Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

Does Rachel Maddow Put Israel and White Supremacy in the Same Category?

MSNBC debate moderators Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow during the first Democratic presidential debate in Miami, Fla., June 26, 2019. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Last night, Rachel Maddow launched a lengthy smear of Second Circuit nominee Steven Menashi based on a grossly distorted summary of a law-review article he wrote in 2010, in which he stated that “ethnonationalism remains a common and accepted feature of liberal democracy that is consistent with current state practice and international law.” She accused Menashi of nothing less than making “a highbrow argument for racial purity in the nation-state.”

Ed Whelan effectively debunks the notion that the article did any such thing. I will make a few additional points.

Maddow completely ignores the context of Menashi’s article, which was a defense of Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish homeland. In fact, her extended discussion of the article does not once mention Israel or the persecution of Jews that played a central role in the establishment of Israel. To add insult to injury, she even began her segment by defining the “ethnonationalism” Menashi wrote about with reference to “white nationalism, which is the new branding that domestic terrorists are using in this country for white supremacy.”

Not only is this a gross distortion of an article that mentioned Israel well over 100 times and barely mentioned the United States. It rises to the level of a calumny — and a particularly despicable one.

It might not be surprising that the Republican Jewish Coalition is among the numerous critics who have called out Maddow for her defamation. But the reasons for doing so transcend politics. Menashi is himself of Middle Eastern ancestry, with Jewish grandparents who made their way from Iraq to Iran before finding their home in Israel. His grandmother survived a violent pogrom in Baghdad, and his in-laws are Soviet Jewish refugees who emigrated to the United States. Of course, you would have heard none of this background from Maddow, who baselessly claimed that Menashi’s definition of “national community” is “everybody having the same ethnicity.”

A question remains for Maddow: Is her commentary the product of intellectual dishonesty alone, or does she sincerely believe Israel deserves to be associated with the white supremacy of domestic terrorists?

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