The Florida Jewish Journal Must Stop Publishing Columnist’s Falsehoods and Distortions

Over the past several months, The Florida Jewish Journal has published six anti-Israel screeds by Irwin Shishko, a former Wall Street economist who regularly mischaracterizes important aspects of the Jewish state and its history.

Most recently, the paper published an attack on Christian Zionism in which Shishko speculated, “Very likely, the Balfour Declaration encouraged American Jews to back pro-British, pro-war sentiment, and help draw the U.S. into WW I.”

There’s just one problem, but it’s a big one: The U.S. declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. The British issued the Balfour Declaration several months later, on November 2, 1917.

Obviously, there is simply no way that the Balfour Declaration had any impact whatsoever on America’s entrance into World War I, which was brought about largely as a result of growing hostility over Americans dying in German U-boat attacks.

This is the type of misinformation that The Florida Jewish Journal has been broadcasting to its readers since August of 2017 when it began publishing Shisko’s writing.

In these articles he has trafficked in a number of ugly tropes about Israel and American Jews, most notably portraying them as all-powerful war-mongers who are indifferent to Palestinian suffering and the ethical demands of their religion. In addition to relying on ad hominem attacks, Shishko omits crucial facts and in some instances introduces factual misstatements into his articles to further his agenda. Not one of the six articles written by Shishko and published byThe Florida Jewish Journal is free of factual errors or egregious distortions, all of which undermine the credibility of Israel and Zionism.

The March 12 piece in which Shishko makes the fact-free claim about the Balfour Declaration and World War I is one of his most egregious attacks on Israel and its supporters. Among other problems, he exaggerates the role that end-time beliefs play in engendering Christian support for the Jewish state. Contrary to what Shishko suggests, the vast majority of Christians in the U.S. who support Israel’s right to exist do so out of the belief that G-d’s covenant promise (which includes a promise of a particular land to a particular people) endures today.

The failure of The Florida Jewish Journal to vet Shishko’s articles for factual errors and distortions is out of place for a publication that has otherwise given Israel generally accurate and complete coverage.

The Florida Jewish Journal is a weekly paper that prints approximately 130,000 copies distributed in South Florida. It belongs to a chain of newspapers and magazines that includes the Sun-Sentinel, a daily newspaper in Florida that, according to its press kit, has a weekly readership of more than 600,000.

Since August 28, 2017, the newspaper has published six columns by Irwin Shishko, a former Wall Street economist who now writes screeds critical of Israel. These pieces include factual misstatements and distortions, all of which serve to portray Israel and Jews in a negative light. Below is a summary of Shishko’s errors and distortions.

“Israel and the Push for War on Iran,” August 28, 2017

Shishko’s first column, “Israel and the Push for War on Iran” was published in The Florida Jewish Journal on August 28, 2017. In this piece, Shishko responded to a Wall Street Journal opinion piece by Naftali Bennett. In the Wall Street Journal piece, Bennett, an Israeli cabinet member, raised the alarm about Iran’s involvement in the Syrian civil war, which by most accounts has cost more than 400,000 people their lives. Bennett recounted how Iran has used Hezbollah to destabilize the region and declared that Iran is the world’s top exporter of terrorism.

In Shishko’s telling, however, it is Bennett — not Iran — that is a war-monger. Shishko condemns Bennett for “repeating the worn out lie that Iran is the leading source of terror,” adding that Salafists in Saudi Arabia play a much bigger role in promoting terrorism throughout the world.

If Bennett has lied about Iran’s status as the world’s top exporter of terror, so has the U.S. State Department. In July 2017, a month before Bennett and Shishko’s articles were published, CNN reported that, “Iran remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, according to an annual State Department report that pointed to ISIS as the primary non-state threat to US interests and allies.” The same CNN report also declared that, “Iran continues to destabilize the Middle East through proxies such as Hezbollah, exacerbating conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.”

In the August piece, Shishko declares that “Israel’s right-wing government” has, like the United States, “accorded itself the right to intervene anywhere — to act as it sees fit whatever anyone else might think.” He continues, “In the name of security, [Israel] feels free to launch air strikes, or military forays, or destructive raids on Palestinian villages, without any concern about international law or agreement.” Shishko makes no reference in this piece to stabbings, shootings and vehicular attacks on Israeli civilians by Palestinians or to Hamas’s firing of missiles and building of terror tunnels that prompt the Israeli measures.

