Tag Archives: blog civility

Fred Skolnik and The Politics of Vilification

6 Jun

[Prefatory Note: I feel somewhat apologetic to blog subscribers. In most respects I realize that I am wasting the time of readers by posting this response to one of my most habitual and vindictive detractors, Fred Skolnik.  I will try to make amends by posting  a more substantive text as soon as possible. I share my defensive response in this setting because it does illustrate the standard operating procedure of dedicated hasbarists, regardless of whether their work reflects personal passion or is done on assignment. Identifying the motivation is not the point. The intention of such tactics is a concerted effort to shift the conversation, to discredit critics and criticism, and to engage in a site of struggle by trying above all to draw attention away from the overriding reality–Israeli responsibility for the extension of the Palestinian ordeal of prolonged suffering.]

 

I would have assumed that someone with Fred Skolnik’s achievements, the principal editor of the widely praised 22-volume Encyclopaedia Judaica, and the author of several favorably reviewed novels, would put his spare time to better use than vilifying an academic critic of  Israel, and even engaging in dirty tricks to invoke market forces to diminish his adversary’s reputation and influence. How wrong I am!

 

It is appropriate that I acknowledge being his target of choice, perhaps his only target, but the recipient of sustained attention by Skolnik, especially in the comment section of my blog of world issues. For several years I tried to reason with Skolnik, virtually pleaded with him to refrain from insults directed at me and others whose views of Israel he found abhorrent, but to no avail. He continued to submit long and frequent comments on complex controversial issues as though he alone possessed the wisdom and knowledge to provide clear answers, which happened to coincide with alt-right Israeli official views. The arrogance and one-sidedness of his comments made it seem hardly worthwhile to respond. The gaps in interpreting the facts and applicable consideration of law and morality were too wide to make dialogue useful. In the end, after wavering and hesitating, I began to block those comments that were either virulently anti-Palestinian or weighed down with nasty personal insinuations that questioned the motives and moral equilibrium of those with whom he disagreed. Skolnik, as with many other ultra Zionists, was quick to play the anti-Semitic card, and even put it more crudely by insinuating that persons like myself harbored sentiments of ‘Jew-hatred.’ An outrageous smear!

 

Not content with mere insults, Skolnik recently took action. He, along with other known Zionist disrupters and enemies of academic freedom, submitted hostile commentary on the Amazon website in the form of a review of my recently published book, Palestine’s Horizon: Towards a Just Peace (Pluto, 2017), awarding the lowest possible rating of a single star. I paste the text of Skolnik’s review below:

 

 How not to create a Palestinian state, May 21, 2017

 

By 

Fred Skolnik

 

This review is from: Palestine’s Horizon: Toward a Just Peace (Paperback)  

“I feel almost inclined to congratulate Prof. Falk for producing a book that is, for him, fairly moderate, that is, does not, as far as I can see, accuse Israel of Nazism, fascism, genocide or apartheid – whether incipient or actual – as he occasionally does in his blog. What he focuses on is how the Palestinians can achieve the aim of self-determination. He judges that the two-state solution won’t work, because the current “moderate” Palestinian leadership is incapable of bringing it about and Israel, in his view, does not wish to. Therefore he is implicitly proposing a one-state solution, namely one in which the State of Israel will cease to exist but the Jews will be allowed to maintain a homeland in a bi-national state where millions of Arabs – descendants of refugees and any other Arab who shows up on its doorstep – will be permitted to settle in the country, thus assuring an Arab majority and turning the Jews into an “ethnic” minority with guaranteed rights.

 

The fact that this proposal, which can only be called crazy in the light of reality, cannot and will not ever bear fruit, and virtually assures the Palestinians another century of suffering if they seek such an outcome, does not daunt Prof. Falk in the least. Given the nearly 1500-year history of Jewish life under Arab rule, it hardly needs to be explained why this will never happen, nor does Israel’s legitimacy as a sovereign state have to be justified. The State of Israel, my friends, is not going to disappear. The only way the Palestinians will get a state of their own is by relinquishing the Big Dream of a great massacre on the shores of the Mediterranean, disavowing terrorism, reconciling themselves to the existence of a sovereign, non-Muslim state in the Middle East, and negotiating a settlement whose basis will be a fair trade-off of land leaving 75% of the settlements within Israel’s final border and involving around 5% of West Bank land – barren hilltops exchanged for barren hilltops from the Palestinian point of view – a limited return of refugees (something like 30-40,000, which coincidentally represents the number of original refugees still alive, but maybe as many as 100,000), and some imaginative solution for Jerusalem. These are the parameters and this is the reality. It’s up to the Palestinians to decide whether they wish to live in dignity or in misery. Prof. Falk is not giving them very good advice.”

