Practicing Anti-Semitism, in Theory

Just over a week ago, on August 17, the Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB) published a review of Deconstructing Zionism: a Critique of Political Metaphysics, a collection of essays edited by Gianni Vattimo and Michael Marder. Vattimo is the Italian philosopher who, during the current Israel-Hamas conflict, has made clear once again his sympathy for Hamas and expressed his desire to “shoot those bastard Zionists,” who he considers “worse than Nazis.” His anti-Semitic tendencies are on record (a reevaluation of the claims of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion). The collection brings together the less and the more well-known voices who theorize anti-Zionism and make of the Jew, among all ethnic, racial, and religious groups a generic and cultural category of thought, so that one may speak of them, in contrast to Estonians or Hindus, let’s say, in terms not of what they empirically are or choose to be, but what, symbolically and thematically, some collection of philosophers and professors of literature theorize they should be.

LARB has become, since it’s inception two years ago, a varied and vibrant addition to the American literary scene. Among all of the review’s riches, I had hoped to see in any coverage of Israel-Palestine something different from the standard Israel-centric critique found at the New York Review of Books. This has not turned out be the case, and when LARB assigned its review of Deconstructing Zionism to David Lloyd, a leading member of the organizing collective for the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, I felt compelled to comment. What follows below is the full exchange (as of this writing) between me and Jonathan Hahn, LARB’s executive editor, and Tom Lutz, LARB’s editor-in-chief. For a very different kind of review of Deconstructing Zionism, see the review by Gabriel Noah Brahm at fathom journal.


the sad red earth • 5 days ago

How unfortunate that LARB, which conceives itself an alternative point of departure from that of NYRB, follows now the same backslapping intellectual fashion, travels irresponsibly the same facile political current, not of anti-nationalism, but of irredeemably racist anti-Zionism. Faced with the job of reviewing a collection of essays that attack the very legitimacy of Israeli nationalism among all others, LARB’s editors choose for the task not some critic who might challenge the foundations of the book’s agonistic ideology, but one of the few people who might actually find the volume wanting in its efforts to deconstruct Zionism, judging them both – Zionism and deconstruction, as it were – too Jewish, the collection, in the end, insufficiently Palestinian. Who criticizes the book for mimicking the “creative contortions” of “liberal Zionist critiques.” (If Lenin did not actually say, after Dick the butcher, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the liberals,” he surely did it.) Who bemoans the editors’ perceived “anxiety” – despite their “robust anticipation” of them – over charges of anti-Semitism. Who thinks the editors, therefore, too apprehensive before the prospect of truly essentializing Jewish racism, in what is “a singularly Jewish political philosophy and enterprise.” Who finds of the marker “Jews of Conscience” (“good Jews”) only that it is “somewhat polemic.”

Not enough that LARB should consider this production an expression of its mission, but that it should offer it, too, without any acknowledgement of its provenance – that its primary editor champions and wishes militarily to support an expressly, by covenant, anti-Semitic and genocidal organization. That he has wished publically for the deaths of Israelis, and that he has professed to change his mind about the truth of the notoriously fraudulent and anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The reviewer thinks these realities, no doubt, too genuinely praximatic to include informatively amid the theorizing. LARB’S editors find it unnecessary to append.

Instead, we find entertained and performed the usual diffuse, vatic logorrhea by which, through persistent metaphorical fallacy, a body made a bomb is thought to enact freedom and a person sitting at a bus stop is conceived as committing violence. (Imagine here a parenthetical reference to Adorno or Gramsci, a neologism scraped and dusted out of etymology, a new obscure infinitive.)

  • JonathanHahn Mod  the sad red earth • 4 days ago

    Dear Sad Red Earth,

    We appreciate you posting your concerns, and understand that Dr. Lloyd’s views as expressed here are controversial. We are committed to airing the important debates of our time, and they cannot be aired without allowing people on very different sides of the debate to have their say. The views Dr. Lloyd expresses here do not represent our magazine, nor do the views of any of the many writers we have published on the Middle East, whether they be controversial or not. Our mission is to engage our readers in conversation, and this essay is one part of that effort. We are glad you took the time and effort to share your views.

    Jonathan Hahn, Executive Editor, Los Angeles Review of Books

    • the sad red earth  JonathanHahn • 3 days ago

      Dear Mr. Hahn,

      Thank you for your reply. Of course, one should not presume the views of individual writers to represent those of the journal publishing them. However, publications make editorial decisions. These individual decisions are choices among multiple possible alternative decisions, all of which, compiled, may or may not offer evidence of a perspective on the part of the journal, a shaping inclination toward a subject. What does available evidence seem to show about LARB?

      An unscientific but not, algorithmically, random survey by Google search of “Los Angeles Review of Books” and “Israel” turns up the following among the first three pages of results. Foremost, we find the March forum entitled “Academic Activism: Israelis, Palestinians, and the Ethics of Boycott,” in which eight participants, four pro and four con, offered their views on an academic boycott of Israel. As your introduction attested, “We facilitated this forum at the urging of David Palumbo-Liu, a supporter of the BDS movement, in the hopes that it would engender a more informed understanding on these and many related questions.” Why did Palumbo-Liu urge such a forum? What was the “more informed understanding” he sought? Only he knows his mind and motivation, but as a leading academic activist against the State of Israel, and in support of an academic boycott, he could hardly have hoped that such a forum would lower the profile of his cause. In a nation overwhelmingly supportive of Israel, in its origins and struggles, any broader publication of anti-Zionist argument, even against opposing voices, could only, rather, raise the profile of the boycott cause. LARB provided that opportunity. As it turned out, too, only one of the eight participants availed himself of a rebuttal, a last word – Palumbo-Liu.

      Of the nine additional results clearly identifiable as political in nature, three – unflattering depictions of Israel all – are among a series of essays by professed anti-Zionist Ben Ehrenreich. One is by Alex Kane, an assistant editor of the rabidly anti-Zionist and profoundly anti-Semitic website Mondoweiss. One is a review of Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land : The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, written by Omri Boehm, who has charged the IDF, among the world’s militaries, with immorality and who attacks Israel on the basis of reinterpreting the seminal Jewish myth of Abraham’s binding of Isaac for sacrifice. One is a Marginalia Channel essay opposing the Presbyterian Church USA’s divestment vote against Israel for no better reason than the author’s Jewish identification with Israel – and while nonetheless expressing sympathy for the Church’s complaints against the country. A second Marginalia Channel essay offers that it was Israel’s founding – and not, say, to choose two relatively modern examples, the genocidal anti-Semitism of Haj Amin al-Husseini or Sayyid Qutb – that “increasingly turned the concepts ‘Arab’ and ‘Jew’ into fundamental and irreconcilable opposites.” Then, to close, the one objective piece on Israel related matters, serving only to report, without favor to Israeli or Arab, is an account of – the MLA debate on an anti-Israel measure.

      Needless to point out that among these entries one will find no evidence of “very different sides of the debate” or of a “conversation.” What is normatively controversial and what is prejudicially beyond the pale of respectable debate – such as, one might wish, the singling out of one only among the world’s peoples, in their existing nation-state, as undeserving of self-determination – is a status to be mediated by innumerable human decisions and indecisions, such as the invisibility of any writing presenting an alternative view of the Arab-Israeli conflict. And then there was the choice of David Lloyd to review a collection of essays on deconstructing Zionism.

      A. Jay Adler
      Adjunct Professor of English; California State University, Dominguez Hills
      Lecturer in English, El Camino College
      Professor of English, Emeritus; Los Angeles Southwest College.

      • JonathanHahn Mod  the sad red earth • 3 days ago

        Dear Prof. Adler,

        We have published over 75 pieces, or an average of one every two weeks since founding LARB three years ago, related to Israel. The simplified algorithmic research you’ve relied on here of course does not reflect the scope of what we have published, but the pieces we’ve published that have caused the most talk — those that were pushed up in the Google ratings by the amount of readership, comment, reposting, citation, etc. It is entirely unsurprising that those pieces are the most hot-button ones, the ones that extreme partisans either champion or decry.

        We are always looking for subtle and nuanced analyses, and these are the kind of pieces that don’t tend to shoot up in the Google rankings: pieces that approach these issues in less direct ways — as in reviews of novels, for instance, or interviews with poets — that again, we feel are important, and yet you will not find these in the first three pages of Google results for your search. In fact, the first three pages that result from that search only include 4 pieces from LARB — the rest are posts (from The Jerusalem Post, for example, or sites called holylandprinciples, worldpoliticsreview, etc) where people are reacting to a small selection of our pieces. Using Google the way you do doesn’t prove our bias, it shows the bias of internet chatter.

        Your moniker in your first post — “the sad red earth” — references the blood spilled on that ground, and it is the history of violence and the ongoing violence that compels our attention, of course. As we all know too well, the loudest voices speak past each other, and we have attempted in various ways — as in our special series in which Jewish and Arab, Israeli and Palestinian poets spoke to each other, and in the forum on the academic boycott — to engage as many sides as possible in dialogue. In most cases these attempts fail, but we continue to try.

