Archive | Blog ethics RSS feed for this section

A Somewhat Anguished Open Letter to Blog Subscribers

4 Mar

 

In recent weeks, once again this website has been dominated by polarized debate about the relations between Israel and Palestine. My affinities in this debate are clear, but it has become for me and most others who share my viewpoint a very unproductive process. It reminds me of the sort of venom on display in the Republican primary struggle to select a presidential candidate, and at this point, the secondary struggle to offset the proto-fascist surge of Trump-mania that promises to make the choice of the next American leader a perverse and masochistic form of entertainment. This will be a tragedy not only for America, but for the world, considering the reality of its self-anointed role as the first global state in human history, and the implications this has for who is chosen to lead such a country.

 

I realize that such a free association is off point. What I want to express is that I have found the many comments contributors supporting Israel, while granting their sincerity, to resemble my experience in South Africa during the 1960s. In 1965 I spent the year in The Hague as an international law advisor to the Ethiopian and Liberian team in the South West Africa Cases being argued at the International Court of Justice. I learned many things, including being impressed and appalled by the skill and dogmatic convictions of the South African legal team in making their moral and legal case for apartheid, which I had previously uncritically viewed as a vicious form of racism that was not worth arguing about. It was not that I found these proponents of apartheid convincing, but it was my first experience of how ideological closure in the defense of a horrible situation can allow decent and intelligent people, pursuing their own social and material interests, to align themselves with what appeared to me to be a depraved structure of power and exploitation.

 

When I went to South Africa in 1968 to be an official observer at a political trial of activists in South West Africa, now Namibia, this dual experience of confrontation was deepened: with apologists for the apartheid regime and with those being victimized by it. I was told by the apologists a variety of things: “you don’t live here, and have no right to criticize what we do,” “blacks are better off here than elsewhere in Africa,” “it is either us or them, our survival is at stake,” “those who oppose apartheid are terrorists,” “we have brought prosperity and order to South Africa,” and on and on. My experience of the victimization of the African majority told, of course, a different story, one of fear, poverty, degradation, hardship, and the role of law in the service of oppression and degrading double standards.

 

I am not saying that the reality of Israel/Palestine relations are identical to those of apartheid South Africa, but there are essential similarities, including South African claims at the time of being a constitutional democracy governed according to the rule of law. There are also vast differences of history and circumstances, and the path to a just solution is very different, but the nature of debate between apologists for the status quo and its critics is sufficiently similar to make the comparison relevant and instructive.

 

While teaching at Princeton I agreed to debate a prominent American apologist for apartheid in an event sponsored by a conservative campus group. My opponent, an editor at the National Review with a Dutch background, made all the familiar pro-apartheid arguments in a cogent, even passionate form, and I angrily countered them, feeling afterwards ashamed that I had lost my poise having become so outraged by the distortions he was telling a mainly uninformed young student audience. It convinced me that such a debate, while sometimes captivating for its fireworks, is not the sort of communication and dialogue that I find worthwhile.

 

I have reached the same conclusion on several occasions with respect to the comments section of this blog. Over these years I have constantly vacillated between ignoring and engaging with the hostile and dogmatic comments submitted by Israeli apologists, which have frequently included nasty allegation or innuendo questioning my integrity and identity, and demeaning in various ways those who agreed with me. Such a dialogue of the deaf is repetitive, wasteful, hurtful, and initiates an intellectual race to the bottom.

 

I have been admittedly inconsistent in response, sometimes preferring a laissez-faire approach, sometimes monitoring to keep out personal insults and extremist views. I am a strong proponent of freedom of expression, although I have always found varieties of hate speech, including spurious allegations of anti-Semitism, to be troublesome and damaging. At the same time, while open to a wide divergence of views in the public square, I do not feel any obligation to invite those whose views I abhor to my home. A personal website is neither the public square nor a private dwelling, and that makes the issue messier, and undoubtedly explains why wavering between ‘openness’ and ‘boundaries.’

 

When a newspaper has opinion pieces and a comments section the case for extending the ethos of free speech is stronger, but not as convincing as it might appear on first glance. The Al Jazeera English comments section is dominated by vituperative and

hostile exchanges, polarizing and irrelevant debate and name calling, and rarely instructive. A personal blog site, even if addressing politically sensitive issues, seems to be justified in seeking to impose certain boundaries on what is acceptable. The goal is ‘productive conversation,’ which ideally would be hospitable to very divergent interpretations. I have always felt that I often learn most from those with whom I disagree, provided that these adversaries exhibit respect for the authenticity of my different experience and understanding.

 

These reflections leads me to once more adopt a more interventionist approach to comments submitted to this blog site. My goal is ‘productive conversation’ on a range of topics, and not limited to the Israel/Palestine agenda important that this is to me. I have enjoyed and benefitted from comments on a variety of issues, but rarely with respect to polar confrontations between Israel’s apologists and critics. With reluctance, but temporary resolve, I have decided to block comments that are written in a polarizing rhetoric or impugn the motives of Israel’s critics. It is

certain that the regular comment writers who I am categorizing as apologists for Israel will be offended, but I encourage them to go elsewhere. There are a variety of Zionist and pro-Israeli websites that are completely one-sided in ways they would find unproblematic, receiving either no critical comments or filtering out any that are out of tune with the spirit of the website.

 

On the basis of past experience, I have no illusions that this restrictive turn will work over time to improve the quality of discussion in the comments section, but I feel it is worth a try, and ask those who agree to be active, making it happen, providing that productive conversation on controversial issues is possible and useful.