 

Actually, the language of the review is more temperate than Skolnik’s typical style, notable for its degrading innuendo and invective, which is only deployed indirectly in this review. When Skolnik falsely writes that my blog posts accuse Israel of “Naziism, fascism, genocide, or apartheid” he is making use of a standard hasbara tactic—claiming that a critic is making far more extreme contentions than is the case so as to be as discrediting as possible. In the list is added “or apartheid,” which indeed has been alleged by me, and is the theme of my co-authored ESCWA report. But why would someone add naziism, fascism, genocide unless you were engaged in a professional hatchet job?  

 

What is also objectionable about the review is that ignores the main arguments of the book, which barely touch on the premature topic of attaining a proper solution, although it does suggest in passing that Israel has deliberately rendered a fair two-state compromise unobtainable due to the settlements and assorted other irreversible encroachments on the Palestinian territorial remnant, which if freed of settlements would still only amount to 22% of the land encompassed by the British mandate. I also believe that the insistence on being ‘a Jewish state,’ so acknowledged by the Palestinian governmental representatives is a claim inconsistent with international human rights standards, with the modern secularist consensus, and with the equality of citizens and nationals subject to sovereign governmental authority. In this sense, to give up that claim of Jewish exclusiveness is a vital precondition with respect to the search for a sustainable and just peace. Unlike what Skolnik contends it is not a call for the destruction of Israel as a state, but for its abandonment of an unacceptable set of practices and policies. When South African dismantled its apartheid structures of control it did not cease to exist as a state. On the contrary, it became a legitimate state! Again Skolnik obscures the real issue by implying that my criticism of Zionist overreaching is a call for the destruction of Israel as a sovereign state.

 

Returning to the review, giving my book the lowest possible rating on the Amazon website is a callous attempt to be hurtful. I have a long list of books published by the most selective of university presses and mainstream publishers. Of course, no one is obliged to agree with the analysis or admire the scholarship, but to translate disagreement into this sort of unfair assessment illustrates what I mean by complaining about ‘the politics of vilification.’

 

Skolnik is active on other fronts as well. After years of seeking to maintain a degree of civility on my blog with respect to commentary on Israel/Palestine by blocking comments that either nurture hate or question the character and motives of those with whom someone disagree. I decided to block Skolnik’s submitted comments altogether having failed to persuade his to accept the guidelines for submission that I have established and seem to have gained the approval of most of those most engaged in discussion. He long abused the comment section by submitting frequent, repetitive dogmatic harangues laced with vitriolic attacks on those he dislikes.  Incidentally, my blog deals with a range of contemporary issues, and only encounters these issues in relation to Israel/Palestine. Also, I should add that I have blocked many submitted comments that strike me as truly anti-Semitic or hateful toward Israel and Zionism.

 

What seems of some interest is that Mr. Skolnik has gone to the trouble of collecting all of his blocked comments, publishing them in a presumably sympathetic Israeli newspaper (Arutz Sheva or Israel National News). I would have expected Skolnik to be ashamed of these comments, but apparently he is sufficiently proud of them to arrange publication. I have not checked to see whether he omitted some of the more inflammatory blocked comments or edited them to create the impression that I am censoring views of pro-Israeli subscribers to the blog, which I am not. I reprint from the newspaper the list, allowing readers, with the degree of fortitude to assess for themselves, whether I am being too restrictive in response to Skolnik’s attempts to have his views presented on this blog site. I would welcome feedback.

 

Below are the comments Skolnik submitted, which were blocked either because of tone, substance, or repetitive character, as published in the Israeli newspaper. I apologize for the formatting that cuts off some words of the text. If someone can help me format in a better way I will adjust the text here as now published. I would call attention to the headline and the lead paragraph that conveys the aggressive sentiments that Skolnik reins in to some extent when he submits his comments. Calling me an Israel-hater and an anti-Semite is defamatory besides being false. 

