Tag Archives: blog ethics

Once More: Blog Gatekeeping Dilemmas

22 May

 

 

Whenever Palestinian grievances become prominent, as they have recently due to the U.S. embassy move and defiant opening in Jerusalem, which coincided in time and outrage with the massacre at the Gaza border, Zionist nerves grow frayed, insults fly, and nasty moves are made to shift the conversation as far away from both the grievances and Israeli brutality as possible. In the humble setting of my blog apologists for Israel’s war crimes and crimes against humanity invite us to read their comments that blame Hamas for the shooting of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators. Since Hamas, as everyone knows, is ‘a terrorist organization’ and that alone is supposed to end discussion. Of course, such tactics of closure take no notice of the fact that Hamas was encouraged by Washington to participate in the 2006 elections by Washington, and then was punished for winning internationally supervised elections.

 

After that Hamas quietly tried to urge Washington to take steps to avoid violence in and surrounding Gaza by diplomatic initiatives that would promote co-existence. Hamas put forward in subsequent years a number of long-term ceasefire proposals that Israel left unanswered. If Hamas ignored comparable Israeli initiatives it would be severely denigrated by governments and the media. When violence involving Gaza has erupted, it has usually been Israel that has not only initiated major attacks, but has done so in a one-sided manner inflicting massive death and devastation on the Palestinian civilian population by taking full advantage of their military dominance. For Israel it has obviously been useful to keep Hamas in a terrorist box, which has kept a bright green light shining in the IDF direction.

 

The second argument made by Israeli apologists is to contend that every country has a right to defend itself, and when Israel repeatedly shoots, kills, and maims large numbers of unarmed demonstrators with live ammunition it is within its rights–acting in lawful self-defense. Such an abstract argument is only possible by either ignoring the true nature of the conflict or pretending that Israel, with its vast experience in controlling hostile demonstrations, has no alternative better way to address these unruly Palestinians who have been locked in captivity for decades and denied the most elemental human rights. Such a line of argument should be shameful, yet isn’t treated as such by mainstream media. Imagine the public outcry if East German border guards has used IDF sniper tactics at the Berlin Wall to repel enraged West German demonstrators (with far less justification for desperate anger than the Palestinians), it could have meant war, and certainly would have produced widespread denunciations of Communist barbarism.

 

With reluctance I have blocked such comments, as unhelpfully detached from reality. My actions have elicited especially the anger of Fred Skolnik, Mike71, and some others who have left the website. Fred and Mike have been more persistent, hiding their contempt for me long enough from time to time so as to regain temporary access to the blog, pleading free speech and with comedic absurdity, claiming that I block or filter their comments because I fear that the truth that they have to tell will expose the lies I tell or to avoid their arguments that are so convincing to the objective mind as to make mincemeat of mine.

 

There are some well funded major websites that serve loyally as strident voices for the Zionist right, such as Gatestone Institute, a regular outlet for Alan Dershowitz, and the Middle East Forum, featuring the views of Daniel Pipes. These websites would no more dream of publishing my comments than would Nikki Haley invite me over for dinner. I should point out, in a burst of liberal self-righteousness, that I have also mostly excluded comments that do express extreme anti-Zionist, anti-Israel views that appear to me to cross the line of political criticism and enter with their language the domain of ‘killing fields.’ Exactly where that line should be drawn is not easy for me, although it is obvious for my critics who claim I am easy on those that hate Israel while harsh on its defenders. I can only respond by saying “not true.”

 

It is never congenial for me to play this filtering role. I would make a terrible censor. I waver from time to time, which lead to inconsistent decisions, and sometimes disappoint friends as much as other times I anger my worst adversaries. My liberal, Habermasian inclinations are toward discourse and dialogue, and I am aware that restrictions, even if taken responsibly are a slippery slope. I confess also that I resent spending time reaching decisions about whether comments that stray close to the line of what I would call ‘inhumane apologetics’ (as in defending Israel’s shoot to kill or maim policies at the Gaza border) or involve defamatory attacks on my character, competence, motivations. Except in the most extreme cases it strikes me as a Hobson’s Choice: respond and futile engage or ignore and leave behind a trail of suspicion.  This same dilemma applies to invective directed at comment writers that express views similar to mine.

