Skip To Content

How James Zogby Seduced Liberal America

While pro-Israel Democrats might feel relieved that their Party platform committee rejected language calling for “an end to occupation and illegal settlements” proposed by James Zogby, the committee did vote to express support for Palestinian rights. This was welcomed by J Street’s Jeremy Ben Ami, who called it “an important step forward” and can be seen to mark yet another step in President Obama’s program to put “daylight” between America and Israel. Indeed, the inclusion of Palestinian rights language is a milestone in a decades-long campaign to steadily pry American liberals away from Israel. It is a campaign envisioned by James Zogby.

Zogby is head of the Arab-American Institute and his place on the platform committee was secured by Bernie Sanders, who also was able to install Cornell West, another virulent critic of Israel.

Recently discovered footage, recorded sometime in the 1990s, shows how stunningly prescient James Zogby has been. Several decades ago, few could imagine the Democratic Party becoming sympathetic to the Arab side of the conflict. Much less could it then be imagined that there would emerge a Jewish leader like Ben Ami, whose organization would lobby America to force Israeli concessions that its democratically elected government has expressly rejected.

In the video we see Zogby explaining to a Jordanian interviewer just how the Arabs in America can defeat the pro-Israel Jews by capitalizing on the growing influence of social justice movements within the American political scene. The interviewer scoffs at the notion that “powerful Jews” — who, he imagines, control American politics and its media — could be defeated by a small number of American Arabs.

In the first six minutes of the tape, Zogby carefully explains his strategy, which is to link the Palestinian cause to other causes that the left cares about. This way, the entire left – not just the media, but the “other struggling minorities” — would connect themselves to the Palestinian cause. This notion of Zogby’s seems a precursor to “intersectionality,” the notion that all peoples who are oppressed in some way, in any way, have a common enemy (capitalism, or the West, or “the establishment,” etc.) and therefore that all the struggles need to be seen as parts of a whole. Think “Ferguson to Palestine.”

The biggest triumph for the Arabs, as Zogby hints, would be winning over liberal Jewry. As he explains, “All Jews are not unified in their support for Israel, the debate within the Jewish community is growing, and in fact a significant number of American Jews, almost a half, are kind of drop outs to the whole organized sense of Jewish organization.” He notes, discerningly: “There is a profound difference between the Israel lobby and American Jews.”

Zogby’s formula to pry America and its Jews away from Israel is simply to paint the Palestinian cause as a pro-democracy movement. Looking at the Eastern European revolt against the USSR, Zogby notes that there is a “new sense of democratic reform that has inspired Americans and can transform American attitudes to the Middle East in a very serious way… it is Israel today that is the anti-democratic force in the Middle East.”

Zogby may have been overly optimistic as to how quickly his strategy could overcome what he would probably now call the “Zionist Lobby:” “We are winning more victories today than we ever thought possible, we just need a few more years.”

It may instead have taken a few decades to play out, but anyone who watches Zogby express his vision to defeat Israel in the theatre of public opinion will see how powerfully effective his strategy was: selling the Palestinian case as the sort of battle for rights that Westerners typically fight for – an anti-colonialist struggle for rights, justice and self-determination – is exactly what brought much of the liberal side of America’s house, first and foremost the media, to sympathize with the Palestinians. At the same time, it obscured from view what many have later come to see instead – that the intifada may well be primarily a religious-civilizational battle, indeed a supremacist jihad against a Jewish/infidel state.

What’s more, Zogby’s successful construal of Palestinian violence as “resistance” to the powerful Israelis, who were needlessly oppressing “indigenous, indigent, innocent” people, drew in, as he foresaw it would, articulate but misguided Jews to lead the charge. In the 1990’s Zogby, it seems, had this all figured out.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.