What Spencer Ackerman doesn’t know about the pro-Israel crowd would fill a reservoir the size of Central Park. He’s taken to the neocon funded Tablet (“Tabloid”) Magazine to propound his critique of progressive Jewish rhetoric in the debate over the nature of Israel. And he’s done so using terms that are in themselves both instructive, and insulting. Here’s how he begins his rhetorical primer:
At the risk of sounding like the shtetl police, there’s a right way and a wrong way for American Jews to argue with one another.
He has it precisely right. He does sound like a Zionist cheyder teacher wagging his fingers at his recalcitrant students who balk at reciting their alef-bays. But no, he has it precisely wrong when he attempts to lay out the “right” and “wrong” way for Jews to argue. I would concede that there are certain terms that are not just offensive, but impermissible in such arguments. Scatology, threats of violence, Nazi references–all are treif whether coming from the left or right. And I’ve censored, moderated and banned comments here on both sides of this debate.
But “Israel Firster?” C’mon. Though this isn’t a term I use commonly, I find nothing wrong with it generally. While in strict terms it denotes someone who places Israel’s interests above U.S. interests, that isn’t precisely what the pro-Israel right does in its own mind. While to a reasonable outside observer it does appear that this is what they are doing, in their own minds the interests of Israel and the U.S. are the same. So they don’t feel they’re weighing one above the other. However, in objective terms they are. Because in objective terms two separate nations must have separate interests unless one is a puppet or satellite of the other. So I feel that the notion that Israel and America have the same interests is noxious and deluded. That’s why I don’t have a problem with Israel Firster.
I’ve displayed the disgusting graphic that accompanies Ackerman’s piece which implies that those who use the term “Israel Firster” are doing Hitler’s work. Isn’t this precisely what Ackerman is decrying? The abuse of overwrought Holocaust memes to discredit the real ideas of our enemies? So what’s worse: Israel Firster or invoking the Holocaust where it doesn’t belong? Spencer Ackerman and Tabloid’s editors are hypocrites. Total friggin’ hypocrites.
Further, having a debate about the use of this term is a total waste of time. It’s a distraction. One that the pro-Israel right is happy to have us get bogged down in. So Spencer Ackerman is doing a toivah for Josh Block, Eli Lake and all his friends. To confirm this, you have only to note that a second article on virtually the same subject is published by necon smearmonger, Lee Smith, in Tabloid. Mazel tov, Ackerman, you’re up in lights right next to the ideological equivalent of Josh Block (if not Meir Kahane).
There seems to an explicit or implicit assumption that whether left or right, we’re all Jewish brothers (and sisters, though he seems not to acknowledge any women are part of this debate):
…Our cousins on the Jewish right.
If we’re all cousins, then the implication seems to be that there are tribal rhetorical boundaries that may not be crossed. I don’t relish this call to blood as a governing principle in political debate.
Sure, Josh Block, Eli Lake and the pro-Israel brigade are fellow-Jews, but what do I owe them because of that? Very little. Why? Because if their bellicose views lead to, or defend Israeli wars against Palestinians or even worse, Iranians, they will be getting Israelis killed. Even worse, they will be undermining Israel’s long-term interests and endangering it’s survival. What’s more important? Obeying Spencer Ackerman’s parochial rules forbidding nasty phrases against fellow Jews or ensuring Israel survives through this century?
Make no mistake, this isn’t an inside the Beltway or intramural Republican-Democratic debate about health care reform or TARP. This is life and death. In such circumstances, I don’t have the luxury of conceding the essential goodness of my adversary by virtue of our common ethnic-religious origin.
I don’t have a problem with another criticism levelled by Ackerman against Max Blumenthal for calling Jeff Goldberg a “former Israeli prison guard.” The only change I would’ve made is to call him an “Israeli-American” prison guard. After all, Goldberg not only served in the IDF, he wrote about it proudly, making money off the connection. Why not focus on this aspect of Goldberg’s past when assessing his bona fides to address U.S. interests regarding Israel policy? It is entirely appropriate to examine people’s past associations in determining their current views, as long as we are honest in characterizing what those past associations were (which the right almost never does).
