The Weekly Standard’s resident rightist pro-Israel smearmonger, Michael Goldfarb, is at it again. In fact, running through my head is that old pop song (lyrics slightly amended): “Woops, there goes another Goldfarb…” His latest dump is entitled, Another J Street Speaker Engages in “Use and Abuse of Holocaust Imagery.”
One of the bloggers participating in our informal panel at the J Street conference is Helena Cobban. To reiterate something I’ve written here before, our panel is not an offical one, it is not endorsed by J Street, we don’t represent J Street, J Street doesn’t represent us. We are bloggers, not J Street board members or staffers. We represent no one but ourselves and perhaps our readers.
Here is the “substance” of Goldfarb’s charges:
J Street will now be obliged to drop at least one more speaker from their conference — Helena Cobban. On the second day of J Street’s conference, there will be an “independent” blogger panel including Cobban among other “pro-Israel” voices like Max Blumenthal and Philip Weiss. Cobban is prone to her own Holocaust metaphors when talking about Israel. “When you see the Wall, especially the places where it goes anywhere near built-up Palestinian areas and is studded with looming concrete watch-towers, the overwhelming image that might come to your mind, as it does to mine, is that of the fence-and-watchtower system around a concentration camp,” she wrote on her blog in June of this year.
Goldfarb misunderstands many issues in this passage. First, Josh Healy’s poetry reading, which Goldfarb notes was cancelled by J Street, was an OFFICIAL J Street program. Though I personally did not support Healy’s ouster, there is a difference between an offical event and an independent one. Goldfarb’s bad faith is evident when he actually notes that our panel is “independent” yet states that Helena is a “J Street speaker,” which she is not.
Another strike against Cobban, making her deserving of expulsion from our session, is that she equates the violence of Hamas against Israeli targets to the violence of the IDF against Hamas. I kid you not. That’s a hangin’ offense in Goldfarbland. I’d have thought the analogy would be almost self-evident. But apparently where Goldfarb lives Israel’s killing of Hamas leaders is self-defense, while Hamas’ killing of Israelis is terrorism.
Then he asks a disingenuous question which has no backing from anything he’s offered of Cobban’s writing (and in fact explicitly does not represent her real views):
Is it not obvious that Cobban prefers Hamas to Israel?
Only if you’re a twisted, smearmonger like Goldfarb is such a claim “obvious.”
But apparently where Goldfarb lives Israel’s killing of Hamas leaders is self-defense, while Hamas’ killing of Israelis is terrorism.
Not just Goldfarb, but at least 90% of Israeli Jews feel the same way…that explains why Operation Oferet Yetzukah was supported across the Israeli political spectrum. I would suspect (without having the numbers at my side) most American Jews also would agree with me. Not everyone is a post-Modernist who views wars as some sort of tennis game in which both sides have “valid narratives”.
How do you thing the D-Day landings in Normandy would have proceeded had the chaplains among the Allied troops told their men “fellows, remember, the German cause is just as valid as ours is, we simply have different narratives, we are no better than they are, we kill them, the kill us….no difference.”
Richard Silverstein says
Are you claiming that Israel’s cause parallels the Allies and that Hamas’ causes parallels the Nazis? Of course, that’s what you believe and simply knowing that you do tells us automatically to take just about the opposite pt of view as being the more accurate one. That’s just the way yr arguments tend to go.
The world outside of Bar Kochba tends to see Israel’s behavior differently. And while it does not fully agree with Hamas’ behavior, it knows that both sides are guilty of great injustice. That could not be said of the Allied cause during WWII, regarding which there was almost no moral ambivalence.
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William Burns says
My favorite part is where Goldfarb attacks Cobban for the blasphemy of calling Tony Blair a dishonest schmuck.
It seems Goldfarb’s reading of my blog is a bit partial. He says nothing of the really hard decision I made to publicly criticize HRW’s Marc Garlasco for his Holocaust memorabilia-collecting hobby.
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I have never read anything by Michael Goldfarb that I thought was intelligent. His oversimplifications distort current events into a “you’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists” type of straw man argument. The mirror of this false dichotomy, and equally logically fallacious, is the false balance.
Mr. Silverstein seems to think that the belief that “Israel’s killing of Hamas leaders is self-defense, while Hamas’ killing of Israelis is terrorism” is one that shows a failure of moral clarity. In fact, Mr. Silverstein has done what Mr. Goldfarb has done so often; he oversimplified and distorted current events. Mr. Silverstein thinks that speaking of “Israeli killing” of mass murderers and “Hamas killing” of civilian children is comparing apples to apples. It is not.