 

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From the annals of an Israel hater: The Richard Falk files

 

 

From the annals of an Israel hater: The Richard Falk files

An anti-Semite’s true colors are shown as he refuses to post answers to his posts unless they villify Israel even more than he does. This writer kept a record of the the Israel-hater who was, unbelievably, a UN representative to the Middle East.

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Fred Skolnik, 01/06/17 18:33

 

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Fred Skolnik

The writer is Editor-in-Chief of the 22-volume second edition of the Encyclopaedia Judaica, winner of the 2007 Dartmouth Medal and author of The Other Shore (Aqueous Books, 2011), an epic novel depicting Israeli society at a critical juncture in its recent history.

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The following is the “dialogue” that developed between Richard Falk, former UN Human Rights Council Rapporter for Palestine and recent author of a UN report accusing Israel of apartheid, and myself after he published an entry on his blogsite called “Israel’s New Cultural War of Aggression” complaining about the cancelation of his book launches in England because of “strong pushback by Zionist militants threatening disruption.”

Note: Please notice the repeated response to my remarks is: “Your comment is awaiting moderation,”  which is his excuse for not posting them, as indeed he did not, ever.

Fred Skolnik May 5, 2017 at 9:14 am # 

Israel’s efforts to undermine the anti-Israel activities of its declared enemies are no less legitimate than the effort of its enemies to undermine Israel’s economic and academic life, not to mention efforts to bring about its extinction.

Richard FalkMay 5, 2017 at 12:21 pm # 

     

These are not equivalent activities:

–I am expressing views on the basis of academic study, which is in the mainstream of discourse in a democratic society, even if the views are controversial;–BDS activists are protesting by nonviolent [means] what they and most of the world consider to be unlawful and unjust policies and practices.

 

Israel, the US Government, and its militant supporters, are interfering with academic freedom and nonviolent protest activities, by engaging in smear tactics, and even by threatening violent disruption. These two sets of behaviors are in no sense equivalent, and to treat them as if they are, is to be ‘heartless’ and ‘ignorant.’

Fred Skolnik May 5, 2017 at 5:39 pm # 

I beg to differ. You are not acting as an academic but as a polemicist publically active in discrediting and delegitimizing the State of Israel. Israel has every reason to regard you as a hostile individual bent on harming it and acting accordingly. As for militant supporters of Israel, they are no more militant than Israel’s detractors. When people like yourself call for boycotts of Israel, Israel’s supporters are going to call for boycotts of people like yourself. When BDS people disrupt Israeli events, Israel’s supporters are going to disrupt BDS events. What do you expect?

Response: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

Fred Skolnik May 7, 2017 at 12:05 am # 

May I ask you, Prof. Falk, if you are still wondering why you are attacked personally, and if you have the courage to reply, what your response would be if one of these barbaric Hamas terrorists whom you call freedom fighters entered a Jewish home and murdered an entire family, including infants, and then declared: “I had been reading Professor Falk’s blog where he compared us to French and Dutch partisans and asked rhetorically, ‘Can you blame them?’ and ‘What do you expect?’ so I felt fully justified on the highest moral grounds as elucidated by Professor Falk, to murder these miserable Jews.”

What would you say then, Prof, Falk? Or would you just run away if you couldn’t scrape up a winning reply? Yes, I’m challenging you, even if you lack the courage to confront these questions, so that it will be just a little bit harder for you to pretend that you are something other than what you actually are.

Response: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

Richard FalkMay 7, 2017 at 9:00 am # 

Mr. Skolnik:

I have no intention taking the bait of responding to a horrendous terrorist hypothetical, which avoids any considerationof the ethics of resistance. I could pose 100 analogous hypotheticals about the brutalization of the Palestinian people,which would in no way cast light on the ethics of Israel’s security claims. You play games designed to personalize our differences rather than confront the discriminatory and oppressive realities of Israel-Palestine relations. I will not take this bait.

