Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Company I Keep

I have tried very hard in my blog not to go after bloggers on the right side of the aisle. Needless to say, there are a lot of people out there who don't agree with me, some on the left, most on the right, and many people who agree with some but not all of the things I say. If I have a criticism to make of Israeli policy, doesn't it make more sense that I focus on the policy than on the bloggers who defend it (unless they have arguments that deserve to be answered)? True, I went after Alan Dershowitz when he incited against a good man and honorable Jew like Richard Goldstone. (Compare his screed with the recent response of the IDF MAG to the UN to the report, which although it disagrees with the main conclusions of the report, treats it respectfully, and does not dismiss any of the testimonies therein.) But I also gave him the courtesy of responding to his (rather bizarre) brief against Goldstone.

But some people I admire and respect have been repeatedly slandered and smeared by rightwing bloggers, and common decency requires that I not be silent and rise to defend them. Of course, they don't need my defense, and who knows, maybe if I were on the radar screen of the smearers, their slime would be directed to me. But I have a feeling that some of the smearers may be treating me with kid gloves because of my so-called credentials, credentials that are irrelevant to the arguments, but which they themselves lack.

And what may those be? Well, the fact that I a modern orthodox Jew, an American Israeli who has raised his children in Israel (all four of them veterans of the IDF, two officers), and a Jewish studies academic, makes me a less obvious target than a Chas Freeman or a Steven Walt for the "anti-Semite" slur or than Phil Weiss or Richard Silverstein for the "self-hating Jew" slur. Or maybe it is just the primitiveness of my blog (or the infrequent posts, or the numerous typos, as one uncharitable critic pointed out) that protects me. In any event, a rash of smears against my fellow bloggers, culminating in a particularly disgusting smear by association published in Tablet – in this case, the association is between the bloggers and some of their commenters, ribono shel olam! -- drives me to speak out.

I am very familiar with the writings of Stephen Walt, Glenn Greenwald, Andrew Sullivan, Jim Lobe, and Phil Weiss on Israel, and I can tell you that not only are they generally spot on in their analyses, but their criticisms, if taken seriously by the US and Israel, would only advance the cause of peace and justice in the region, and the security of Israelis and Palestinians. Nor are they significantly different in their views from a host of Israeli journalists, commentators, and politicians, not to mention human rights activists.

By contrast, the writer who published the scurrilous attack in Tablet, and a certain journalist/blogger who writes for the Atlantic, and who is increasingly known more for his ad hominems, which are cited in the aforementioned Tablet article, than for his arguments, advocate policies that lead, in my humble opinion, to undermining the existence of the state founded in 1948, and to any form of Zionism. Now even if this effect is appreciated by anti-Semites, that doesn't make the Tablet writer or the Atlantic blogger an anti-Semite.

I don't need to respond to the charges brought without a scrap of evidence in Tablet; Steven Walt does that well, if a bit too charitably for my taste. But I hope that Tablet gives space to the smeared bloggers to respond. So far the webzine seems to represent a center right status quo position on Israel, with a token nod (rarely) to progressives like Daniel Luban. If I am right, then its Israel opinion pieces will be read by young orthodox Jewish Republicans and by nobody else.


Stephen Marks said...

I'd never heard of this 'Tablet' before - at first I thought it might be the respectable British Catholic review of the same name. But on following your link, I was really encouraged by the splendid pasting the wretched author got in the comments.

Y. Ben-David said...

So you like Phil Weiss's comments about Israel. I stopped looking at his blog months ago because I couldn't take all the lies and half-truths he propagated (even though you think he is on the mark) as compared with other "progressive" bloggers such as yourself who at least make greater attempts to be in line with the facts. And I do believe that the comments he has there make up one of the biggest reservoirs of antisemitism in cyberspace today. He could prevent them if he wanted to...he even claimed he would do so.
But what do you make of his repeated insistence the antisemitism in Poland was "justified" or "understandable" because of a supposed "condescending attitude" the Jews there had to the non-Jewish population?

Unknown said...

I was familiar with Tablet--and because of interesting articles it runs on Jewish culture, I subscribed to its daily email of the latest headlines. Until I read the piece you refer to yesterday, which actually made me unsubscribe immediately. I agree with Stephen Marks--the readers did a tremendous job of putting the terrible article in its place. Kudos to you for bringing this to readers' attention, and writing about it so lucidly, as always.

Richard Witty said...

I'm not sure how I came to venture over here.

My posting is continually subject to moderation at Mondoweiss, to the extent that my participation is largely censored (not content so much as timing).

I've experienced a great deal of abusive comments by posters at Mondoweiss, comparable or worse than what you refer to here.

I conclude that the dehumanization of the other is a mutual process, that is contributed to by the failure to acknowledge that the Jewish people are a people that deserve to informally and formally self-govern.

And, that subsequent conclusions and behaviors spring from that, right and left (habitually defending Israeli policies and actions without any judgement applied and habitually offending Israel).

I don't think that either of the individuals mentioned are "spot on", in that neither have articulated nor led viable proposal that can lead to more than self-talking.

