Another Strange Use of Language in the Times's Article on the AJC Study:

Ilya points out below that N.Y. Times reporter Patricia Cohen refers to the American Jewish Committee as a "conservative advocacy group", when its policy positions are mainstream American liberal.

Equally oddly, the Times's headline screams: "Essay Linking Liberal Jews and Anti-Semitism Sparks a Furor." The first paragraph relates: "The American Jewish Committee, an ardent defender of Israel, is known for speaking out against anti-Semitism, but this conservative advocacy group has recently stirred up a bitter and emotional debate with a new target: liberal Jews."

In fact, paging through the essay that is the subject of the Cohen story, the author never identifies his opponents as "liberal Jews," but as "'Progressives'" who viciously attack Israel. Note the double quotes: the author of the AJC piece is suggesting that the relevant individuals think of themselves as being progressive in their thinking, but actually are not. He even refers to "individuals who refer to themselves as "'Progressives'", but he never calls them "liberals."

Cohen knows, or should know, that self-styled "Progressives" are generally well to the left of mainstream American political opinion, and certainly an essay for a liberal organization attacking self-styled Progressives is going to be attacking leftists, not liberals. And even if she didn't manage to grasp this, if one looks at the actual targets of the essay--individuals such as Adam Shapiro, Noam Chomsky, Adrienne Rich, Tony Judt--it's pretty obvious that with few exceptions, the article is targeting radical leftists, not mainstream liberals. This continues the Times's grand tradition of almost never calling anyone on the left, no matter how far left, anything other than a liberal, while using various extremist appellations (far right, right-wing, etc.) for even moderate conservatives. Calling an obviously liberal organization like the AJC "conservative," however, is new even for the Times (to my knowledge), and it reminds me of the nomenclature in radical circles when I was in college: Leftist was "progressive" or "liberal," liberal was "conservative," and conservative was "reactionary" or "far-right" or "fascist." Sad to see that the Times' editors are using (or allowing the use of) nomenclature better suited for a Berkeley alternative weekly than for the nation's leading "paper of record."

If all a Times reader read was the headline and the first paragraph, one would get the impression that the furor is about a conservative Jewish organization attacking liberal Jews for promoting anti-Semitism for some unspecified reason. The furor is actually about a liberal Jewish organization attacking leftist Jews for giving aid and comfort to genocidal anti-Semitism in the Islamic world by vicious and uncalled for attacks on Israel. You would never find this out from reading even the whole of Cohen's article, because the words "Muslim," "Islamic," and "Arab" never appear in it.

UPDATE: Here's how a better, or at least more neutral, reporter, might have phrased the first paragraph: "The American Jewish Committee, [a strong supporter of Israel], is [best] known for speaking out against anti-Semitism, but this [liberal Jewish] advocacy group has recently stirred up a bitter and emotional debate with a new target: [self-styled Progressive] Jews [who it claims aid and abet growing worldwide anti-Semitism, especially in the Muslim world, by engaging in rhetorical warfare against Israel]."

FURTHER UPDATE: Checking around the blogosphere via Technorati, I see that many bloggers simply accepted Cohen's characterization of the controversy without actually reading the underlying AJC paper. Some aspects of the paper are far from unassailable, but it's simply incorrect to suggest that the paper itself targets mainstream liberal critics of Israel for any criticism they make of Israel, and the author draws a clear distinction between anti-Semitism, and "progressive" views expressed in such a way as to give aid and comfort to anti-Semites. I think the paper raises this very interesting issue: if you are left-wing Jew who is hostile to Israel, but are aware that expressing this hostility in an unvarnished way is encouraging anti-Semitism, do you have a responsibility to temper your criticism, or at least the way you express it? And that goes for non-Jews hostile to Israel, too.