Another thing that bugs the shit out of me about Ackerman’s piece is the finger in the eye he offers Jewish leftists by sprinkling his essay liberally with the term “Jewish state,” as if this was an entirely appropriate lexical substitute for Israel. In this, he’s marking himself not as a Jewish leftist or progressive on the question of Israel, but rather as a liberal Zionist. What the world doesn’t need more of is liberal Zionists. This is not just a discredited and irrelevant brand, it no longer even resonates inside Israeli politics where liberalism died a slow and painful death about the time Shimon Peres prostituted himself by abandoning Labor and joining pal, Ariel Sharon in Kadima.
Israel is not the Jewish state. It is a state that includes Jews and non-Jews. It is a state for its Jewish citizens and a state for its Palestinian citizens (I’m not including West Bank Palestinians in this concept). Not a bi-national state. But a unitary state that includes two ethnic groups who deserve equal rights according to democratic principles (one citizen, one vote). To subsume all Israelis under the term “Jewish state” does a grave disservice to not just Israel’s non-Jewish citizens, but Israeli democracy. Spencer Ackerman either doesn’t believe in a real Israeli democracy or he simply doesn’t understand the implications of his words. That isn’t surprising for a liberal Zionist like himself who writes far more often about other issues than Jewish, Israeli or Zionist politics. On this subject he’s simply out of his depth.
Spencer Ackerman is a full-blooded progressive on domestic and even many foreign policy issues to his many fans. But that doesn’t translate to the I-P conflict. Many a good progressive lapses into liberal Zionist clichés when they switch to the I-P conflict. It’s as if their brain and their principles contract. A certain mental and political circling of the wagons occurs. Instead of thinking in bold, broad strokes about the big issues, they retreat in fear.
To understand the true nature of Ackerman’s allegiances you only have to note that he calls Eli Lake “my good friend.” Eli Lake is an intellectual/political fake. A total shill for Israel and its military-intelligence apparatus. Anyone, whether progressive or otherwise who admires this dude is a dud.
Dr.Bill Friend says
Unfortunately, Israel is the Jewish state (something I too deplore) because that is how it defines itself. It defined itself this way in the Declaration of Establishment of the State of Israel, and it defined itself this way by virtue of several of its basic (Constitutional) laws. These basic laws include The Right of Return Law, and the The State of Israel/Jewish Agency(Status) Law among others.
The problem with Israel has always been that it views itself as the supranational state for Jews all over the world and NOT a normal state for ALL of its citizens and residents within its (still undefined) borders. That is precisely why it is a Zionist entity and not a normal country.
The begining of the solution to this long standing problem is for Israel to de-zionise and become a state for all of its citizens and to cease considering itself a suprantional state for Jews all over the world.
Note that I deliberately leave out the definite article “the” when saying Jews. There is no such thing as THE Jews, there are only Jews. There is no such singular corporate entity as “The Jews”, and that was hashed out a long time ago when both Rabbi Elmer Berger and the international lawyer, W.T. Mallison Jr. successfully petitioned the US State Dept. in that regard.
Dr. Bill Friend
Wicher Timmerman says
Hello Bill and Richard,
I Just read Shlomo Sand’s very comprehensive book “The Ivention of the Jewish people. So what about “the Jewish State”!
Bob Mann says
In a recent post, you wrote:
“I have a strong suspicion that there is no ethnic solidarity for Adelson when it comes to Jews who “betray their class” as Alinsky did. Which would only prove that Adelson doesn’t love all Jews, but only those on the far right like his other political pal, Bibi Netanyahu. Adelson would explicitly reject the well-known dictum, kol yisrael erayvim zeh ba-zeh (“All Israel is bound up on in the other”). The Las Vegas gambling magnate doesn’t embrace all Jews, only the right ones”
Here you have written:
“There seems to an explicit or implicit assumption that whether left or right, we’re all Jewish brothers…If we’re all cousins, then the implication seems to be that there are tribal rhetorical boundaries that may not be crossed. I don’t relish this call to blood as a governing principle in political debate.”
These remarks seem to contradict one another. Do you support the famous dictum “kol yisrael erayvim zeh ba-zeh” or do you reject it (like you say Adelson would)?
Richard Silverstein says
As usual, you didn’t read what I wrote carefully enough. Of course we’re all Jews. But I refuse to be cowed by the claim that because we are, we can’t call another Jew an Israel Firster. That’s where I draw the line at abusing the blood privilege for political purposes.