Shishko also accuses Bennett and others of “doing all they can to undermine” the Iran Deal — as if Iran itself has not undermined confidence in its willingness to abide by international agreements. Even John Kerry, who was the U.S. Secretary of State when the Iran Deal was negotiated and finalized, admitted at the time that Iran would likely use some of the $150 billion in assets that were unfrozen as a result of the deal to fund terror groups. When the deal was finalized, John Kerry said in January 2016, “I think that some of it will end up in the hands of the IRGC or other entities, some of which are labeled terrorists.”

Shishko depicts credible and reasonable concern about Iran’s role in promoting terrorism as a “myth” that is “nourished” by “neocons and Naftalis.” This ad hominem attack is an insult to the victims of Hezbollah’s violence in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world and to the people suffering from Iran’s involvement in the Syrian civil war. Iran presents a real dilemma to Israel and to the United States and engaging in attacks against commentators who point this out is a disservice to the Journal‘s readers.

“Israel’s Poisoned Chalice,” October 2, 2017

In early October 2017, The Florida Jewish Journal published another piece by Shishko, this one titled “Israel’s Poisoned Chalice.” Here, the author reverses cause and effect, blaming antisemitic hostility on Israeli policies when in fact, Israeli policies are a response to ongoing acts of violence motivated by Jew-hatred in Palestinian society. He declares that by “implementing racist policies” the Israeli right-wing “undermines respect for Israel and, in some unwarranted degree for Jews.”

Shishko’s argument is seemingly an expression of what historian Kenneth Levin describes in his book, The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People Under Seige (Smith and Krauss, 2005), as the fantasy that Jewish-self reform can reduce hatred directed at Jews by their enemies. In Shishko’s case, the fantasy manifests itself in directing criticism at Israeli policies as though reforming those policies will diminish hatred and violence against its citizens. Shishko writes as if it is efforts to stop terror attacks that cause the attacks themselves, and as if pre-existing hatred for Jews in Palestinian society is not the decisive factor.

For example, Shishko condemns the demolition of the homes of Palestinian terrorists without suggesting what Israel should do to deter terror attacks instead. Should Israel install more checkpoints or impose stricter curfews in the West Bank? Or should it merely withdraw from the West Bank, despite what happened after Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and from Lebanon in 2000?

By rooting antisemitism in Israeli behavior, Shishko fails to confront a troubling reality: Palestinian leaders use hostility toward Jews and Israel as a unifying political agenda to distract their people from ongoing, persistent and intractable problems in the society they govern. All too many leaders hold onto the fantasy of destroying Israel and promote terrible acts of violence to achieve this goal.

Instead of confronting the cynical use of antisemitism as a tool of governance by Palestinian elites, Shishko blames hostility toward Israel and Jews on the occupation and checkpoints. This line of reasoning ignores that when Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Hamas rocket attacks increased substantially. The author also suggests that Israel is guilty of ethnic cleansing in the West Bank, by coyly stating “What all others see as ethnic cleansing, Israel’s right wing leaders merely picture as the settlement of lands which Jews have rightfully inherited from biblical times.”Shishko’s deceptive suggestion fails to take into account, however, that the Palestinian population in the West Bank has increased dramatically over the past few decades. According to the World Bank there were approximately 2 million people living in the West Bank and Gaza in 1990; today there are almost 4.5 million.

Instead of addressing the strategic and political dilemmas faced by Israel’s people and its leaders, Shishko proffers generalities, arguing that it needs to “defend its democratic heritage, and its age old commitment to tikkun olam— and the brotherhood of all peoples.”

How exactly is one to apply the principles of tikkun olam and the brotherhood of all peoples when faced with a group like Hamas that seeks your destruction? Shishko ducks the point.

“A Tribute to My Jewish Father,” December 11, 2017

In this column, Shishko uses a profile of his deceased father as a jumping-off point to attack Israel. The author describes his father, Harry, as someone who “believed that service to mankind was infinitely more important than any amount of money.” He was not a particularly perceptive thinker, Shishko reports. He was no Maimonides or Einstein.

