Monday, February 07, 2011

A lack of heated I-P debate online? If only...

Do "bloggers avoid writing about Israel"? I agree with Conor that as a general principle, it's not a topic you want to start with if you're looking to avoid a heated response, but bloggers tend to like such back-and-forths. If this is the blogosphere avoiding Israel as a topic, I'd hate to see what it would look like if people started to take an interest. I mean, there's a Facebook group about (tongue-in-cheek, if this isn't obvious) solving the I-P conflict by arguing about it on Facebook for a reason.

But yeah. I, for one, don't blog very much about Israel these days. This is for so many reasons. Too wrapped up in the nineteenth century, too much upsetting stuff happening closer to home to want to be upset by news I can do nothing substantial about, too busy stuffing my face with as many pastries as I can find in the hours that me being awake and the boulangeries being open overlap.

One big one, though, is that I was constantly arguing, alone, against those who claimed to be speaking for the underdog, not only as in Palestinians-as-underdogs, but as though, among intelligent, well-educated, politically-reasonable 20-and-30-somethings, the usual position is to identify as a Zionist. This was certainly once the dominant view, at least among American Jews, but that tide shifted ages ago. I grew tired of the claims on the part of the not-so-pro-Israel-side-loosely-defined that they're being silenced, that they're this voice that one never ever hears because powers that be won't allow it. And yet one hears from them constantly. How many liberal, moderate, or libertarian bloggers - including Jewish ones - are rah-rah Israel these days?

In reference to the point at hand - Conor says that Pejman Yousefzadeh employed a "rhetorical intimidation tactic" by making what is in effect a blanket statement about opposing discussion of US aid to Israel, and by framing the question in terms of anti-Semitism. (More on the second part in a moment.) But what does it mean to use an "intimidation tactic" if in mainstream circles it's become more socially acceptable to be the person questioning US aid to Israel than to be identified as in any way pro-Israel? (Might I mention how many times I've had to specify that I'm not an evil racist who hates Palestinians and favors a Greater Israel and fawns over Palin because Israel First, just because I do, as the blog says, identify as a Zionist and care about the continued existence of a Jewish state in give or take its current location? That I have to disclaimerize to even begin making any point on this topic? That this has something to do with why I've moved on, for the time being at least, to blogging about other ones?)

In terms of silencing, think of it like this: It's like if someone threw a 'your privilege is showing' at Prince Harry and William's bon vivant friend, the one who attended "a finishing school of sorts for the landed gentry that focuses its studies more on horses and the fields they are ridden in (a typical degree: equine management) than the liberal arts one might pursue at Oxford or Cambridge." (A school that, by the way, sounds amazing.) Yes, Yousefzadeh's post is out of line, but in the broader context, the balance of power on this issue, among young and young-ish educated types, journalists, sane-seeming bloggers, etc., favors the ostensibly silenced more than it does the would-be silencers. To repeat what I've said here many times, no one, but no one, and with the exception of Abe Foxman precisely no one takes accusations of anti-Semitism seriously these days unless they're directed at Hitler himself. (OK, I do, David Schraub does, but we're the only ones under 60 and to the left of Palin.) So if Yousefzadeh had used this term to describe Conor or something he'd written, it would have been wrong, offensive, etc., but would have mostly just made himself look the fool.

But regardless, I read the post, and Yousefzadeh says a mix of odd and sensible things, but does not accuse Conor or his post of anti-Semitism. The post title suggests he may go that route, which is probably how it got picked up by some right-wing blog or other, but, unless I'm missing a sentence from having spent too much of the day reading PDFs on this same computer screen, and I did go through the post to check, he does not.

