutism plays the same role that trope and canards play in hasbara culture’s victimhood discourse. It confirms the bias of the Israel critic and supposedly “proves” that the criticism is really only about “the Jews.”

According to this view it’s never Israel’s behavior that induces outrage but rather Jew hatred. If antisemitism isn’t behind the (undue) focus on Israel, why according to the whataboutism arguments are other countries human right’s abusers overlooked and ignored? 

Why don’t “left-wing academics” boycott Indian products, Bret Stephens asks:  

Why is it always the world’s only Jewish state that draws boycotts asks Eli Lake? 

Why doesn’t the left want to boycott China or Pakistan? It’s always the world’s only Jewish state.

And Bari Weiss knows exactly why the silence is supposedly deafening when Hamas acts brutally.

Notice that “total clarity,” according to Weiss, is the ability to proclaim antisemitism when others find no such thing. Believing Israel critics are motivated by Jew-hatred is moral clarity for hasbara culture journalists.

As Bari Weiss explained on the Bill Maher show, “the left only cares about Muslims when it involves Israel.” Again, what about China.

“There are a million Uighurs in China, Muslims in concentration camps. Somehow the Left who claim to care so much about Muslim lives don’t talk about that.”

And that’s the same whataboutism argument that Weiss made to Joe Rogan and his audience:

“There’s an obsession on the State of Israel…These people say nothing generally about the genocide of Uighur Muslims in China…

And according to Yair Rosenberg, there is no prize for guessing why the U.N. is preoccupied with Israel not China. No, the U.N. is preoccupied with Israel because it is a Jewish state.

Thanks to hasbara culture proselytizers hasbara culture tropes seen in this article have become a truism among American politicians. In fact, the most insidious political correctness that there is is the inability to challenge hasbara culture’s sacred (macho) victimhood social construction of alternative reality.

In the real world, as we know (and countless Israelis and Palestinians have warned), Israel is going down a very dark road. But it’s “antisemitic” to talk about it, let alone do anything about it.

Recall President Obama’s final, tepid reaction to Netanyahu and Apartheid: in December 2016 he allowed a U.N. Security Council anti-settlement resolution to go through with a U.S. abstention. Stephens said that Obama “betrayed” Israel.

The sacred victimhood culture I am anatomizing is holding Jewish and American politics hostage. Because Stephens and Weiss and other Hasbara culture journalists ask politicians and political actors one question: Are you on the side of Israel (the way they define “pro-Israel”) and all that is good in the world or on the side of its Jew hating enemies?

What politician wants to be known as being on the side of the enemies of Israel and the Jews? Which politician would choose to be on the receiving end of hasbara culture demonization like the sort poured over Rashida Tlaib by Ted Deutch?

That’s the real reason for all the lopsided “pro-Israel” votes in congress. What politician wants to be ritually defamed by the likes of Bret Stephens in the New York Times? Irrespective of AIPAC and hasbara culture money, if politicians were free to vote their consciences the votes would surely be a lot closer than 420 to 9.

But as more and more Americans’ consciences direct them to take the Palestinian side, more and more politicians (and their supporters) are sure to be branded as Jew-haters by hasbara culture purveyors. As I have written before, Attempting to destroy politicians’ reputations on the altar of hasbara culture and Jewish political power is actually toxic for the American Jewish community and real living American Jews and non-Jews, too.

But the hasbara culture hatred that Stephens, Weiss, and others spew has no name. Because it comes in the guise of the fight against antisemitism.

Until Stephens and Weiss are made to defend, and answer for, their hateful delusions, they will continue to proselytize their hasbara culture venom. For American politics on Israel to change, the journalists who continue to transform “pro-Palestinian” into “anti-Jew” must be discredited before they do even more cultural damage.

So where are the Palestinian voices in mainstream media?

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