Thursday, July 6, 2017

Does Aristotle write for Tablet and the Forward?

Aristotle's logic includes not only rules of valid inference but also fallacies, i.e., rules of invalid inference and other strategies to trip up your opponent in debate. 

If Aristotle were around today, he would offer the following rule for the online writer: Always link to a claim that doesn't really support your claim. Most of your readers won't check your links anyway, just as most readers of scholarly articles don't check footnotes.

Two articles on movements that support boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel appeared in the mainstream Jewish media today. What they shared was the "confirmatory link" fallacy.

Over at Tablet, Prof. Jarrod Tanny (a.k.a. Jarropolk Tenewitz) calls upon Jewish Studies colleagues to recognize Jewish Voice for Peace's "demagoguery" and take a stand against the organization.  He attributes to JVP a litany of offences, and, as any good academic, provides links ostensibly to support his claims. But a perusal of the links shows that none backs up his assertions.

Especially odd is his link purporting to provide evidence for his claim that JVP doesn't take leftwing anti-Semitism seriously. I clicked on the link expecting to find a JVP statement to that effect. Instead, my browser was redirected to an ADL website which made no mention of leftwing anti-Semitism at all, much less JVP's alleged tolerance of of it. Giving Prof. Tanny the benefit of the doubt, I clicked again and read the entire ADL profile. Again, no mention of "left" or "leftwing" anti-Semitism. I then googled "JVP" and "anti-Semitism" and found JVP's  condemnation of Alison Weir, a pro-Palestinian activist, for not dissociating herself from anti-Semites, as well as noted leftwing anti-Semite Gilad Atzmon's criticism of JVP for its position.  

Although this was the most egregious of the nine links purportedly supporting Prof. Tanny's claims, an examination of each one of them shows that they don't support them at all. I don't have time for all the debunking; just click and see for yourself. And that's leaving aside the fact that some of the links don't even take you to JVP websites.

Unlike Prof. Tanny, I am not discouraged that other Jewish Studies academics are not rallying to his call. Apparently, he is one corner; the rest of his colleagues are somewhere else.

But why pick on Tablet when, the Forward, under the misleading headline, "David Grossman Play Under Attack By BDS Supporters" claims that Grossman's play is a "surprising target" for boycott, when it is not being targeted for boycott at all. As anybody who reads the  link to Adalah NY can see, the boycott is not at all targeted against Grossman or his play as such, but against the Israeli government's support of the play, and the fact that the two Israeli theater companies producing it perform in settlements built illegally on Palestinian land. (The first reason is mentioned by the Forward.)  "Why would anybody boycott a play by a good Israeli like David Grossman" makes as much sense as "Why would anybody boycott a symphony by a good Russian like Shostakovich?? And yet when the Moscow Symphony Orchestra performed in the United States at the height of the student struggle for Soviet Jewry, Jewish activists outside the concert halls asked concertgoers to boycott the Soviet Union's exercise in public diplomacy. It wasn't Shostakovich or the conductor that was being boycotted. (I suppose this could be called "Shostakovich -washing")

At least Tablet and the Forward provides links, and to be fair, the Forward gets most of the story right. But maybe they assume -- or hope -- that their readers won't click.

Or maybe when it comes to non-violent actions taken by supporters of Palestinian human rights, demonization is de rigeur


Unknown said...

In all fairness, Jerry, I think the larger focus of these articles is the rampant Israel derangement syndrome of much of the left. Israel’s government is vile, often racist and its occupation deplorable. But for a good deal of the left, no distinction is made between the Israeli government (its rulers) and the Israeli people. Much of the left is for instance torn about its support or opposition to a butcher such as Assad as it was about Gaddaffi and Hussein. Some of the left even supports rampant occupiers and authoritarians such as Putin. But about the existence of a Hebrew nation with the right to self determination (and I’m not talking about the right to determination in a Zionist state, anymore than Russia’s right to self-determination is contingent on us conceding to a Stalinist state), the left is often of one mind. The Israeli’s are a faux people, who simply stole Palestine from its rightful owners and therfore have no rights that others are duty bound to respect. That’s the piece that JVP, who I mostly respect and agree with, fail to grapple with for fear, I suspect, of weakening the Palestine Solidarity movement. And it leads to the conclusion that Jews and others anywhere who identify in any way with Israeli Jews also have no rights (free speech, assembly etc) that anyone is duty bound to respect.