        You ask why David Palumbo-Liu urged a forum on the boycott. He is an activist, and obviously he wanted to argue for his position to our audience. But he did not choose the other participants or exercise any editorial control. And there is not a single publication that has brought together four such powerful voices against the boycott as we did. We also had four voices in favor. It is a shame, we think, too, that only Palumbo-Liu availed himself of our invitation to all participants (and to others) to respond to the other participants. But as a movement that has made large strides in institutional validation in a short time, we thought it was worthy of sustained attention.

        One of the reasons, of course, that people don’t always respond to arguments like those made in the forum — that is, one of the reasons the other participants didn’t respond further — is because the very language different sides use seems to make discussion impossible. For instance, to call Mondoweiss a “profoundly anti-Semitic” website as you do here — how can one respond to this? Founded by Jews, edited from “a progressive Jewish perspective,” with an emphasis on “Jewish American identity” — whatever one thinks of its politics, to call it profoundly anti-Semitic is simply to use the kind of rhetorical overkill that makes true conversation impossible. Does saying that imply agreement with Mondoweiss’s politics? No. Anti-Zionism, too, takes many different forms, in some cases based on a desire to eliminate Israel, yes. But for none of the writers you mention in your note is this the case: for Ben Ehrenreich, Alex Kane, Omri Boehm, and many other writers in our pages, it is based on a desire to stop the killing, or a desire to find a lasting resolution — a desire, in other words, for peace. Your charge that there is “an invisibility of any writing presenting an alternative view of the Arab-Israeli conflict” is, in fact, true only in that the majority of voices we have published on Israel are, in fact, Israeli and Jewish, and we have not published any piece by representatives of neo-Nazi parties, of Golden Dawn, of the Muslim Brotherhood, or other such parties that are anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist, and dedicated to the destruction of Israel. This is true of absolutely none of our writers.

        To that end the argument you are making here is a real disservice to the 75 writers we have published whose work revolves in some way around Israel, and who are not interested in hitting hot buttons, not trying to forward a particular political agenda, but instead are offering pieces of considered scholarship on the Middle East and its ancillary issues, pieces of engaged literary criticism, and personal, essayistic reflections. Your calculus of our bias takes a huge rolling pin and drags it over these writers, all of whom have worked with their full hearts and minds to produce the best work they can. While flattening out that work into a simplistic pro- or anti-Israel rubric may be exciting to some, it is not of interest to us: it does not represent our writers, nor our magazine, with any accuracy, nor is it informative to any reader who wants a true picture of the kind of magazine we’ve been, still are, and will continue to be.

        We say this knowing full well — we can read the argument in your comments here and in many pieces we have published in our pages — that for certain people to critique the idea of Zionism (or to critique Israel’s defense forces or government, or to support the right of the people of Gaza to self-determination) is akin to arguing for the destruction of Israel. We have pieces critiquing ideas of American exceptionalism, American foreign policy, American war policy, and American racism and yet we do not, by doing so, suggest the destruction of America. We treat none of this lightly; we enter this fray with our eyes open, and know very well, as we edit political debates, that we are editing the words of people who have buried their own parents and children, killed at the hands of others. We never forget this as we let writers have their say, and make their arguments. And perhaps we are naïve, holding to the belief that writing can have some force in human affairs, that the conversation, as we too easily call it, can make a difference — but we do.


        Tom Lutz, Editor in Chief, Los Angeles Review of Books
        Jonathan Hahn, Executive Editor, Los Angeles Review of Books

        • the sad red earth  JonathanHahn • a day ago


          I am content to leave your properly fuller presentation of LARB’s engagement with the subject of Israel to answer my own, and to have the two provide together the picture that others might regard. Except.

          Except you endeavor to fill out the picture I paint with reference to “pieces that approach these issues in less direct ways — as in reviews of novels, for instance, or interviews with poets.” Herein lies a distinction I sought to make in culling from my search only those articles I thought clearly political, or what turned out to be, as you described them, hot button in nature. It is the heat that concerns us here – Zionism’s deconstructors and the BDS advocates, and those, like me, who seek to fight the fire they fan. For a life well lived, or at least examined, you and I fully agree on the value of reviews of novels and interviews with poets, and discussions about and among them. However, what these approaches represent on such a subject as Israel – political and hot button in itself to those roiled by the very fact of its existence, and because of how it has had to exist thus far – is, to appropriate a term from Foucault, a kind of soft humanism. The humanizing transformations of literature, when they come, are long in realization; the political coup, in contrast, may be swift and brutal, as would be, for instance, the advent of Hamas, on Israelis and all Jews, upon its being released from its containment. Poetry makes nothing happen, Auden told us in praise of Yeats, with some measure of irony, thought not enough irony to stop an Iranian missile smuggled through the Rafah crossing from being fired. One may bemoan in soulful outreach with one’s nominal enemy, in that soft human way, as writers and other artists may do, our common afflicted humanity and still, politically, seek “solutions” that entail the end of a nation-state for Jews. Soft humanism often accommodates that disjunction from politics in practice. Or if not, the prisons and the unmarked graves of history have been filled aplenty with literary folk who conceived it enough to raise themselves up alone above the strife of peoples and nations.

          There is a different frame for soft humanism, one probably closer to what Foucault had in mind in identifying exemplars in Stalinism and Christian democratic hegemony. One may find it here in Lloyd’s review and the tendency it represents. On the one hand, this tendency critiques through a postcolonial analysis that is focused on the operations of power and the conditions of oppressed marginality. On the other hand, it draws, in its appeals and sanctions, from the same Judeo-Christian originated humanistic well of moral righteousness as do many other ideas of human organization. So near the end, we have Lloyd citing favorably Judith Butler about “undoing sovereignty” and invoking, in Lloyd’s words, “the parameters of living with and in difference that Butler describes as cohabitation.” This represents the culmination of a strenuously theorized evangelical mush that spoons up a stupefying banality – that in seeking to rise above “the post-Westphalian formation of territorial states and sanctioned violence” we all need (who’d a thunk it) to love one another and treat each other as we would wish to be treated. And not to put too fine a point on it, but in that risky leap of faerie faith, Jews go first.

          Yet what more pernicious operation in its own right underlies this prophetic injunction to dwell all together in cohabitation? The sacrifice of the Jews. The sacrifice of the Jews in which “the effect of Zionism’s destruction of Judaism is to make of the Palestinians the Jews of the present, dispossessed, forced into exile… subjects of a continuing diaspora…. The singularity of the Jew transfers to the Palestinians…[.] in the ‘privileged’ critical position, that is, once occupied by the European Jew.” Whereas the more common contemporary anti-Semitic gesture is to shame Jews with the Holocaust by likening Israel and Zionism to Nazi Germany, applying the language of ghettos and concentration camps and genocidal holocaust and racialist supremacy to Israel and Jews – so that some presumed moral authority gained by suffering the ultimate historical victimization is bluntly used as a cudgel with which to beat – the anti-Zionist BDSing deconstructors will rather refine through theory so much special recognition of historical identity away, and deliver it over, even, to the Palestinians. What is left for the Jews? Butler will give them the supreme honor of enacting the moral high ground of eternal exile, as, in Zizek’s words, “the immediate embodiment of universality,” so as to symbolize the undoing of sovereignty.

          And it is all so highfalutin that one can persuade oneself of a disjunction between it and all the singling out that went historically before it for the Jews.

          In this light, the “engaged literary criticism, and personal, essayistic reflections” LARB publishes, of deep human value, are not a counterweight to the political warfare, disguised as intellectual critique, currently underway to undo a nation-state and a people’s self-determination. You believe you read in my comments here perspectives that do not, in fact, apply to me. I will not belabor this further comment by addressing that issue. This is not about me, but about what the true range of widely held and still compelling perspectives is on these issues. You do use the phrase to “critique the idea of Zionism,” which is vague enough in its application and import, and which does raise the question of special treatment of Jewish nationalism only. You appear to believe that anti-Zionism may be understood as not to entail the elimination of Israel – a phrase that in itself should strike the conscience terribly. That is a peculiar understanding. You aver that such a desire does not inhabit those writers I referenced last time. But at least as long ago as 2009 Ehrenreich published an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times entitled, “Zionism is the problem.” In it Ehrenreich quotes supportively Lessing J. Rosenwald, when the latter declared Zionism “the concept of a racial state — the Hitlerian concept.” The society Ehrenreich conjures in the piece is clearly not a Jewish state – not Israel. And as recently as March 20 of this year, Philip Weiss, founder of Mondoweiss, declared in a post at that site, “Israel is a blot on civilization.”