Yousefzadeh (if we filter out the bits of his post that I don't follow) accuses Conor of being insufficiently attentive to the ways in which arguments presenting themselves as even-handed, rational discussions of US Israel policy veer off into anti-Semitic paranoia. Which, well, they do. Often enough, when someone decides that Israel is their 'thing,' and their attitude towards Israel is that it is at the root of every single thing going wrong in America and beyond, that someone isn't fantastic for the Jews; often enough, the people one finds milling about online with thoughts on aid to Israel fall into precisely that demographic. Even without knowing who this particular dude who once wrote in to the alumni magazine I would one day work at (how exciting to see it mentioned!), it is not a bad idea to Google the people who make this their 'thing,' if you're worried about guilt-by-association accusations. Conor's right in terms of the bloggy etiquette - it's not, as a rule, expected that one will dig into the archives of all link-recipients. But for those of us with a heightened sense of awareness, as it were, about such matters, unfortunately even just bringing up the topic elicits suspicion.

Let me be clear. In the abstract, it would be great to have this conversation about American aid to Israel. I, big ol' Zionist, do not have firm opinions on the matter. But the impediment to this conversation is the tendency of genuine Jew-haters to use it as a pretext for their rants, along the tendency of those rants to dominate the existing 'conversation,' making those of us said rants are directed against understandably wary. The problem is not the wariness itself. That's not to say the discussion shouldn't happen. It should, but with attentiveness to the way it's been discussed thus far.

Anyway, I'm not sure what Yousefzadeh's particular beef with the Atlantic is, whether it's just on this issue or part of some other context I'm not aware of, and part of the confusion seems to stem from him thinking Conor and Andrew Sullivan are not merely bloggers on a site that bears the latter's name, but also, in fact, the same person with precisely the same mind and memory for names of obscure bloggers. From what I can tell, Yousefzadeh doesn't accuse either Atlantic blogger of anti-Semitism. But more to the point, even if he had, he would not have silenced them or anyone else on this topic.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

"But what does it mean to use an "intimidation tactic" if in mainstream circles it's become more socially acceptable to be the person questioning US aid to Israel than to be identified as in any way pro-Israel? "


What "mainstream circles" are you hanging out in? Because as far as public opinion polling is concerned, as far as the mainstream media is concerned, and definitely as far as Congress is concerned, there ain't a whole lot of controversy about that aid. I mean, yes, I'm sure if you self-select a group of lefty bloggers (or the occasional Paulite libertarian types) and survey opinion, you will get a different opinion, but that's like reading a bunch of feminist blogs and then citing their existence as proof that there's no silencing against feminists.

Phoebe said...

Anon,

I mention precisely the circles I mean, and I don't mean Congress. I mean educated 20 and 30 somethings (and some a bit older too) who are journalists, bloggers, or otherwise making themselves heard. Not leftists. And no, I don't think Matthew Yglesias, Andrew Sullivan, etc., are silenced if they want to say something less than rah-rah about Israel. That this shift isn't reflected in policy is only because it's just a matter of time. If I mention in a group of people who graduated from top colleges within the last ten years that I consider myself a Zionist, I would, for example, get less than hearty approval.

Phoebe said...

One more point on this - I realize matter-of-time arguments are of little comfort for those as excited about cutting off Israel as others (including myself) are for the legalization of same-sex marriage. But in the mean time, how is Congress, or any other cohort of not-so-young influential types, silencing dissent? Walt and Mearsheimer had their masterpiece, Beinart said his bit, Roger Cohen sits comfortably on the NYT op-ed page, and so so many influential but not as big-name sorts are paid by major publications to express, among other views, ones critical of Israel. This is what I don't get - the "silencing" argument. Is the implication that some rich, Zionistic Jew funds each and every one of these writers, and if they say the wrong thing, they're fired? If that were the case, how would they still have their jobs?

Anonymous said...

"I mention precisely the circles I mean, and I don't mean Congress. I mean educated 20 and 30 somethings (and some a bit older too) who are journalists, bloggers, or otherwise making themselves heard. Not leftists."

By and large, those educate young people you talk about are leftist, whether they identify that way or not. And they believe in all kinds of things that have a real hard time making it into policy. The "matter of time" argument is often a canard. Hell, marijuana legalization failed in California last year, ffs.