For many years I lived in New Jersey. There it was routine for drivers to routinely flout the speed limit on the NJ Turnpike. But it seemed that African American drivers were routinely pulled over in disproportionate numbers, The bitter term for this offense was DWB, Driving While Black. True, they were no doubt guilty, but so were the many whites who were given a pass. Do you think that the campus left, for instance, would similarly wish to boycott Hamas, or Hezbollah defenders? Defenders of honor killings or female genital mutilation? Supporters of gender apartheid? Would they call for a comparable boycott of Turkey despite its history of actual genocides, its occupation of Kurdistan and Cyprus and its history of forced ethnic transfers?

Heidi Wilson said...

The demonization of activists for Palestinian rights has been going on forever. The development here is the Trumpian application of blatant falsehoods, easily disconfirmed, to confuse and water down the facts we are trying to get out to the public. Someone proves you're lying? No problem. Just say it again.

Unknown said...

Thanks very much for following up on these links, Prof. Haber. You have helped us understand what is behind these blogs.

Jerry Haber said...


Thanks for taking the time to write. You make a lot of claims. Let me see where we can agree first.

We can agree that there are loonies in every camp. Are there anti-Semites in the left? Sure! If there are Zionist anti-Semites, and there are, then there are also anti-Zionist anti-Semites. There are hateful types in every movement, and in every group.

But, bless you, you didn't talk about anti-Semites. As I understand you, the problem with the pro-Palestinian left is that it doesn't distinguish between the Israeli government and the people. So I suppose you feel that it would ok to target the Israeli government, provided that this did not affect the Israeli people. Now, one could make the argument that since Israel is a democracy, the government reflects the will of the majority of the people, and an anti-peace government has been in power for almost a generation. Add to this the fact that poll after poll shows that two-thirds of the Israeli people are opposed to two states along the lines of the Clinton parameters. So you have to give me a better argument than that.

But the sweet thing is that the BDS movement agrees with you. That is why it distinguishes between boycotting Israelis as private citizens (bad) and boycotting them when representing the Israeli government, or being funded by them in official capacities (ok). Heck, one could make the argument that inasmuch as Israeli academics are funded by universities that are supported by the government, they too should be boycotted. But the PACBI boycott guidelines disagree; they say the boycott does not apply to academics who are using their research funds to travel to conferences, etc.

Now, the argument against institutional boycott is that institutions are made up of people, so in effect, the boycott is against people. There is some truth to that. When the sanitation workers call a strike, they don't pick up only the city council's trash; they don't pick up my trash either. The public is affected in strikes. Indirectly, the public is affected by boycotts. It's a blunt measure. And, there are arguments pro and con.

But let me add that the argument that says, "What about X", i.e., What about Hamas, what about Syria, what about China has two flaws: first, it dehumanizes Palestinians and second, it is self-defeating. It dehumanizes Palestinians because humans care first and foremost about their family, their community, their tribe. That's the way we are. You care more about Israel, I daresay, than you care about human rights violations in China. To expect of the Palestinians not to focus their efforts on Palestine dehumanizes them. And similarly for supporters of Palestinian rights. When I went to a march in support of the rights of Soviet Jews, my friend, an Episcopalian, joined me -- not because he wanted the Soviet Union to cease to exist, but because he saw that this mattered to me, and persecution of the Soviet Jews seemed wrong to him.

It is self-defeating because if it is illegitimate to single out Israel for moral opprobrium when there are worse things going on in the world, then it is illegitimate to single out Israel for moral support when there are worse things going on in the world. You can't have it both ways.

I have found that most people -- not you -- who use argument really don't know how bad things are over here. For over sixty years -- three generations -- millions of people are being ruled over without fundamental human rights. Civil wars in Lebanon, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Syria, will all come and go. But the occupation will keep on rolling along. Liberal Jews will declare, "I am opposed to the Occupation," and there will be a lot of gnashing of teeth. But at the end of the day, they will rally in support of Israel, and will thwart all attempts to hold it accountable for its human rights violations.

I get that. It's called rationalizing one's tribal loyalties. That's what we all do. But until perpetrator guilt trumps tribal loyalty, we Jews won't move anywhere.