Justice, Politics

The Jewschool Interview: MoveOn's Noah T. Winer

Noah T. Winer is a 27-year old Maine native, resident of Philadelphia and a Campaign Director for MoveOn, an Internet-based progressive political action committee (PAC).
Launched in 1998 by Wes Boyd and Joan Blades, MoveOn played a major factor in the 2004 Presidential election, when, along with other “netroots” institutions like DailyKos, it helped foster a revolution in the Democratic Party by putting dark horse candidates out front and center, giving the old party machinery a run for its money. It presently boasts 3.2 million active constituents.
Recently, MoveOn has found itself at the center of controversy after a barrage of anonymous antisemitic messages began appearing on its website forum along with a simultaneous wave of accusations by Right-wing bloggers that MoveOn, an organization with many Jewish staff members and constituents, was willingly harboring antisemites and espousing an agenda hostile towards Jewish interests.
MoveOn smells a rat.
I caught up with Winer, who’s currently on the road in Seattle for the final push of the midterm election campaign, via instant messenger.


JEWSCHOOL: Why are you and George Soros trying to ruin America?
WINER: Heh, I guess we’re just self-hating.

Why do you think the Right is so interested in smearing MoveOn?
The Right’s politics need a villain. And the threat of many people working for a popular progressive agenda is a real threat to their strangehold on power.

MoveOn is something of a controversial organization on the Left as well. The establishment critique, mostly coming from the Party machinery, though also being perpetuated on the Right, is that MoveOn is representative of a so-called “Shadow Democratic Party” that is trying to hijack the Democratic Party to advance a radical Left wing agenda. The radical critique is that MoveOn is not truly representative of a broad base — rather, like most Internet-based communities, it tends to be white, male, and middle to upper class. How would you respond to those criticisms?
The establishment is right that the 3.2 million Americans who are members of MoveOn want the Democratic Party to represent a progressive, populist voice instead of the interests of a few wealthy corporations. MoveOn members want a Democratic Party that’s fighting for universal health care, solutions to climate change, and a restoration of democracy.
On the radical critique, MoveOn isn’t the whole progressive movement, just a part of it. It’s not quite as homogenous as most people assume — many of our most active volunteers are women and, while we don’t ask about income level, the average donation is about $45. We do lots of work with progressive organizations who explicitly represent people of color, women, and low-income people.

Turning to the recent antisemitism controversy: Who manages and maintains the MoveOn message forums — in-house staff or outside volunteers?
Both. The idea of the forum is anyone can post a comment and anyone else can rate it as useful or not. The best comments float to the top, and the entire staff reads the top comments each week.
Maintaining an open forum is like maintaining a democracy with free speech: it can be messy, people say offensive things, there’s open debate and disagreement. We believe in bottom-up politics, so we’re taking these risks and sometimes we get burned. We have a moderator who tries to catch really offensive comments, but we don’t approve everything that’s posted. The media and the public need to learn to distinguish content entered on an open forum or in a contest from content an organization actually endorses — otherwise, we’ll be left with a less free and open society.

Were you aware, before this scandal broke, that there were individuals using the cover of anti-Zionism to espouse antisemitic views in the MoveOn forums and that these posts were receiving disturbingly high ratings?
We discovered and removed the posts before the scandal broke. Almost all the comments were posted and rated highly by non-MoveOn members who joined the forum with multiple accounts to create trouble.
In other words, most of the comments aren’t the real views of anyone, just an effort to smear MoveOn and its members for political gain.

So it’s your belief that this incident was coordinated in order to provoke trouble for MoveOn?
It looks that way.

Did MoveOn erase the posts of individuals who raised concerns about these manifestations of antisemitism, as has been alleged by MoveOn’s detractors? Did you remove those posts acting under the belief that the complainants were also the offenders?
I don’t know for sure, but my guess is the whole thread was removed.

Do you believe that there is any specific group responsible for this smear campaign and do you have any solid evidence that it was a coordinated effort?
I don’t know if any specific group is responsible. It might just be the partisan interests of a bunch of individuals lining up. We’re actively responding, but we’re even more focused on winning this election and working toward a progressive future.
That’s what MoveOn members want and it’s what’s made MoveOn a target in the first place.