Advertisements

Border Control: Blocking Uncivil Comments

11 Jul

On Blog Despair

 

Once again I feel deeply frustrated by the lack of civility in the flow of comments on this website, especially relating to Israel-Palestine, and the broader relations between Islam and Judaism. And again I feel that those who seem to have chosen as a vocation the validation of Israeli behavior however far it strays from international law and minimal ethical standards are determined to personalize the debate via the submission of defamatory and demonizing comments. There are also disingenuous attempts to engage me in senseless discussion where a cascade of questions will follow upon whatever responses I try to provide to the initial inquiry. I have been down that weary road before, and don’t intend to be so foolish as to attempt once more to explain what is self-evident to those committed to unconditionally justifying whatever Israel chooses to do or to claim. My interest is in dialogue, not argument or polemics. And I must say that the rabbi who often submits lengthy comments has no trouble finding severe fault with whatever I have to say, and manages to construe even posts far removed from the Israeli-Palestine battleground as evidence of my supposed ‘hatred’ of everything Israeli, alleging that I harbor an intention to destroy Israel. The only exception of any merit to such defaming allegations is that he encouraged me a while ago to write in detail and in the public sphere so to elaborate upon my mention in a post that it is time for Hamas to revise its Charter.

 

It seems that those who defend Israel to the outer limit are unable to refrain in their comments from repeatedly attacking me and others who hold similar views, or lecturing me as if I am their wayward pupil. I have been lax of late in blocking such comments, partly because there are often substantive issues also present, but I now re-commit myself to doing so, and also to those so deeply offended by such comments that they deliver their own insulting broadsides directed at those who seem so intent to attack my character and reputation. I appreciate this support, but do not wish it to take this form on this website.

 

I make no secret of my dislike of Israel’s policies and practices in relation to Palestine and its people. I believe these policies and practices are the root cause of decades of Palestinian suffering and of the failure to achieve sustainable peace. I take this opportunity to affirm my support for the growing global solidarity movement seeking the full realization of Palestinian rights. Israel’s disregard and defiance of international law has been so flagrant and persistent that the country stands shamefully alone in the world today.

 

Having said that, I remain comfortable with my Jewish identity, and always have. I believe that all ethnic identities touch the deepest wellsprings of our experience as human beings, and I regard them as all worthy of respect and even love, although sometimes tough love that interrogates and sharply criticizes to ensure conformity with ‘our better angels’ and in support of human wellbeing. After all, it is the tough love of the Old Testament prophets that makes this ancient biblical text live so vividly in our minds, hearts, and souls today.

 

As I have said often in the past, despite the disproportionate injustices done to the Palestinians for more than a century, I believe that the two peoples, along with other identities inhabiting the Holy Land, need to find ways to embody peace-with-justice in their modes of living together. Now they live together in the most wretched imaginable manner, essentially characterized by oppression, violence, and exploitation on one side and victimization and resistance on the other side. Regardless of ethnic identity if we align ourselves with the nonviolent quest for justice and dignity, we must given the lopsided relations between Israelis and Palestinians in my opinion side with the Palestinians. Also, bear in mind that what most Palestinians and their designated representatives have been willing to accept since the 1980s is moderate, modest, and reasonable, and what Israel has offered is the opposite, oblivious to Palestinian rights and scaled back expectations.

 

For those who reject this statement of unabashed political and spiritual faith on my part, I would urge them to abandon this website, and find a more congenial setting, especially if their assessment of the conflict rest on either or both of these two premises: (1) the Israelis are basically right, have sought a fair peace in the past, are victims of Palestinian terrorism, and do what any sovereign state will do to uphold its security; (2) both Israelis and Palestinians have prevented the end of the conflict, and are both essentially and more or less equally responsible for the present terrible circumstances. 

 

As I have long indicated, I welcome and believe in the give and take of substantive discussion so long as it is not accompanied by insulting language and nasty innuendo. Please relieve me of this odious role of acting as monitor and censor! I fully understand that my fiercest critics detest my views, and seem unable to disentangle their content from my authorship. The idea that I should be told by a comment writer to show my good faith by denouncing this or that is also unacceptable. This is a forum of opinion, not a political platform; I have neither power nor influence, and have no ambitions in these directions, and never have had. If dissatisfied, go elsewhere!

 

Again, I thank those who have found the posts of interest, and have remained loyal, despite the many (who like me) dislike the daily skirmishes. My hope remains to continue writing on a range of themes, and to invite dialogue pro and con, and in between, hoping to realize occasional moments of illumination, even aspiring to spiritual excess.

 

Let me end by observing that given the Israeli violence against besieged Gaza that has occurred in recent days, continuing the appalling orgy of collective punishment inflicted on the Palestinian people that has followed upon the terrible crime of kidnapping and killing of the three Israeli teenage boys on June 12, it feels almost indulgent to be concerned about blog civility. Yet I feel that harsh incivility in discourse wherever it occurs is not unrelated to the official and unofficial forms of Israeli incitement to violence that is taking place as I write, and that in some ways, the mentalities blend, producing tragic results, especially for those living under the heels of an oppressor.

 

 

Normal
0

false
false
false

EN-US
JA
X-NONE

/* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
{mso-style-name:”Table Normal”;
mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
mso-style-noshow:yes;
mso-style-priority:99;
mso-style-parent:””;
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
mso-para-margin:0in;
mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt;
mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
font-size:12.0pt;
font-family:Cambria;
mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria;
mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;
mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria;
mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}