WASHINGTON (JTA) – MJ Rosenberg, the controversial critic of Israeli policies who drew fire for using the term "Israel firsters," is leaving the liberal media watchdog, Media Matters.
"The reason for this step is that it disturbed me greatly to see an organization to which I am devoted facing possible harm because of my critical writings about Israel," he wrote.
"I have no doubt that the crowd that opposes any and all criticism of Israeli government policies will continue to turn its guns on Media Matters if I am associated with it," he continued. "I could not live with myself if that happened — not only because I care deeply about the organization and my colleagues, but also because Media Matters does such important work confronting the lies that emanate from the far right and especially Fox News."
The use of the term "Israel firster" by Rosenberg and a staffer for the Center for American Progress drew fire after an article in Politico suggested that pro-Israel groups saw both entities as posing dangers to traditional support for Israel among Democrats.
The CAP staffer left and that think-tank has endeavored in recent months to push back against claims that it is hypercritical of Israel, but Media Matters stood by Rosenberg.
Alan Dershowitz, the prominent pro-Israel lawyer who has backed President Obama, recently called on Democrats to distance themselves from Media Matters unless the group fired Rosenberg.
The term "Israel firster" has been used by anti-Semites who charge Jews with dual loyalties. Rosenberg has argued that it once had been in use as a neutral term describing pro-Israel activists, but CAMERA – the Committee for Accuracy on Middle East Reporting in America, says the source he cites for that is based on a misinterpretation of a speech delivered in April 1960 by former Brandeis University President Abram Sachar. When Sachar used the term "Israel firster" in that speech, the reference was not to the dual loyalty accusation of the sort that Rosenberg has been employing, but rather a reference to those who believe that Israel is the only place one can fully realize one’s Jewish identity, according to CAMERA.
In any case, Rosenberg has said he will no longer use the term, saying that the figures he targets do Israel a disservice, instead identifying them with his onetime employer whom he now reviles, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
"Media Matters never told me not to use the term," he writes on his new blog. "In fact, Media Matters never censored me in any, way, shape or form. I stopped using ‘Israel Firsters’ because the term was inaccurate. The people I called ‘Israel Firsters’ do not, in fact, put Israel first. I worked at AIPAC. I know those people. They put AIPAC first."
Ari Rabin-Havt, the Media Matters executive vice president, wished Rosenberg well.
"MJ is more than a colleague, he is a close friend," he said in a statement for JTA. "I’m very sorry to see him go but am excited to see him continue his work on his new website."
JTA left a message for Dershowitz seeking comment.