The Real Dangerous Liaison: Leslie Cockburn’s Flirtation with Antisemitism, Saddam Hussein and White Supremacy
Since winning the Democratic nomination in Virginia’s Fifth District, author Leslie Cockburn has been plagued by accusations of anti-Semitism from Richmond all the way to Israel. These accusations have cast a dark cloud over her campaign against Republican Denver Riggleman, as she seeks to replace retiring Congressman Tom Garrett.
Although troubling statements litter her entire career, most of the criticism has centered around a book she wrote in 1991 with her husband, Andrew Cockburn, entitled “Dangerous Liaison: The Inside Story of the US-Israeli Covert Relationship” which was widely panned even by fellow Democrats, who said it went too far.
Leslie Cockburn’s Virulently Anti-Israel Book
The central premise of Cockburn’s book holds that shadowy Jewish power brokers control US and global political institutions for the benefit of Israel, as summed up in a 1991 review published in the New York Times, which noted:
“Instead, their book, supposedly a history of the secret ties between Israel and the United States, is largely dedicated to Israel-bashing for its own sake. Its first message is that, win or lose, smart or dumb, right or wrong, suave or boorish, Israelis are a menace. The second is that the Israeli-American connection is somewhere behind just about everything that ails us.”
That review was written by Dr. David Schoenbaum, an Oxford-educated professor of history and expert in US-Israeli relations whose own family survived the Nazi regime.
Bestselling author and former CBS News foreign correspondent Dan Raviv agreed. Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Raviv, also an expert on US-Israeli relations, said she cherry-picked facts, selectively quoted sources, cited conspiracy theorists, made “Israel’s deadliest foes” such as Saddam Hussein “out to be reasonable fellows,” and twisted words to “fit the Cockburn view of history.” He concluded that the “book’s boldest assertions, however, are supported by little more than unfriendly speculation.”
His entire review is worth a read for passages such as this:
“In the Cockburn universe, Washington’s interests are basically evil and Israel ministers to every ugly whim. There is little sensitivity to Israel’s unique problems or to the unadorned, though difficult, challenge of creating a haven for Jews in the wake of centuries of oppression. Even today’s dramatic exodus of refugees, moving to Israel because they fear glasnost may aggravate anti-Semitism, is cynically characterized by the Cockburns as the fulfillment of an old Israeli ambition ‘to secure the vast pool of Soviet Jews as citizens.’”
Raviv didn’t mince words regarding the book’s purpose or how the poorly-sourced material was twisted to fit the Cockburns’ pre-conceived agenda – even to the point of sympathy for Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
During the first Gulf War in 1991, as coalition forces worked to liberate Kuwait, Hussein launched at least 38 Scud missiles at Israeli civilians, spreading death and terror in a nation not party to the conflict – a war crime under international law. Tapes captured by coalition forces during the 2003 Iraq war confirmed that Hussein even prepared his generals to unleash chemical weapons against Israeli civilians, telling his Vice President, “I consider every city in Israel a target.”
One year later, in 1992, Cockburn visited Iraq and dined as guests of Saddam’s sons, Uday and Qusay Hussein, who have been implicated in numerous crimes against humanity – from mass murder of political opponents to the oppression of dissidents in the regime’s rape and torture rooms. As left-wing publication The Daily Beast reported:
“Suddenly everyone in the restaurant got up and left, and Uday and Qusay and their entourage came in and sat at a long table that was very close to our table,” Leslie continued concerning Saddam’s late, unlamented progeny. “One of their people was dispatched to our table and asked me if I would join them. I said… yes!”
Cockburn was the only American afforded that opportunity to dine with the two war criminals – not even her husband Andrew received that invitation.
Friends of Israel aren’t normally counted among exclusive guests of the Ace of Hearts or the Ace of Clubs.
In her 1991 book, Cockburn claimed that Iraq invaded Kuwait because of Hussein’s belief in “a conspiracy between Israel and the U.S. to attack him.”
Who gave Saddam that belief? Authors like Leslie and Andrew Cockburn, who claimed then and now that Israel was the motivating force behind both Iraq wars as well as the larger foreign policy of both Bush administrations.
