Poisoning The Well on Israel

Bill Kristol and friends are trying to make it politically toxic to criticize Israel.

Greg Sargent is shocked — shocked! — that Bill Kristol and his Emergency Committee for Israel are using aggressive tactics to win the political battle.  Under the breathless headline “Kristol group’s game plan: Make it politically toxic for Dems to criticize Israel,” Sargent reports:

Bill Kristol’s hawkish, pro-Israel group, which has been running ads blasting Dems as anti-Israel, is now making it explicit: It is targeting Dems with paid media for the express purpose of making it politically toxic for them to criticize Israel.

That’s what Kristol and a spokesman for his group, the Emergency Committee for Israel, suggested to me today, in statements accompanying a new ad it’s set to release attacking Dem Rep Jim Himes of Connecticut.

“You can’t just say you’re pro-Israel, you have to be pro-Israel,” Kristol said. The ad blasts Himes for signing a recent letter that allegedly accused Israel of “collective punishment” for enforcing the Gaza blockade:

Kristol’s group has already aired other versions of this ad attacking Joe Sestak, Mary Joe Kilroy, and Glenn Nye.


That couldn’t be clearer. Kristol’s group is broadening efforts to go after Dems in ads, and there’s been some debate about its real strategic goals. Clearly, the game plan is to put more Dems on notice that if they criticize Israel, they can expect to be targeted, too.

Well, yeah.  How unusual!

Seriously, this is a time-honored tactic called poisoning the well. It’s a logical fallacy and not an effective manner of promoting a full and frank exchange of ideas.   But it’s a terrific way to run a negative ad campaign, since it’s much easier to cast an aspersion than to make a nuanced retort.

Indeed, this is pretty much how political campaigning has worked for as long as I can remember, which is more than three decades now.  Conservatives have done a brilliant job of painting liberals as anti-family, anti-military, and even anti-American.  Liberals, in turn, have put conservatives on their heels with charges of being anti-black, anti-Hispanic, anti-woman, anti-environment, and the like.

Forcing opponents to prove a negative both serves as a distraction from advancing their positive agenda and creates a chilling effect, making opponents reluctant to advance policies that allow those charges to be flung.   I don’t like it but, alas, that’s reality.

I happen to disagree with Kristol and company on both substance and principle here.  Not only was the attack on the Gaza flotilla horribly ill-conceived but the idea that American foreign policy ought be made with Israel’s interests, rather than our own, foremost in our minds is offensive.   But they’re free to disagree and to use these relatively tame tactics to advance their cause.

FILED UNDER: Environment, Middle East, US Politics, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. chris says:

    i still can’t believe such a small country that doesn’t export much of anything over here, with real no production value could become our “greatest ally”.  i think it’s about time we stop subsidizing them.  seriously, us being the sole supporter of this little country has given us nothing but grief.  by just typing this comment i’m going to be labeled anti-semitic by the this site and the author.  even if in my heart i don’t have a strong opinion for or against the jews, or christians for that mattter.  i just don’t care.  i’d rather see our money that we send over there be spent here.  i don’t feel comfortable giving them the weapons to hurt anyone including themselves.
    just the backlash an anonymous poster gets, it’s nothing compared to what a public figure in the united states gets for saying anything towards israel that is negative.  it’s odd that we’re so quit to bash china for its treatment of people and we don’t get the ‘china card’.  which makes no sense.  china produces cheap goods we all buy, plus loans us money to over consume.  i just don’t see israel really contributing to america the way other countries do and we treat some of the others like crap.

  2. An Interested Party says:

    Using Kristol’s own playbook, someone should ask him why he cares so much for Israel at the expense of his own country…why the security and protection of Israel is so much more important to him than the security and protection of the United States…why he values our country only as a proxy for Israel…

  3. Steve Plunk says:

    Actually chris your questions are far from anti-semitic.
    I believe we support Israel for two major reasons.  First is the historical support based upon this country’s Judeo-Christian roots.  That support is also based upon the idea of a Jewish homeland country being deserved after enduring the holocaust.  The second reason is our support of democracy.  Israel is an island of democracy in a sea of corrupt dictators and royal families.
    Israel may be far from perfect but should we turn our back on the good because it is not perfect?  I don’t believe our support of Israel comes at too high a price.