Richard Silverstein says
WhatEVER are you talking about? Israel killed 300 Gazan children during Cast Lead. Are you arguing they too were mass murderers?
Mr. Silverstein wrote, “But apparently where Goldfarb lives Israel’s killing of Hamas leaders is self-defense, while Hamas’ killing of Israelis is terrorism.”
I was referring to the same “Hamas leaders” Mr. Silverstein was referring to when I wrote about “‘Israeli killing’ of mass murderers.” Mr. Silverstein is playing a shell game with me, but the hands are not quicker than the eye.
Richard Silverstein says
But the problem is that when the IDF liquidates those supposed mass murderers it also murders innocent civilians, in their hundreds over the years. Which is what makes the Goldstone Report such a powerful & persuasive document. I’d say it’s you who’s attempting a moral shell game, not I.
Oh, & not to mention that IDF provides no judicial process by which to judge those “mass murderers” before it kills them. But I suppose you believe that since Hamas & Al Qaeda are no more different than the ltrs. in their names, that legal proof of guilt is a mere formality.
I’m not interested in going through the motions of this argument. First you say children were killed, then I’ll say Hamas deliberately fires rockets from kindergartens, blending with civilians and deliberately putting them in harms way. Then you’ll say the IDF could have done more to protect civilian life, to which I’ll quote the captain who spoke to the UN who said that the IDF has done more to protect civilian life than any other army in the history of warfare. Then you’ll quote some anti-Semite and round and round we’ll go. I’m NOT interested.
As for the shell game, let’s uncover the shells, shall we?
1. “But apparently where Goldfarb lives Israel’s killing of Hamas leaders is self-defense, while Hamas’ killing of Israelis is terrorism.” – Silverstein equates HAMAS LEADERS (not Palestinian civilian children) deaths at the hands of Israelis to Israeli civilians’ deaths at the hands of Hamas.
2. “Mr. Silverstein thinks that speaking of ‘Israeli killing’ of mass murderers and ‘Hamas killing’ of civilian children is comparing apples to apples.” – I accuse Silverstein of false balance in the comparison.
3. “Israel killed 300 Gazan children during Cast Lead. Are you arguing they too were mass murderers?” – Silverstein interprets his own argument in #1 as though he was talking about civilian children the whole time even though he specifically denoted “HAMAS LEADERS.”
4. “I was referring to the same ‘Hamas leaders’ Mr. Silverstein was referring to when I wrote about ‘Israeli killing’ of mass murderers.'” – I call Silverstein on his shell game.
5. “I’d say it’s you who’s attempting a moral shell game, not I.” – Silverstein refuses to acknowledge his error in logic and gives me a response to the effect of “I know you are but what am I.” I’m sorry, but I’m not as familiar with the Pee-Wee Herman School of Discourse is not one I subscribe to.
Richard Silverstein says
Then why are you here?
Goldstone documents multiple incidents in which Gaza civilians were killed with absolutely no Hamas fighters in the vicinity. Goldstone correctly labels this likely war crimes. Yet you obfuscate the issues.
Here is the original statement from Helena Cobban which Goldfarb quoted & objected to:
In my paraphrase of this quotation, I referred to the killing of ‘Hamas leaders’ when to any reasonable person it would be clear that I was not objecting just to the killing of these. You have but to read the scores of posts I’ve written about Operation Cast Lead to see that I object to all the killing of Cast Lead, not just one particular category.
Yes, I’ve seen the British officer’s statement at various pro Israel hasbara sites. Congratulations, you’re excellent at picking up hasbara sources. Since when does a British army colonel know anything about how Cast Lead was conducted more than you or I do? Was he there? Did the IDF give him some privileged documents allowing him to draw such conclusions?
I don’t quote anti-Semites. And I deeply resent yr snark. READ MY COMMENT RULES. Violate them again & your privileges will be restricted.
The IDF did not just kill “Hamas leaders.” It killed 1,400 Gazans of whom 1,100 were civilians including 300 children.
Thank you for clarifying your statement. I had not realized that when you equated the deaths of “Hamas leaders” at the hands of IDF with the deaths of Israeli civilians, you were also referring to “all the killing of Cast Lead, not just one particular category.” Gee, I wonder how I could have missed that from my initial reading of your blog entry.
