It's Not about Israel or Grandmothers, It's about US

Marc Thiessen asks a fair question in his Washington Post column of August 20: “If Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib can boycott Israel, why can’t Israel boycott them?” It can, and it did. Predictably, most commentators resorted to default mode and blamed Israel. Even Thiessen argues that “it has given [Omar and Tlaib] a much bigger platform from which to attack Israel.” As if that were possible.

Just as predictably, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) upped the ante: She asked Israel’s interior minister Aryeh Deri to be allowed to visit her grandmother, now in her nineties, because “this might be my last opportunity to see her.” Deri called her bluff: Tlaib could go.  His only condition was that she not engage in activities supportive of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign. Since on July 23, the U.S. Congress had condemned BDS in a 398-to-17 majority, as “destructive of prospects towards peace,” this didn’t seem too much to ask.

But of course, Tlaib’s trip wasn’t about her grandmother. She immediately tweeted: “I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in” – whereupon some grand words follow, none of which include any reference to familial affections.

Nor was the congresswomen’s trip about “visit[ing] and experience[ing] our democratic ally Israel firsthand,” as AIPAC (the American Israel Political Action Committee) argued in the their defense. Having just sponsored a congressional delegation in early August consisting of 41 Democrats and 31 Republicans, AIPAC knew that the two could easily have “experienced Israel” alongside their colleagues.

But the militant lawmakers had another agenda: meeting with Palestinian Authority officials. Both Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer and former Israeli Deputy UN Ambassador Arye Mekel described their itinerary, organized by the Palestinian organization Miftah which also sponsored the trip, as a “BDS circus.” There is no mystery surrounding Miftah’s role in promoting BDS as “a broad movement, threatening the very legitimacy of the Zionist state.”

And who, you may well ask, is Miftah, the organization that was to have facilitated Tlaib and Rep. Omar’s (D-Minn) visit to Israel? The answer is extremely troubling.

Miftah and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion

An article posted on its website, for example, exhorts Palestinians to escape “the trap of denial and self-deception that prevents us from freeing ourselves from the devastating bear hug of the blood ritual” – a reference to the age-old libel that Jews use Christian (or, in the Middle East, Muslim) blood in the Jewish Passover matza. It gets worse: “The Jewish control of the American mass media is the single most important fact of life, not just in America, but in the whole world today. There is nothing — plague, famine, economic collapse, even nuclear war — more dangerous to the future of our people.”

Anyone familiar with the history of antisemitism will recognize here echoes of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, published in 1903 under the auspices of the Russian Secret Police, the Okhrana. Purportedly “minutes” of a secret speech among the Elders, or Sages, of Zion, it allegedly demonstrates their conspiracy to run the world by dominating money and communications. Though in 1921 The London Times exposed it as a rather crude forgery, by then it had already been translated into every European language and sold widely – including, indeed especially, in the United States.

Starting in 1920, Henry Ford financed an enormous international campaign to publicize the shameless rag, along with sympathetic commentaries, in a compilation called International Jew, which he had translated into sixteen languages. Though he eventually apologized in 1927, after recognition of its fraudulent origin, irreparable harm had been done. Adolf Hitler kept a photograph of the “heroic American, Heinrich Ford,” and Alfred Rosenberg, the “official” philosopher of the Nazi party, published his own commentary on the Protocols in 1923. When the Nazis took power in 1933, some version of the forgery, with or without comments, was easily available.

The USSR Steps In

After Hitler’s demise, it did not take long for Stalin to take over. He fully understood the propaganda value of the Protocols and was ready to use it against the West, especially once it became clear that after its founding in 1948, Israel would not become a Soviet satellite. With solid backing from Karl Marx, who in his 1844 essay on the “Jewish Question” argued that “the God of the Jew is money,” Stalin declared American capitalism and Israel as ideological Siamese twins.

By 1951, the Soviet international campaign had started in earnest. Soviet General Aleksandr Sakharovsky, who became the first chief of the KGB’s foreign intelligence unit, brought the Protocols to Bucharest, for Romania’s secret police, the Securitate, to translate and disseminate throughout Western Europe. But “it had to be done secretly, so no one would know that the publications came from the Soviet bloc.”  Before long, writes former Romanian chief of foreign intelligence General Ion Mihai Pacepa, “the Securitate was spreading the Protocols around the Middle East as well.”

The narrative of a worldwide capitalist-Zionist conspiracy helped the Soviets, eager for Arab clients, no less than Osama bin Laden and his ideological father Sayyid Qutb, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. But “this belief in the fantasies of the Protocols is not limited to Qutb and his fundamentalist believers, writes the great historian of antisemitism Robert Wistrich. “To this day, it remains absolutely mainstream in the Muslim world.” Indeed, “the Protocols reach an Arabic-speaking mass audience of hundreds of millions through popular television series, sermons, the press, and the Internet.”

The Real Target

The antizionist campaign is not only, perhaps not even primarily, about Israel and the Jews. The ultimate target is American constitutional, democratic liberalism. Explains Robert Wistrich: “Israel increasingly became a surrogate target for those reluctant to take on the might of the United States,” resulting in “a growing convergence in the demonization of both nations.” “In the minds of their adversaries,” he continues, “the United States and Israel have come to symbolize in recent years a whole cluster of threats – including globalization, neoliberal capitalist exploitation of the Third World, ethnic intolerance” and other assorted evils.

Miftah’s website is a good example. For even while conceding the Protocols’ fraudulent origin, “in a way, the lies have fulfilled themselves.” The author warns that “if America gets into a really deep economic depression, might not Jewish names… come up?” Another article adds that while “it seems that even though the document has been repeatedly condemned as counterfeit, no one has ever denounced the ideas, and tactics exposed in the document or its purported aims,” praising Henry Ford for having “risked his life and reputation to warn his country about what he believed was an evil taking root in the United States named Zionism.”

Make no mistake: Ilhan and Rashida’s trip was not about experiencing our democratic ally first hand, about aged grandmothers, or even about the hapless Palestinians. Ultimately, it is about America.