Fred SkolnikMay 7, 2017 at 9:38 am # 

You are not “taking the bait” because you lack the courage to face the implications of your rhetoric or even to post the comment you are responding to,

I, for my part, would take any “bait” you wish to toss into the arena, even “100 analogous hypotheticals,” because I am not afraid to have my views challenged.

Response: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

 

Fred SkolnikMay 7, 2017 at 11:21 am # 

 

Any way you cut it. Prof Falk, the fact remains that you are afraid of me and I am not afraid of you. You are afraid of me because there are so many holes in your thinking, knowledge and understanding and I expose them and you don’t know how to defend them other than by pleading personal insult or going into your empty rhetorical mode. I am not afraid of you because I am prepared to address any issue or allegation on a factual basis. 

To be honest with you, I even think that all these protestations and outcries of yours about the suffering of the Palestinians is just a little bit bogus. It is not really the Palestinians as victims that interests you but Israel (and America) as culprits. I am quite sure that if Israel was an Arab country and the Palestinians were indigenous non-Muslim Sudanese, let us say, and you had the same conflict and the same occupation and the same “ethnic cleansing,” we’d hardly be hearing a peep from you. Isn’t that so?

 

Richard Falk May 7, 2017 at 11:42 am # 

I am convinced, Mr. Skolnik, that you refuse to get my point, and thus respond by your usual tactic of insult. It is time that you stopped worrying about my integrity and motives, and started giving genuine attention to the reality of Israeli responsibility for Palestinian suffering.So long as you brush aside or photoshop this core reality by rationalizing Israeli cruelty as a response to ‘the barbarism’ of the Palestinians or their alleged refusal to make peace, you are engaging in the standard hasbara practice of shifting the conversation to the messengerand avoiding the message. And when you do pause to address the message it is done in such a dogmatic and one-sided manner as to lackany credibility. You seem to be looking in the mirror without seeing yourself.

 

Fred Skolnik May 7, 2017 at 12:51 pm # 

This is precisely what I mean about empty rhetoric. You are just throwing phrases into the air like “Palestinian suffering” and “Israeli responsibility,” which is no different in actual fact from saying “German suffering” and “Allied responsibility.” The Arabs initiated a war against Israel in 1967 and Israel defended itself as any other country would have. And insofar as the West Bank is concerned the specific and undeniably guilty party was Jordan, by Hussein’s own admission. The consequence of this war was the occupation of the West Bank and the consequences of refusing to make peace and choosing terrorism were Israel’s perfectly legitimate security measures, which continue to be in force to this day to the extent that the terrorism continues.

This is admittedly a one-sided representation of events, and that is because there was only one guilty party, but even if my “one-sidedness” were unjustified, you would hardly be the one to complain about it, given your own one-sidedness, so there is a bit of hypocrisy here too,

   

Richard Falk May 7, 2017 at 1:12 pm # 

Until you are able to acknowledge at least that ambiguity surrounds responsibility for the 1967 warwe have no basis for dialogue or conversation. See such knowledgeable accounts as Peeled, Quigley, andmany others. To pretend that it was a simple case of Arab attack and Israeli defense is a falsification of historical complexity. I do not use the sort of dogmatic, either/or language that you rely upon. I can even appreciate your partisanship, but you link it to discrediting what you perceive to be the partisanship of your adversary, and in the process the reality of historical complexity is completely obscured.

   

Fred Skolnik May 7, 2017 at 1:33 pm # 

You seem to be saying that unless someone agrees with your version of events, you have no wish to speak to him. That is of course your right but we are not engaged in negotiations here but in a debate that should be founded on facts and not on opinions. I have laid out the verifiable sequence of events more than once. There is nothing ambiguous about Syria’s shelling of Israeli settlements prior to the war or Nasser’s actions or Hussein’s motives, nor about the thinking of Israel at the military and political levels as reflected in published protocols of internal discussions. I will be more than happy to take up each point with you to try to get at the truth of the matter and maybe such a discussion will have a salutary effect, clarifying in a historically valid way how the 1967 war broke out.

 

Response: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

 

Fred Skolnik May 7, 2017 at 8:05 pm # 

Whether you wish to reply or not, your holding back my last comment, made in the same spirit as the previous comments, both yours and mine, leads me to think that you are acting in extremely bad faith.

