On Blocking Comments (Again!)

7 Oct

On Blocking Comments (Again!)

 

Ever since I started this blog I have wrestled with the question of whether unrestricted free expression should be favored over a preferred atmosphere of civility. My inclination is to allow diverse views to be expressed in harsh ways, provided interactions among those submitting comments do not degenerate into a toxic blend of insult and propaganda.

 

What I have experienced is that those most dogmatically insistent on defending Israel regardless of its behavior as viewed from the perspectives of international law and international morality rely on a discourse that is quick to call critics Jew haters or anti-Semites, or to demean the professional competence of their opponents. This puts those who seek serious dialogue and responsible conversation in an awkward position. Either we withdraw to the sidelines and let the hostile comments slip through with out silent disapproval, or we respond and face repetitive cycles of further insult, which includes a questioning of motives.

 

It is fair to acknowledge that these determined apologists for Israel, despite the evidence, contend that they are doing nothing more than turning the tables on the critics. They claim that we are as insulting as they are, or more so, and that they are merely meeting fire with fire, and in the end expressing a more objective and correct view of the situation arising from Israel’s security challenges. They contend, to give just one example, that my refusal to debate with Alan Dershowitz is based on my fear of being exposed or humbled, when in reality it is a lack of respect for his demeanor and unscrupulous behavior in using his status to harm those he believes go over a line drawn by him in exposing Israel’s wrongdoing.

 

I have throughout my teaching and writing career found it useful to listen carefully to those with whom I disagree so long as they do not set forth views that echo the propaganda of governments engaged in unacceptable behavior and mix their espousal of such positions with insulting responses to their opponent. Many years ago I had such an experience in a public debate with a South African apologist for the apartheid regime that was then in control of the country. The gap in morality and civility between us was too great, and I felt degraded by my participation, which seemed to produce a kind of moral equivalence in a situation where I was convinced that there was no justification whatsoever for hiding the cruelty of apartheid as it operated in South Africa, and even less for claiming that it was an enlightened manner of addressing racial diversity. The debate degenerated into vehement denunciations of one another, which some in the audience might have found entertaining, but no one could learned anything or changed their views on iota.. In contrast I had a long debate in Wisconsin with Samuel Huntington of ‘clash of civilizations’ fame in which we deeply disagreed, but spoke with mutual respect and the audience after this event that lasted the whole day seemed grateful for the experience.

 

During the life of this blog, which began in 2010, civility has prevailed except in the context of Israel/Palestine. I would not overstate this assertion. Sometimes, comments are tasteless, irrelevant, foolish, including my own.

And I have no doubt that some subscribers or readers find my posts either too opinionated or not balanced and fair. I welcome feedback that would enable me to do better. My goal is to communicate effectively within a framework of

reasoned discourse that is also respectful of the relevance of emotion and belief. It is in this space of controversy and disagreement that the ethos of civility is most needed if communication is to be fruitful.

 

One of the liabilities of incivility is its contagious effect on those who are normally and naturally civil. Of course, it is part of the polemical atmosphere to allege that it was the other side that first breached the boundaries of civility. I admit that my sympathies are with the Palestinian struggle for their basic rights. I reject both the ultra-nationalism of Israeli apologists and the ideology and tactics of Zionist extremists. At the same time, my abiding wish is for a sustainable and just peace that benefits both peoples and is guided by the spirit and substance of equality, and welcome all those that share in some way these sentiments.

 

I suppose I am at this moment also responding to the dismal outcome of the just concluded Kavanaugh confirmation hearings in the U.S. Senate. I was dismayed that party discipline and white male privilege prevailed over truth and accountability in such circumstance. One result is the further weakening of the highest judicial body in America while inflicting pain on women who have endured sexual abuse or fear it. Such a development confirms the Trumpist poisoning of the democratic process and the subversion of republican principles that depend for their vitality on conscience and trust more than party affiliation and demagogic leadership. I cannot hope to control civility and truthfulness in public space, but I am able to exert some influence in private space.

