On avoiding writing about Israel

Philip Weiss flags a post by Conor Friedersdorf under the title “Why bloggers avoid writing about Israel.” Friedersdorf describes having passed on a link regarding Rand Paul’s proposal to put U.S. aid to Israel on the proverbial table.  The link was to a post by a certain Philip Giraldi, the writer of a somewhat notorious 1999 letter regarding the “Holocaust industry” in the U.S.  The mere act of mentioning Giraldi seemed to be  enough for another reasonably well-known blogger, Pejman Yousefzade, to launch a tirade against Friedersdorf, the Atlantic, Andrew Sullivan, and the various horses they rode in on. Weiss agrees with and amplifies Friedersdorf’s main argument:  That a blogger going about his bloggy business can easily take a “wrong” step in the Middle Eastern intellectual minefield.

Friedersdorf seems to have a point on this one.  In fact, he almost always has this same point.  As much as one might side with him against the overdone and “vile” accusations from Yousefzade, as at other times against Limbaugh, Levin, or whatever intemperate-to-lunatic voice on the far right, the argument borders on a plea not to be taken seriously.

Anyone who does not make Israel or Palestine or the Middle East a full-time job, but has spent any time at all arguing the issues, has likely had to endure some fearsomely better-informed and very highly motivated and invested partisans taking over whatever conversation on both sides. That’s what the example, absurd on its face, of “not knowing about the Giraldi letter” stands for: The fear of being exposed as a dilettante – i.e., of being just another blogger. The other fear, of being branded an anti-semite, subjected to letter-writing campaigns, and so on, stands for something else:  Knowing oneself to be unequipped or unwilling to follow one’s own thoughts to their logical conclusions, regardless of the cost.

Not everyone can recite from memory (perhaps as augmented by Wikipedia and Google), and debate with devastating polemical purpose, the claims and counter-claims of Middle Eastern history from the origins of the origins to every effect of every cause, but it’s never a bad time to wonder how much your presumptions, your very modes of thinking and perhaps your ambitions, have already pre-determined where you’ll end up on any topic of significance… over and over again.

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17 comments on “On avoiding writing about Israel

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  1. No, he really doesn’t and he ought to know that Giraldi’s position makes
    Pat Buchanan’s seem ‘warm and cuddly’. Now if he wanted to make a point about how reduction in foreign aid, might liberate the Israeli economy, that’s another matter. It’s strange when Asharq is sometimes
    more reasonable then the Atlantic, causing Greeley, to pitch a violent
    fit, from the great beyond.

  2. the important thing was that the Mondoweiss comments agreed with the Girardi letter and compared him to that demi-god Norman Finklestein.

    what a cast!!!

  3. @ fuster:
    There you go again. One commenter thought it was “spot on,” and the other said it didn’t seem anywhere near as extreme today as it did 10 years ago.

    What none of them attempts is merely to engage the ideas without prejudice, as the great analyst George Michael, if not Norman Finklestein, might have demanded.

    In my view, Girardi and his fan or fans do the same thing that certain members of the Commentariat do: “Why should we treat this country/people different from all other people?” they ask, never asking why they happen to find that question so interesting.

    I am more of the view than ever that the Holocaust was an event of unique historical significance, not because of how many Jews (among others) were slaughtered, but because of its transformation in the concept of particular nation or people and humankind, a question of fundamental cultural and philosophical significance, in a sense the basis of all history, which prior to the Holocaust the “Jewish problem” or “Jewish question” centrally stood for, not just as a kind of shorthand. (Where neither has been an issue, there has been no “history.”)

    The conversion of the Jewish question into the Israeli question is much more than a change of terminology, especially since key values in the larger equation have been reversed.

  4. Well, they thoroughly miss the point, Rand is pretty much against all foreign aid, events in Egypt probably haven’t improved his outlook,
    Giraldi represents the sticky edge of the isolationist wicket, where
    even Buchanan won’t tread anymore, Now if one wanted to make an argument, one might think the phasing out of our foreign aid committments might give the Russians (as they were for a better
    part of a decade in Egypt, and longer in Yemen, and Syria) an advantage. But one doesn’t get their martyrdom claims, that way.

  5. @ CK MacLeod:

    read the last two of the 11.

    these people on Mondoweiss are no better and no less dangerous than Albert Shanker.

    I spent no little time arguing with the fans of Weiss and Finklestein somewhere else and drove some of them to Mondoweiss when they found that they couldn’t get me to admit that I’m a Mossad agent, or a paid hasbara op, or a part of megaphone .

