As Israel approaches the sixty-third anniversary of its independence, the Middle East is ablaze in a revolution whose outcome none can accurately predict, and Israel's detractors are increasing their efforts to delegitimize the Jewish State. Perhaps now more than ever, unity in the pro-Israel community is paramount. We will not always agree on policy, but organizations who associate themselves with Israel advocacy must shun the most unethical tactics in the public relations' arsenal -- lest we expend resources attacking each other, rather than defending the Jewish State.
In February 2007, activist journalist Bruce Wilson quoted Christians United for Israel (CUFI) founder and Chairman Pastor John Hagee as having advocated an attack on Iran in order to bring about Armageddon. There was one major problem: Hagee never made the statement; in fact it is a fundamental contradiction of his theology. The quote Wilson attributed to Hagee was written by another activist journalist, Sarah Posner, in her own voice, as part of her (albeit hopelessly inaccurate) characterization of Hagee's views. Some may be inclined to believe that Wilson simply made an error. But just a few months before attributing the quote to Hagee, Wilson published a lengthy blog post citing Posner's article, including the paragraph containing her relevant assertion. Though he may not have been the first to do so, the sequence of events suggests that Wilson knowingly misattributed the quote to Hagee. Despite this, and the fact that Hagee does not advocate such an attack or seek to speed the "end of days," the quote is widely cited by Hagee's detractors. Wilson and his ilk ought to be relegated to that dark corner of the internet generally ignored by the open-minded mainstream. Unfortunately Wilson's assertion was not ignored. In fact, the Jewish Daily Forward has cited the falsely attributed quote. Furthermore, J Street has extended "special thanks" to Wilson as well as activist journalists Max Blumenthal and Haim Beliak for their hateful attacks on Christians who support Israel.
The pro-Israel community is certainly not alone in its vulnerability to activist journalism. Across the board, political commentators and advocacy organizations seem increasingly comfortable with such devious tactics. But given how often we in the self-described pro-Israel community decry the unfair treatment of the Jewish State by activist journalists, we should be most wary of this phenomenon.
Most Westerners believe that the media's job is to inform; holding that truth, accuracy, and fairness are paramount. In stark contrast to this, there are those who have adopted Vladimir Lenin's view that the media "is not only a collective propagandist and a collective agitator, it is also a collective organizer."
Unlike most opinion columnists, activist journalists in the Leninist tradition are less concerned with offering thoughtful insight. Rather, as the Wilson example shows, they are focused on advancing their cause; journalism, or some distortion thereof, is simply a means to that end.
Members of the media who cite the work of activist journalists in their coverage, while failing to engage in the due diligence necessary to ensure accuracy, do their readers and their profession a great disservice.
Likewise, organizations that rely on activist journalists to advance their agenda do so at their own peril. J Street's recent exposure to the efforts of an activist journalist who filmed a few participants at the "pro-Israel pro-peace" conference saying things that some might view as neither pro-Israel nor pro-peace, is a perfect example. Given J Street's present use of activist journalism to advance false Christian Zionist stereotypes, it would be hypocritical for the organization to protest the use of such tactics.
With election season around the corner the efforts of activist journalists likely will click into high gear. So too will pressure on reporters to remain on par with or ahead of their competitors. And perhaps most worrisome, some less established political organizations will feverishly seek to prove their relevance. The explosive combination can be highly detrimental to the pro-Israel community.
It would be both ineffective and dishonorable to exclusively speak out against activist journalism that negatively impacts one's own side or group. Therefore, though we often vehemently disagree with their tactics, messages, and policy positions, CUFI wishes to enunciate its opposition to the recent use of activist journalism against J Street. We hope that other major Israel-oriented groups will have the integrity to similarly voice their disapproval of activist journalism and refrain from using its poisonous fruits to advance a short-term agenda.
Ari Morgenstern is the spokesman for Christians United for Israel.