The far right has called me a “Jew by birth” or “genetically Jewish,” as if a real Jew couldn’t possibly hold the views I do. That rhetoric is actually anti Jewish since it violates not just common sense but halacha (Jews can’t be excommunicated because they hold a particular view–though Brian of London did call for me to be excommuncated by use of firearm–he too is an am haaretz). And when a fellow Jew holds views that will actually get thousands of Israelis (and others) killed, well then all bets are off. These right wingers may be Jews but I owe them nothing by dint of our common birth. Though as I said I would never abuse terms like Nazi to smear them, unless they held views that were patently Nazi-like (David Yerushalmi is an example of someone I have called a Jewish fascist, because he is one).
And if you can’t see the difference in rhetoric between what I call right wingers & what the worst of them call me, then you’re not reading very clearly. I can post a few of the choicer morsels to you privately if you promise to wear a rain slicker & take a shower afterwards.
Bob Mann says
Yes, you are correct – I misunderstood what you were saying.
I thank you for your explanation.
No further morsels are necessary!
Richard Silverstein says
Sorry for the gratuitous insult. It wasn’t necessary on my part. Just getting a bit testy I’m afraid.
Although this might be off-point as regards Spencer Ackerman, I want to refer to the lead article in the New York Times Magazine by Ronen Bergman. In this piece we read a supposedly well balanced, scholarly presentation concerning Israel vis à vis Iran. I know nothing about Ronen Bergman – neocon warrior in disguise or truly a sane, anti-war academic? However, whenever The NY Times produces a major “investigative” story involving war and/or peace, I grow thoroughly skeptical and instantly nervous. I remember too well the non-vetted (or was it so “non”?) Judith Miller and Iraq. To be quite subjective, I must believe that Bergman’s major piece does not preface anything good.
To continue this of a bit off-point “investigative” articles. The story would be simply hilarious if the goal of that propaganda would not be so deadly.
Turkey stopped a couple of truckloads (3) of sodium sulfate on route from Iran to Syria. The original story was in a Turkish daily Taraf. The Israeli English press (and most probably the Hebrew press) at once made a connection to chemical weapons and missiles.
Besides the Israelis nobody else seem have picked this astonishing story, despite it was offered to them on “a silver plate” through the Israeli English press.
Sodium sulphate is a widely used industrial chemical. The largest use of sodium sulphate is as filler in powdered home laundry detergents. It is also used in the glass industry, making pulp and textiles. A very widely used industrial chemical.
Either Israeli newspapers reporters do not have the minimum needed skills and intellect to check and analyze facts or they are commanded/paid to spread these kind of absurd propaganda. Using sodium sulphate for chemical weapon missiles – come-on.
Also off topic, but I’m writing a letter to the NYT public editor about that Bergman article. Not that it will likely do much good, but at least it lets them know some of us see the biases. I think it’s informative, but has problems. One of the problems with the Bergman piece is the misleading history of the Israeli attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981. Bergman makes it sound like Israel had no choice and launched the raid in the nick of time. But according to Richard Wilson, a nuclear physicist at Harvard, the reactor at Osirak wasn’t capable of being used to produce plutonium. It couldn’t have been part of a weapons program.
On the Ackerman article, our host here nails it.
Here’s a link to Richard Wilson’s piece on the Osirak reactor.
I’m trying to reply my piece above, which was intended to be a reply to weindeb, but the reply button doesn’t seem to work.
Thanks for that link to a very well stated and referenced piece. Of course, when one confronts ideological bias of whatever persuasion, one also ever confronts, at least via implication, that timeless mantra: “Don’t confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up.”
It’s the big lie technique. In Bergman’s case I don’t know if he knows that the Iraqi reactor couldn’t make plutonium, but if not, it’s because he just buys into the narrative, not something a journalist is supposed to do (if journalism were something other than propaganda, that is.)
This kind of “reporting” happens all the time. It’s insidious–in an article about the debate within the Israeli government about whether to attack Iran, Bergman inserts as historical background the “fact” that Israel attacked Iraq for the same reason and just in the nick of time thirty years ago.
Bob Mann says
With respect to the term “Israel Fister” – I would note that you were very critical of a politician’s use of the phrase “Never Again” with respect to the Holocaust due to what you stated to be the connection between that phrase and Meir Kahane. Thus, the pedigree of the term itself was significant.
