Democratic Council Moves On Web Site’s Mideast Bulletin

By E.J. Kessler

Published July 25, 2003, issue of July 25, 2003.

A Jewish Democratic group is seeking to remove what it considers “unbalanced” material from the Web site of a group it is calling “an important and influential progressive organization.”

The National Jewish Democratic Council is asking its members to contact MoveOn.org, a grassroots left-liberal organization that uses the Internet to build electronic advocacy groups, about material it has posted about the Middle East “road map.”

The material, in a MoveOn June bulletin that is permanently posted on the site, “is totally slanted, biased, factually inaccurate and gives comfort to those who would say progressives are not pro-Israel,” said the council’s executive director, Ira Forman. “It’s totally out of sync with the attitude and policy stance of the Democratic Party and its leadership.”

The bulletin pins the failure of the 2000 Camp David summit on Israel’s then-prime minister Ehud Barak, places the blame for the start of the intifada on Ariel Sharon’s “provocative visit” to the Temple Mount later that year and discounts the road map as “far from being a bona fide peace proposal.” The bulletin also links to other sites that oppose the West Bank security fence and critique Sharon’s policy on settlements.

Courted avidly by the Democratic presidential contenders, MoveOn made its biggest splash so far in June with an online “primary” that was won by insurgent candidate Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor. In a news release last month, Dean, whose Internet-savvy campaign garnered 139,360 “votes” in that effort, called the primary “participatory democracy at its finest” and “a milestone that will be remembered.”

Asked to comment on the MoveOn material, Dean policy director Jeremy Ben-Ami wrote in an e-mail message to the Forward on behalf of the campaign: “The only positions that should matter to voters in this election are those taken by the governor himself. Howard Dean’s position on the Middle East was clearly laid out in a recent speech to the Council on Foreign Relations. Along with solid majorities of Israelis and Palestinians, he favors a two-state solution bringing peace and security to both peoples, negotiated with strong leadership from the United States. As president, Howard Dean will maintain America’s historic special relationship with the state of Israel, providing a guarantee of its long-term defense and security.”

Founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs Wes Boyd and his wife Joan Blades, MoveOn began in 1998 as an online petition effort against President Clinton’s impeachment. It now claims to link up 2 million activists to work on issues including campaign finance reform, energy, the environment, gun safety and nuclear disarmament.

In his message to his membership, the Jewish democratic council’s Forman said he objects to MoveOn’s material because it “places the onus for the breakdown in the Middle East peace process in 2000 squarely on the shoulders of then-prime minister Ehud Barak of Israel’s Labor Party. Moreover, the bulletin concludes by featuring an anti-Zionist article written by an academic who ‘describes how Israel-Palestine could become neither a Jewish state, nor an Arab state, but a state of all its citizens.’ This is the final word offered by this bulletin — an opinion piece arguing that Israel should cease being a Jewish homeland.”

The article was by professor Yakov Rabkin of the University of Montreal. Other links at the site are to articles on the Web sites of the British newspaper The Guardian, The Nation, electronicintifada.net, Human Rights Watch and Gush Shalom, an Israeli peace group.

Forman told the Forward that he had tried to reach MoveOn’s leaders to voice his concerns but had received no response.

“We hope the leadership of MoveOn recognizes, whether it was supposed to be representative of the attitude of MoveOn, or even if it was just supposed to be education, that [the material] is inappropriate and wrong,” Forman said. “We hope they will recognize and understand the policy error, and that the politics of this is terrible for progressives…. Putting this type of material up is a mistake.”

MoveOn leader Peter Schurman wrote in response to a request for comment, “The MoveOn.org bulletin is a weekly collection of links on a hot topic of the day, which represent a broad range of views on an issue. These links aren’t meant to represent the position of MoveOn.org. MoveOn.org has taken no position on the Bush administration’s Israeli-Palestinian roadmap…. [T]he Bulletin in question also included articles from Israeli newspapers, a statement by Republican Senator Dick Lugar on rooting out terrorism, and a Human Rights Watch report condemning suicide bombings.”



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