Creating people's geographies
As columnist Joseph Sobran once quipped, “it used to be that an anti-Semite was one who didn’t like Jews, but now it is one who the Jews don’t like”. Here I am referring specifically to self-appointed Jewish representatives rather than making a blanket characterisation, but Sobran’s observation still has bite.
My other qualification is that most Jews are numerically not Semites and that anti-Semitism is a misnomer best replaced by the term anti-Judaic. With this in mind, here is an instructive exchange on how Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith — one such self-appointee who presumes to police people — attempts to intimidate and silence journalists.
In this case, the target happens to be one of the better journalists in the US. The GIYUS trolls and ideologues have already invaded Bill Moyers Journal on this one. Here, agreeing with most but not everything Moyers has written on Gaza, I salute him for speaking up.
Following Bill Moyers’ reflections on the events in Gaza on the JOURNAL last week, Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith National Director Abraham Foxman sent him this letter:
In less than a thousand words, you managed to fit into your January 9 commentary: (1) moral equivalency between Hamas, a radical Islamic terrorist group whose anti-Semitic charter cites the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East and perhaps America’s greatest ally in the world; (2) historical revisionism, asserting that Canaanites were Arabs; (3) anti-Semitism, declaring that Jews are “genetically coded” for violence; (4) ignorance of the terrorist threat against Israel, claiming that checkpoints, the security fence, and the Gaza operation are tactics of humiliation rather than counter-terrorism; and (5) promotion of an individual, the Norwegian doctor in Gaza, who has publicly expressed support for the September 11 attacks.
I have seen and read serious critiques of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, and I have disagreed with many of them. Your commentary, however, is different, consisting mostly of intellectually and morally faulty claims that do a great disservice to the PBS audience. It invites not disagreement, but rebuke.
On one point you are correct – “America has officially chosen sides.” And rightly so. Fortunately for our nation, very few of our citizens engage in the same moral equivalency, racism, historical revisionism, and indifference to terrorism as you. If the reverse held, it would not be a country that any decent person would want to live in.
Abraham H. Foxman
In response, Bill Moyers sent Mr. Foxman the following message:
Dear Mr. Foxman:
You made several errors in your letter to me of January 13 and I am writing to correct them.
First, to call someone a racist for lamenting the slaughter of civilians by the Israeli military offensive in Gaza is a slur unworthy of the tragedy unfolding there. Your resort to such a tactic is reprehensible.
Earlier this week it was widely reported that the International Red Cross “was so outraged it broke its usual silence over an attack in which the Israeli army herded a Palestinian family into a building and then shelled it, killing 30 people and leaving the surviving children clinging to the bodies of their dead mothers. The army prevented rescuers from reaching the survivors for four days.”
When American troops committed a similar atrocity in Vietnam, it was called My Lai and Lt. Calley went to prison for it. As the publisher of a large newspaper at the time, I instructed our editorial staff to cover the atrocity fully because Americans should know what our military was doing in our name and with our funding. To say “my country right or wrong” is like saying “my mother drunk or sober.” Patriots owe their country more than that, whether their government and their taxes are supporting atrocities in Vietnam, Iraq, or, in this case, Gaza.
Contrary to your claim, I made no reference whatsoever to “moral equivalency” between Hamas and Israel. That is an old canard often resorted to by propagandists trying to divert attention from facts on the ground, and, it, too, is unworthy of the slaughter in Gaza. Contrary to imputing “moral equivalency” between Hamas and Israel, I said that “Hamas would like to see every Jew in Israel dead.” I said that “a radical stream of Islam now seeks to eliminate Israel from the face of the earth.” And I described the new spate of anti-Semitism across the continent of Europe. I am curious as to why you ignored remarks which clearly counter the notion of “moral equivalency.”
And although I specifically referred to “the rockets from Hamas” falling on Israel and said that “every nation has the right to defend itself, and Israel is no exception,” you nonetheless accuse me of “ignorance of the terrorist threat against Israel.” Once again, you are quite selective in your reading of my essay.
Your claim that “the checkpoints, the security fence and the Gaza operation” [I used the more accurate “onslaught”] are not humiliating of the Palestinians is lamentable. I did not claim that these were, as you write, “tactics of humiliation rather [emphasis mine] than counter-terrorism,” but perhaps it is overly simplistic to think they are one and not the other, when they are both. Also lamentable is your description of my “promotion” of the Norwegian doctor in Gaza when in fact I was simply quoting what he told CBS News: “It’s like Dante’s Inferno. They are bombing one and a half million people in a cage.” The whole world has been able to see for itself what he was talking about, and as one major news organization after another has been reporting, is reeling from the sight.
And, to your claim that I was “declaring Jews are ‘genetically coded’ for violence,” you are mistaken. My comment – obviously not sufficiently precise – was not directed at a specific people but to the fact that the human race has violence in its DNA, as the biblical stories so strongly affirm. I also had in mind the relationship between all the descendents of Abraham who love the same biblical land and come to such grief over it.
From my days in President Johnson’s White House forward, I have defended Israel’s right to defend itself, and still do. But sometimes an honest critic is a government’s best friend, and I am appalled by Israel’s devastation of innocent civilians in this battle, all the more so because, as I said in my column, it is exactly what Hamas wanted to happen. To be so indifferent to that suffering is, sadly, to be as blind in Gaza as Samson.
fair enough, but I quote from http://www.angryarab.blogspot.com :”But from my days in the Johnson White House, I have defended Israel’s right to defend itself, and still do.” Sometimes I feel that Arabs and Muslims are so desperate for support or sympathy that they are willing to take insults from their enemies if they are couched in polite language. People keep circulating Bill Moyers’ comments as if he is sympathetic to Palestinians.”