This seems similar to what the author here is pointing out about the term “Israel Firster” – it is a term that is associated with and was popularized by David Duke and other like-minded racists and anti-semites. Thus, the pedigree is significant, and the use of the term therefore ought to be avoided.
Would you agree that those arguments are similar?
Also, you wrote here that Ackerman had been “sprinkling his essay liberally” with the term “Jewish state” when in reality he only used that phrase twice in the entire article.
Deïr Yassin says
I’m pretty sure Sheldon Adelson is a racist, but I’m not sure he’s an anti-semite…., and still, he’s clearly saying in this video that he’s an “Israeli-firster” when he says that he regrets he served in the American instead of the Israeli army (towards the end, I think), and that hopefully his youngest son will become a sniper in the IDF (he says so twice !). He’s not only claiming proudly that he’s an “Israeli-firster”, but in my opinion this comes close to treason, and he should simply be stripped off his American citizenship.
[comment deleted–sorry we don’t pimp Lee Smith or Tablet here–plus you violated the comment rules–read them]
Absolutely not. The pedigree of the phrase, the fact that it has been used by David Duke or anybody else we may not like, does not mean that it is useless, ambiguous or unclear. The phrase is richly informative (and accusatory) regardless of its past. It may very well be that Duke used the term exactly as I might use it to characterize a set of pro-Israel Americans (Zionists of some ilk) who do not qualify their support for Israel and who do not otherwise simply move to Israel (maybe personal considerations.) By dint of genetics, I do not owe my fellow Jews who support Israeli policies and practices the indulgence of selecting terms based upon their peculiar sensitivities. This is just another case of some choosing the slur of anti-Semitism over debate and argument and it should not be temper or constrain the discussion. The nexus of “Israel Firster” with anti-Semitism is maybe unfortunate but I see no reason to change the terms of discourse out of fear of that terrible dragon, the mother of all slurs, “anti-Semitism.”
Personally, I am finished with pulling punches because I fear being labelled thus by people who just don’t want to be responsible for their opinions, those who just can’t get their thinking all into one coherent piece when pressed and thus siimply strike back in confusion by calling me “names.”
The phrase is apt, describes a real group, will be used and it is the problem of pro-Israeli American Jews to answer it. It’s their problem, not mine.
“Personally, I am finished with pulling punches because I fear being labelled thus by people who just don’t want to be responsible for their opinions, those who just can’t get their thinking all into one coherent piece when pressed and thus siimply strike back in confusion by calling me ‘names.'”
Yours is an honest and courageous statement, David, and it’s a damned shame it had to be made. God knows that these past years I, a non-observant, secular Jew, but a Jew most decidedly nonetheless, have time and again tempered my criticism of Israel for fear of being accused of anti-Semitism, of self-hatred and assorted pejoratives. Now if someone suggests that my criticism of Israel is, let us say, Treif, and that such unacceptable criticism I’ve levelled is in spite of my being a Jew, I say that I have leveled said criticism in large part because I am a Jew and was raised in what my highly secular family referred to as the ethics of Judaism. So there. I suspect I’m one hell of a lot closer to the precepts of Micah and Isaiah and such than those who nauseatingly accept and even stump for every outrage and crime the apartheid state of Israel commits in the process of defying international law and common decency and in making the world a more dangerous place in which to live.
Thanks for the vote of confidence. One needs to be vigilant because Zionists try to re-frame all discussions such as to open the bottomless pit of “anti-Semitism.”
Now there’s an image that makes you want to run to the nearest Israeli Embassy and get your citizenship asap.
You can always count on Zionists to conjure up and pimp everyone’s worst nightmare to get the last word.
Weniger Gottquatsch says
The graphic implies.
You infer something from the graphic.
Iguana Mom says
Unfortunately Spencer Ackerman has a right wing tendency.
He was pulled left when he blogged on FDL but the State Dept. told him he wouldn’t get the security clearances he wanted until he left the commies and antiwar nuts alone.
It’s authoritarians that try to set the terms of the debate.
How about we call them people with divided loyalties and naturally have a conflict of interest and therefore shouldn’t be allowed to serve in uppermost positions of power, and writers should be expected to declare that caveat every time they open their mourhts.. Just for thier own good, so they don’t have to suffer the indignities of being called an israeli-firster.
Push back. His friends have no problem slinging the antisemite word around.