Monday, September 6, 2010

The Tikvah Fund’s “Censorious” New Webzine: “Jewish (Rightwing) Ideas Daily”

The Tikvah Fund has launched a Jewish webzine called, "Jewish Ideas Daily." I became aware of its existence when one of its contributing editors requested permission to link to an article I had written. I wasn't familiar with JID, but I gave my consent. In my naiveté, I thought that the webzine would host a spectrum of opinions, albeit one within the Zionist consensus (My naiveté has limits.) After all, Prof. Moshe Halbertal, who is associated with the Zionist left, and often attends the Sheikh Jarrah protests, is the director of the Tikvah Fund's Center of Law and Jewish Civilization at NYU.

Then somebody sent me a link to an opinion piece by Prof. Allan Nadler defending the building of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance on the site of the Mamilla Cemetery in Jerusalem. There was a place for comments, and a note saying that "comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive." When the author claimed that Israel "has been extremely painstaking in its treatment of old Arab cemeteries," I disputed this by linking to Meron Rapoport's article in Haaretz, "History Erased," that documented the widespread and deliberate destruction of Arab villages, mosques, and monuments by the Israeli government, much to the consternation of some Israeli archaeologists, in the period following 1948.

When my comment was published, the link to Rapoport's article, and the reference to 1948, disappeared. I submitted the Rapoport link again, this time with a justification for it; once again, that part of the comment was cut. I left a third comment just with the link, and that wasn't published at all.

Hmm, I thought, maybe Rapoport's article wasn't "on-topic" enough; the cemeteries in those Arab villages had indeed been destroyed, but only mosques and monuments were explicitly mentioned in the article. But now I was on the JID email list, and I began to receive links to other articles. One was "The Romance of Gush Etzion", which expressed the emotions of a settler returning to the pre-1948 Jewish West Bank settlement that had been destroyed by Arabs in the 1948 war (and now has been enlarged threefold, much of which is through the expropriation of Palestinian private land). I left a comment calling the article "well-written" and "moving," but pointed out that "moral consistency and fairness dictate that anybody who supports a Jewish right to return to pre-48 Jewish settlements should also support the Palestinian right of return to their pre-48 villages. Both peoples were uprooted and were civilian 'collateral damage' of war." Nothing abusive or off-topic, albeit not popular. The comment was not printed.

So I tried again. This time the article was by JID's managing editor, Elliot Jager, who wrote on Ramadan. Never having heard of Jager, I thought he would write an article about the place of Ramadan in Islam, or, perhaps, an article on how Palestinian Muslims in Israel celebrate Ramadan. Then I read the sort of Islam-bashing-David-Horowitz-style article that one has been accustomed to read on rightwing Jewish and Christian websites. So I left a comment criticizing the Islamophobia, and pointing out that contrary to Jager's claim that "Israeli authorities have gone to great lengths to facilitate access for West Bank Muslims to their shrines atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem," Israeli authorities had in fact forbidden access to the Temple Mount during Ramadan for all West Bank males under the age of 45. Women aged 30-45 needed a special permit.

This time, my criticism of the author's take on Islam made it in. But the bit about Israel refusing to allow Muslims under 45 to worship at the Haram ash-Sharif was cut. I submitted it separately. Again, not accepted. Apparently, any critical reference to Israel that did not pass JID's litmus test was censored.

Look, I run a blog. Once you have a comments section, you will get all sorts of comments. Not all need to be included, and a moderator has a right to publish what he or she wants. "Jewish Ideas Daily" can certainly filter comments according to its published criteria. I have told some people who leave comments on my blog that they have to shorten their comments, and nasty and abusive ones should not find their way in.

But what is JID afraid of? Three times they censored my comments, removing unflattering opinions about Israeli policies. Had the comments been published, one of the JID's readers could have responded.

I have the impression that "Jewish Ideas Daily," perhaps like other projects supported by the Tikvah Fund, is so paternalistic that it will not allow anything "treif" that deviates from the old school Zionist consensus to be published, unless it is immediately contested. God forbid that a target audience of Tikvah -- bright young Jews -- should be exposed to "radical" folks like me, an orthodox Jew, American-Israeli, and a Jewish Studies professor.

So much for the ideological diversity that supporters claim for Tikvah. See my article here. But JID is a fairly new 'zine, and this is the period of repentance. Who knows? It's never too late for them to do teshuvah. In the meantime, I won't be reading it.

18 comments:

Juan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jerry Haber said...

