Syria Comment in the News: NYTimes - The Nation
Robert Worth of the New York Times, mentions "Syria Comment" in his Week in Review article, "Mideast Analysis, Fast and Furious." He writes:
Another influential Middle East blog, Syria Comment, has drawn similar criticism from bloggers who claim that its author, Joshua Landis, is too soft on the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Mr. Badran now writes a blog, Syria Monitor, that highlights the Syrian opposition and portrays Mr. Assad as a cruel autocrat.Fun. Thanks for the push Robert. Thank you too, Tony. While we are trading barbs, everyone will get a good "Oh-my-God" or "jeepers-creepers" when they read this article in the "The American Conservative" about the new outfit Tony Badran has chosen to work for: The Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, or FDD. (Hat tip Syriana) Here is a taste:
In early 2001, a tightly knit group of billionaire philanthropists conceived of a plan to win American sympathy for Israel’s response to the Palestinian intifada. They believed that the Palestinian cause was finding too much support within crucial segments of the American public, particularly within the media and on college campuses, so they set up an organization, Emet, [which means ‘truth,’ in Hebrew]: An Educational Initiative, Inc., to offer Israel the kind of PR that the Israeli government seemed unable to provide itself.Philip Weiss writing in The Nation has a great article, entitled, Burning Cole, about how Juan Cole was shot down for a job at Yale University by neocons angry over his influential blog. The best they could do was to call him an anti-Semite for his criticism of Israel and anti-American for his criticism of the way the war in Iraq has progressed. Weiss quoted my defense of Cole: "Joshua Landis, a professor at University of Oklahoma, describes Cole as "top notch."
At first, Emet floundered, without an executive director or a well-defined mission. But that changed after Sept. 11, and Emet changed too, into what is now the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. The name is different, but the goal of influencing America’s opinion-forming classes remains.
What makes all of this possible is the support the foundation receives from its billionaire backers. Its nearly $3 million annual budget comes from 27 major donors, most of whom are members of “the Study Group”—also sometimes called the “Mega Group” because of their sizeable contributions—a semi-formal organization of major Jewish philanthropists who meet twice a year to discuss joint projects.
The group’s membership includes, among others, U.S. Healthcare founder Leonard Abramson, New York financier Michael Steinhardt, Seagrams patriarch and Jewish World Congress president Edgar S. Bronfman Sr. and his brother Charles, and Lynn Schusterman, widow of Oklahoma oilman Charles Schusterman. Some of the group’s projects have been establishing and funding Birthright Israel, which provides Jewish youths with free travel to the Holy Land; a synagogue restoration program called STAR (Synagogue Transformation and Renewal); and the renovation and re-invigoration of Hillel, the Jewish campus chaplaincy. More than a few of these projects have generated controversy among some American Jews, who see this small group of mega-donors exercising considerable influence over Jewish-American affairs. But for all the debate that has attended some of these projects, none before has been as overtly political as Emet or FDD.
Leonard Abramson was the point man for establishing Emet. He, Michael Steinhardt, and Edgar Bronfman were the foundation’s board of directors at the time of its incorporation in the spring of 2001. Their original plan called for Emet to have centers in both the U.S. and Israel, with the Israeli branch to be located at Tel Aviv University under its president, the former Israeli ambassador to Washington Itamar Rabinovich. Emet was to have close ties to the Israeli government as well—so close, in fact, that there was some dispute between the mega-donors and the Israeli Foreign Ministry over just whose project this was. [Continue...]
"He was the wunderkind of Middle East Studies in the 1980s and 1990s," Landis says. "He can be strident on his blog, which is one reason it is the premier Middle East blog.... [But] Juan Cole has done something that no other Middle East academic has done since Bernard Lewis, who is 90 years old: He has become a household word. He has educated a nation. For the last thirty years every academic search for a professor of Middle East history at an Ivy League university has elicited the same complaint: 'There are no longer any Bernard Lewises. Where do you find someone really big with expertise on many subjects who is at home in both the ivory tower and inside the Beltway?' Today, Juan Cole is that academic."