          About Mondoweiss, here we may well focus our disagreement best of all. You charge of my labeling it “profoundly anti-Semitic” that the label is “the kind of rhetorical overkill that makes true conversation impossible.” I think you read some overkill just above. I have been observing Mondoweiss for five years. I have written about it at my blog, the sad red earth (also my Twitter handle). I and other active defenders of Israel against the campaign of vilification against it know it well. You appear to think that because it is operated by, now, three Jews, and that it labels itself “progressive,” this is defense against declaring it what it manifestly is. Its closely moderated comments section, with which the principals engage, is profuse with demonization of Israel – of Zio-Nazi’s and Zio-supremacists – and of Judaism. Many of its published comments are indistinguishable from what may be found at Veteran’s Today or Stormfront. Its editorial direction is not ill represented by the words of Weiss above. Further, particularly in its early days, its founder was prone to revelatory posts evincing psychodramas of maternal, familial, and ethno-cultural discomfort and rejection. He is almost as interested in what he deems excesses of Jewish power in the United States as he is the blot on civilization.

          That Mondoweiss has been mainstreamed in some so-called progressive circles is as indicative of the problem that drew my initial comments as was the choice to assign David Lloyd to review Deconstructing Zionism. In an era in which every other kind of racism is being analyzed at degrees of depth and in ranges of complexity far beyond a simple slur or stereotype, institutionally and intersectionally, it is the very problem itself that only anti-Semitism is regularly reduced in the same quarters to nothing more than the time-honored tropes and preposterous libels, in a concerted refusal to recognize its modern and sophisticated mutations. One of the great embarrassments of the modern civilized world was the 1975 U.N. resolution declaring Zionism a form of racism – a resolution promoted by totalitarians states and supported by a slew of the world’s common dictatorships and overtly anti-Semitic Arab governments. So embarrassing was this stinking rose in the garden of human rights that in 1991, the U.N. was compelled to remove it. Now, in academic and progressive circles throughout the Western World, it is the height of intellectual fashion to make the same claim in theoretically abstruse prose or in cant political terminology and to dismiss charges of anti-Semitism with the same disdain for reaction to their racism as once emitted by bulbous sheriffs on torn Mississippi streets. When Daniel Patrick Moynihan delivered his grand and justly famous denunciation of U.N. resolution 3379, he scorned the “obscenity” of the U.N. declaration in part by the reductio ad absurdum of tracing the U.N.’s own faulty attempts to define racism, including as a form of Nazism, thereby providing grounds to call Zionism a form of Nazism. This is a claim that would fail to trouble many of Israel’s hyperbolic critics today, and it filters through the interstices of meaning from all the fancy critiques of Zionism that denounce it as racialist. See Ben Ehrenreich quoting Lessing J. Rosenwald.

          Quite simply, it should have been obvious that there was a whole world of true conversational challenge – different sides of the debate – that might have been brought to bear in a review of Deconstructing Zionism other than assigning the book to a shades of gray treatment over the genuineness of its deconstructive mode.

          Finally, a last word about the sad red earth. You extended the blog title and Twitter handle’s reference metaphorically in a direction I certainly find fitting. I found it so as well during my travels in Indian Country when people thought the name called our attention to that sad ground we walk upon. In fact, the phrase is from Kerouac’s On the Road. Sal Paradise walks the streets of Denver one dusk after a futile effort by Dean Moriarity to find his father. Says Paradise of his walk, “I felt like a speck on the surface of the sad red earth.” As are we all. That is the focus I try always to maintain in my own humanism and in the tension between it and the often monstrously grinding wheels of history and ideology.


          A. Jay Adler


A Second Look: What About Chas Freeman?


Whenever they become topically relevant, I am going to offer a scond look at some older pieces still worth reading. Yesterday, the anti-semitic Mondoweiss blog reposted a recent speech by Chas Freeman at A National Interest discussion about “Israel’s fraying image.” I do not link to Mondoweiss, but you can find Freeman’s comments at his own site, here. My interest is less in these particular comments of Freeman, of a piece with longstanding attitudes toward Israel, than in his decision to permit them to be published on Mondoweiss. The fact that Mondoweiss has an inexcusable respectability in some left quarters diminishes not at all its true and readily apparent nature or the disgrace of affording it that respectability. No doubt, however, it is that cover that comforts Freeman in emerging that much further out of the dark recesses, in the manner of “The Uncanny John Mearsheimer.” In this context, I think it worth revisiting how Chas Freeman, long a foreign policy establishment hand, first came brightly into the public view, and how, and the many ways, he revealed himself, not just on Israel, but in the context of the Arab world and, very significantly, China. This post first appeared on May 16, 2009.

What About Chas Freeman?

Maybe the most bitter inside Washington fight of the year was little known to the general public because it received scant attention from the mainstream media. However, while newspapers and television news nearly ignored ex ambassador to Saudi Arabia and China hand Charles Freeman – put forward by Dennis Blair, Director of National Intelligence as President Obama’s choice for Director of the National Intelligence Council – Washington insiders and the blogosphere fought another Mid-East war over him.

Supporters were many, in government and also in the  journalistic ranks, including The Atlantic’s James Fallows, Time Magazine’s Joe Klein (Jewish, as were some other supporters) freeman-chas-saudi-arabiaand top blogger Andrew Sullivan. The primary argument in favor of Freeman was that he is a “contrarian” – an outspoken proponent of ideas that challenge those of the foreign policy establishment, including, most prominently, wouldn’t you know, those of the “Jewish lobby” and its supporters. It is crucial, the argument went, in moving past the Bush years, that the U.S. break free of its “lock-step support” of Israeli policy and “return” to a position of “even handedness” that it is purported the U.S. held prior to the Bush years and the ascension of the neo-conservatives.

Opponents were many, too, perhaps most prominently Senator Charles Schumer of New York, but also Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and a range of human rights supporters – supporters of Israel and the NGO Human Rights Watch as well. Supporters of Israel pointed to Freeman’s cozy relationship with Arab despots, his one-sided view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and his suggestions – against all evidence – that 9/11 had been a response to U.S. support of Israel. Pelosi, Human Rights Watch and others focused on comments about the Tiananmen Square massacre that were critical of the protesters and strikingly sympathetic to China’s rulers.

However, many supporters – Sullivan for instance – were determined to make the issue the always subterranean influence of the “Jewish lobby,” and they scoffed at any argument against Freeman that, in their view, pretended that the “campaign” against Freeman was anything other than an attempt to maintain Jewish influence over American foreign policy judgments. Sullivan, who won this past year’s Weblog award as the Web’s top blogger – and previously generally sympathetic to Israel – has chosen, post Gaza, to beat his drum of pernicious Jewish influence over U.S. foreign policy like a new toy, and would see nothing but that influence in the Freeman controversy.


Ultimately, Freeman withdrew from consideration for the post, but not without releasing a broadside demonstrating the kind of reckless extremity of view that worried his opponents from the start. “The tactics of the Israel Lobby,” he charged, “plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency and include character assassination, selective misquotation, the willful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods, and an utter disregard for the truth.” He went on to further lambaste “a Lobby intent on enforcing the will and interests of a foreign government” rather than those of the United States, raising the specter of a Fifth Column.

wrote briefly about the imbroglio at the time and was spurred to some further comment yesterday by the surprising news of former Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang’s smuggled memoir of Tiananmen and his fall from power. Zhao’s perspective offered such a striking contrast to that of Freeman. A reader replied (see the comments section at right) suggesting I didn’t know what I was talking about: “You might want to be a little more inquisitive about the quotes attributed to Charles Freeman about Tiananmen.” He also offered the standard defense of all those who explore their mouths with their feet (but never of those whose words have been praised) that they are the victim of misquotation and “inaccuracies.”

This is all part of the divergent post-mortems of the affair competing with each other to survive and evolve into history. Some points, then, about Freeman are worth making. First, if a major part of the opposition to Freeman came from supporters of Israel, nothing about his exit from the scene gave the lie to their concerns. It is one thing to disagree with Israeli policies, as I have always opposed Israel’s settlement policy; it is another to evince obvious hostility of the kind that those who rail against the “Jewish Lobby” almost always do. It is another, also, to express sentiments so peculiarly deranged that the radar of anyone about whose people the words were spoken is bound to blare “Danger, Will Robinson!” while supporters of the vocalist are compelled to contort themselves in order to achieve a position of defense.

In my April 6 post I cited Freeman’s Jewish Daily Forward phone interview of March 25, 2009 in which he said of Israel:

It’s a foreign country, and while maybe 40 years ago many of its values were convergent with ours, I think there’s been a divergence of values.

How very bizarre. I mean – aren’t they all foreign countries? Why apply this adjective particularly to Israel? Yet here “foreign” does seem to suggest something more fundamentally “gut” in nature for Freeman, as in something “alien,” something to which one uncomfortably cannot relate. More foreign than Saudi Arabia? Than China? Than Iran? Israel, whatever its flaws, is a democracy, a nation governed by the constitutional rule of law, with universal suffrage, equal rights for women and, like the U.S., expanding gay rights. It is fully a product – politically, culturally, and socially – of Western civilization, just as is the United States. But somehow in contrast to those nations just mentioned, and score of others, it is from Israel that we have experienced a “divergence of values”? Asked in the clearest and most direct way possible – What the fuck is Charles Freeman talking about?