For the Iraqi dictator, Cockburn’s book had become a useful propaganda tool which peddled anti-Israel conspiracy theories that justified his case for war. Hussein hoped his Scud attacks would draw Israel into the war and alienate Arab nations from the coalition. While these leaders had a vested interest in countering Iraqi militarism, public opinion would not allow them to work in coalition with Israel – largely because of anti-Israel conspiracy theories peddled by propagandists like the Cockburns.
Among experts, there is little disagreement that the book was deceptively written to fit an anti-Israel agenda – but does that rise to the level of anti-Semitism hidden behind an academic veneer?
Are Leslie Cockburn’s Views Anti-Semitic?
In 2007, prominent liberal Jewish Democrat Alan Dershowitz wrote an article for the University of Miami’s law review, entitled “Carter’s Screed Against Israel,” in which he criticized the views of the former president, specifically mentioning Cockburn and her book by name as generally supportive of views which he called “anti-Semitic.” In it, Dershowitz said of the Cockburns:
“There is something quite disturbing about these pictures, as there is about comments he reportedly made about Jews earlier in his career. According to journalists Andrew and Leslie Cockburn – who are no friends of Israel and generally support Carter’s critical views toward the Jewish state – when told that the Israeli prime minister was secretly advising Carter’s political opponents, Carter declared: ‘If I get back in … I’m going to f**k the Jews.’”
The “critical view” of President Carter which Dershowitz lambasted in his article was the same premise as that of Cockburn’s book: that powerful Jewish interests supposedly control American institutions in politics, media, and banking.
For most of history, this smear has been leveled against the Jewish people directly. However, since Israel’s re-establishment in 1948, anti-Semites have used “Israel” metonymically to attack the Jewish people through criticism nominally directed against the Jewish state, often beneath a political or academic veneer. Often, this criticism attacks Israel’s right to exist and the very premise of “Never Again.”
Dershowitz called that smear “the oldest canard in the sordid history of anti-Semitism,” writing:
“It is particularly disturbing that a former president who has accepted dirty blood-money from dictators, anti-Semites, Holocaust deniers, and supporters of terrorism should try to deflect attention from his own conflicts of interest by raising the oldest canard in the sordid history of anti-Semitism: namely, that Jews have dual loyalty and use their money improperly to influence the country they live in, in favor of the country to which they owe their real allegiance.”
In more extreme and overt forms, that false and hateful accusation has been used throughout history in anti-Semitic texts such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which used similar smears, conspiracy theories, and exaggerations to foster hatred against the Jewish people.
Motive is central to distinguishing between the two, and for that reason, Dershowitz went one step further and spoke to the motives of those who hold those views:
“In truth, he sought to delegitimate Israel and blame it for the failure of the peace process, all while hiding behind the fig leaf of support for a two-state solution. That is why Carter’s words–in his book and in subsequent interviews are being featured on radical Islamic and neo-Nazi hate sites around the world, and being praised by hard-left supporters of terrorism like Alexander Cockburn and Norman Finkelstein.”
The “hard-left supporter of terrorism” named by Dershowitz, Alexander Cockburn, happens to be Leslie Cockburn’s brother-in-law. As a team, Leslie, Andrew, and Alexander worked in tandem to spread hatred against Israel based in conspiracy theories and falsehoods. While the political views of family are usually separate from that of a candidate, in this case, they should be viewed collectively, since the Cockburns worked together promoting the same anti-Israel agenda and building off of each other’s work.
In his article, Dershowitz also cited Abraham Foxman, the long-time president of the Anti-Defamation League, a non-profit dedicated to countering anti-Semitism. In 2007, the ADL described how this rhetoric fueled anti-Semitism among white supremacists:
“In the U.S., white supremacists have enthusiastically embraced the former president’s accusation that the Israel lobby stifles debate in this country, saying it confirms Jewish control of government and foreign policy as well as the inherently ‘evil’ nature of Jews, according to racist Web sites and forums monitored by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).”