Agreed, that is why I think it is fair to say we offer qualified support (“agreeing with most but not everything Moyers has written on Gaza, we salute him for speaking up.”)
I think it is a measure of just how lopsided the narrative is in mainstream US journalism that Moyers thinks it is incumbent upon him to include the statement you have cited.
As historian Carl Becker has astutely noted, “Whether arguments command assent or not depends less upon the logic that conveys them than upon the climate of opinion in which they are sustained.”
Its not simply our arguments that are important for our cause—though they are central and crucial—but the climate of opinion that carries them, and in which the media has a particularly important role.
Moyers’ comments are situated in that climate of opinion; measured against the climate of world opinion and standards of justice they may not be seen as necessarily “sympathetic to Palestinians”, but in current US terms of debate I would venture to say that they are a step forward.
Also, that “climate of opinion” is not of course organic but is actively manufactured by the likes of Foxman as you know; by railing against that attempted straitjacketing of thought by the thought-police and condemning Israel’s horrific actions, Moyers’ response can also be seen as a small contribution to how the conflict is accurately represented on the critical US stage. Moyers got much right, though by no means all of it.
I understand As’ad Abu Khalil’s point but also see the converse: that advocates can sometimes be unduly dismissive and not choose to focus on and encourage the instances when people like Moyers take a stand. We might not agree with all of Carter’s positions either, but his recent writing as well as those of people like Walt and Mearsheimer has helped shift and reframe the debate, and therein lies the significance.
Well said, Ann. I give you an A+ for mapping the topography of the problem space.
Moyers is one of the most well reasoned public personas we have in the United States. I feel lucky to have him. Being American I cannot see any insult to Palestinians from Moyer’s statement that Israel has a right to defend itself. There’s simply nothing wrong with any American saying that from within the American rubric. It’s aligned with public policy and with the majority of public opinion. It’s a truism that is never examined in the U.S. even at a superficial level. Moyers isn’t part of some vast Zionist conspiracy, saying things to harm Palestine. He’s saying it because he believes it. Which is what everyone should do in public dialog
But As’ad’s rhetoric illustrates both a strategic and a tactical error on the part of anyone who is trying to change American public opinion. Strategically – As’ad is preaching to the choir – to the already converted. It’s equivalent to a teenager saying – Duh, ya think? to friends who agree on everything in surface reality but don’t bother to challenge anything below the surface.
As’ad is conversing with the wrong audience. ADL on the other hand is directing its rhetoric not at Moyers but at Moyers’ audience, and ADL knows exactly what to say in order to get the results it wants. It’s been very successful in gaining mindshare for Israel.
So – rather than foo fooing media personalities like Moyer who are actually potentially on the side of justice as a principle, I think our cause has to learn exactly how public opinion is managed and get onto the playing field. Advocates for Palestine aren’t even on the field yet. And why? Because of the quality of rhetoric demonstrated by As’ad, which is fine for those who are already convinced, but which sounds like UR language to the American public.
Where is the Palestinian version of the ADL? What’s their budget? How many people do they have sitting around watching the news and analyzing how to make the Palestinian case? How much money did you send them?
ADL and the constellation of Jewish lobbies have all the guns and all the lawyers and all the money. What have we got? We got As’ad.
I’d like to add a couple of things to Ressentiment’s exceptionally clear and soundly articulated comment above.
There’s no question that Moyers is patently wrong on Hamas and does here inflate and buy into the “Islamic” existential “threat” to Jewry in his response to Foxman, in which he is put into the structurally defensive position and therefore even more bound to make “I understand what your enemy has said, that still doesn’t justify Israel’s actions” noises. Like most intelligent people in so many trajectories of discovery about this conflict I’ve seen, I’ve no doubt Moyers will discover the truth and uncover the canards in time, and let’s hope sooner rather than later. As Ressentiment has noted, however, even more important is Moyers’ audience and if, how and when they come to the truth of the matter.
What I wanted to add is that Moyers draws my empathy in part because I personally know what it’s like to be in the sights of these bullies. Its no trifling matter to be targeted with the silencing tactics, intimidation and character assassination they employ. For your interest, Robin, take a look at this and if you’ve the time a gander also at this and this.
On a second point, there is a promising trend of several emerging (and established!) figures in the US who are well-spoken and well-versed and active in the media, such as Ali Abunimah. Dear As’ad has his place and he does well, but has a limited audience (at least in the US for those who are not conflict cognoscente) as Ressentiment does well to point out.
We will need many more of Abunimah’s calibre and to get better organised, but we’re getting there.
I agree with both Ann and Dean: the significance of these statements has to be understood in relation to the context from which they emerge. The point is not whether his views conform to absolute principles, the point is how much he is departing from the prevailing consensus. Given Moyers’s credibility, I think he is making an enormous contribution in taking a stance on this. He is creating the space which others could use to push the discourse away from the prevailing unreason on this subject. Frankly, I have little time for the kind of indiscriminate criticism AbuKhalil has directed at the likes of Moyers, Carter, Mearsheimer & Walt, Gilad Atzmon, Khaled Amayreh et al.