A careful reader can’t help but wonder – what or who over the history of Western civilization has been so much of that civilization, yet cast repeatedly as somehow antithetically alien to it, “foreign” in it, divergent in values? Really. Again.


Nonetheless, and despite the desire of Freeman supporters to make the matter all about Israel, the other criticisms of Freeman – and an essential one fundamentally ignored – are just as cogent.

Supporters everywhere praised the “contrarian” in Freeman, which, once the range of his views and expression became known, felt a little bit like grasping for the warm milk to help the castor oil of crackpot loose cannon go down. However, when you get past the contrarian veneer and the anti-Israeli bias in almost every sentence that, for many, the “contrarian” garb was meant to dress up (yes, so he credits the remarkable talents of the “European” founders of Israel – and Shaquille O’Neal is very tall), what you find, in truth, is a man temperamentally aligned to the preservation and exercise of state power. It is one thing to possess the practical virtue of being able to see circumstances through the eyes of a contestant or adversary – a quality for which Freeman was much praised; it is another, Stockholm-style, to begin to see things, in fact, as does the adversary.

In Freeman’s much discussed 2006 US-Arab Policymakers Conference speech, the Palestinians are barely mentioned. Israel, alone, for good or ill, always ill, is considered the determining actor in events. Who else, we might ask, sees the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in that way? And in the same speech, Freeman uses, with apparent naturalness and ease, the word “rulers” when referring to the heads of the GCC states rather than “leaders” or “heads of state” or some other, republican or democratic nomenclature that might come more readily to the tongue were these individuals anything other than, in fact, despotic rulers. But this fact does not restrain Freeman’s encomiums or the intimacy of his wise counsel, as the essential democratic nature of Israeli society, in contrast to the nature of the Arab states or the Palestinian parties, shows no influence on his judgment making.

The equally much discussed remarks about the Tiananmen Square massacre reveal the same temperamental affiliation with state control and order. The “unforgiveable mistake” of the Chinese rulers was that they had been too cautious. This phrase is couched in terms of a description of the “dominant view” in China, but it is clear that Freeman agrees with it and he terms it a “very plausible” view. (Read the entire email for yourself here.) However, “For myself, I side on this — if not on numerous other issues — with Gen. Douglas MacArthur. I do not believe it is acceptable for any country to allow the heart of its national capital to be occupied by dissidents intent on disrupting the normal functions of government, however appealing to foreigners their propaganda may be” [emphasis added].

To be clear, it is Freeman’s historical judgment that the Hoover-MacArthur directed attack on the 1932 “Bonus Army” – hardly the U.S. government’s proudest hour – was correct, and a model for future government action by a democratic government toward aggrieved and protesting citizens. The Chinese leadership, he says, had engaged in “dilatory tactics of appeasement” with the protesters. The protesters’ aspiration to liberty he characterizes as “propaganda.” And, to the point, it is not “acceptable for any country to allow the heart of its national capital to be occupied by dissidents intent on disrupting the normal functions of government” – that is, Freeman makes no distinctions as to a government’s inherent right to rule. The United States in 1932, China in 1989, a democracy, monarchy, authoritarian regime – it makes no difference in the consideration of a government’s legitimacy in opposing and crushing the incipient popular will of its people.

“I cannot conceive of any American government behaving with the ill-conceived restraint that the Zhao Ziyang administration did in China.” Note that it is Freemancharacterizing  Ziyang’s restraint as “ill-conceived.”

What Freeman pretends is a “realist’s” descriptive analysis of events is easily detected as a belief in the state’s – any state’s – imperative and right to maintain civil order, i.e. the condition for its continuance in power, regardless of the nature of the state or its rule and without any consideration to the political program of those who might oppose that state. The protesters at Tiananmen are reduced to, and belittled as, “exuberantly rebellious kids,” and Freeman is “aware of no evidence that Chinese currently consider their government less ‘legitimate’ or worthy of support than Americans do ours.” (Read this full email here.) This claim about general popular acquiescence to the rule of the existing government undoubtedly applied at the time of every native rebellion against the British Crown, as well as that by the American colonists, and the uprising against Louis VI. By Freeman’s “realist” and “contrarian” lights there would have been no Magna Carta and no American and French Revolutions.

Given this political alignment to power and “realist” disregard for the apparatus of democracy, it is no wonder that Freeman so easily operates without consideration to the essential difference in political nature between Israel and its enemies. “Even-handedness” that willfully ignores the differences between the adversarial parties has become again a fashion of the day – as in the foolish argumentative cry heard far too often after 9/11 that one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter – and this is a fashion that suits Freeman’s amorality perfectly. But contrarian perspectives are one matter; consistently unsound judgment contrary to the spirit of democracy is another.


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Mind Games II: Ideocentrism*

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, working under the direction of al Qaeda in Yemen tries to blow up an American passenger jet. Is this a crime – a law enforcement issue – or an act of war? It’s a matter of perspective. Especially since there is no chemical composition to human acts, and no formulary by which to clearly distinguish them as they mutate throughout history in new contexts and conceptions – “war” without a state actor, for instance – it is a matter of how one contextualizes the event, and context is almost infinitely complex.

In Mind Games 1, I discussed perspectivism and noted three variations of it:

  1. There is a real object of perception, which can only be perceived from a particular perspective – the standpoint of the perceiver, which is singular and not total, and therefore, perforce, partial.
  2. There is an object that is, theoretically, real outside of perspective, but the perception of which, for the observer, is influenced –  shaped – by the observer’s way of perceiving (personal, cultural, historical, religious, gender-based – add the influence on perspective of your choice).
  3. There is no completely independent object of reality uninfluenced by the act of perception. The object exists for us only through the act of perception. We cannot know it apart from our standpoint. To perceive the object is, in part, to construct it.

These are partly gradations along a line, and one of the factors both grading and emerging from them is a conception of truth. Given the influence of perspective, what can we know of truth?

I mean, what’s the truth? Is Abdullah a criminal or a combatant? Well, now, legally, he is a criminal, so declared – but conceptually, what is he?

It’s a matter of perspective.

An act – an attempt to blow up a plane – is not, properly, an object, like an orange, so even theoretically we can’t propose some objective, absolute truth to it. We place the act in a context, which constructs for each of us a reality and a truth, and we live by it. If we have open minds, we entertain the contexts proposed by others, incorporate to a degree some among them that appeal to us, ideally on the basis of reason, and our vision of reality becomes less narrowly focused and more panoramic. This is an approach to truth arising out of variation 1 of perspectivism. Here, we arrive at the truth collaboratively, generally provisionally, adding, improving, correcting, revising, sometimes overthrowing. This is not to say that it is not real, or that it is subjective, but that – with the exception of Slavoj Zizek – it is too great for any individual, from his singular perspective, to arrive at alone.

eye of beholder

The other day Yaacov Lozowick, in his continuing work of monitoring the anti-Semitic blog Mondoweiss, and a similar effort to fathom its community, attempted to post a comment at the site. In his comment, he posed to that community a vital question:

Ask yourselves a simple question: is there a theoretical interpretation of the facts as they seem, which might lead you to a different understanding of the reality; is there any explanation of Israel’s actions which might weaken the template always used here at Mondoweiss? Not: Do we agree with that interpretation, simply: could it exist?

No form of clear and critical thinking can proceed without the ability to construct, even only theoretically as Yaacov terms it, such alternative interpretations of reality. Without it, we live in a world that is nothing but an egocentric projection of our own impulses, whatever the sources of those impulses may be: insecurity and simple-mindedness, intellectual limitation, dogma, pathology. Yaacov might have missed (or happily forgotten) an attempt Phillip Weiss himself made last June to theorize just such an alternative interpretation of reality about Israel to the one he holds. It came after a trip he made to Gaza:

…many in my delegation began to hate Israel. I felt that hatred myself.

I also wondered why Israel could be so cruel. The usual explanations are racism, colonialism, Jewish chosenness, the psychological brutalization of permanent war, the Holocaust, and the endless permission granted by the Israel lobby. All are true, but insufficient. When I was in Gaza, I wondered why Israelis were so afraid of Palestinians. You are in an incredibly poor place. Hamas has rockets but mostly they have ski masks.

Later it occurred to me that the Israelis are terrified of Hamas because of Hamas’s words, that they deny Israel’s existence. As John Mearsheimer has said to me, “Jews are people who believe that discourse really matters,” and look, the Hamas discourse denies Israel’s right to exist. That rhetoric creates a powerful sense of insecurity and wrath among Israelis.

The sympathy I felt for Israelis was the feeling that their sense of belonging anywhere is so fragile that they are easily disturbed by someone saying, We don’t recognize youso they go out and savage innocent children.