How would you describe your Jewish identity or your personal relationship with Judaism? Are you practicing? Unaffiliated? Zionist?
Judaism is a big part of my life, culturally and spiritually. I’m shomer Shabbat and active in a couple synagogues and minyanim in Philadelphia. My partner is a rabbinical student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. Judaism is also central to the work I do at MoveOn.

How do you feel as a Jewish person about this situation? Do you concur with the sentiments of Jewish Funds for Justice, for example, which believes this to be an attempt to manipulate Jewish fears in the advancement of political self-interest?
It’s very painful to see other Jews working to undermine an effort for greater social justice. All the more to see them undermine it with fabricated and manipulative charges. I try to remember what a tiny minority of the Jewish community this is — that the vast majority of the Jewish community sees social justice as central to being Jewish and actively supports MoveOn’s efforts for change.

What do you think are the most important issues facing progressive Jewish voters in the forthcoming election?
I’ve found progressive Jews are very motivated by a desire for a sane foreign policy that will make us safer through justice and by a desire for universal health care.

Obviously the most contentious issue facing the Jewish community is that of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Democratic Party has traditionally been very pro-Israel and is adamant about protecting Israel’s security interests. However, for many on the Left, America’s support for Israel, in general, is misguided. They see Democratic Party support for Israel as just one more issue on which the Democrats are too centrist. The Democrats, for example, fiercely advanced the proposal to cut off all contact with the PA after Hamas came into power. They’re also pushing for more direct confrontation with Iran. Does MoveOn as an organization have any official position with regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Does it advocate or lobby on the issue at all? If not, why not?
MoveOn is member-driven. We work on issues that we hear from our members about when there seems to be a commonly held view. We don’t yet hear that from our members.

This issue is of course complicated by that which was used as the bait to stir up the current controversy surrounding MoveOn: Antisemitism has undoubtedly become a major issue on the Left these days, with criticism of Israeli military policies often lending itself to cooptation by more traditional antisemites. What do you make of this issue and do you think it would be wise or worthwhile for MoveOn to facilitate dialogue around this subject?
As U.S. progressives know well, criticizing the decisions of a government is often done because you care deeply about the well-being of the people it represents and your own well-being. So criticism shouldn’t be confused with hatred. These conversations are important, but I think MoveOn’s strength is using the Internet to organize, and these conversations need to happen in safer, more personal places where people can establish trust.
More on this issue at jspot.org.

