The website of the Forward newspaper recently published an opinion piece by political hitman Spencer Sunshine, in which he slammed the American Left and specific individuals for alleged antisemitism, including Alison Weir.
Sunshine is a writer/activist who focuses on antisemitism, and specifically on seeking it out — or inventing it — among leftists and supporters of Palestinian rights. (More on Sunshine below.)
While slurring those he disagrees with is Sunshine’s modus operandi (he throws around accusations of bigotry with the abandon of a spoiled schoolboy), we expect better of the Forward. Journalistic ethics require that media allow people to respond when they’ve been criticized, yet the Forward has failed to publish Weir’s response. (More on the Forward below.)
(The right of response is affirmed by the Society of Professional Journalists, the International Principles of Professional Ethics in Journalism, the BBC, MediaWise, the National Conference of Editorial Writers, and many, many others. The American Society of Newspaper Editors states: “Persons publicly accused should be given the earliest opportunity to respond.”)
Below is Weir’s letter responding to Sunshine’s piece:
To the Editor,
I was disappointed to see the Forward chose to publish Spencer Sunshine’s recent reactionary screed “The Left Must Root Out Anti-Semitism In Its Ranks.” However, that Sunshine should attempt to dismiss me as an “anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist” did not surprise me, as Sunshine has a long history of working to silence criticism of Israel and Zionism. At a talk in Portland, Oregon he described virtually every form of Palestine solidarity as anti-Semitic.
Accusations of “left anti-Semitism” have long been used to undermine solidarity with marginalized people, a population Sunshine often seems to ignore. His article about the history of anti-racism in the United States, for example, almost entirely omitted the efforts of communities of color, focusing instead on mostly-white “antifascist” groups.
Of Sunshine’s work, the pieces I’m familiar with are hatchet jobs, misrepresenting his subjects to suit his goals and exploit his audience’s fears and gullibility.
Sunshine seems to operate according to an all-too-often successful principle: if you accuse someone of something bad enough, it doesn’t matter how wrong, sloppy, or biased you are. Certain accusations tend to be show-stoppers, tainting by default–and he employs these with shameless abandon.
Sunshine clearly hopes that simply saying the magic words “conspiracy theory” will prevent others from listening to me directly or examining my work. In fact, my book and multitude of articles and speeches are exhaustively researched and based on serious sources. All of my work is transparent, with sources clearly cited or linked, so others can read more and decide for themselves. While I’m only human and certainly not infallible, I strive to use reliable sources and be as transparent as possible about my sources and the evidence supporting my work.
Sunshine refers to a JVP statement critical of me, but fails to mention that the statement does not claim that I am anti-Semitic. More important, he fails to make any reference to two open letters rejecting the criticism of me, signed by some incredibly prominent and principled academics, humanitarians, and thousands of activists, including many members of JVP itself. Indeed, I continue to work with many JVP chapters and individuals, who have brought me to speak in their areas and who are accomplishing important work.
Sunshine operates as a hitman for the reactionary forces who would have us never stand up against oppression for fear of not speaking carefully enough and unintentionally giving unfair offense. It is important to try to speak accurately and fairly, but when people are dying and the prospect of peace is rapidly receding for two populations (and everyone else affected by the violence and instability that radiate from the conflict), perfection is no longer the enemy of good but the enemy of peace and life itself.
Let us act, debate and try to solve this tragedy, not police each other’s words to the point of utter inaction. And let us not attack those working for justice, peace and human rights with false and malicious accusations.
If Sunshine showed half the enthusiasm for opposing atrocities and championing human rights for all humans–even Muslims, Palestinians, and people of color–that he shows for thought policing activists, he could make a positive difference In our shared world.
Spencer Sunshine is an early instigator and enthusiastic champion of the campaign to silence Weir, which has been roundly rejected by numerous prominent humanitarians, academics and activists in two open letters (here and here; see also this article on CounterPunch). He identifies himself as an “anti-fascist writer” and is close to antifa groups, a movement known for celebrating and perpetrating violence (he was apparently unfazed when violence occurred a few months ago at a protest he organized).
The Forward is a venerable newspaper founded towards the end of the 19th Century. It is a leading, or perhaps the leading, publication serving the American Jewish community. It operates as a nonprofit and appears to have assets of over $50 million. The paper leans heavily towards an Israel-centric viewpoint when reporting on Palestine and Israel. Nevertheless, it is a professional publication which should hold itself to the highest journalistic standards.