   

Richard Falk May 8, 2017 at 7:54 am # 

I you would stop concentrating on my motives, and start addressing my assessments–for example, historical complexity surrounding the 1967 War making your kind of analysis without credibility, given the scholarly literature that you ignore, merely restating your dogmatic one-sided views.

 

Fred Skolnik May 8, 2017 at 8:37 am # 

But that is precisely what I am doing: I am not talking about your motives above but precisely about your assessment. Why are you pretending otherwise? Here is my assessment:

I have laid out the verifiable sequence of events more than once. Again, there is nothing “complex” or “ambiguous” about Syria’s shelling of Israeli settlements prior to the war or Nasser’s actions or Hussein’s motives, nor about the thinking of Israel at the military and political levels as reflected in published protocols of internal discussions. I will be more than happy to take up each point with you to try to get at the truth of the matter and maybe such a discussion will have a salutary effect, clarifying in a historically valid way how the 1967 war broke out. 

“Peled, Quigley” are not scholarly sources. Quigley is a legal expert who is qualified to discuss the issue of preemptive strikes from a legal point of view but not the sequence of events that led to the war.

It seems to me that you are determined to lead the discussion away from demonstrable fact toward the freewheeling realm of “interpretation” and opinion, which is to say from history to polemics. When you try to shift the blame for the 1967 war onto Israel’s shoulders, you disregard the actual sequence of events that led to it. When you try to turn Israel into the aggressor in its war against terrorism, you disregard the specific circumstances of each clash or simply and arbitrarily reverse the actual sequence of events in order to underpin your interpretation of them.

It seems to me that what you really wish to say, though never too explicitly, is that since the creation of the State of Israel was unjust vis-à-vis the Arabs, all-out attacks on it and acts of terrorism are fully justified or understandable or whatever word you wish to use, and that the “solution” to the problem is to eliminate the State of Israel entirely, by flooding it with the descendants of the original refugees and any other Arab who shows up on its doorstep.

But that is not the history and that is not the justification and that is not the solution. At a certain point, even in polemics, reality should intercede, and the simple reality is that Israel is not going to disappear and the Palestinians are not going to get a state until they disavow terrorism and negotiate a settlement. 

Once again, I invite you to present your assessment of events. Start with Jordan, as the occupation of the West Bank is the crux of the matter today. Assess Hussein’s book on the war. That is a primary document. Assess the protocols of Israel’s deliberations before the war. I have given you a link more than once and you have ignored it. That is where you will find the history.

Response: Your comment is awaiting moderation. 

Fred Skolnik May 5, 2017 at 10:01 am # 

I see that this is going to remain between ourselves. Nothing like a little logic to send you scurrying to the panic button. 

You are again being naive to the point of stupidity. When people like yourself call for boycotts of Israel, Israel’s supporters are going to call for boycotts of people like yourself. When BDS people disrupt Israeli events, Israel’s supporters are going to disrupt BDS events. What do you expect?

Your comment is awaiting moderation.

John  May 8, 2017 at 6:50 am # 

Richard,I sat behind you at the Cork Conference and mentioned that I had lived in South Africa during the apartheid era for several years.I said then – and I say again now – that what is happening in Palestine is nothing like what happened in apartheid South Africa. The nationalists there were just as racist and just as supremacist as the Zionists in Palestine but there were far fewer of them.In Israel, we now have a regime largely like the Nazis, with their global thugs engaging in global thuggery at events such as your book launch.Nazi rabble were deployed to shut everyone else up just like the Zionist rabble are now.The means and the methods may have charged but their essential thuggish has not.

How to defeat such thuggery?Well, it may take what it did to defeat the Nazis.That may well be the only way to gain Palestinian freedom.That or a real Civil War in Israel among Israelis – hard as that is to imagine.Even then, it is impossible to predict the outcome as being favourable or otherwise.

Fred SkolnikMay 8, 2017 at 10:47 pm # 

“Largely like the Nazis” means gassing and incinerating millions of people. Is that what you wish to say? And where were you when Arab terrorists were blowing apart Israeli women and children in buses and restaurants?