20 thoughts on “The Jewschool Interview: MoveOn's Noah T. Winer

  1. I am the person who brought the anti-Semitism to the attention of the public. Before that, on April 1, 2004, I wrote a note to MoveOn.Org about the Anti-Semitism (and anti-Israel) messages on the MoveOn.Org forum. No one from MoveOn.Org has ever contacted me or tried to contact me. No changes were made to policy.
    My motivation for exposing this is that people have an obligation to know what an organization is and what its members believe if they are going to support it.
    My responses to the Interview with Mr. Winer are:
    I am not a rightist. I am a centrist. I was a life-long Democrat who voted for Clinton twice and Gore once. I am not smearing MoveOn. I am reporting the events that happened.
    Mr. Winer maintains that the forum is open yet he admits posts are removed. He is contradicting himself. In my note of April 1, 2004, I pointed out that my posts in defense of Judaism and Israel were removed while the anti-Semitic posts were allowed to remain. This shows that defending Judaism and Israel are offense while attacking either is not.
    Mr. Winer surmises that trouble-makers posted the anti-Semitic remarks and then voted for them under different names. He offers no proof. The anti-Semitic remarks were posted by the same people over a period of years. They were not chastised by MoveOn, their posts were not removed (like mine were) and they were not barred from the forum (as I was). Again, this shows that the forum was not open. I am not the only person this happened too.
    Mr. Winer claims that the posts were removed before the scandal broke. This is not true. Going back to early 2004, my posts were removed, not the anti-Semitic posts. I was booted off the forum, not the anti-Semites.
    No one was smearing MoveOn.Org’s forum back in 2003, 2004, 2005 and most of 2006. I tried to bring this to the attention of MoveOn.Org’s leaders and nothing ever happened. I went public because terms like “Jew Lieberman” were posted and remained until it became general public knowledge thanks to me, Bill Levinson and Robert Goldberg.
    Again, Mr. Winer offers no support to his claim that it was intruders making the anti-Semitic remarks. Two names that come to mind, who posted these kinds of remarks over the years, are Rod Hutchinson and Nouri (School teacher from Coventry).
    As I mention way back in 2004, my posts were removed and not the anti-Semitic posts. Later, MoveOn removed all threading capabilities from the forum. Each post stood alone. Whole threads weren’t removed. Later, there were no threads to remove.
    It is wonderful that Mr. Winer is Shomer Shabbat. Naturei Karta is also Shomer Shabbat, but they despise the existence of a Jewish state. Mr. Winer, Naturei Karta, Noam Chomsky and George Soros are free to like and dislike whatever they want about Israel. My beef is not their stand on Israel: it is their tolerance of anti-Semitism and intolerance of a defense of Judaism. I do not even say that they have no right to pull any messages or block any people that they want. I am only saying that the public has the right to know this and I have the right to bring it to their attention.
    Any damage done to MoveOn.Org by exposing the anti-Semitism (and other racism) can only occur because the anti-Semitism is there and my own experiences on the MoveOn forum. If it wasn’t there, I couldn’t expose it.
    Mr. Winer may recall a letter I wrote to him about a Bulletin on their home page that blamed Barak for walking out on the Camp David peace talks. Mr. Winer wrote a letter in response to those of us who complained that he was not responsible for the bulletin; it was the work of Interns. All he was responsible for was the accuracy. He took the words of Uri Avneri over Bill Clinton, Dennis Ross and Marc Ginsberg who were involved in the negotiations at Camp David.
    In summary, Mr. Winer’s statement is not true.
    Jan Mel Poller

  2. Jan Mel Poller writes: “I have been following MoveOn.Org since they came to my attention during the first anti-Iraq invasion demonstrations when they teamed up with Stalinist Ramsey Clark and International Answer. […] I was a lifelong Democrat and became an Independent because of the philosophy of MoveOn.Org and other ‘progressive’ organizations.”
    Ie., “I have been looking for a way to fuck MoveOn since I first heard of them.”
    You know Jan, everyone teamed up with International ANSWER for the first anti-war demo, simply because they were the ones who had organized it. After we all became aware of what ANSWER was about, we boycotted them. I speak as a person who attended every anti-war demo in NYC and DC from 2002 to 2004.

  3. Ok Dan, What about the rest of her contentions? Seems pretty serious to me. Noah did get a little evasive once the topic of Zionism and Israel came up.

  4. For some reason my own answer to Mr. Winer did not appear but I’ll try again. In addition, I have linked this page to Free Republic with my reply so the Freepers can see how desperate MoveOn.org is.
    “We discovered and removed the posts before the scandal broke.”
    Except for the ones we harvested not only after the scandal broke, but more than two weeks after MoveOn.org’s press release of September 2. Unless otherwise stated (e.g. “Google Cache”) every single one of these was found on or after September 17.
    “Almost all the comments were posted and rated highly by non-MoveOn members who joined the forum with multiple accounts to create trouble.”
    That’s also interesting because it seemed to us that individuals who identified themselves as Hutchinson and Ellis were forum regulars, and they were responsible for a lot of the hate speech. In addition, one of them linked a separate http://outbush2005.blogspot.com/ that contained the same kind of hate speech.
    JEWSCHOOL: Did MoveOn erase the posts of individuals who raised concerns about these manifestations of antisemitism, as has been alleged by MoveOn’s detractors?
    Yes, we can attest that our posts as well as those of Jan Poller were erased.
    WINER: Judaism is a big part of my life, culturally and spiritually.
    Then why, Mr. Winer, did you yourself post an official MoveOn.org bulletin– and this is NOT the Action Forum, but an official bulletin– that cites an anti-Semitic source (the Christisons)?
    …This essay describes many of the familiar neo-conservatives as having “dual loyalties,” making policy decisions in the interests of the State of Israel as much as the United States.
    Now who are Bill and Kathleen Christison? By their works shall ye know them:
    Authors’ note: Given the prevailing atmosphere in the United States for debate on Israel, the frequency with which critics of Israel are accused of malicious ethnic motives, and the widespread skittishness about associating Israel or American Jews with war planning against Iraq, the following items are of particular interest. The first of these items reports a clear Jewish effort to suppress any evidence of Jewish support for war. The second is evidence, from a non-Jewish perspective, of the effect of the silence imposed on critics of Israel.
    This is the source that Mr. Noah T. Winer saw fit to quote. http://www.ifamericansknew.org/ also seems to like the Christisons, take a look at their Web page.
    JEWSCHOOL: …Who manages and maintains the MoveOn message forums — in-house staff or outside volunteers?
    WINER: …We have a moderator who tries to catch really offensive comments, but we don’t approve everything that’s posted.
    That’s funny, Mr. Winer, because your own FAQ page at http://www.actionforum.com/general/faq.html says that every comment is read twice. Furthermore, your overworked moderator had no trouble at all in finding criticisms of MoveOn.org or pro-Israel commentary, because those were deleted. We, who are not even being paid to do it, had no trouble finding the hate speech.