For example, Phil vacilates between support for Abunimeh single-state advocacy and maximalist right of return, and acknoweldgement of Chomsky/Finkelstein advocacy for two-state, and Walt's more reasoned advocacy for limited right of return.

And, even in the area of conveying to the public, the experience of Palestinians (why they dissent), they limit themselves to the blogosphere. They are not going to synagogues (they have been invited, I've invited them). They are not going door to door. They are not developing film and other journalistic media.

The shots at them are cheap ones and misrepresentative and plausible at the same time.

Peter Schwartz said...

I'll take a look at the article, Jerry. Normally, I like Tablet.

I have to say the comment section at Mondoweiss is a cesspool of anti-Semitism, one reason I don't read him.

If YBD is correct about Weiss's "justification" for Polish anti-Semitism...well...what can one say...let him bring the proof and the arguments.

Unfortunately, these sorts of "arguments" spawn their corollaries very quickly: All the reasons Israeli hatred of Palestinians is understandable and justified.

No sane person wants to go there.

Jerry Haber said...

YBD, can you cut and paste a quote?

Until the partition of Poland, Jews were often tax collectors for the nobility, and that put them in an untenable position with the Poles from whom they collected taxes; they were viewed as money-grubbing tax colectors. Some Jews became weathy that way. This was one part of Polish anti-Semitism, but the story is much more complicated than that (Poland is very Catholic.) Read books by Moshe Rosman and Gershon Hundert about that.

There were also times where Jews and Poles worked together, and there was a very interesting alliance between the militant orthodox rabbi of Cracow, the son of the Hatam Sofer, and Polish conservative Christians {whom he called, "Our Christian brothers") against the liberals, including the liberal Jews.

The Polish-Jewish relationship is very complicated,and varies from place to place and from time to time.

Unfortunately, the history is taught selectively to Israeli schoolchildren in their trips to Poland -- sort of like teaching to Palestinians the history of Jewish and Arab relations by focusing excusively on Deir Yassin.

Y. Ben-David said...

I will not go back to MONDOWEISS to look. Peter is right about his comments being a cesspool of antisemitism, that's why I refuse to go back there. The pieces I am referring to are in his back archives. He has had more than one discussion about this matter. He quoted Isaac Bashevis Singer as saying things like the "Jews looked down on the Poles", as if the Poles didn't do the same or worse to the Jews. Living in the Galut is not healthy for the Jews (even though I think you said it is preferable to us having a state-living under rule of others is a living hell for Palestinians, but for us it is all right, I guess), but nothing justifies pogroms, economic boycotts, numerus clasus, etc.

Peter Schwartz said...

Jerry, I think when someone says that Polish anti-Semitism was "understandable," he's walking an ambiguous and slippery line.

Is it "understandable" because one can point to antecedent reasons for the anti-Semitism?

Or is it "understandable" in the sense of "justified"?

Often times, these two very different senses of "understandable" blend or trade places even in one sitting.

Everyone has reasons for why they think and act in certain ways--even ways we might judge to be horrific. One could say it was "understandable" that Catholic Poles hated Jews: That's what the Church taught them.

Mein Kampf is filled with reasons that one could "understand" for why Hitler felt and acted the way he did.


When does an explanation become a justification?

Jerry Haber said...


please keep your comments shorter and to the point.

By they way, Richard Silverstein's Tikun Olam blog is currently ranked 32 in the top 100 World Politics blogs by Technorati -- and I have seen it as high as in the top teens -- so, you may not like, but it is one of the most influential world blogs around. (Of course, many of the top blogs are rightwing blogs.)

Anonymous said...

The mondoweiss comment section is about what'd you'd expect on this subject given that Phil only bans people for the most extreme racism. (Though I just saw him say he was changing his comment policy, and I don't know what the new one is yet.) You have the whole spectrum of commenters--rightwing Zionists, liberal Zionists (both groups at mondoweiss tending to be dismissive of Israeli war crimes, which is not something I'd say is true of some liberal Zionists I've seen elsewhere), anti-Zionists who aren't anti-semites, and some anti-semites or borderline anti-semites. I'd also say some of the Zionists are anti-Arab racists. Anyway, you have to be pretty extreme for Phil to ban you, or that's how it has been, unless he's changing things. I'd ban a few more people myself (on both sides) if I were running things, but I'm totalitarian that way.

The anti-Zionist faction is much more numerous, and the result is the usual sort of internet tribalism where anyone even slightly sympathetic to Zionism will get very rough treatment (some deserved and some not). More or less the same thing happens at any political blog where one faction tends to dominate.


Anonymous said...

To YBD: [Phil Weiss']....repeated insistence the antisemitism in Poland was "justified"

If a person is not able to provide direct quotes, nor willing to go back into the blog archives and find them, then they should sit on their little typing hands and not spread rumors.

Anonymous said...


i have access to the internets too

in fact, technorati has silversteins blog ranked 46....and yours 54

not even sure what this ranking means, as there have been many criticisms regarding technorati's algorithm

fact remains, unlike those listed in the article, neither dickie nor you get any traction in the msm or on major blogs.