But in one way, Shishko reports, Harry was like Einstein — he shared the physicist’s heartfelt concern about the plight of the Palestinians. Shishko reports that in 1938, Einstein objected to the notion of a Jewish state with borders and an army. What he fails to report, however, is that contrary to some accounts, Einstein eventually proved to be an ardent Zionist. In 1947, he wrote to then-Indian prime minister-designate, Jawaharlal Nehru, in an effort to persuade Nehru to support the UN partition plan: “Long before the emergence of Hitler I made the cause of Zionism mine because through it I saw a means of correcting a flagrant wrong.” And when he was asked to serve as president of the country in 1952, Einstein declared “I am deeply moved by the offer from our State of Israel, and at once saddened and ashamed that I cannot accept it.” This is a crucial omission.

Even more troubling is Shishko’s depiction of the battle at Deir Yassin as a “massacre,” despite numerous well-researched books and articles demonstrating that Deir Yassin was no such thing. Again invoking Einstein, Shishko writes that the renowned physicist, “was aghast at reports that Irgun paramilitary forces had assaulted the Arab village of Deir Yassin, and massacred a great many of its inhabitants, including helpless old men, women and children.”

A recent review of a book written by Israeli historian Eliezer Tauber, published by Mosiac, explains in part why a terrible battle became a massacre in the minds of Israel-haters throughout the world:

The Arab leadership wished to use Deir Yassin as a rallying cry for the cruelty of the Jews. They spread horror stories via the news agencies. They likely wished to encourage the fighting spirit of the Arabs, but the complete opposite occurred. Deir Yassin, like the loss at Mishmar Ha-Emek and the death of Abd al-Qadir al-Husseini, marked the beginning of the complete collapse and defeat of Palestinian Arab society.

The greatest influence preserving the myth is the international propaganda aimed at using Deir Yassin to attack the moral conduct of the Jews in war and the partial and sometimes distorted use of the testimonies of the survivors.

In light of the research that has taken place in the past two decades, all of which demolishes the notion that a massacre took place at Deir Yassin, Shishko’s use of the village as an anti-Israel talking point — in a Jewish newspaper no less — is irresponsible. (For more information about what really happened at Deir Yassin, go here.)

“Can Ehud Barak Revive the Two-State Solution?” December 29, 2017

In this piece, Shishko condemns Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for allegedly undermining the prospects for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. He does this by drawing attention to an article by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak published in The New York Times on December 1, 2017, in which Barak warns about the dangers of a “one-state-solution.” Paraphrasing Barak, Shishko warns about how Netanyahu “has been steadily undermining democracy, and blocking the way to a vitally needed Israel/Palestine accord.”

Nowhere in his article does Shishko address the underlying reality that Israeli citizens understand all too well — that Israeli peace offers and concessions have been invariably met with Palestinian rejectionism and violence. Ehud Barak himself offered a state to the Palestinians at Camp David in 2000, only to see Yassir Arafat say no, refrain from making a counter offer and endorse the Second Intifada a few months later. And in 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a state that would include 93 percent of the West Bank and a capital in eastern Jerusalem. Abbas, by his own admission, rejected this offer and like Arafat a few years before, refrained from making any counter offer.

Despite all this, Shishko blames the Israeli right for the lack of peace, portraying the annexation of settlements in the West Bank as an obstruction to a two-state solution. There is also a material omission at the heart of Shishko’s narrative — any description of the 10-month settlement freeze that Netanyahu agreed to in 2009-2010 during which Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refused to negotiate.

Nowhere in his piece does Shishko acknowledge or even allude to Palestinian intransigence. According to his narrative, Israel is unilaterally, solely responsible and singularly capable of bringing about peace between itself and the Palestinians. This is a factually insupportable position.

“Some Call it Apartheid,” February 5, 2018

What we see in Shishko’s articles is a troubling tendency to portray himself as morally and intellectually superior to the Israeli citizens and leaders who are faced with wracking dilemmas on how best to pursue the competing values of security and human rights while contending with people inside and outside of Israel who want to destroy the Jewish state. This faux moral superiority is particularly evident in a February 2018 article in which Shishko accuses Israel of apartheid.

To its credit the Jewish Journal did publish a rebuttal to this piece, written by a CAMERA staffer, that addressed Shishko’s most problematic claims, and that pointed out that he “made various false statements and omitted important information that undermines his thesis.” It also pointed out “how unqualified [Shishko] is to opine on this subject.” Yet, in the very same issue, the Jewish Journal published another, even more egregious column by Shishko that continued this pattern.