I must respectfully disagree with you however. I believe that “Hamas leaders” is more than “just one particular category” of people who died in Cast Lead. They were, in fact, the primary targets of Cast Lead. Yes, civilians died, and yes, it is always a tragedy when civilians die in a war, even a war in which one side uses its civilian population as human shields. The question is, whether the deliberate targeting of civilians is morally equivalent to collateral damage in warfare in densely populated areas? I say it isn’t, but I’m no human rights expert.
Now its your turn write back, “Goldstone is a human rights expert and he says X” to which I’ll write “Well, Robert Bernstein is a human rights expert and he says Y.” And round and round it will go again. If you want to talk, let’s talk, but I really am not interested in having a debate with you consisting of nothing but arguments from authorities. They’re tiring, unoriginal, and most likely, neither of us will accept each others’ authorities as legitimate.
Richard Silverstein says
Look, you & the IDF can shout till the cows come home that the goal of Cast Lead was to root out the Hamas leadership. I think this is disingenuous. But even more decisive is that this simply wasn’t what happened. Hamas leaders, with 1 or 2 prominent exceptions, suffered barely a scratch. And I repeat, those who suffered most were the civilians, not the alleged “target.”
I hear those hasbara strings playing your tune…
More hasbara. Actually, Goldstone diligently attempted to verify this claim that Hamas did this and could find no support for it. And that’s after really examining the issue & trying to find legitimate evidence. The same false claim was made of Hezbollah. Once the hasbara machine grabs hold of a meme it never lets go even if the meme is utterly false.
The IDF on the other hand has often forced Palestinian civilians to be human shields in its forays into Palestinian villages in the hunt for suspects. And these acts are documented on video in a number of cases including one in which a teenager was tied to the roof of an Israeli jeep. And yes, there are photos & video to prove that as well.
That puts you in the company of pro Israel pro torture apologists like Alan Dershowitz & Bibi Netanyahu who argue that Israel deserves special dispensation fr. the laws of war. You’re welcome to him. But really there is NO support among those working in the field of international law for changing the rules in the way you suggest.
You have a small problem. Richard Goldstone is actually a jurist and eminent authority on international law who spent months actually investigating the Gaza war. Robert Bernstein is a publishing executive who founded Human Rights Watch and who is no longer affilated with it & indeed opposes its current leadership’s pursuit of the crimes of BOTH SIDES in this conflict. He advances the thesis that because Israel is a democracy it should not be investigated for human rights abuses as say, Hamas should since it clearly is not a democracy (oops, it did win a democratic election). Robert Bernstein did not investigate Operation Cast Lead. He did not visit Gaza nor interview victims on either side. He wrote an op ed for the NY Times from the comfort of his NYC coop apartment or posh office at Random House. The differences in the situation in which these two individuals are situated is quite extreme.
I will accept arguments from opponents that are well-reasoned. Yours aren’t. I commend you for trying, but you’re simply not providing strong evidence for yr side (except in yr own mind).
As you seem to know all of the arguments in favor of Israel’s right to defend itself, including, I assume, concrete video evidence and intelligence reports taken by the IDF and other Israeli organizations, I will not waste your time by repeating them here. Clearly, you have rejected most or all of them as illegitimate. If you are of the opinion that any evidence/argument that supports Israel’s counter-terrorism policy is “hasbara” (and thus, illegitimate), then you and I have nothing more to speak about. If, however, you prefer toward peace rather than against “habara,” then comparisons of Hamas leaders to Israeli civilian casualties is probably unhelpful. As somebody who wishes for peace, I ask that you refrain from such comparisons in the future. Thanks in advance.
Richard Silverstein says
The first rule about debate is to know the views of yr opponent. You don’t know my views. I don’t oppose Israel’s right to defend itself from a legitimate threat and using legitimate means. I didn’t oppose the IDEA that Israel had a right to respond to the kidnappings that led to the Lebanon war (I just opposed the levelling of Lebanon as a proper response), nor do I quarrel w. the right of Israel to respond to or prevent terror attacks. The problem is that Israel has only provoked terror when it has had every opportunity to prevent it.
The history of Cast Lead & the events leading up to it show Israel did not face an existential threat and used vastly disproportional means to address it. This blog and comment threads have gone over this ground countless times so if you’re interested in getting into the subject again, we’re not going there. Thousands of words have already been penned here by me, those who agree w. my view & those who don’t. You can’t possibly add any argument that hasn’t already been stated.
