A reader writes:
I think it’s only really possible to understand this contretemps if we understand where Eric Alterman is coming from. He’s actually been pretty frank, especially at one appearance at the 92nd Street Y (summarized here), in saying that he is a person with “dual loyalties” to the US and Israel. In the end, I don’t think Alterman is attacking Blumenthal because he’s a poor writer or a bad journalist, or even because he’s substantively wrong about any material facts. He’s attacking Blumenthal for being disloyal to Israel. If you understand that, then the whole thing makes a lot of sense. But Alterman doesn’t emerge from it looking like a journalist or a serious analyst; rather, he is simply a propagandist, prepared to score points any way he can in the service of the state of Israel.
You know, one of the touchiest words you can say when you’re discussing Jews and Israel is the word dual loyalty. It’s sort of one of those words that American Jewish officialdom has ruled out of the discourse. If you say dual loyalty, you’re playing into the hands of anti-semites, because it’s been a consistent trope among anti-Semites that you can’t trust Jews. etc. etc. And I find this very confusing because I was raised dually loyal my whole life. When I went to Hebrew school, the content of my Hebrew school was all about supporting Israel. When my parents who I think are here tonight sent me to Israel when I was 14, on a ZOA [Zionist Organization of America]-sponsored trip… [laughter/backtalk] that was a bad idea, yeah– it was drummed into me that I should do what’s best for Israel…
Now it so happens that because so few people are willing to say this, and there’s certainly good historical reasons for this, I end up being quoted by Walt and Mearsheimer as the only person saying, I am a dual loyal Jew and sometimes I’m going to actually go with Israel, because the United States can take an awful lot of hits and come up standing. Whereas if Israel takes one serious bad hit it could disappear. So there’s going to be some cases where when Israel and the United States conflict I’m going to support what’s best for Israel rather than what I think is best for the United States.
Another reader pushes back hard:
According to you, apropos of the the Alterman-Blumenthal fracas: “And I instinctively recoil from arguments that try to police public debate – as so many reflexively pro-Greater-Israel writers sadly do.”
Yes, ad hominem vilification of writers with whose opinions one disagrees, in an attempt to push their arguments outside the bounds of acceptable debate, is certainly a bad thing. For example, which blogger was it who reflexively described Alterman’s criticism of Blumenthal’s book as a “smear” – not a criticism, even a harsh (and, presumably, inaccurate) criticism, but a “smear” by “one of the more egregiously nasty writers in America” – even before he read Blumenthal’s actual book? I’m trying to remember … Now I remember … it was Andrew Sullivan.
It seems that “provocations” are OK, as long as they are hostile to Israel, but criticizing them is impermissible and reprehensible (even if those criticisms happen to be generally accurate–judging from Blumenthal’s own account of the substance and implications of his argument). OK, I get it. Thanks for the guidance.
I don’t need to read Blumenthal’s book to take a view of the sneering and nasty tone of Alterman’s diatribe against it, and the imputation of anti-Semitism behind it. As to policing debate, I have been extremely diligent in linking to every post on both sides of it. That’s not policing it. I do have a view on the exchange – which is that Blumenthal painstakingly eviscerates the criticism, and is airing facts that are worth including in the debate on this very sensitive topic.
As for only backing provocations when they attack Israel, I cannot imagine anyone looking at my career or this blog can take that seriously. Really? Race and IQ? Gender and testosterone? Animal welfare? Circumcision? Against hate crime laws for gays? I mean, I have had a career of provocations – all of which were designed to prompt real debate (and of course, I had my share of failures and over-reach along the way.) The idea that I only like provocations when they rattle the Greater Israel lobby is hooey. And, yes, a smear designed to imply that I’m anti-Semitic.