One propaganda outlet peddling those conspiracy theories is the radically far-left Counterpunch Magazine, which had been edited by Alexander Cockburn, prior to his death in 2012.
In 2006, Alexander had this to say about the “Israeli lobby” in the pages of Counterpunch, echoing the same exaggerations as Leslie, all of which have been denounced by Jewish leaders such as Dershowitz and Foxman. In a ridiculous hyperbole, he wrote:
“I would have thought that to ask whether there’s an Israeli lobby here is a bit like asking whether there’s a Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor and a White House located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC. For the past sixty years the Lobby has been as fixed a part of the American scene as either of the other two monuments, and not infrequently exercising as much if not more influence on the onward march of history.”
There’s that disturbing exaggeration again, this time asserting the “Israeli lobby” as similar in stature to the Statue of Liberty or the White House in influencing United States policy and history.
While pro-Israel groups do share their message in Washington – as do thousands of others advocating for everything from legal marijuana to the Metric System – this exaggeration hatefully frames pro-Israel groups as supposed puppetmasters and has no place in political discourse.
In the same article, Alexander even went so far as to accuse Israel as being the driving force behind the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, rather than the ouster of war criminal Saddam Hussein, along with Leslie’s dinner hosts, Uday and Qusay Hussein, writing:
“In fact the significance of this essay rests mostly on timing (three years’ worth of public tumult about the Neocons and Israel’s role in the attack on Iraq) and on the provenance of the authors, from two of the premier academic institutions of the United States. Neither of them has any tincture of radicalism.”
Leslie’s co-author Andrew argued the same point in a 2007 interview with far-left media outlet Democracy Now, implying that the entire foreign policy of George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush – including both wars in Iraq – were driven by the interests of Israel, rather than the United States. Remember what Dershowitz said about “allegiance” underpinning what he described as “the oldest canard in the sordid history of anti-Semitism”?
There’s that troublesome conspiracy-driven exaggeration again, which seems to be a recurring theme for the Cockburns.
When asked how he could recount a supposedly private father-son conversation at the Bush compound in Kennebunkport, Cockburn was reduced to a stuttering reliance on anonymous sources.
Condemnation for Cockburn Pours in from Critics
While Cockburn’s book garnered substantial criticism when it was published in 1991, including from outlets such as the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, the chorus of condemnation has only grown since Leslie announced her run for Congress and her extreme views came under closer scrutiny.
Dr. Yvette Alt Miller, a scholar of Jewish studies educated at Harvard and Oxford, included Leslie Cockburn in a list of anti-Semitic politicians in an article published by Aish HaTorah, a non-political Israeli nonprofit with 35 branches on five continents devoted to promoting Jewish culture, history, and philosophy. Miller criticized Cockburn’s book for spreading “patently false” … “anti-Jewish Conspiracy Theories,” writing in an article entitled “Anti-Semitic Politicians in America Today”:
“On May 5, 2018, Leslie Cockburn, a documentary maker and writer, received the Democratic nomination for the 5th Congressional District in Virginia, the state’s largest. On November 6, she’ll face off against Rep. Thomas Garrett in what is widely expected to be one of the country’s toughest fought races. Cockburn’s selection has shocked some voters who recall a book she wrote in 1991 that put forward patently false, anti-Jewish conspiracy theories.”
Dr. Gilbert Kahn, a professor of political science at Kean University and columnist for the New Jersey Jewish News, called Cockburn’s book an “anti-Israel diatribe” in a column he penned for the seven decade old publication:
“There are other candidates who reportedly have avowed anti-Israel views. Leslie Cockburn, who is running for the Democratic nomination in Virginia’s 5th District—which has suddenly become an open seat–authored an anti-Israel diatribe with her husband in the early ‘90’s.”
Jonathan Tobin, editor-in-chief of the Jewish News Syndicate, called Leslie Cockburn a “veteran left-wing propagandist with a troubling history of anti-Israel extremism” whose “compendium of conspiracy theories and smears” was “in the grand dishonorable tradition of such efforts to slander the Jewish people.”