That’s a phrase Bibi Netanyahu uses as well. It’s about as unconvincing coming fr. him as fr. you. Saying you wish for peace means about as much as saying you’re for motherhood and apple pie.
I suppose the sorority girl in the sexy outfit had it coming to her when she was raped at the party. She “had every opportunity” not to come to the party. Furthermore, she didn’t have to “provoke” the rapist by wearing a sexy outfit.
I’m sorry I haven’t convinced you that I am in favor of peace and not using empty words. If it is any consolation, I’m unconvinced that you support Israel’s right to defend itself and not using empty words.
Richard Silverstein says
Oh that is pathetic. Israel had a ceasefire in Gaza which it violated by bombing a tunnel & killing several Gazans in the process. There were no rockets during that portion of the ceasefire. After this gross violation, the rockets began & Hamas notified Israel the ceasefire was over.
I have explained & proven my claim to support Israel’s right to defend itself & I’ve written this repeatedly here. You’ve expressed empty words & not backed them up in any way shape or form such that one can see how those words can actually lead to real peace. My readers will have to judge which of us is more credible.
One thing I’m glad we do agree on is that blaming the victim is “pathetic” both in cases of rape and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Your readers will have to judge whether Hamas terrorists ought to be considered victims when they are killed while in a tunnel used to smuggle weapons for the purpose of murdering Israeli civilians.
Richard Silverstein says
Israel CLAIMED it had killed weapons smugglers w/o providing a whit of proof that this was the case. Do you have proof that the tunnels they bombed & those killed were smuggling weapons and not the myriad other supplies which must be smuggled into the enclave to overcome the Israeli siege? The comment rules of this site insist that if you make a claim like the one you’re making that you accompany it w. proof or it will not be considered credible. So there you have it. More empty claims. If Israel had specific proof that these were weapons smugglers they would’ve offered it, yet they didn’t.
Firstly, I am not familiar with the specific indecent you are speaking about. For all I know, you might be right. I’m not interested in listing a blow by blow account of every minor indecent in which Israel did something questionable vs. when Hamas did something explicitly to harm civilians (either Israeli or Palestinian).
Secondly, what you said before “that Israel has only provoked terror when it has had every opportunity to prevent it.” I criticized you for blaming the victim. You answered my criticism by telling me of a minor indecent involving the bombing of a tunnel used for smuggling, as if to say that this indecent “provoked” all the terrorism that followed. Do the comment rules of this site say as much about credible arguments as it does about credible claims?
Richard Silverstein says
Interesting. When you allege w/o proof that Hamas uses civilian shields then it’s a major issue. But when Israel actually does the same thing and there is proof of it, then it’s a “minor incident.” YOu sound about as fair & balanced as FoxNews.
The Israeli bombing of the smuggling tunnel killing 6 smugglers provoked Palestinian militant retaliation in the form of rocket fire against Israel. This in turn led to Hamas refusing to renew the ceasefire. Haaretz reports at the time said that the tunnel attack was actually a ploy by Israel to get Hamas to retaliate, destroy the ceasefire so Israel could take the action it eventually ended up taking: invading Gaza. The tunnel attack & subsequent retaliation is not a “claim.” It is a fact. An inconvenient one for you, but a fact nevertheless.
Let’s say I were to stipulate that this was a major incident in the 100 year history of the Arab-Israeli conflict (I don’t, but let’s say that I did). Let’s say that the killing of the 6 smugglers was on the same level as Deir Yassin i.e. an incident in which Israel’s guilt was without question and it left a lasting impression on the Palestinian narrative for decades. Only a fool would accept that this smuggling thing was on the same level as the Deir Yassin, but as you insist that this is a major incident, let’s pretend for a minute.
I hope that you agree with me that while Deir Yassin was a monstrous crime, it does not excuse all Palestinian terrorism that came before it nor does it “provoke” all Palestinian terrorism that followed it. I also hope that you would regard this incident involving the smugglers, which is infinitely more minor than Deir Yassin, similarly.
But we are getting off topic. All I asked was for you to not compare “Hamas leaders” with Israeli civilians, as you did in your blog post. You seem reluctant to admit that it was a false comparison. Fine. Go ahead and write a book. I’m sure it will sell well even if it gets panned by every major newspaper and expert on the subject.