by Lowell Feld and David T.S. Jonas
When we first heard allegations that VA-05 Democratic Congressional nominee Leslie Cockburn had written a book (Dangerous Liaison: The Inside Story of the U.S.-Israeli Covert Relationship) in the early 1990’s that supposedly contained anti-Semitic passages, the two of us had the same reaction: we needed to read the book and find out for ourselves if it was true. Of course, we both feel strongly that anti-Semitism has no place in our politics, no matter from what side of the aisle. And of course, we were both prepared to speak out forcefully about whatever we found in Cockburn’s book.
Please note that we each looked into this independently of one another and without any coordination (and without any prodding or encouragement from the Cockburn campaign). Only when we started e-mailing each other on the topic in the past few days, and found out we had both read the book, did we start to discuss our findings. We found ourselves agreeing on practically everything.
And that’s why we can say in full confidence—having been the apparently rare people in Virginia politics to have actually read the whole book—that not a single passage attributable to Andrew or Leslie Cockburn in “Dangerous Liaison” is even remotely anti-Semitic.
Let us repeat that: not one passage. Full stop. No hedges. And even for a sprawling book concerning often-secretive US-Israeli military and intelligence actions, it doesn’t engage in the type of unfounded conspiracy-making about Jews that is the real fodder of so much actual anti-Semitism.
That’s what our honest assessment of this book shows. The charges of anti-Semitism are completely unfounded, without evidence, and should be dismissed without hesitation.
A quick word on where we’re coming from. Lowell was raised Jewish, has a Master’s Degree in Middle Eastern Studies and even lived/studied in Israel for six months. David’s grandfather fought in the 1948 War of Israeli Independence (his wife’s brother died in combat during that war) and David still has family living in Israel today. We each take anti-Semitism extremely seriously and have been horrified at the rise of anti-Jewish bigotry in America, as epitomized by the white supremacist marches–with their disgusting chants of “Jews will not replace us!”–and terrorist attacks in Charlottesville.
By the way, not only were our independent assessments on the lack of anti-Semitism in the book the same, our independent criticisms of the book were largely the same, too. For instance, the writing can be too sensationalist at times, making it seem like the authors are pushing too hard, rather than letting readers come to their own decisions. The authors have a bad tendency of writing, “it has been reported…”, in the passive voice, instead of saying who did the reporting. The sourcing of quotes and details about events can be tricky to follow, as too many citations get jammed into a single endnote. And perhaps most critically, the book hops from event to event and character to character so quickly that it can be very tricky to follow the narrative.
But as you’ll note, those are mostly academic criticisms—nowhere near the absurd, over-the-top cries of anti-Semitism that Virginia Republicans have been spreading about Leslie Cockburn these past few weeks. Clearly, Republicans must be very worried about Cockburn’s candidacy for them to stoop to this level.
By the way, we suspect that the complete lack of anti-Semitism in the book is exactly why no one has yet directly quoted the book itself in making the case that the authors are anti-Semites. Instead, note that the Virginia GOP has only quoted reviews of the book – mostly by right wing sources, such as this one in Commentary, by a character named Angelo Codevilla (who, among other things, said “The story of the [Jonathan] Pollard [spying] case is a blot on American justice,” and that “the life sentence ‘makes you ashamed to be an American.'”) – and people who claim to be offended by the book. One bizarre example is the citation of an Amazon review (with a “quote” that’s not even in the book) from one “Rafael Eitan.” Had those citing Eitan read the Cockburns’ book, they would have learned that Rafael Eitan was a major Israeli military/intelligence figure who is heavily criticized in the book— and who had died ten years before that Amazon review was posted. It was a crank account, apparently. A few highlights from Eitan’s career, by the way, include: being found “in breach of duty that was incumbent on the Chief of Staff” for his role in the infamous Sabra and Shatila massacres of Palestinian civilians; “established an ultra-nationalist party called Tzomet“; “was a supporter of the Israeli alliance with Apartheid-era South Africa”; etc.
If you have any doubts about our analysis, we have one simple ask: go read the book yourself. You don’t even need to read the whole thing. Even 30 minutes of your time will show you that, yes, this book certainly doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the individual Israelis, Americans, and other key actors at the heart of the long history of the US-Israeli intelligence relationship. But it in no way, shape, or form engages in the kind of evil and pernicious stereotyping, demagoguing, and conspiracy theorizing that infects so much our politics, particularly on the far right.
At a time when American Nazism is on the rise and literally has cost Virginians their lives, we don’t have the luxury to simply let these bad-faith charges go unanswered. There is a real and present danger facing American Jews, and it’s not coming from authors of a book that no one has actually shown contains anti-Semitic passages.
To be clear, there is only one candidate running in Virginia’s 5th Congressional District who we feel has failed to show the urgency and moral courage to—by word and deed—reject the kind of American Nazism that is festering in Virginia and throughout the country. We don’t accuse this candidate of anti-Semitism, but of simply not doing enough to protect American Jews from planned and organized campaigns of real and threatened violence against them. We had hoped that a terrorist attack, partly inspired by hatred of Jews and other religious and racial minorities, in his own district would have spurred this candidate into action, beyond tokenistic statements and resolutions, but that has not been the case. Instead, this candidate continues to side with a President who seems to think that white supremacists are “very fine people,” and who has blamed anti-Semitic attacks on Jews themselves.
So, in the end, there is only one candidate in the VA-05 race we lack faith in to take seriously the ongoing threat of anti-Semitic terror and hate in Virginia and throughout the country. And that candidate is Rep. Tom Garrett (R).
With that, we urge voters in Virginia’s 5th CD who consider themselves allies to Jews in Virginia and throughout the country to go out and discover the truth for themselves: that these charges against Leslie Cockburn are false, made in bad faith, and should be dismissed for not even meeting the lowest bar of evidence to support them.