You will notice that I’ve done some italicizing. Really, one could italicize, for demonstration purposes, the whole thing. Weiss attempts here, in his strikingly limited way, to understand Israel, but from the very first sentence he cannot escape his own ideocentrism. He cannot pretend to see matters from an Israeli perspective without immediately superimposing on it his own, so rather than any sympathetic imaginative projection of theoretically legitimate Israeli desires, what he attempts to understand is Israeli “cruelty.” He tries to do better in the next sentence, identifying what conceivably could be understandable factors in Israeli behavior – the Holocaust, the “psychological brutalization of permanent war” – but even before he gets to them he has committed a confusion of categories, offering up not potential Israeli explanations, but his own derogatory perceptions: racism and colonialism among others. “Later” it “occurs” to him that Israeli’s are “terrified” of Hamas because of “Hamas’s words, that they deny Israel’s existence.” This has never “occurred” to him before? He has never heard it actually said and discussed? But we see Weiss spends little time outside of his own mind and its pathologies. After all, he “wondered why Israelis were so afraid of Palestinians.” Can’t even imagine?

Meanwhile, this profound act of “sympathy” goes so far as to project the Israeli conception of its response to Hamas’s refusal of recognition as one in which “they go out and savage innocent children.” Note, though, how he gives himself away: he can stray from his own bias for only words at a time, for the “we” that begins that last sentence is not Israelis – it is Hamas. Then he switches to “they.” He is incapable of entering – even as an intellectual exercise – into the Israeli perspective.

Amidst all this, Weiss entertains the wisdom of John Mearsheimer, that “Jews are people who believe that discourse really matters.” This puts me in mind of my professor in a graduate school seminar on Thomas Mann, who replied to some apparently fervent statement of mine: “You’re talking about all this as if it actually matters.” But religious, cultural, and ideological commitments to murder Jews and destroy Israel fall somewhere beyond the pale of the aesthetic commitments of Thomas Man, or at least Mein Kampf one might imagine Mein Kampf that Jews Mein Kampf might have some reason to thinks so Mein Kampf.

* Ideocentrism is the belief in the superiority of one’s ideas so fixed that one is unable to credit opposing ideas as worthy even of sustained exploration; the incapacity to intellectually stand outside one’s own point of view.


Mind Games: the Interregnum

Soon after posting Mind Games 1 and promising anon a climactic II (yes, treasured readers, I felt your pent up need), I came to think that the period commonly referred to as “the holidays” might actually be suggestive of something. Rather than continue in my increasing detachment from those recurring, totemic calendar events around which we all dance, it occurred that I might actually, myself – how do you say? – holiday. I had been posting at lengthy, fevered pitch, and all at once some attention to real life, and the application of the writing gene to something that might possibly make a buck, seemed to be in timely order. So I’ve scaled it back these xmasy, new-yearsy days.

You had noticed, yes?

Shall I weep?

I’ve put up some small posty delights just to say – it is that time of year – I love you, and will continue to do so until I return in full fighting trim the first week of the new year. Somehow, though, the world, and my compulsion to comment upon it, has not withered on the fir.

Somehow, in addition to the wretched wealthy of the earth attempting to cure their loneliness by igniting their undies (and you and me with them) the subject of Israel and the Jew has remained, millennially, current.

Of course, it might be what I read.

My goyisha Jewel has asked on more than one occasion why it is that Jews talk so much about their – not to put too fine a point on it – Jewishness. Ah, sweet naïf.

One would like to say that the answer is that, quite obviously,

  1. because they’re Jews – and that really, when you think about it, should be all of the answer right there.

But it is an answer that would basically please Jews and nobody else.

A partial and more serious answer is that very distinctive minority populations, in order both to protect and preserve identity, are forced to, and then actively themselves, embrace their otherness. That is why, for instance, African-Americans – even as they struggled so long to be fully enfranchised as, simply, Americans – so relish and assert their cultural distinction. And they can, and do, you know, play their own version of Jew-Not a Jew.

In the midst, then, of all the good holiday cheer, we have the “Gaza freedom march,” fit exemplar for Mind Games II, but, oh, no, I will not be tricked into doing any real writing (heaven forefend thinking) on my holiday. This is in the manner of a very casual essay. Don’t get slick with me.

Yaacov Lozowick – he of the Ruminations – has, with his usual droll sobriety, been pointing out the idiocy of this abortive effort at fun house mirror, human rights righteousness, while I await the Sudan, Congo, Chechnya, Turkish Kurd, and Burmese “freedom marches,” should you want, in that last instance, the case of a true national concentration camp. Or the Egyptian freedom march, hell, as long as they’re there.

Yaacov’s focus on the march of the misguided has been largely through his occasional appraisals of Mondoweiss, that hate fest masquerading as handmaiden to the coming of one philip_weiss_150love, one world. Yaacov has a stronger stomach than I, and, I must say, more compassion than do I for the blog’s Weiss, Phillip, it’s dull, tortured fool for utopia. When I descended into the depths of the self-debasing turmoil of Weiss’s consuming anti-Semitism long enough to produce The Malice of Mondoweiss, it was, for me, a culminating event. I turned away, bathed and dressed, and set off into the daylight.

Yaacov, however, has it as his mission to monitor the web and other activities of Israel’s foes: he reads regularly the Guardian’s virulently anti-Semitic Comment Is Free, of which Mondoweiss might be judged the customary Jewish corollary. Discomfort with Jews, let alone Jewish empowerment, lacks a certain frisson if there aren’t some Jews themselves to actually share it.

One of Yaacov’s recent posts focused on a Mondoweiss dispatch from Emily Ratner, a romantically charged paean to Gazan nobility in the face of Israeli wickedness:

We remember the more than 1,400 that were murdered. We remember the hundreds more who have died as a result of this horrific siege. We remember the tens of thousands who are still homeless, one full year later. And we remember our sisters and brothers on the other side of the Rafah border who have breathed life into this historic march every day for months, who have guided our feet to Cairo, and who light the shadowy path to Gaza. Most of all we remember that they will still be caged in Israel’s massive open-air prison long after we’ve safely returned home.

You can see Ratner to the right, wearing her Palestinian scarf no doubt as merely a simple gesture of solidarity with the oppressed, which Israeli Jews ceased to be somewhere aroundemily ratner the fourth time they managed to beat back the surrounding Arab democrats and human rights advocates who sought – and in many cases still seek – to annihilate them. It is to be understood that one does not reason with the empathic otherness-romance of a Ratner, the embrace of her own aspirant holy self in the victimized form of world-historical oppression: a baby and the bomb. What madness! she cries.

Something, instead, like deprogramming. Or the grace of a richer life, more broadly visioned. Or moving on to the next person.

If I seem awfully hard on Weiss and these other well-meaning souls (and perhaps I don’t – you may be tougher and meaner than I), it is only, really, because they deserve it. You can ask Mrs. Conroy, my third grade teacher: I was a nice boy.

It is, simply, that of all the bad actors in the world, middle-aged men of conflicted ethnic identity who seek to alter the course of world events, to delegitimize nations and thwart the millennial-long aspirations of whole peoples, whose actions effectively promote war rather than the peace for which they cry out like a tic, and who do so because they have frequently and prominently discussed issues with their mother are a very bad thing. Better sit down and negotiate with a tyrant who knows what he wants than a man whose political pathology is openly steeped in mother-anger, because the former’s demands conceivably can be satisfied.

But I regress.

What I newly note about the Mondoweiss site is that it prominently displays the declaration that it is “A Project of The Nation Institute.”

The Nation is many other topics for many other days, but as any effort might continue that is aimed at preserving a liberalism of ideological balance and sanity, it is worth recalling the left’s many unconscionable affiliations and rationalizations of yore and today. The magazine offers many stingingly accurate and worthwhile critiques of the right, but its current-era shamefulness extends to its weak-willed and morally flabby response to 9/11. Now it underwrites a blog enterprise that credits only one side in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, deeming Israel a racist, criminal, war-mongering state and explicitly espousing a one-state solution, i.e. that calls for an end to the state of Israel, and concerns itself with the nature of Jewish power and influence in the U.S.

If these are not the positions and concerns of The Nation and The Nation Institute, what are they doing with Mondoweiss as a “project”? If they are, then the stain of irredeemable extremism is there to be seen.

But more on all such in 2010. Now I prepare to be drunk.



Where We’re Coming From, Where We’re Going

Here is the cache of James Kirchick’s post that led to my email exchange with Andrew Sullivan and that was removed from the Contentions site. I’m not posting it here directly because it is, in fact, filled with scatter-shot invective, including, in line with my speculation about the cause of the post’s removal, one gratuitous and irrelevant swipe at Sidney Blumenthal. Kirchick may even have set a record for “number of people attacked in a single short blog post.”