 

I know I have written along these lines in the past, dueling with my frustration, with some anger, and the debilitating feeling of being trapped in a fruitless exercise, and yet when the volume of blocked comments pile up from time to time, silence does not seem a good option. I am tempted at such intervals to stop comments altogether, thereby sidestepping the issue. I have so far resisted this temptation because despite some acute discomfort, on balance, I find most of the comments supportive and of great interest, containing independent insights, and offering constructive criticisms that I do my best to take into account in the future.

 

 

 

There is no conversation possible, especially as those who disagree are branded as showing their alleged hatred for Israel. As the principal target of such defamatory comments, I am particularly sensitive to the issue.

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A 2018 Message to Blog Readers

1 Feb

 

 Let me seize the opportunity to say to all who visit this space that I hope that 2018 started as you would wish, at least privately. To feel satisfied publicly these days will require a series of miracles!

 

I am grateful to the community of blog readers, and especially to those whoshare their responses and reflections by way of comments. I have welcomed constructive challenges, including corrections, criticisms, disagreements, and realize that some of the themes addressed by my posts touch raw nerves.

 

I have struggled over the life of the blog to satisfy my wish to have the comments section serve as an open forum for a constructive interactive exchange of views. My main concern, aside from accommodating this wish, is to avoid having argumentative and abusive comments that seem motivated by hostility and a confrontational approach that seems disinterested in the give and take of conversation and dialogue. To a lesser extent, I am reluctant to approve comments that seem to be irrelevant to the discussion or that I find incoherent.

 

As some faithful followers of the blog have made clear in their comments or by private communication, approving such angry and insulting comments, creates a tone for the blog that discourages rather than facilitates the underlying hope to create a space for genuine communication.

 

Caught between these contradictory impulses of openness and civility, I have wavered since the blog began, sometimes leaning toward allowing almost all comments to be posted even if containing personal attacks and insults directed at me and others, hatred toward ethnicities and religions, and over the course of weeks blocking many comments with the goal of enhancing the quality of the discussion. Of course, those whose comments are blocked become even angrier and abusive, resorting to character assault, obscenity, and prejudice. I have had difficulty in finding solid middle ground, and maybe I am seeking what does not exist!

 

Much, but not all, of these difficulties arise in the context of Israel/Palestine. I do not deny that my involvement with these issues occasions controversy, but to question my competence as a scholar or integrity as a commentator is beyond the boundaries of the blog code I wish to affirm. As I have indicated in the past, for those who strongly question my credentials or character have a variety of other venues that would welcome such attacks.

 

In the end, without making this message needlessly ambivalent and confusing,  I will continue my struggle to walk this tightrope between freedom of expression and civility. I invite help from blog readers. It is not a simple matter. I acknowledge that there are times when uncivil rage is the appropriate response. I suppose I am addressing the broader question of setting standards for netizenship, which may become one dimension of a more globally oriented democratic ethos that stresses participation from below rather than leadership from above and electoral rituals.

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.

Restoring Civil Discourse Relating to Palestine-Israel

22 Aug

To Blog visitors:

 

During the grim events of the past few weeks taking place in Gaza, and more generally in Israel/Palestine, I have not blocked comments even if they crossed the lines of personal insult and group vitriol that I feel justified in excluding from the discourse.

 

I have been particularly disturbed by the frequent long comments written by strong proponents of Israel’s behavior who constantly refer to me and otherswith such inflammatory and defamatory language as ‘Jew haters’ and the like.

Also expressions of ethnic hatred, or personal challenges that are written as it to demand me to denounce the behavior of Hamas are not acceptable, and will be blocked, although during travels I may not be a very efficient monitor. To point only to the alleged crimes of a political leadership that is bearing the brunt of a sustained attacks killing, and wounding thousands of innocent Gazans and terrorizing the rest is also not acceptable on this blog site. Go elsewhere if you wish to spew such incitement and hatred.

 

I hope most readers of the blog comments section are aware that I take these steps reluctantly as I think the subject-matter that elicits these comments deserves sensitive and diverse expressions of viewpoints, and I have strong bias toward free expression. I also appreciate that feelings and emotional commentary are an indispensable dimension of communication, and should not be excluded even from political discourse. At the same time, minimum standards of civility are needed to frame comments in a constructive spirit of dialogue, and thereby  avoid tendencies to hurl hurtful insults back and forth.

 

Perhaps, this recurring difficulty of maintaining civility is a symptom of an  irreconcilable conflict. I do not encounter anything comparable when addressing other issues.

 

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.

 

 

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