President Trump’s nominee for a seat on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has been vilified in recent days as a racist and misogynist by liberal pundits and organizations -- but conservative allies claim the attacks amount to a smear campaign and a gross distortion of his past writings.
The attacks against judicial nominee Steven Menashi picked up last week with a segment by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, in which the host discussed a 2010 article Menashi wrote for the University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law, titled “Ethnonationalism and Liberal Democracy.”
Maddow started off her discussion by comparing the term “ethnonationalism” to white nationalism.
“Are you talking about what I think you’re talking about? Oh yes you are,” Maddow said, also claiming that the article “ends with this sort of war cry about how a country can’t work, how definitely democracy can’t work unless the country is defined by a unifying race.”
Menashi’s article does not say anything about democracy requiring that people be of the same race. What the article is about – and what Maddow does not mention – is the reconciliation of liberal democratic ideals with the concept of Israel as a Jewish state. Menashi, who is Jewish and of Iraqi descent, argues that Israel being a Jewish state is no different than other countries establishing a state for citizens of a common origin. While Israel does grant preference to Jews when it comes to granting citizenship, he argues once people are citizens of Israel, they enjoy equal rights regardless of religion or country of origin.
Still, Maddow described Menashi as “the academic drum major for ethnonationalism” and being on the “fringe of racial thinking.”
Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, accused Maddow of portraying Mensahi’s article as “the exact opposite” of what he was saying, wondering whether it was “intentional distortion.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition called Maddow’s report “both ignorant & defamatory,” saying she accused “an Iraqi Jew of racism because she can’t comprehend the highly qualified social science evidence cited in his law review article published by @Penn.”
Maddow also claimed that Menashi once repeated a false story that General John Pershing used “bullets dipped in pig fat” to kill Muslim terrorists. Maddow claimed that Menashi wrote about that story “in the course of his academic career” -- but lawyer Ed Whelan wrote in the National Review that not only was this taken out of context, but it was not during his academic career. Rather, Menashi discussed it in a book review prior to starting law school and after completing college, not when he was a law professor. Whelan also noted that Menashi did not endorse the methods described in the story.
“Nowhere in his book review does Menashi argue in favor of such anti-terrorism tactics,” Whelan wrote. “On the contrary, he faults the author whose book he is reviewing for promoting a view of American power that 'would divorce itself from a special concern for human rights' and for amorally 'sanction[ing] brutal tactics for maintaining order.'”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations has called for Trump to withdraw Menashi’s nomination, citing Maddow’s report.
“While our nation confronts the growing threat of white supremacy and white nationalism, it is unconscionable that President Trump would advance a racist Islamophobe like Menashi to a lifetime judicial position,” CAIR’s government affairs director Robert McCaw said in a statement. “American democracy is founded on the principle that our rich national diversity is to be celebrated and that we as a people are united by our shared experiences and principles, not by our race or ethnicity.”
CNN also discussed Menashi’s past writing, with an Aug. 22 article delving into his college work. The network said Menashi “has a history of denouncing women's marches against sexual assault, dismissing education about multicultural awareness and accusing a major LGBTQ group of exploiting the brutal murder of a gay student for political ends.”
Menashi’s college article that discussed the women’s “Take Back the Night” march did not defend sexual assault; rather, it cited the march as an example of instances on the Dartmouth campus that he said employ negative generalizations of men. In discussing how a magazine included Dartmouth among the “ten most antimale schools,” Menashi claimed that the marches “charge the majority of male students with complicity in rape and sexual violence.”
His reference to the LGBTQ group Human Rights Campaign in a 2001 Dartmouth Review article was part of a larger discussion of attention paid to the case of Matthew Shepard – who was murdered for being gay -- compared with that of Jesse Dirkhising, a boy who was sexually assaulted and killed by a gay couple.
Menashi was indeed accusatory in saying that the Human Rights Campaign was “valuing lives instrumentally, according to political calculations.” Menashi claimed that while the group had no problem using the Shepard case to promote their interests, they tried to stay away from discussing the Dirkhising case. He accused the media of doing the same thing.
He claimed that left-leaning outlets covered the Shephard murder because it aided the cause of gay rights, but feared that coverage of the Dirkhising case would promote negative views of gay people, which Menashi said would have no grounds in reality.
Time.com touched on the same issue of the media’s treatment of the two cases in 1999, examining their own lack of coverage of the Dirkhising case. Ultimately, the Time piece argued, “The reason the Dirkhising story received so little play is because it offered no lessons.”
Severino claimed that the media was “purposely distorting his college newspaper articles,” which she said were based on “an intellectual and forceful indictment of political correctness and identity politics[.]”
Neither CNN nor MSNBC immediately responded to Fox News’ requests for comment on their reports on Menashi.
Severino claimed that the media’s treatment of Menashi is in line with a pattern of Democrats going after the reputations of Trump’s judicial picks.
The Judicial Crisis Network was at the forefront of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s supporters when he faced accusations of sexual assault during his Supreme Court confirmation process.