His essential point, though, is a genuine one. I’m not willing to ascribe the term “self-hating Jew” to Max Blumenthal because I don’t know enough about him. I know enough about his thinking and his professional work to know that it’s callow and intellectually incoherent. I tried to demonstrate that here. His comments and blogging since his Tel Aviv video demonstrate no greater mental acuity. Commenter Jacob describes him as “an over-privileged and undernourished punk.” I won’t argue.

I am willing to say that Philip Weiss fits the bill. His cultural psychodrama is all throughout the posts of Mondoweiss, of which I’ve read far too many in order to be able to write knowledgeably about him. He is a blogging pathology with a missionary purpose seeking to play an historic role – so check your hallways for alarm sirens and flashing lights. He removed a post of his own a while back, after only a day, because it revealed too much. The cache of it is gone now, but I saved it.

Currently, he and co Mondoweiss blogger Adam Horowitz are fussing much about instituting a new more discriminating and “professional” comments policy. They acknowledge their comments sections has been filled, for the life of the blog, with invective and hatred. Obviously, they were in no rush. I’ve cited examples before. In the meantime, as of today, they are still willing to put up with this:

The Israelis filth elected Netanyahu on an exterminationist platform. They wildly applauded the Gaza massacre which Obama graciously paid for and supported to the fullest extent, while mouthing pieties about Israel’s security.

I actually have more respect for israelis like eitan, who have embraced their inner Nazi and are proud of their jack-booted atrocities. It’s the Commentary Leon Weisetlier tapeworms who pretend israelis are decent members of the human tribe who I find the most offensive.

The follow up commenter, seeking to restore a hint of humanity, urges the above commenter, “lovelyisraelis” (let’s work through that psychopathology) to “Try to understand the deep sources of your anger.” It’s almost comical. Yes, if only Adolf had sat thrice weekly with Sigmund, we all might have been spared so much trouble.

Yet Andrew Sullivan thinks the ideas of Mondoweiss and Blumenthal are worth arguing about. And vile demonization of Israel, and the possibility of Israel’s end, is increasingly mainstreamed in the political discussion.

I have a particular fondness, myself, for self-refuting arguments. Currently, those critical of Israeli concerns about Iran rather too easily argue that Israeli worries are overblown. Israeli, and the Jewish, sense of existential threat post-Holocaust (get over it already!) is monomaniacal. Yet what discussion is increasingly in the air, sympathetically or not? The possible demise of Israel.  The Israel haters mock Israel’s fierce historical concerns – while they actively seek the end of Israel.

Israel is not blameless in this. I feel no joy in being able to say that I knew thirty years ago that Likud’s stepped up settlement policy, in order to establish “realities on the ground,” would come back to haunt Israel. Yaacov Lozowick’s moving and forceful post, to which I linked earlier, speaks of how the narrative about Israel has changed. Israel and all Jews need to recognize the role Israel played in changing this narrative. When armies lose battles (hopefully not wars) they need to be brutally honest with themselves about their own role – their own failures – in the loss. Any clear-eyed observer of history who is not an antagonist to the very idea of Israel to begin must see the single fundamental cause of ongoing conflict: Arab, and then principally Palestinian rejectionism. Israel has been able to make the mistake it has made on lands captured in 1967 because the Palestinian leadership has never been willing to trade recognition of Israel and peace in return for those lands.

The narrative needs to be changed again. That is one battle, and it will be a long, hard one. But there are other battles now, beyond the fundamental one that has been there from the start.

Now Israel faces an ideological assault, mixed with overt and covert anti-Semitism, unlike any it has faced in its history outside of the Arab world. Mondoweiss and Blumenthal are just two particularly visible crests in a far larger wave of animus rolling over Western socieities. A commenter at another site where I published my Sullivan post wrote that when we begin to talk about the people who talk about the issues rather than talk about the issues, we have ceased to engage in productive activity. I told him that I don’t disagree. But now the movement to call into question Israel’s existence has become an obstacle to peace.

Peace between enemies can be achieved when two fundamental conditions have been met. One is when the political leaderships no longer believe they can achieve the ends they sought through war at a cost they can bear to pay. The other is when the people themselves are so tired of the costs of war that peace becomes more desirable than acting out their hatred of the enemy. Essentially, unless there has been an outright victory by one side, the parties must be worn down to peace. There have been times when it appeared that condition might be close to being met between Israelis and Palestinians.

Now we have the new anti-Zionists, who are not parties to this conflict, who have not paid the cost of war and are not worn down, who happily don their agitprop fatigues on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and in the comfortable suburbs to goad the conflict on. Remember, the objective of the anti-Zionists is not peace; it is the demise of Israel. Do they think Israelis will just fold? Yaacov Lozowick tells us they will not. No more than have the Palestinians. If these agitators for Israel’s end are not fools – and we know that many are – do they think Israel would end in a good way? Do they think it will simply wither away, like the State in the Marxist imagination? Or would there, rather, be just more blood and suffering on a newly calculated scale? They claim to be the Palestinians’ friend. Who will tell the Palestinians they are not?

So directly productive of peace be it not, this is now another battle that needs to be waged, against anti-Zionist hatred and the anti-Zionist idea in new ascendance, and against its promoters – dressed up in whatever finery of righteous compassion they strut themselves.


“The Flip Side of Mondoweiss”

Over at Talking Points Memo‘s TPMCafe, we have the latest preposterous and slanted post from Mondweiss‘s Adam Horowitz. In the comments section, one writer referred to me as “the flip side of Mondoweiss.” Here is my reply.



More Mondoweiss Anti-Semitism

Philip Weiss at Mondoweiss is not only anti-Zionist. As I indicated in my last post, he is deeply troubled by his Jewishness – by Jews. This post from yesterday, in which the pretense of his own inclusion in the consideration is the usual fraud, and the only element that would distinguish it, could easily be found in the pages of a neo-Nazi or KKK official organ. Read the comments too. You’ll especially love this one: “The Romans apparently dealt with the problem of the Jewish egregore through de-centralization — by scattering the Jews to the winds.”

Perusing the blog is actually a creepy experience, leading to a desire for bath water. And he thinks he’s walking in the light.



The Malice of Mondoweiss

Beware the righteous, for they are righteous when they are right, and they are righteous when they are wrong; they navigate by a missionary compass, and when it loses its North, they steer with conviction toward the South, unknowing.
The Book of Adler 5:15

On June 4, Max Blumenthal and Joseph Dana released on the Internet, via Mondoweiss and The Huffington Post, their now infamous video “Feeling the Hate in Jerusalem.” The video presented a visual compendium of college-age, drunken Jews, in restaurants and on the street, spewing undeniably and phenomenally ignorant, ugly, and racist comments about Barack Obama. All of the young men and women shown ought now be committed to spending a healthy measure of their coming adulthoods to overcoming the shame of their outing as dimwitted bigots.

The video received mostly negative attention, though it was roundly praised by the Israel-hating commenting community at the Mondoweiss blog. Some people tried to account for the awful behavior by offering the bogus, distracting excuse for the students that they were drunk.  Serious criticisms of the video itself, however, were that the young people in the video could hardly be considered representative, of anything – while the clear intent, later expressly confirmed both by Blumenthal and Mondoweiss’s co-bloggers, Philip Weiss and Adam Horowitz , was that it did, indeed, represent something characteristic – and that the video seemed to be intending a criticism of Israel (the raison d’etre of Mondoweiss) while the students were all, in fact, not Israelis, but American Jews.

The video’s content is so ugly and pathetic, the rationale for it so wrongheaded and dishonest, that within hours Huffington Post removed it from the site. Reported Blumenthal later about the decision:

“I don’t see that it has any real news value,” the administrator told me. “For me it only proves that one can find drunk people willing to say just about anything.  Especially drunk, moronic people.”

YouTube followed suit.

A couple of days later, Blumenthal justified himself on Mondoweiss, declaring himself to have been “censored” by Huffington. This kind of puerile and disingenuous posturing is typicalblumenthal of all the actors involved. They all do much serious chest puffing about being “journalists,” but still Blumenthal feigns that a publisher’s choice not, in fact, to publish something, or its decision to correct a publishing error, is something other than editorial judgment at work – the kind of judgment by which journalists and other writers are regularly denied publication. No legal authority blocked public access to the video. Blumenthal is free to contract with whoever is willing to show his work. The video is visible in snippets, still, all over the Internet. The rapper 50 Cent posted it on his website, where it reaped the predictable whirlwind of counter racist scatologyback. But characterizing Huffington’s decision as “censorship” – like a high school student newspaper editor denied the subversive wish to publish this week’s issue in virtual-cow-shit Smell-O-Vision – is representative of the hysterical vocabulary and devious propagandizing of Blumenthal, Weiss, and Horowitz.

All throughout Blumenthal’s defense of himself, and that offered by Weiss and Horowitz four days later, the low, dishonest confusion of categories continues. Israeli is elided into Zionist, Zionist into American Jew supportive of Israel’s existence, that category into American Jew who attends Yeshiva, into one who makes aliyah to Israel, into one of the dopes in the video. Blumenthal wants to undermine the moral legitimacy of Israel and he attempts it by substituting American Jewish students on drunken holiday. The intellectual rigor is awe inspiring, the journalistic method beyond reproach. Read Israeli blogger Yaacov Lozowick’s description of the area where the video was shot.