  4. ponce says:

    Unfortunately for the crazed Muslim Haters of America, American support has very little to do with whether Israel survives the next 5-10 years or not.
    Politically, militarily and demographically, Israel is losing and there’s nothing we can do to stop it..

  5. Brett says:

    <blockquote>Using Kristol’s own playbook, someone should ask him why he cares so much for Israel at the expense of his own country…why the security and protection of Israel is so much more important to him than the security and protection of the United States…why he values our country only as a proxy for Israel…</blockquote>
    Indeed. Kristol should be constantly trying to fending off questions as to why he’s putting another country ahead of his own, in addition to questions about his intelligence.*
    * Like his tendency to be diametrically wrong on just about any sort of political question.

  6. steve says:

    I don’t completely trust or agree with any politician. I dont really think anyone should, yet Kristol expects us to put total and complete faith in Israel’s politicians. I think that Israel’s politicians can make mistakes just like everyone else. I will not hesitate to criticize those mistakes.

  7. André Kenji says:

    In fact, most Americans support Israel because it´s the ultimate colonial enterprise. Most people that supports it couldn´t care less for the Jews, and for most Jews Israel makes little difference.

  8. An Interested Party says:

    “Most people that supports it couldn´t care less for the Jews…”

    That ties in neatly with how so many evangelical Christians support Israel because their bible tells them that the Jewish state must exist so that the Second Coming will happen…as for what happens to the Jews in Israel after that, well, eggs and omelets and all that…of course, I’m sure that most Israelis probably think that the evangelical Christians are nuts for what they believe, but certainly don’t mind the help…talk about a marriage of convenience…

  9. ponce says:

    “I’m sure that most Israelis probably think that the evangelical Christians are nuts for what they believe, but certainly don’t mind the help…talk about a marriage of convenience…”
    That reminds of the Woody Allen line about his uncle who thought he was a chicken but they didn’t try to straighten him out because they needed the eggs.

  10. matt says:

    It’s already politically toxic to criticize the almighty Israel…

  11. Dave Schuler says:

    I think that U. S. support for Israel has a lot less influence on attitudes towards the U. S. in the Middle East than our mammoth military bases there and our reflexive reliance on force.

    I also think that Israel’s supporters in the U. S. make a major error:  they discount the role of internal politics and symbolic action in the positions taken by Israel’s politicians.  Israel’s politicians are just that–politicians.  Some of what they say is to curry favor with factions within Israel and should be weighed on that scale.

    Here’s an example.  Before Israel attacked the Osirak nuclear reactor outside Baghdad, Israel’s leaders did not make threats (veiled or otherwise) against Iraq and rattle sabers for years.  Israel’s harsh words against Iran are clearly intended to move others, presumably us, to do something about Iran’s nuclear development program.  It’s possible that they aren’t a signal of an impending attack at all.

    Finally, we need to remember that Israel has its own internal cultural and political divisions.  Although the face that Israel shows the world has been Ashkenazic, the majority of Israel’s Jews are Mizrahim or Sephardic and culturally have much in common with the Arabs that surround them,  IMO if we over-estimate how European and modern Israelis are, we’re making an error.

  12. the Q says:

    Yeah the Dems hate the jews thats why other than thurgood marshall and sotomayor, 5 out of the last 7 supremes nominated in the last 47 years have been jews: goldberg, fortas, ginsberg, breyer and kagan.
    And they are the party of “diversity”.
    Kristol with his wild fanaticism ensures another wave of anti semiticsm will surely rear its ugly head.
    In fact, it already has started as manifested in the uptick in “hate” crimes against jews in america and a huge increase in europe.