WASHINGTON - American conservatives and Jewish leaders are up in arms over former vice-president Al Gore's sale of Current TV to Al-Jazeera, accusing the noted climate change activist of everything from hypocrisy to lining his pockets with cash from anti-Americans.
Right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh has been at the forefront of the attacks, pointing out that Gore sold his pet cable network to an Arab news giant owned by the royal family of oil-rich Qatar, an OPEC regime.
He also asked if some of the female hosts on the left-leaning cable news network, including Joy Behar and Jennifer Granholme, will "now have to wear burkas and veils over their faces?"
Fox News personality Bill O'Reilly piled on, maligning Gore for selling to the "anti-American" Al-Jazeera before the Jan. 1 hike in the U.S. capital gains tax.
"This is really stunning," O'Reilly said this week. "A former vice president selling his far-left cable network to anti-Americans, then trying to jam the deal to avoid higher taxes."
O'Reilly called Gore a "hypocrite," pointing to the one-time Democratic presidential nominee's assertions in a November interview that people "like me should pay our fair share."
Gore reportedly decided in December to sell Current to Al-Jazeera for US$500 million, pocketing an estimated $100 million personally in the sale. He had previously turned down an offer from the right-wing The Blaze network, rebuffing its owner, conservative pundit Glenn Beck, because of his politics.
American Jewish leaders are also expressing concern that Al-Jazeera could gain access to tens of millions of American homes via the Current TV deal. They accuse the network of anti-Israeli coverage and supporting extremist Islamic regimes.
"Al-Jazeera has a troubling record and history that is very disturbing, particularly in its Arabic language broadcasts," said Abe Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement from the organization on Friday.
"It has exploited and exaggerated the Arab-Israel conflict in a heavy-handed and propagandistic manner, and always at the expense of Israel, while giving all manner of virulent anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic extremists access to its airwaves."
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents, agreed.
"Their general coverage has served to destabilize regimes and favour some of the more extremist elements in the Arab world," he said.
Al-Jazeera has fought to gain a foothold in the U.S. market because of the refusal of many American cable providers to carry it. Time Warner, the second-largest cable company in the U.S., dropped Current TV after the sale to Al-Jazeera was confirmed earlier this week.
The news network is readily available on most major Canadian cable providers, including Rogers and Bell, after Ottawa approved the channel for distribution three years ago.
Americans turned on Al-Jazeera following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when it gave al-Qaida mastermind Osama bin Laden a broadcasting platform. But in recent years, it's earned praise from some U.S. officials, in particular Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who lauded its coverage of the so-called Arab Spring.
The brouhaha about Gore's sale to the network comes as the Republican party confronts anti-Muslim sentiment among some of its lawmakers. The soul-searching follows last November's presidential election, when three of the party's most vocal anti-Muslim legislators were defeated.
Even anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, a hard-right conservative on fiscal issues, has acknowledged the need for the party to evolve in terms of attitudes towards Muslims.
"They have gotten a bit of bad odour," Norquist recently told Mother Jones magazine.
The tipping point appears to have come in July, when Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann and four colleagues suggested the State Department had been infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood thanks to Huma Abedin, a respected aide and longtime friend to Hillary Clinton.
John Boehner, speaker of the House of Representatives, and Sen. John McCain were among the prominent Republicans who assailed Bachmann for her allegations.