"If I mention in a group of people who graduated from top colleges within the last ten years that I consider myself a Zionist, I would, for example, get less than hearty approval."

Can you really not conceive of issues where the intellectual vanguard, the elites, whatever we want to call them, simply don't get traction for some of their views? For example, I'd say most of those top college graduates are strongly pro-choice, yet in those same 10-20 years we've seen reproductive freedom curtailed in various ways, chipped away at in the courts and legislatures, and public opinion has actually swung in a pro-life direction.

"If that were the case, how would they still have their jobs?"

Let me rephrase an earlier point more directly. Does the fact that there exist feminists in public life and the blogosphere prove feminists don't have to deal with silencing?

Phoebe said...

I identify as a feminist, tilt left on these sorts of issues, and no, I don't believe feminists are silenced by anti-feminists or non-feminists much these days. I think we're defining "silencing" differently - you seem to be defining it as an inability to pass legislation, which is not how I believe the term is generally used. Expect a post on this...

eamonnmcdonagh said...

I think people who feel that the view they favor on I-P is being silenced mean something like this:

My view of the conflict is absolutely and obviously correct. No cognitively normal person could dissent from it unless bribed/bulled. Only the existence of a vast, well-funded conspiracy can explain the failure of my view to become public policy.

Phoebe said...

I think you're right to point out the connection between silencing accusations and conspiracy theorizing. What happens is, it begins that way, but then it becomes so ingrained that 'anyone who criticizes Israel is called an anti-Semite' that people start making this claim who aren't conspiracy theorists, but who've heard so many times that they will be silenced if they criticize Israel that they've come to believe this without ever having been silenced.

I'm still not sure what the connection is between silencing and policy. The way I look at it is, the potentially silenced are the younger and less definitively influential. Whereas a politician who would be happy to see Israel wiped off the map, but who claims Zionism in the hopes of getting Jewish votes, isn't stating his true desires, but it's not quite "silencing."

Anonymous said...

Love the false binary there between Zionism and "off the map"...

I really still think that there is a major self-selection issue when you are talking about what is "mainstream." Now, it is true that folks at top colleges or Daily Kos or whatever are overwhelmingly liberal and that liberal opinion on Israel has had some pretty big shifts, and may do that some more as we see an increasingly right-wing being pushed by the Israeli government, but liberals are pretty damn far from the onl game in town, politically speaking in the U.S. Hence my comparison to feminist thought, which often ends up being pretty damn irrelevant when it comes to determining actual policy.

Phoebe said...

Anon,

The "self-selection" is what I explained - I'm not talking about 70-year-olds, nor, for that matter, am I talking about the dozen or so hippies who used to stand in Union Square in NY with pro-Palestinian placards. If at top colleges it's frowned upon to be pro-Israel, it's tough to say that those who aren't are being silenced, unless, as I mention in the comment above, you're equating "silencing" with "not getting the legislation you want passed." Once again, I am a feminist in the usual political sense of the term, and am not aware of how anyone's being silenced these days for being a feminist.

Anonymous said...

Well, silencing is a big, big claim on the feminist blogosphere, actually. So even if you are correct, you're hardly describing a unique phenomenon, and I'd say you really need to wrestle with the whole concept instead of just picking at a few critics of Israel who are doing what amounts to the usual thing within leftist debating circles. That would be like, say, arguing there is an "Israel Lobby" that is somehow different in nature or in power than every other interest group out there.

Phoebe said...

Anon,

Since you keep insisting on this point, and it's not one I've come across on feminist blogs or otherwise, please explain how feminists are using "silencing," what's being referred to.

Anonymous said...

Basically, if they feel the tenets of Feminism 101 are in some way being argued with, or feel in any way that there is disagreement with certain premises, that is deemed "mansplaining," which is a "silencing tactic" according to certain self-described feminists who have been accorded a lot of blog street cred.

I certainly agree this is ridiculous, but my point is just that it's not some specialized Andrew Sullivan way of describing the the reception of dissenting views.