  5. Winer is a revisionist…Let me simply restate what I wrote in the Forward this week regarding Moveon being fully aware of the anti-Jewish postings as well as Winer’s own writing with regard to the issue of ‘dual loyalty’….
    “MoveOn notes that its Action Forum had full-time monitors who “spend the vast majority of their time looking for comments to pass on to the MoveOn team and doing weekly forum summaries.” In fact, MoveOn monitors deleted criticisms from Bill Levinson of Israpundit.com well before it deleted antisemitic rants.
    Further, an official 2003 MoveOn e-mail bulletin — written by Winer — links to and approvingly cites an article from the Web site Counterpunch that it says “describes many of the familiar neo-conservatives as having ‘dual loyalties,’ making policy decisions in the interests of the State of Israel as much as the United States.” The sources of this insight are Kathleen and Bill Christison, who wrote another Counterpunch article titled, “Zionism As A Racist Ideology.”
    Winer’s effort to paint the anti-semitism of Moveon as the work of critics is far from the truth.

  6. “Recently, MoveOn has found itself at the center of controversy after a barrage of anonymous antisemitic messages began appearing on its website forum along with a simultaneous wave of accusations by Right-wing bloggers…”
    This is not true either. The anti-Semitic hate speech was there long before the accusations began in mid-August. This can in fact be verified by searching Google’s cache to see when some of the material was posted.

  7. I see, so basically no one in the press cared until a month or two before the elections… and no Republicans denounced MoveOn until it was going to be beneficial to their party to raise doubts about the ethics of a liberal organization.
    My response to this is to ask Who benefits? Did MoveOn benefit from having idiot hate-mongers post vile comments on their site? Do the Republicans benefit from a smear campaign against a hugely influential liberal organization? I think the answer to this question is pretty straightforward.