Tobin’s entire column is worth a read – particularly these telling two paragraphs:
“Along with her husband, Andrew, Cockburn was the author of 1991 book ‘Dangerous Liaisons: The Inside Story of the U.S.-Israeli Covert Relationship.’ The book was a compendium of conspiracy theories and smears that sought to depict Israel as manipulating U.S. foreign policy. The Cockburns weren’t content to feed the notion that Jews were the tail wagging the American dog to the detriment of American interests. Instead, they sought to blame Israel for a host of international problems, including South American drug cartels, Central American massacres and apartheid in South Africa.”
“In short, it was an anti-Semitic screed in the grand dishonorable tradition of such efforts to slander the Jewish people. The fact that its authors had mainstream connections and were backed by a major publisher made it no less despicable. But Cockburn has now resurfaced, seeking to present herself to the public as just a skeptical journalist whose book (which she does not disavow) is a non-issue being put forward by conservative opponents.”
Left, right, Republican, Democratic, foreign, domestic – criticism of Cockburn and her book is coming from all corners of the political spectrum, here in the United States and abroad. These are not partisan accusations. They are warnings hailing from everyone who opposes the baseless slander of the Jewish people and the agenda furthered by that big lie.
Well, almost everyone.
Cockburn’s Rhetoric Embraced by White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis
There is one group that isn’t criticizing the Cockburns and their rhetoric: self-avowed bigots.
One of the darkest corners of the Internet is a website known as Stormfront, which I will not link to and sincerely hope you never visit. As the Internet’s top hub for racism, white supremacy, and neo-Nazi views, Stormfront serves as the main rallying point for hatred and bigotry in cyberspace, and is closely monitored by anti-hate groups such as the ADL.
Stormfront is run by two people: David Duke and Don Black. Duke is a self-avowed white nationalist, neo-Nazi, and former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Like Duke, Black is also a former Klan leader and member of the American Nazi Party who founded Stormfront following his release from federal prison.
What do actual white nationalists and anti-Semites think of the Cockburns? Let’s have a look:
There you have it.
In a cesspool of hatred run by neo-Nazis and KKK Grand Wizards, racists simultaneously praise Adolf Hitler and Leslie’s husband, Andrew, noting Andrew’s praise for “Hitler’s economic/banking policies” and linking to a pro-Nazi article published in a magazine edited by Leslie’s brother-in-law, Alexander.
Summing It Up
For decades now, Leslie Cockburn, her husband Andrew, and her brothers-in-law gleefully churned out poorly-sourced anti-Israel propaganda to the delight of anti-Semites ranging from Saddam Hussein to David Duke.
Even as fellow Democrats like Alan Dershowitz denounced this rhetoric, the Cockburns continued to traffick in what the New York Times called “Israel-bashing for its own sake” and which CBS News foreign correspondent Dan Raviv said had been “twisted to fit the Cockburn view of history” supported by “little more than unfriendly speculation” sourced to “conspiracy theorists.”
Leslie never had a problem with acting as a willing propagandist for Israel’s most virulent enemies until she began running for Congress. Only after she announced her candidacy did her campaign begin attempts at damage control. In a statement to Washington Jewish Week, Cockburn’s campaign wrote:
“Leslie is a stalwart supporter of Israel who cherishes the close friendship between our two nations and the critical role Israel plays as our ally in the Middle East,” it reads. “As Congresswoman for Virginia’s 5th District, Leslie will be committed to strengthening the historic ties between us, protecting Israel’s security, and promoting peace in the region.”
Is Leslie Cockburn really a “stalwart supporter of Israel who cherishes the close friendship between our two nations”?
Nobody believes that absurd statement. But it’s not surprising, in today’s black-is-white, down-is-up world of politics.
The central question of the debate is this: Is Cockburn an anti-Semite herself, or merely a four-decade willing propagandist who enabled virulent anti-Semites by churning out conspiracy theories twisted to fit her pre-conceived anti-Israel agenda?
At this point, what difference does it make?
Neither belong in the United States Congress.