I inadvertently deleted a zillion comments because of Blogger's new Spam function.

Time for me to move over to Wordpress?

My apologies

Tamar Orvell said...

Ignore Blogger's new Spam function. I, too, lost all comments on the blog I write for the Bhutanese refugee community. Simply use the "old" method of moderating comments, choosing how to handle each, in turn. You wont need to require word verification. Peter in the far east is THE address for all questions blogger: http://www.bloggertipsandtricks.com/

By the way, Shana tova and thanks for your vigilance, reporting, and hard work.

bacci40 said...

jerry,

two of your comments were posted

maybe the blog doesnt want links

you were also responded to, with reference to muslims themselves finding little kedusha to their burial sites...as the grand mufti, yemach shemo, had no problem with his brother building a hotel on that very site.

maybe they will do teshuva as soon as you ask mechila from thyme siegel for calling her a token

guess you werent aware of the other feminists that attended the conference you enjoyed belittling.

http://cifwatch.com/2010/09/07/the-history-and-psychological-roots-of-anti-semitism-among-feminists/#more-12120

maybe, before you demand someone do teshuva, you should look into your own soul.

there are alot of people you need to ask mechila of.

i pray that the next 10 days brings you clarity

Dovid said...

Bacci40, your comment is nothing but a red herring and not relevant to the discussion at hand.

I'm sure Jerry has offended many people, and calling someone a "token" barely registers on the offend-o-meter. And telling him "you should look into your own soul" is, frankly, ludicrous hyperbole.

Anonymous said...

Bacci40, what's all this about you making a death threat against Richard Silverstein that was reported to the FBI?

http://www.richardsilverstein.com/tikun_olam/2010/08/19/im-tirzu-accuses-israeli-blogger-of-incitement-to-murder/

Anonymous said...

It is more than a little ironic for someone hiding behind to be kvetching like a hurt child about his comments being edited, no ?

Jerry Haber said...

Anonymous,

Believe it or not, I didn't cut your ungrammatical comment.

Hiding behind what? I write with a pen name. Ever heard of Mark Twain? Ahad ha-Am? John Le Carre? My name is in my profile.

I have never heard of a website with a comment section which censors content that the editor is opposed to ideologically, provided the content is relevant and not abusive.

Why exactly are you opposed to that?

Anonymous said...

"I have never heard of a website with a comment section which censors content that the editor is opposed to ideologically, provided the content is relevant and not abusive."


You have done this to my comments on your site. And nope, they were neither irrelevant nor abusive.

The irony of this post is rich.

Jerry Haber said...

Anonymous, I have not done this to your comments on the site. I have not rejected comments because they oppose my ideology. Read my post and you will see the criteria -- longwindedness, irrelevance, and abusiveness. If you are who I think you are, those three criteria cover many of your comments.

ADDeRabbi said...

Perhaps the issue of other Arab cemeteries was off-topic because Mamilla is a different case, for two reasons:
a) Muslim authorities had already issued dispensations for the development of the site. See the article that appeared in the November 22, 1945 edition of the Palestine Post, available here: http://tinyurl.com/mamillacemetery
b) The issue of multiplying graves is rather unique.

I wrote on my blog that building a Museum of Tolerance on a Muslim cemetery is stupid at the very least; at least as stupid as building an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero.
But I understand that your comments could be deemed "off topic." To those of us without hammers, the whole world does NOT look like a nail.
I'm generally in favor of keeping comment moderation to an absolute minimum, and my policy is borne out on my blog. If one wants to moderate more heavily, fine - but keep it consistent.
And as I'm sure you know - and wish you'd write about for some balance - calling out the moderators of the Guardian's "Comment is Free" feature is a whole cottage industry.

Anonymous said...

"Read my post and you will see the criteria -- longwindedness, irrelevance, and abusiveness."

Two out of three describe a large portion of your posts. I can't claim they are irrelevant, but then again none of my comments are either.

It's your site and you can play dictator. It's ironic, though, when you turn around and cast aspersions on others for doing what you do.

Jerry Haber said...

Adderabbi, two points.

My reference to the destruction of Arab cemeteries was not in reference to the Mamilla cemetery. It was in reference to Nadler's comment that Israel "has been extremely painstaking in its treatment of old Arab cemeteries," I disputed this by linking to Meron Rapoport's article in Haaretz, "History Erased," that documented the widespread and deliberate destruction of Arab villages, mosques, and monuments by the Israeli government, much to the consternation of some Israeli archaeologists, in the period following 1948.