 

Richard Falk May 9, 2017 at 9:01 am # 

Stop lecturing me on how to administer this blog. You are participating of your own free will. If you so strongly disapprove, why bother? And I must say your approach to ‘historical complexity’ associatedwith the 1967 is, at best, simplistic, as is your dismissal of Quigley, whose archival research is very convincing on the various ambiguities associated with the various phases of that encounter. It is not amatter of avoiding your arguments because they are so well-evidenced and well reasoned, it is a sense that there is no point engaging with such extremist and self-serving constructions of the facts, relevant law,allocation of responsibility, and so forth.

John May 9, 2017 at 6:52 pm # 

What I was referring to was the thuggish behaviour of both the nazis and zionists.Where were you when the zionist thugs murdered thousands of largely innocent Gazans, including hundreds of children?No doubt lounging on a sofa overlooking Gaza and cheering on the bombers.Hasbara thugs like you have no place in decent civilised society.Just crawl back under the sewer cover you normally live under.

Richard Falk May 9, 2017 at 11:42 pm # 

I normally would block this comment as it steps across the civility line by mounting such an intense personal attack, but because you are clarifying an important point and responding to an attack I am making exception. I ask you in the future to limit comments to substantive disagreements.

   

Fred Skolnik May 10, 2017 at 4:08 am # 

Bravo! Yes, that is a clarification all right!

“Largely” like the Nazis means a little more than thuggish behavior.

To tell you the truth, John, I was in a shelter.

Gazans were killed because Hamas fired 4,500 rockets at Israel’s civilian population from in and around schools, playgrounds, hospitals, clinics, mosques and residential buildings and did not even allow its own civilian population to evacuate these areas when Israel warned them of impending attacks via flyers, emails and phone calls..

That is my clarification, Prof. Falk, without John’s sewer covers.

Fred Skolnik May 8, 2017 at 10:51 pm # 

This is a perfect example, Prof. Falk, of the kind of people you attract. Why aren’t you censoring this comment for its “dogmatism” and “one-sidedness,” not to mention its viciousness?

Response: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

Fred Skolnik May 9, 2017 at 9:51 am # 

The ploy of replying to my comments without posting the comments themselves is underhanded to say the least and certainly unworthy of someone who professes academic integrity. Are you really that afraid even to have the comments seen by your readers?

You challenged me and I responded. Calling a view that relies on Hussein’s own explanation of why he attacked Israel simplistic, extreme and self-serving is next to absurd. Your argument in this case, as in the case of Nasser’s actions and declarations, is not with me but with him, so by all means ignore me but do address the following statements made by Hussein:

-Jordan attacked Israel because Egypt misled Hussein by telling him that it had destroyed 75% of the Israeli air force and was advancing toward Tel Aviv and inviting him to join the final war (see Hussein’s book on the war, p. 60ff.).

-Jordan was further deceived when it picked up planes on its radar moving toward Israel and believed they were Egyptian planes, confirming Nasser’s assertions.

-Jordan received Israel’s pledge, communicated via Gen Odd Bull of the UN and the US State Dept., that it would not act against Jordan if Jordan did not act against Israel — “too late” to stop the Jordanian attack.

-And again, tt is absurd to suggest that the idea of grabbing land motivated Israel’s response in a Mapai-dominated political culture in which Begin was thought of as an irrelevant blowhard. The idea of territorial “expansion” was not part of political or public discourse at the time. Published protocols of internal discussions at the military and political level and even the most superficial knowledge of the atmosphere in Israel before the war will give anyone who is interested a clear idea of Israeli thinking at the time.

A writer like Quigley who doesn’t know a word of Hebrew or Arabic is not doing the “archival research” that is necessary to understand the Arab-Israel conflict

All this has nothing whatsoever to do with any extremist or simplistic views or even with me but with historical evidence that you should be prepared to address before advancing your own one-sided and dogmatic views.

When you allow the word Nazi to appear in your blog with reference to Jews and/or Israel and censor a simple clarification of what “largely like the Nazis” really means, you deserve to be lectured. 

I persist in responding to you because you are a public figure publishing in a public forum some of the vilest filth on the Internet with refernce to Jews and Israel

Response: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

As 2016 Begins: A Message on Blog Etiquette

1 Jan

As 2016 Begins: A Message to Blog Comment Writers

 

I want to thank those of you who have written comments, whether critical or complimentary. Their presence gives the blog a dialogic identity that I find valuable. I do my best to listen, and if possible respond, but at timers feel overwhelmed by agreeing to do more than I can manage.