 

This may be a pompous way of communicating my frustration with the recent wave of comments, some of which I have blocked in recent days. I began re-re-blocking those most illustrative of extreme incivility. For the present, I will again become more vigilant in monitoring comments, blocking those that abandon the ethos of civility. I keep hoping that my task will become easier over time either as a result of futility by those angry propagandists or by a recognition that a civil tone is a more effective way of engaging the other unless the substantive position being defended is so weak.

 

I have noticed for some time that the rise of smear tactics aimed at activists and critics who deplore Israel’s policies and practices is directly proportional

to the weakening of Israel’s explanations as to legality, moreality, and political intention. There was a time defenders of Israel welcomed the give and take of serious discussion but no longer. With Trump in the White House it is a time for a victory dance not for diplomacy, and certainly not for dialogue.

 

As I have in the past, I invite those at odds with my views to devote their attention to some among many websites dedicated to promoting Israel’s priorities. Among these, the most influential these days may be the Middle East Forum, a vehicle for the views of Daniel Pipes, and the Gatestone Institute that was formerly a mouthpiece for John Bolton, and all along a friendly venue for Dershowitz. To avoid voices such as mine, these websites do  not pretend an openness to dialogue. There is no comments section.

 

I suppose that closing down the comments section is an alternative. I resist such an alternative as I welcome interaction and communication with likeminded and with adversaries ready to listen and reluctant to denounce and impugn. As my disposition is toward openness, I will probably become again soon permissive, and so disappoint, and even antagonize, both sides.

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13 Responses to “On Blocking Comments (Again!)”

  1. Beau Oolayforos October 7, 2018 at 12:47 pm #

    Again, your patience and even-handedness seem almost super-human.

    Since you opened the door on Kavanaugh…We all understand by now that Trump’s judges are vetted by the Federalist Society, but I heard an ugly rumor that our bleach-blonde chief exec went through 35 (?!) of their recommendations before coming to one that does not believe that a sitting president can be indicted. He’s (allegedly) trying to pick his own jury.

    Kavanaugh’s fans, like Lindsey Graham, lamented unconsolably that this ‘wonderful man’ should be so mistreated, in the public examination of his character. Is this not a textbook example of Begging The Question? The question being, just how wonderful he is, or is not.

  2. Paul Wapner October 8, 2018 at 3:24 pm #

    One problem with the uncivil comments directed at you is that they have become so predictable and thus tiresome to read. A more troublesome problem is that some voices often hijack the discussion–ensuring that their own views become the topic of conversation. It is worth speculating about the quality of blog interchanges if they weren’t always dragged into the mud of such ideological rigidity. I have found even my own comments harsher and less thoughtful than I would have liked as my reactivity has flared after reading some of the comments.

    That your critics have the time and interest constantly to combat you speaks to two things. First, it suggests a super-sensitive paranoia about anti-Israel commentary. It is as if pro-Israeli voices are so afraid of any criticism that they try to snuff out all criticism. (Don’t the critics have better things to do with their time than troll your blog?) Related to this, it must be the case that pro-Israel voices (I mean those who say that Israel is always right and never to blame for anything) have successfully colonized so much other public discursive space that they have the time and inclination to focus on the uncolonized pockets, like your blog. (In this sense, I guess they don’t have better things to do with their time because mainstream societies have already been sufficiently socialized into a pro-Israel stance.)

    I’m sorry you have to wrestle with this.

    Rather than Richard have to monitor so closely, what if we each commit to civil discourse as the price of admission into the blog. Richard is freely provided a forum–at much expense to himself in terms of time and energy. Let’s appreciate it by making it a meaningful place to discuss issues rather than trying to scream over each other. I’ll try to do that too. I’ll work on toning down my harshest remarks and finding ways to engage that listen carefully to others.

  3. Calm CalmCalm October 11, 2018 at 10:49 am #

    If you close comments down, the opposition wins. You need to show the same bravery as the Palestinians do.

