By Nan Rubin
**This profile is one in a small collection produced for PRA’s report Constructing Campus Conflict: Antisemitism and Islamophobia on U.S. College Campuses 2007-2011. Figures profiled played significant roles in campus controversies reviewed for that report. In the assessment of our authors, these figures’ campus appearances have done more to inflame existing divisions than to build towards positive alternatives. However, we imply no moral, ideological, or other equivalency. Individual profile authors decided what information was most useful for readers to evaluate their claims, rhetoric, and roles in campus controversies.
BACKGROUND & HISTORY
Jeffrey Blankfort is a self-styled Middle East analyst who freelances in print and radio. He writes frequently and is an occasional radio host on community radio station KZYX in Mendocino, California, and on KPFA, the Pacifica flagship station serving the San Francisco Bay area. Blankfort earned a modest reputation in the sixties as a photojournalist active in the anti-Vietnam War movement and as a supporter of the Black Panther Party. Raised in a non-Zionist Jewish family, he has been a militant anti-Zionist and pro-Palestinian activist since 1970, when he visited Jordan and Lebanon. In 1987 he co-founded the Labor Committee on the Middle East and served as editor of the quarterly publication Middle East Labor Bulletin from 1988-95.
POSITIONS ON THE MIDDLE EAST
Blankfort’s reputation rests on three major positions:
Zionist/Jewish Conspiracies Controlling U.S. Policy
Blankfort is a consistent, strident, and outspoken voice promoting a conspiracy of “Jewish and Zionist lobbies” who control U.S. policy in biased support of Israel and with hostility toward the Palestinian cause. As he has written, Blankfort identifies the Israel lobby as “much more than AIPAC (American-Israel Public Affairs Committee)… Its other more visible components are the biggest Jewish organizations, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, and the American Jewish Congress, but there are also a number of others…[like] the extreme right wing Zionist Organization of America…All of these organizations form part of the Council of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations…At the grass-roots you have hundreds of local Jewish federations and councils… While not officially part of the lobby, since the establishment of Israel in 1948, the AFL-CIO has been one of its most solid cornerstones.”
For more than 30 years, Blankfort has been writing essays with titles such as “An Act of Censorship: American Library Association Becomes Another Israeli Occupied Territory” (1993); “AFL-CIO Still in Israel’s Pocket?” (1996); “The Pro-Israel Lobby as a Fifth Column within the United States” (2003); “The Influence of Israel and its American Lobby over US Middle East Policy Explained” (2006); and “Joe Biden: In Israel’s Service” (2010).
Being Spied on by the ADL
Because of his outspoken anti-Zionism and hostility towards Israel, Blankfort was a target of a local surveillance operation by an investigator retained by the San Francisco branch of the Anti-Defamation League. In 1993, the San Francisco District Attorney’s office released a slew of documents implicating the local Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in an extensive effort to spy on activists who opposed Israel’s policies in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza, and also individuals organizing against the apartheid policies of the government of South Africa. The ADL agent then passed on information to both governments. Targets of the domestic surveillance included thousands of Arab-Americans, labor organizations like the San Francisco Labor Council, International Longshore Warehouse Union Local 10, and the Oakland Educational Association, and civil rights groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Irish Northern Aid, International Indian Treaty Council, and the Asian Law Caucus. A lawsuit filed by a number of these targets, including Blankfort and two of his colleagues, was finally settled in 2002. The plaintiffs received $50,000 each, and refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement, leaving it open for them to talk about the case and its outcome. This remains one of Blankfort’s major political topics and supports his theory that U.S. Zionist organizations control foreign policy in service to Israel.
Challenging Chomsky and “Liberal Zionists”
Blankfort is a noted critic of Noam Chomsky over what he calls Chomsky’s “refusal to recognize the influence of the Zionist Lobby over U.S. Middle East policy.” Blankfort takes the position that Chomsky, the MIT linguist and one of the most influential foreign policy critics on the Left, downplays the influence and impact of America’s “Israel Lobby.” In Chomsky’s opinion, the power of Jewish influence on administration decision-making is “overestimated,” but Blankfort insists that Chomsky refuses to accept the true role of the “Israel Lobbies,” because he is sympathetic to Zionists and is pro-Israel. Blankfort also challenges Chomsky because he “dismisses the many questions that have been raised about the official narrative of the Bush administration on the attack on the World Trade Center.”
To Blankfort, support for Palestinian rights is not sufficient; only an overt rejection of any position recognizing legitimate concerns of Israel or Israelis is acceptable. By extension, Blankfort uses this argument to condemn the various peace groups and activists who mobilized against the many Gulf Wars for not including positions that clearly called for the end of Israel, because too many Zionists and Jews were involved in these movements. This position is laid out in his 2003 essay “The Israel Lobby and the Left: Uneasy Questions” and elaborated in a 2006 interview, “The Anti-war Movement Has Failed,” where Blankfort explicitly states that “the war in Iraq was not a war for oil, but was a war conceived by the neo-cons and the pro-Israeli lobby in the United States to benefit Israel…” According to Blankfort, the antiwar movement failed because of its inability to understand the importance of this lobby and therefore to recognize the overwhelming influence of Zionists on United States policy.
Blankfort appears to operate alone. He does not have his own website or any organizational or institutional base, and he does not seem to do much speaking on college campuses. He does maintain an “extensive mailing list” to distribute his own articles, and something of a current bibliography exists on the website Palestine: Information with Provenance. His essays are published in the anticapitalist magazine Left Curve, an occasional “artist-produced journal that addresses the problem(s) of cultural forms emerging from the crises of modernity that strive to be independent from the control of dominant institutions and free from the shackles of instrumental rationality,” and his writings show up with some frequency in Alexander Cockburn’s CounterPunch as well as a number of anthologies and anti-Israel and pro-Palestine websites. Topics include continuing attacks on Chomsky and the antiwar Left, ongoing exposure of the control of the “Israel Lobbies,” critiques of Obama’s Middle East policies, his own victory over the hated Zionist ADL, and closely related topics. In addition, numerous radio commentaries and podcasts are available, and there are a handful of videos, including a July 2010 panel at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. on “Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal: Espionage, Opacity and Future” sponsored by The Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy.
Ongoing events in the Middle East—the Israeli attack on Gaza; the international debate over the Goldstone report; the election of Barack Obama and his efforts at diplomacy between Israelis and Palestinians; the attempts to break the Gaza sea blockade and the Israeli Defense Forces attack on the Mavi Marmara; the rise of campus Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaigns; and many related developments—provide plenty of grist for Blankfort’s conspiracy mill. Because of his attacks on Chomsky and his single-minded analysis that lays all U.S. foreign policy positions on manipulation by Israel, Blankfort appears somewhat marginalized. He seems to be embraced by a narrow sector of radical sectarian leftists, but non-sectarian leftists are skeptical, and they frequently challenge him in written and verbal debates.
Editor’s Note*: The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) notes its objection to the description of its actions in San Francisco contained in this profile. ADL has continuously maintained that there was no misconduct on its part. Nonetheless, we stand by the profile as written by Nan Rubin. In 1993, author Berlet and journalist Dennis King wrote an op-ed in the New York Times criticizing ADL for its surveillance activities. In a rare decision, the New York Times ran a response by ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman in the same edition on the same page. Berlet and King later expanded their criticism in an article in Tikkun Magazine. The Tikkun article fully supports the summary by Nan Rubin contained in this report.