What is irrelevant is the Palace Hotel and the planned shopping center on part of the cemetery. It is entirely irrelevant, and it pains to me see that people appeal to these cases.

So let me patiently explain why it is irrelevant with an example.

Say that the municipality of Jerusalem wants to develop land for a hospital where a Jewish cemetery existed. It consults with the rabbinate, and the rabbinate say that the bones can be moved without desecrating them. The haredim have protests, but the land is developed.

Now say that the very land is conquered in war by Arab countries, and on the spot of the Jewish cemetery, the Arabs decide to build a hotel. Now we know that according to Jewish law, graves can be moved. But do you think that the Jews would care about that, if, say, the Palestinians wanted to develop a hotel museum complex over the cemetery?

With respect to synagogues, cemeteries, etc., it is best that the decisions are made by those religious authorities who are owners of the land, or should be.

I have a suggestion to the Wiesenthal Center. Let them go to the Muslim authorities and offer them to build, instead of a Museum of Tolerance, a museum of Islam in Jerusalem. The planning and building would be that of the Muslim authorities; the funding would come from the Wiesenthal Center.I am not so certain that the Muslim authorities would be as up in arms as they are now.

It's not moving the bones that's the issue. it is who is deciding to do it.

ADDeRabbi said...

Regarding whether Israel took pains to preserve Arab cemeteries, fair enough point. Nadler presented, at best, a partisan view that invited correction.

Regarding earlier plans to develop the site, several points are in order:
1) I'm not really troubled by your scenario. Once a site has been redeveloped, it's fair game for further redevelopment.
2) I have no idea whether the Wiesenthal Center and/or the Jerusalem municipality consulted with Muslim authorities on the halakhot of handling remains (do you?). I suspect, though, that the voices claiming desecration would sound pretty similar even if they had.

David said...

Imagine if someone had written a post about how you, the Magnes Zionist, censor comments - when in fact their post had been deleted due to Blogger's notorious hypersensitive "intelligent" anti-spam filter? Ignorance about the technical issues can result in conspiracy theories about censorship that isn't really there.

At JID, I'm pretty sure your comments weren't edited for ideological reasons, but rather because JID - like many sites - doesn't allow links to appear in their comments, due to the prevalence both of spam and malicious software often propagated by such links. YouTube, incidentally, has a similar policy - though being Google-run and massive, they have a script which removes or corrupts links, rather than personally moderating and editing the comments.

If you look carefully, the only things of yours that weren't published by JID were directly connected to your hyperlinks. That's not ideological censorship - that's a standard practice on many sites.

Given that I've seen some very harsh comments posted on JID - albeit occasionally, since like most sites they have a pretty like-minded readership - this strikes me as a much more sensible and less conspiratorial explanation. And we should always be loath to accept conspiracy theories when more logical possibilities present themselves.

Give JID the benefit of the doubt here, just as you would hope someone whose comments were deleted by Blogger would give to you.

Maybe try commenting critically a few times at JID without a single hyperlink, and update your post - or better, write a new one - if the comments go through without a hitch. Censorship is a pretty big charge to level, and from reading you for some time, I'm sure you don't wish to devalue it by misapplying it.

Jerry Haber said...

David,

You could have saved yourself some trouble had you read my post carefully.

My comments were edited and published with deletions, not all of which had to do with links.

For example, I wrote in my post:

This time, my criticism of the author's take on Islam made it in. But the bit about Israel refusing to allow Muslims under 45 to worship at the Haram ash-Sharif was cut. I submitted it separately. Again, not accepted. Apparently, any critical reference to Israel that did not pass JID's litmus test was censored.

This was not deleted because of a link being included.

And, by the way, I have indeed received independent confirmation that their heavy-handed editor censors out things that he does not like. I also note that the webzine did not respond at all to my accusations.

I appreciate that you give them the benefit of the doubt. In this case you are mistaken.

David said...

Now I'm confused. I did indeed read your post carefully, and the exact comment you reference as "not deleted because of a link being included" (about "Israel refusing to allow Muslims under 45 to worship at the Haram ash-Sharif") is a LINK to Ha'aretz in your own post! Perhaps I'm missing something here? (Did you not include that hyperlink in the comment itself, only in your blog post?)

Jerry Haber said...

Ah, I see you what you mean.

No, I did not include the link in my comment. And I emphasize that my comments were edited and not just for links.