    • Fred Skolnik October 11, 2018 at 8:03 pm #

      What is brave about blowing up Israeli women and children in buses and restaurants or firing thousands of rockets at Israel’s population centers? That is what Israel is “repressing.”

      • Richard Falk October 12, 2018 at 2:58 am #

        Not so, but substantive opinion.

        All of your personal insults are being blocked, with none of the benefit of doubt I have given to others,
        as you have been so consistently insulting, mean spirited, and defamatory.

      • Richard Falk October 12, 2018 at 10:37 am #

        I am responding to your long comment, which I have blocked, questioning my courage,
        judgment, character in ways that are provocative, but not relevant.

        You are entitled to these opinions, of course, about my motivations and assessments,
        but I am entitled to mine, and for this blog mine prevail. You are entirely free to
        express your views on the many ultra Zionist websites that are available.

        Again if you are able to stick to substance I will not block even if I consider your
        views out of touch with the best views of the facts and law at stake. As well, you
        do not acknowledge various uncertainties that pertain in complex interactions of this sort.

      • Fred Skolnik October 13, 2018 at 9:27 pm #

        And this reply to four of your recurring arguments:

        You insist that the “Zionist enterprise” displaced or dispossessed Arabs when the Jews settled on private land legally purchased under the Ottoman Turks and the British; you insist that the State of Israel was imposed on an Arab majority when the partition plan created a Jewish state where there was already a Jewish majority; you insist that Israel wanted or initiated the 1967 war in order to grab land when protocols of Israeli government and army deliberations clearly show that this is untrue, not to mention the slightest understanding of Israeli thinking in a Mapai-dominated political culture, and Hussein himself confessing to the reasons he attacked Israel; you insist that the Gaza riots are peaceful demonstrations despite the fact that the terrorist organizations instructed the rioters to carry arms, overrun the border and murder as many Israelis as possible, which is exactly what they tried to do, and despite the fact that the terrorist organizations themselves announced that of the 62 Palestinians killed in the “massacre” of mid-May, 53 were their own members, that is, terrorists. (A terrorist is someone who bears arms in a terrorist organization. Hamas is a terrorist organization because it targets Israel’s civilian population.)

      • Richard Falk October 17, 2018 at 3:27 pm #

        I again blocked your latest submitted comment as it again levels an attack on those
        critical of Israel’s behavior. Don’t waste your time submitting these kind of comments.
        If you want to attack the Palestinians for what they are doing or defend Israel for its ‘patience’ such comments will not be blocked,
        but I am determined to avoid your kind of repeated challenges to the motives and motivations of
        Israel’s critics is not acceptable on this blog.

      • Richard Falk October 18, 2018 at 1:05 am #

        You still don’t get it!! Substance fine, ad hominem blocked.

        Save your energy, conserve your venom.

      • Richard Falk October 18, 2018 at 1:56 am #

        not true! show me habitual or equivalent reference to any personal attacks by me
        that are comparable to calling me as an ‘hater’ etc.

  4. Clif Brown October 15, 2018 at 3:29 pm #

    I always value your essays that appear here. Those who make uncivil comments are easily identified, because the practice is habitual, and their postings skipped over to get to comments that are worthwhile. It’s a bit inconvenient to scroll down but not a high price to pay to get to the comments that are civil. Unlike a live in person forum where screaming and yelling can seriously compromise hearing important speech, one text cannot lay itself over another. Carry on with your good thoughts knowing that readers can easily filter the dross.

    • Richard Falk October 15, 2018 at 11:44 pm #

      Thanks for these appreciative words and your very sensible view of how
      to regard hostile comments.

  5. Beau Oolayforos October 24, 2018 at 12:05 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    A bit off subject perhaps, but…I notice that I can find your blog easily on Google, but that the msn/bing engine doesn’t work…they give me everything (criticisms of you, etc)) EXCEPT the blog itself. Not touting conspiracy theories just yet, but, for what it’s worth…reading Jamal K’s columns, and realizing how much we have in common, one cannot be too careful.

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