    They started accusing the management of failing to ban my participation because they too must be taking money from the Jews.

    enjoy Mondoweiss, just be aware of what you’re stepping in.

  6. Albert Shanker means virtually nothing to me, sorry. Too much a New York reference, I think. I’ve also been around the block, all around it, several times – so I don’t usually take very seriously what someone with a nonsense name on the internet says about… anything… unless it’s compelling on its own terms.

    Anyway, didn’t really mean to defend MW’s commenters as a group, as though it’s my new club or something, but I do enjoy the effort over there, for all of the static it brings with it, to envision a different Middle East.

  7. @ CK MacLeod:

    In the Woody Allen movie Sleeper (1973) the protagonist is transported to the future, where he is told that the old world was destroyed when “a man named Albert Shanker got hold of a nuclear warhead.” Shanker was president of the UFT at that time.

  8. @ fuster:
    Yeah, I sawr dat in da Wikipedier.

    @ miguel cervantes:
    What has Giraldi said or done that makes him “ugly” compared to Buchanan? He believes that the alliance with Israel is on balance harmful to the U.S., and will lay out his reasons. Is that a thought crime? Why should it be? Especially when you consider how convincing Caroline Glick has been in describing the impossibility of Israel’s predicament, wouldn’t we be well advised to follow Giraldi’s advice and seek a “clean break”? Yes, I know, Glick is a raging anti-semite, and also has a tendency to exaggerate or build on unproven assumptions, but I thought you found her analysis on balance persuasive.

  9. They do have a point, however, the coverage on Al Jazeera, has been better than most, including Fox for the most part, with the gibbering Shemp, in this crisis.

  10. Forgive me if I am fed up with people referring to a letter which appeared originally in The University of Chicago Magazine in 1999 as “the Giraldi letter”. This short item, which has a mysterious way of resurfacing on the net from time to time, rather like a dead mountaineer in the Khumbu Icefall, was co-authored by John Taylor. At least Mr. Yousefzade has had the good manners in his blog to credit me in this regard.

    Despite the fact that the Editor of the UofC Magazine in her rather disingenuous apology for printing the Giraldi Taylor letter asserted “Choosing to print the letter was a difficult decision,” the Magazine’s staff could be credited as a third author for the very extensive editorial assistance they provided while preparing our letter for publication.

    For those who reject our thesis that the Holocaust is being used to protect the Zionist enterprise from all criticism, no matter how justified, I can only refer them to the remarks of Gerald Kaufman, MP, who stated in the wake of the Gaza invasion: “My grandmother was sick in bed when the Nazis came to her home town…A German soldier shot her dead in bed. My grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israel soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza.”

  11. @ John Taylor:
    Point taken, Mr. Taylor. I accepted the attribution used by the confessedly ignorant Mr. Friedersdorf, and the manner in which “signatures” to the letter were formatted at the magazine site – crammed together in a block – makes it easy to overlook your name.

    In my view, the Holocaust has a much more complex function both as idea and as set of very real historical events. In the battle between ideal/traditional Judaism and Zionism, it created some overwhelming “facts,” and even more overwhelming absences, on the ground. People like yourself and your co-author give the impression of overcompensating – over-correcting for the “Holocaust Industry” by minimizing the Holocaust and the events of which it was a part.

    Whether or not the Holocaust did or could justify the “Zionist Enterprise” morally, in some absolute sense, it prepared the way for it practically, reduced the perceived moral force of the arguments against it, and still puts questions and challenges before us as human beings.

  12. CKMacLeod

    Sir, I highly recommend to you Yosef Gorny’s Zionism and the Arabs, 1882-1948, a Study in Ideology, Oxford, 1987. Gorny’s book (orginally published in Hebrew) provides an excellent discussion of Zionist ideology under the new Yishuv and makes clear from the arrival of the First Aliyah in 1882 (in the wake of pogroms in Russia following the assassination of the Czar) that the settlers intended to become a majority in Palestine and to establish a Jewish state.

  13. @ John Taylor:
    Thanks for the tip. If the book was available at a reasonable price, or if I was certain it was essential reading, I’d order it today. When I consider that in 1882, we in the United States were still consolidating our own expropriation of North America, and just beginning to plot new adventures in the world, it’s hard for me to judge the Zionists too harshly. In any event, I’m not sure what my moral or historical assessment of Zionism on its own terms must imply about my understanding of the Holocaust or its use and misuse, or my assessment about where we should go from here.

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