Said Blumenthal, “I do not and have never claimed that the characters that appeared in my video were representative of general public opinion in Israel. They reflect only a slice of reality, which is reality nonetheless.”

One can never be sure whether the arguments are consciously deceitful or the product of remarkably unconscious prejudice – or if these guys aren’t, one must say, really, very smart. The whole intent of the video is to stain the Israeli nation, and beyond that the Zionist belief in the need and justness of a Jewish state that is the basis of an Israeli nation. Of course, Blumenthal is claiming representativeness. The video is otherwise purposeless. And he does it by substituting some American Jews for Israel and never understands that the difference matters. The “slice of reality” – which isn’t, anyway, by that virtue alone significant – is deceptive. Blumenthal cannot see this. All of the cultural, sociological, and political distinctions are meaningless. The students are all Zionists. Enough said.

The obvious reality, historically demonstrated far more forcefully than Blumenthal’s petty propagandistic distortions, is that if one sought it out, one could find the same vile bigotry voiced by (non-Jewish) whites against blacks, French and Dutch against Algerians and Muslims, Italians against Albanians – oh, dear, need I go on? And dare I say – Palestinians against Jews? (One small example, via Jeffrey Goldberg, from the late Nizar Rayyan: “I asked him if he believed, as some Hamas theologians do [and certainly as many Hezbollah leaders do] that Jews are the ‘sons of pigs and apes.’”)

What we see in the video are, according to Blumenthal, “the painful consequences of prolonged Zionist indoctrination.” (Indoctrination – that’s a good loaded word. Nothing, I’m sure, that Blumenthal would imagine going on anywhere in Palestinian schools, let’s say. Nothing, theologically, I don’t know, about, say – pigs and apes?) It is all “the disturbing spectacle of young Jews behaving like fascist soccer hooligans in the heart of the capitol of Israel and the spiritual home of the Jewish people,” where “vitriolic levels of racism are able to flow through the streets of Jerusalem like sewage” and “the grandsons of Holocaust survivors feel compelled to offer the Shoah as justification to behave like fascist street thugs.”

Gracious. Where to begin when a journalist uses words so carelessly, so maliciously? The increasingly ubiquitous “fascist” we can take here as merely a synonym for the then redundant “thugs,” which I guess is a little weightier in menace than “hooligans,” though aren’t those “soccer hooligans” usually prone to riot and violence? Don’t believe I saw any behavior like that anywhere in the video. And the racism flows “through the streets of Jerusalem like sewage.” (straight from the United States, actually, but shh!) All this occurring before the delicate, we know, Jewish nationalistic and religious sensibilities of Blumenthal, in the – hear the deflation of the poor man’s will – “heart of the capitol of Israel and the spiritual home of the Jewish people.”

Oy, what a thespian. And fraud. Think Mary McCarthy on Lillian Hellman.

Blumenthal was not alone in defending his work. On June 10, so, too, did Weiss, in his and Horowitz’s name. Blumenthal’s video is important, Weiss stated, “because it reveals an p-weissessential component of Israeli and Zionist society that has largely been covered up.” Hateful and ignorant racism is “essential” to Israeli society and Zionism. This last element, about Zionism specifically, was the claim of the infamous 1975 U.N. resolution sponsored by the gamut of Arab autocracies and Cuba, and voted for by all of the Communist totalitarian governments, while being opposed by nearly every industrial democracy – the resolution that was rescinded in shame in 1991. Just so we understand the ideological prism and intellectual identifications of Mondoweiss.

Said Weiss:

You can argue about Blumenthal’s method all night long. I won’t be there for that argument. Is the video somewhat sensational? Of course. But the views expressed are shocking, and, while they are obviously cherrypicked, they are representative of a real current in Israeli society; and a journalist who is on to something important should have the freedom to highlight shocking stuff. That’s how journalism works. You don’t show readers your out-takes.

Weiss “won’t be there for that argument,” presumably because he can’t coherently respond to it or he doesn’t care. About the method. Something rather important, intellectually, professionally (they are journalists, after all), ethically. He acknowledges the video is of course “sensational,” as in, according to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language:

Arousing or intended to arouse strong curiosity, interest, or reaction, especially by exaggerated or lurid details: sensational journalism; a sensational television report. (Emphasis added)

The views in the video, he admits, are obviously “cherrypicked,” as in, Wikipedia relays to us:

the act of pointing at individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position, while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position…. Cherry picking can be found in many logical fallacies.

One suspects Weiss did not fully intend to confess all he does here, but then he is no more careful a writer, and thus, thinker, than is Blumenthal. He twice refers to the “murderous” feelings of the idiots on camera, and while I am working from memory – it being so far impossible at this point to find more than snippets of the video for review – and though I recall, of course, obviously, much in the manner of the stupid and self-demeaning, I have no recollection of the “murderous.” But this is the carelessness, the irresponsibility, the hatefulness of Mondoweiss.

As to “how journalism works,” that “you don’t show readers your out-takes” – well, yes, that is generally so, though sometimes reporters are prompted to do just that, when there are questions of credibility. Blumenthal says he “edited an hour of interviews into a 3:30 minute video package.” I wonder if he would be willing to release the other 56:30 minutes to the public. Or does that seem, really, beside the point now?

If it appears that I am being awfully cutting and hard on our trio – that is because they deserve it. They have appointed themselves leaders in an ambition to single out Zionism, among all nationalisms, for censure – to take Israel down. Indeed, according to Weiss “Blumenthal may even be a game-changer.” My, ain’t he anticipatory in his self-regard. But any influence they do have affects the lives of millions, and they have neither the intellectual coherence nor honesty to warrant such a mission.


Let’s consider, as Weiss likes to do, essences. On May 7, Weiss blogged from the 2009 AIPAC policy conference. You know he wasn’t really there to participate honestly, despite the transparent feints in that direction. However, he soon enough shows his hand:

When they are gathered in the hall … it seems like a plenary gathering in the Former Soviet Union. On the stage are the Politburo, 40 or 50 people at tables, most of them old and rich, with name cards in front of them, all revered by the people in the room. The people on the stage establish the new line. The degree of variation from that line will be minimal; the famous Jewish idea that if you have two Jews, you will have three opinions, does not hold here. For the entire conference is psychically built on one issue—Jewish survival—and on questions of Jewish survival, Jews defer to their leaders, as the Torah shows. There is utter orthodoxy. As I came into the hall for the Shimon Peres speech, two Jewish women (Rae Abileah and Medea Benjamin) were being dragged out kicking and screaming. Their opinions on Gaza were not welcome. The next day when two women interrupted Joe Biden’s speech, the whole conference rose as one to applaud and drown them out. Very Brezhnev.

When one considers the thought and writing of Mondoweiss, it is impossible not to keep returning to adjectives like dishonest and disingenuous. The search for synonyms in order to avoid monotonous drone becomes tiresome. Weiss knows full well that the purpose of the AIPAC policy conference is not to admit debate from ideologically antagonistic interlocutors, anymore than it is the purpose of the Democratic or Republican Party conventions to invite their opposites from the floor on such matters as abortion or gay marriage. Anymore than it is the purpose of the NRA annual convention to debate, in ceremonial assembly, with representatives of The Brady Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, or for attendees at a Planned Parenthood conference to be denounced at the dais as baby killers. Or at the AIPAC, again, to enter into discussion with CODEPINK activists hoisting banners that read “No Money for War Crimes.” These are all, Weiss knows, organizations of the generally like-minded, who discuss their differences, usually, amongst themselves and not in public with those who despise them and pretend to be seeking honest dialogue. But Weiss, like Blumenthal, is a merry agitprop prankster, for whom the essence of good political street theater is a story line of engagement sought, culminating in a well-plotted climax of disruptive embarrassment, preferably requiring the use of security personnel for maximum repressive affect. Then Weiss may seek to regale readers with totalitarian comparisons. (Fascist? Communist? Whatever.) How very, may I say, Socialist Worker Party of him. But that would be so unfair of me, shallow and juvenile, like calling the faculty advisor of that high school newspaper – who won’t go for the dungy scentorama – a dictator.

By the end of the AIPAC account we are brought to, actually, something rather real, to which Weiss is, indeed, touchingly prone. It is historically not uncommon for people like Weiss, Horowitz (I’ll get to him), and Blumenthal to be denounced as “self-hating Jews.” I am, I confess, more partial to “fools.” But there is a transparency to Weiss that does introduce the personal “issues” at work in his political agitation:

The torment at the heart of my writing here is that I grew up in tribal ways; and I recognized that woman [a Holocaust survivor] as an older Jew like my parents and my parents’ friends—in fact I even ran into one of my parents’ friends there!–and the basis of my napkin-biting moment is that AIPAC brought me home to this identification. I put aside my assimilationist feelings, my intermarried goyim-loving feelings, and got back to the fact that this is the community I was raised in and love and have grown out of but still love; and I am not going to be deracinated.