 

I do not welcome comments that framed by invective, comments that seek to insult others with whom they disagree, and exhibit rage and arrogance. Although the blog touches on a wide range of subjects I find that impulse toward defamatory comments is almost exclusively limited to those who seek to support Israel and discredit its critics, questioning their motives, information, and character whether outright or through innuendo.

 

As I have declared previously, I will block in 2016 any further comments that cross lines of courtesy and civility. As we learned in the case of Stephen Salaita, freedom of speech should be protected whether civil or not when it assaults conventional orthodoxies, but I consider this website to have become a kind of digital home where the purpose is to nourish thought, reflection, and even community. From this perspective in a manner parallel to Gresham’s Law ‘bad speech drives out good.’

 

I don’t doubt that are good faith differences as what is bad speech and what is good speech, and do not pretend to be objective, although I try to be fair. I realize that in the past when I have reacted similarly, I have not always followed through consistently, but in the spirit of new year’s resolutions, I will try harder. On the basis of past experience, I know that authors of past defamatory comments will fuss and fume, but I hope others who take time to read my posts will take advantage of what I hope will be a more nurturing atmosphere for conversation. 

 

Also, to avoid wasting anyone’s time do not waste your energy attacking this message intending to establish at the start of the new year guidelines for the future. It is my intention to block uncivil attacks on the sentiments expressed in this message if contrary to the canons of digital etiquette appropriate for this website.

Postscript to Blog Faithful on ‘Civility’

9 Sep

(Prefatory Note: Earlier today I published a post dealing with the case of Steven Salaita, and its bearing on the misuse of civility as a tactic by Zionist forces to deny an academic appointment to a promising young Palestinian-American scholar. It made me rethink my ‘code of conduct’ guideline and controversies that have bedeviled the life of this blog to the extent it has featured discussion of the Israel-Palestine struggle. Steven’s explanation of his conduct, including the posting of anti-Israeli tweets advances important arguments bearing on academic freedom and relating to the use of a private Twitter account is available at <http://mondoweiss.net/2014/09/commitment-teaching-american&gt;)

 

Postscript to Blog Faithful on Civility

 

I have just posted on my blog website a criticism of the use of ‘civility’ to denya faculty appointment to Steven Salaita due to the alleged uncivility of his large number of anti-Israeli tweets. It has made me reflect upon my own reliance on ‘civility’ criteria to block comments that were personally insulting and operated to incite ethnic hatred. I believe that the rules of the road for the blogosphere are different than those that should govern the administration of a university.

 

My reason for blocking these comments was to encourage more reasoned and substantive discourse, and to avoid dwelling on the motivations behind the views being expressed and to exclude argumentation that seemed to deny the fundamental dignity of all ethnicities. In practice I found it difficult to be sufficiently diligent and evenhanded, and have tended several times to decideto allow serious comments to pass through the filter even though they violated my guidelines. Increasingly, I have blocked only the most serious instances of personal insults, usually directed at me although on some occasions at other comment writers, and the clearest instances of submitting material that denigrated an ethnic identity in a wholesale manner.

 

In the course of this experience I have discovered some home truths. Civility to serve positive purposes must be contextualized. In the Salaita context civility is used as a respectable tool of repression. In the blog context civility is a means of setting limits so that the interactive discourse can be more valuable for the blog community. Yet what I have learned is that my own bias in favor of reasoned dialogue as fruitful communication (undoubtedly influenced by Habermas) is not so well adapted to the subject-matter of posts dealing with inflammatory issues that polarize opinions. In this respect, I now believe my original view of the proper tone of debate was too austerely academic, and that there exists a genuine and principled place for the expression of intense emotions, and moral outrage. That it is appropriate to be angry, and to articulate views in such an agitated state of mind. In effect, I learned from Salaita’s tweets that emotional authenticity may be more appropriate than reasoned analysis in some situations.

 

And so I have come to a different temporary and more permissive resting place with respect to my blog’s code of conduct: let a thousand flowers bloom and remove only weeds of personal hostility and group hatred. In such a spirit, comments welcome provided only..