  8. Marisa,
    No one in the press cared until August because August is when Jan Poller, Robert Goldberg, and I began to dig through the Action Forum for real evidence of just how bad it was. As shown above, Jan noticed the problem more than two and a half years ago and told MoveOn.org but nothing was done. When he told me, I began to do things with search engines (I’m pretty good at that) and found the stuff he was talking about and even worse, including an actual blood libel of Jews. (It says the Talmud commands Jews to hate and “slaughter” non-Jews. Most of the people who voted on it agreed with it.)
    As an experiment, I posted an item critical of MoveOn.org (calling it a liability to the Democratic Party) and others critical of the hate speech. These were promptly deleted, thus establishing that MoveOn was exercising editorial control over the forum and thus making it the proud owner of every single piece of hate speech therein. Jan’s experience plus the Action Forum FAQ itself simply reinforces this, as does the FAQ page.
    Mr. Winer’s “Recently, MoveOn has found itself at the center of controversy after a barrage of anonymous antisemitic messages began appearing on its website forum along with a simultaneous wave of accusations by Right-wing bloggers” is an attempt to tell people that the right-wing bloggers planted the hate speech there in August so they could “discover” it. Here’s a piece of anti-Evangelical Christian hate speech that was posted in March 2006. That’s March, not August, and 9 out of 11 forum participants voted to agree with it.
    “I am continually dismayed by our lack of focus on the president’s dangerous religious beliefs and how they are informing the agenda of his administration. As an Evangelical Christian, the president is doing his part to hasten armageddon, as evidenced by his middle-east policies. He would like nothing more than full scale war between the Jews, Christians and Muslims, as has been prophesisied in the Bible. Also keep in mind that the Evangelicals have no great love for the Baptists or the Catholics, many of whom the president managed to kill in New Orleans. Yet the president’s Evangelical Christian agenda is largely ignored – and it needs to be exposed.
    – [name deleted], Marketing dude (March 02, 2006; San Anselmo, CA)”
    This one’s by a forum regular who identifies himself as Hutchinson and it also was posted in March. 8 out of 9 forum participants agreed with the following material:
    “How can we have high level people in our government making foreign policy decisions when they are Jewish Americans? …We wouldn’t do it, but when 9-11 happened George decided he could tie them to it and show the rest of the world they better not mess with us in the process. Of course the “cooked up WMD’s” were largely a result of Jewish Americans in the intelligence community.”
    Try Googling on site:actionforum.com and “Hutchinson” and you may still find some very interesting stuff in Google’s cache– and as shown above, far before August.

  9. Nice try Mobius, but Jan Poller doesn’t run Red Alerts, I do. Rob f’n Taylor, Jan’s a fan of mine (I take it) and is kind enough to disseminate my “rightous indignation” to the world. Jan has his own wonderful site. Jan however is specifically angered by the MoveOn and their white liberal hypocrisy, while I have an axe to grind with ALL white liberals, and Red Alerts’ focus is on Communist front groups and their connections with Nazis, Jihadists and other criminal elements. My Klan post wasn’t part of a “plot” smear MoveOn, and if the left still had the intellectual honesty of JFK they’d admit that the far left sometimes attracts racist, fascist and anti-American groups to their causes. If you come out against Israel, why is it a surprise that David Duke and the various treasonous anti-semite groups would support you? The Aryan Nations allows a section of their board to be dedicated to Muslims who attept to convert their members, and David Duke supporters were at Sheehan’s camp peace of whatever (why do you think Sharpton sped out of there.)
    As an aside to Melissa james, I’m suspicious of any white person who claims some other white person’s “indignation” at racism isn’t as sincere as theirs…

  10. I think it’s pretty clear by now that MoveOn.org has not only made a mess, it has gotten Jewschool, Jewish Funds for Justice, and the National Jewish Democratic Party into its mess as well. Let’s say that Jewschool, Jewish Funds for Justice, and the NJDC are pretty much in the situation of Turkey as portrayed in this First World War cartoon (with MoveOn.org standing in for the Kaiser) http://www.ww1-propaganda-cards.com/images/bam5070.JPG.

  11. Let’s see if we can generalize the principles formulated by Poller and Levinson and see if they are happy with the results.
    In my State [Arizona] we have a prominent State Senator named Russell Pearce who, for instance, has placed 4 referendums on the current ballot and who is an announced fundamentalist Christian and devout rightwinger and who froths at the mouth everytime he thinks of “illegal aliens.” This jolly sort recently sent out to his mass email list an antisemitic essay authored by the National Alliance. His excuse was that he had only read the first several paragraphs of this essay, which were merely racist toward Browns, not antisemitic. Pearce had, about a week before, recommended a return to the “round up all those Mexes and ship ’em out” policy of the 1950s. His antics have become so extreme that he has been denounced by Arizona U.S. Representative J.D. Hayward, another Christian Conservative Rightist, who was in trouble several months ago for publishing a book in which he held up Henry Ford’s public philosophy as a model for us all.
    Now as I understand Poller and Levinson’s “reasoning” I should conclude from all of this that all Christians and Conservatives are per se Jew Haters, reaffiliate myself with MoveOn and the Democratic Caucus and divorce myself from anything Republican. Right Poller?