Hm. One can fill in the blanks of this story in a multitude of ways, but we recognize an outline. A pressing question, too, is – who is it, exactly, who is deracinating Weiss? Even he treats the matter ambiguously. And in this confusion of identity, the Jew in fear of his own deracination reaches for the fat on the flanken: he reasserts himself as a member of the “tribe.” From goyim-loving assimilation he dives now straight into the schmaltz. Soon he’ll be longing to sit down with the whole mishpucha.

The personal crisis gets worse, however.

Weiss travels to Gaza with CODEPINK. He is moved by what he sees – in strange ways – though he remains no less prejudicially determined in his understanding of the causes of it. He returns to New York, seeming tortured as he mingles with likeminded thinkers, and posts, yesterday as I write, June 25, “feeling the rage in new york” – a post that as of at least 2:30 EST on June 26, just one day later, has now been removed from the Mondoweiss site, though you can find the cache of the page here and here. Weiss’s feelings, a mixture of political outrage, seething passion, and personal confusion are raw, producing an awed tenderness of response from his commenters. What follows are selected quotes from “feeling the rage in new york.” You may find them to provide a potential explanation for second thought and the post’s deletion.

The Hebrew sounds as bad in Miriam’s ear as German did back in the 50s, when people hated the Germans.

Emily and I go out on West End Avenue, and a blonde mother goes by with two kids. I hear her talking Hebrew and I feel anger toward her. The kids are in cute outfits. They must have some money to live in this neighborhood. I think about all the seculars who are leaving Israel, and why they don’t speak out against a basic Zionist principle: the necessity of the Jewish state.

she has an appointment with the legislative assistant to her congressman. His name sounds Jewish. I feel anger at him, and give her suggestions of what to say to the guy.

I used to get in screaming matches at dinner parties about The Subject…. I have alienated myself from my peers over this issue. They don’t want to hear. But I don’t know that I can blame them entirely. I seem to have found this spot, of righteous and critical distance. I suppose I had it in my family, too. I really need to take responsibility for my own anger.

A lot is going through my head. At the meeting, Jane said that one problem with our issue is that, Like it or not, it’s going to draw anti-Semites. They show up at lectures and talks. She’s right. I’ve met anti-Semites cloaked in their righteous criticism. I saw anti-Jewish hatred in Gaza, where they paint dustbins with the Star of David. I’ve felt that hatred of Israel myself. When you see the monstrosities of Gaza, you can’t help but feel hatred.

A friend at the meeting said that Hamas only fires rockets to get attention to the siege, which would never command world attention anyway. I know this is true, but. It isn’t like there hasn’t been violent murderous rage on our side of this struggle for a long time.

The situation is built around an edifice of rage. Ever since I got back, I keep wondering what if the Palestinians accepted. Accepted everything and anything for a state, sought the whole world’s good opinion by acceptance. Now they have 90 percent of the good opinion, but they don’t have Washington or Establishment Jews yet. What if Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, who met with them and talked with them about the west, convinced them to take another step of acceptance so that the students could get out of the territory? And forget about all the Green Lines and 1948, and the old stories. Just accept. And lo, there was a mini-state, or a bantustan, and peace and a civil rights struggle. Then maybe Israel would collapse. The hatred and animosity would disappear and so would the reason to be there. They would all move to West End Avenue.

The threads here are several. The tribal heart-call of the AIPAC post seems clearly overwhelmed by what is emerging as an ethnic animus. Just to hear Hebrew, to hear a Jewish-sounding name, produces anger. There is recognition of the anti-Semitic appeal of his ideas, but rather than allow pause by this fact, Weiss voices understanding of the “hatred,” which he says you can’t help but feel. Then he ponders, in the spirit-tone of so many who become fatigued with hating and fighting and dying in irreconcilability, what if they just accepted? What if the Palestinians just accepted all that they have never been willing to accept in order to gain all that they have never had, a state of their own?

“Then maybe Israel would collapse.”

The unyielding desire. The core passion. Not peace. But Israel’s collapse.

“The hatred and animosity would disappear and so would the reason to be there.”

In how many languages can one utter the word “fool”?

“They would all move to West End Avenue.”

Not “the Jews.” Not “we” – the tribe. “They.”

The driving spirit behind Mondoweiss is an end to the Jewish state – Israel. Even in fantasies of a resigned acceptance to fact that is always an element in peace making between enemies, the goal remains, like a dead man’s arm reaching up from the grave for a neck, Israel’s demise.

This has a familiar ring, too. Here, from an interview with PLO Ambassador to Lebanon Abbas Zaki, which aired on ANB TV on May 7, 2009, transcript by MEMRI:

They talk about a two-state solution, and when that is achieved… Even Ahmadinejad, leader of the rejectionists throughout the region, said he supports a two-state solution. Nobody fools anybody.

With the two-state solution, in my opinion, Israel will collapse, because if they get out of Jerusalem, what will become of all the talk about the Promised Land and the Chosen People? What will become of all the sacrifices they made – just to be told to leave? They consider Jerusalem to have a spiritual status. The Jews consider Judea and Samaria to be their historic dream. If the Jews leave those places, the Zionist idea will begin to collapse. It will regress of its own accord. Then we will move forward.

In “Mr. Horowitz, tell us what you think of the two-state solution,” Adam Horowitz responds, “There is a short answer and a longer answer to this question. The short answer is that I don’t take a position on one state or two states. In the end I’m not invested in one end product, but in ending the conflict.” As is usually so with Mondoweiss, complete honesty is never available. First, for Horowitz – or for me, for that matter – not to take a position on a matter like the two-state solution is meaningless, is to be coy without any corresponding appeal. Neither Horowitz nor I have any say in the matter. We are not players in the decision making, however much Mondoweiss may preen in self-important fantasy, and so the basis for an interlocutor’s refraining from expressing an opinion on a core issue – that he may continue to play the role of honest broker, which, at any rate, Horowitz is not – does not apply. And besides, the longer answer is that the shorter answer is bullshit.

The longer answer gets to the real reason I think people tend to ask this question, especially if they’re confrontational: they are asking if I support a Jewish state. The simple answer is no.

Mondoweiss gained happy-making attention from the Blumenthal video. Its creators and contributors post on one of the most widely read blog sites, The Huffington Post. The influential Talking Points Memo, via it TPMCafe, now syndicates Mondoweiss’s posts. So what we are witnessing is a growing acceptance of its view that bears consideration.

The writing and thinking are shoddy, we see, marked by blind prejudice and the active influence in the political sphere of confusion in personal identity and psychic demons.

What more can we say? That – though I would disagree myself with almost all of the judgments – out of humanistic sympathy for Palestinian aspirations and suffering through all these years of conflict, Mondoweiss advocates for greater Israeli compassion in its ascendency? That it seeks more humane treatment toward Palestinians in administration of road-blocks and check points? That it seeks, even, a unilateral end to all of the partial and periodic “occupations” prior to any other agreement on disputed issues? That it argues for the constructive role that might be played by the complete opening of the Gaza borders? That it believes the recent Gaza conflict (and probably, then, by reasoned extension, every other Israeli military action over the decades that was not an immediate defensive response to a conventional attack by a national army) was misguided and excessive? That it believes the West Bank settlements – just as the Gaza settlements, now unilaterally dismantled – are illegal and immoral and need to be removed as a basis for a just settlement, leading to the willingness of an empowered Palestinian authority to agree, for the first time, to exchange land for peace and to recognize a Jewish state of Israel while gaining a Palestinian state?

Can we say all this of Mondoweiss? No, we cannot. Not really. For while Mondoweiss may at times espouse these positions, none of them are the end it seeks to serve, not even the ultimate end of a just settlement and a lasting peace. In conflict, a just settlement recognizes the legitimate desires of all parties, not the moral claim of only one. But the active agents behind Mondoweiss do not believe that Israel, or the Jewish people in relation to Israel, has just desires. Horowitz does not support the existence of a Jewish state. Blumenthal, like him, believes that Zionism (Jewish nationalism) – in apparent contradistinction to any other nationalism – is inherently racist. Weiss, a deeply anti-Semitic work in progress, in his haziest, most narcotic fantasy of peace, envisions as its ecstatic end not the peace, but the end of Israel.

The cause of Mondoweiss is not a settlement of grievances. It is not peace. The cause Mondoweiss serves, the position it espouses, is that of the most unreconstructed, unrelenting, and agonistic of all Palestinian positions and causes – and end to a Jewish state in its ancient homeland. It is a position, coming from Mondoweiss no less than from any Palestinian – or Israeli in reverse – that will further not the interests of peace, but the continuation of conflict, and of the suffering of all, especially Palestinian suffering, over which Mondoweiss hearts purport to bleed.

This is the malice of Mondoweiss.


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