“Christian Zionism and the Birth of Israel,” March 12, 2018

In his most recent article, Shishko’s primary target is not Israel or its Jewish inhabitants, but its Christian supporters. In this column, Shishko makes the claim that, “Above all, Christian Zionism rests on the belief that the second coming of Christ will occur only after the land of Israel is restored to descendants of the Jews who lived there in biblical times.”

This claim is extremely deceptive and impugns the motives underlying most Christian support for the modern State of Israel. While it is true that some Christian Zionists believe that the restoration of the Jewish State is a requirement for the second coming of Christ, this is not the motivation for the vast majority of Christians who support Israel’s right to exist.

The connection between the belief in the second coming of Christ and Christian support for Israel was popularized by the publication of sensational works in the late 20th century such as Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth(1970). Shishko is obviously aware of the messages of such books, but he is apparently not aware of the long history of Christian Zionism, nor is he aware of the changes in the movement that have taken place in recent years.

Ever since the first century of church history, Christians have believed that the Jewish people would be restored to their ancient homeland, just as the Hebrew prophets foretold. This belief did not just emerge “as a significant doctrine in England in the early 1800s,” as Shishko stated in his article. In fact, Christian Zionism is rooted in the Hebrew Bible where, beginning in Genesis 12, the account is found of a covenant between God and Abraham – a covenant that includes the promise of a particular land to a particular people.

In “A New Christian Zionism: Understanding Supersessionism and Why It Is Unbiblical,” published in Providence (Winter 2016), Dr. Gerald McDermott writes, “The Jews who wrote the New Testament preserved the vision found in the Hebrew Bible and held on to the prophets’ promises that one day Jews would return to the land from all over the world, and establish there a politeia (a political entity), which would eventually become a center of blessing for the world.”

McDermott goes on to outline how beginning with Jesus and ending with the book of Revelation, the New Testament demonstrates an expectation of the restoration of the land of Israel to the Jewish people. Early church fathers such as Justin Martyr (100-165) and Tertullian (160-225) also wrote about a future for the Jewish people in the land of Israel.

The expectation of a future for a particular people in a particular land, based on belief in the unconditional and eternal covenant God made with Abraham, was revitalized during the Reformation of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and was a central belief of the Puritans who ventured to the New World.

Biblical scholars such as Karl Barth (1886-1968) wrote of God’s eternal covenant with Abraham’s descendants through Isaac, and the fact that the covenant included the promise of a particular land. Most significantly, in light of Shishko’s exaggerated claim, Barth clearly rejected the concept that the restoration of the land of Israel to the Jews was in any way associated with an End Times scenario, including the second coming of Christ.

Indeed, the motivation for the vast majority of Christians who support Israel’s right to exist today is the belief that, in accordance with what is written in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, the Jewish people would be restored to the particular land promised to them through their ancestor, Abraham. This is a belief that is two millennia old, and is most certainly not rooted in the relatively recent frenzy created by the publication of sensational works in the late 20th century.

In addition to defaming Christian Zionists, Shishko gets a crucial element of history wrong. In his effort to portray the Balfour Declaration as a malign event, Shishko writes, “Very likely, the Balfour Declaration encouraged American Jews to back pro-British, pro-war sentiment, and help draw the U.S. into WW I.”

Again, as stated above, there’s just one problem: The U.S. declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, several months before the British issued the Balfour Declaration on November 2, 1917. But this doesn’t prevent the author from obliquely attempting to blame American Jews for U.S. involvement in World War I – as if the German sinking of the Lusitania with more than 100 Americans on board in 1915 and ongoing U-Boat attacks on American shipping didn’t have an impact on American opinion about the need to defeat Germany.

This baseless assertion, moreover, plays into propagandistic claims that Zionists send American soldiers into harm’s way to defend Israel. It accompanied other false tropes such as Israel’s “ceaseless annexation of Arab land,” and that “Zionism has come to mean a fervid Jewish nationalism indifferent to human rights, and committed to subjection or expulsion of Arab residents.”

Conclusion

Shishko has a right to his opinions, but he does not have a right to his own facts. The lax editorial attitude by the publication toward his incendiary falsehoods and slurs against Israel is highly  unprofessional and readers should urge an end to such dereliction.

UPDATE: In response to an outpouring of complaints from CAMERA members, by March 28, The Florida Jewish Journal removed the error-riddled opinion pieces written by Irwin Shishko from its website.