  12. Bill, Dan and others keep up the good work. I’ve voted Democratic all my life and don’t plan on doing any differently today. But, it is incredibly important to expose anti-Semitism wherever is rears its ugly head whether on the left or the right.
    Mobius writes:
    “After we all became aware of what ANSWER was about, we boycotted them….”
    That’s excellent. But I thought you were an anarchist? Anarchists have “been aware what ANSWER was about” (authoritarian socialism), since the organization was established. In the past, anarchists would have been fighting these scumbags in the streets.

  13. “in 2001, i wasn’t yet so involved and aware as i am today”
    Thanks for the explanation. That’s interesting b/c 2001 (Sep. 11) marked the formal beginning of my defection (exodus?) from the anarchist movement towards the political center.
    Nunzio Pernicone gave an interesting talk here in NYC on the radical labor activist Carlo Tresca. Pernicone recently completed a biography of Tresca, an anarchist who was active against the fascists and Stalinists. I think you would have enjoyed the talk. It’s really a shame there are not more people like Tresca on the scene today. Here is snippet from a review of Pernicone’s book on Anarkismo.net:
    “After the First World War, Tresca turned his fire against both fascism and Leninist/Stalinist tyranny. He was an early and passionate opponent of fascism, quickly becoming the leading anti-fascist in America. His activities earned the hatred of Mussolini and his regime as he played a key role (both politically and physically) in stopping the spread of fascism in Italian-American communities (they tried to blow him up in 1926). Pernicone recounts in much detail how willing the “democratic” American state was to help Fascist Italy by trying to expel Tresca. He also recounts how Tresca used to send Mussolini a telegram on the latter’s birthday. Before emigrating to America, the youthful Tresca had meet with Mussolini (then a left-socialist leader) only to be informed that being in America would turn Tresca into a real revolutionary. Tresca’s telegram simply reminded Mussolini that he had been right!
    Unlike many during that period, Tresca had no illusions in the Soviet Union. He saw how Lenin’s regime had crushed the real revolution in Russia and opposed the new “socialist” regime as vigorously as he did fascism. During the 1920s, however, Tresca did try to work with all opponents of fascism, even the communists (Tresca did not doubt the bravery of the rank and file and recognised their willingness to fight fascism). His attempts to build anti-fascist united fronts are recounted in some detail by Pernicone, as is Stalinist attempts to control such bodies. This, along with the Stalinist counter-revolutionary role in the Spanish Revolution, caused Tresca’s anti-Leninism to grow during the 1930s until such time as he opposed any form of co-operation with the Stalinists. This earned him their hatred.”

  14. Muzzlewatch is a project of A Jewish Voice for Peace, which is working to undermine Israeli security. Meanwhile, it tells the IRS on its Form 990 tax returns that it doesn’t attempt to influence legislation, while marching around Nancy Pelosi’s office to demand anti-Israel legislation. Interesting company that MoveOn.org keeps, isn’t it?

  15. Friends of MoveOn.org’s Noah Winer (who cited them as a reference in an official MoveOn.org bulletin)
    “Gaza, of course, is not the only Palestinian territory being raped and pillaged. Its 1.4 million residents are the most distraught — living imprisoned in a territory with the highest population density in the world, walled in with no exit except as Israel sporadically allows, being deliberately starved by the official policy of Israel, which dictates to the U.S., which dictates to Europe, vulnerable to constant Israeli assault. But the West Bank’s 2.5 million Palestinians are not much better off. They continue to be killed by Israelis and squeezed by Israel’s separation wall…”
    Sounds a lot like what was on Mr. Winer’s and Mr. Pariser’s Action Forum, except “Jews” was often put in in place of “Israelis.”

  16. Wow, this really brings the cockroaches out of the woodwork, doesn’t it?
    I don’t think that the Levinson, Poller, Taylor et al. are worth that much time, myself.
    But if you are curious, and just HAVE to wallow in this some more, a fairly good response to Levinson’s BS can be found here:
    The blogger there, in response to a Levinson post (of October 16), posed a series of questions to Levinson (also on October 16) that he found difficult to answer. So he didn’t. At least, not as of January 20, 2007.

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