The Malice of Mondoweiss

by A. Jay Adler on June 28, 2009
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Beware the righteous, for they are righteous when they are right, and they are righteous when they are wrong; they navigate by a missionary compass, and when it loses its North, they steer with conviction toward the South, unknowing.
The Book of Adler 5:15

On June 4, Max Blumenthal and Joseph Dana released on the Internet, via Mondoweiss and The Huffington Post, their now infamous video “Feeling the Hate in Jerusalem.” The video presented a visual compendium of college-age, drunken Jews, in restaurants and on the street, spewing undeniably and phenomenally ignorant, ugly, and racist comments about Barack Obama. All of the young men and women shown ought now be committed to spending a healthy measure of their coming adulthoods to overcoming the shame of their outing as dimwitted bigots.

The video received mostly negative attention, though it was roundly praised by the Israel-hating commenting community at the Mondoweiss blog. Some people tried to account for the awful behavior by offering the bogus, distracting excuse for the students that they were drunk.  Serious criticisms of the video itself, however, were that the young people in the video could hardly be considered representative, of anything – while the clear intent, later expressly confirmed both by Blumenthal and Mondoweiss’s co-bloggers, Philip Weiss and Adam Horowitz , was that it did, indeed, represent something characteristic – and that the video seemed to be intending a criticism of Israel (the raison d’etre of Mondoweiss) while the students were all, in fact, not Israelis, but American Jews.

The video’s content is so ugly and pathetic, the rationale for it so wrongheaded and dishonest, that within hours Huffington Post removed it from the site. Reported Blumenthal later about the decision:

“I don’t see that it has any real news value,” the administrator told me. “For me it only proves that one can find drunk people willing to say just about anything.  Especially drunk, moronic people.”

YouTube followed suit.

A couple of days later, Blumenthal justified himself on Mondoweiss, declaring himself to have been “censored” by Huffington. This kind of puerile and disingenuous posturing is typicalblumenthal of all the actors involved. They all do much serious chest puffing about being “journalists,” but still Blumenthal feigns that a publisher’s choice not, in fact, to publish something, or its decision to correct a publishing error, is something other than editorial judgment at work – the kind of judgment by which journalists and other writers are regularly denied publication. No legal authority blocked public access to the video. Blumenthal is free to contract with whoever is willing to show his work. The video is visible in snippets, still, all over the Internet. The rapper 50 Cent posted it on his website, where it reaped the predictable whirlwind of counter racist scatologyback. But characterizing Huffington’s decision as “censorship” – like a high school student newspaper editor denied the subversive wish to publish this week’s issue in virtual-cow-shit Smell-O-Vision – is representative of the hysterical vocabulary and devious propagandizing of Blumenthal, Weiss, and Horowitz.

All throughout Blumenthal’s defense of himself, and that offered by Weiss and Horowitz four days later, the low, dishonest confusion of categories continues. Israeli is elided into Zionist, Zionist into American Jew supportive of Israel’s existence, that category into American Jew who attends Yeshiva, into one who makes aliyah to Israel, into one of the dopes in the video. Blumenthal wants to undermine the moral legitimacy of Israel and he attempts it by substituting American Jewish students on drunken holiday. The intellectual rigor is awe inspiring, the journalistic method beyond reproach. Read Israeli blogger Yaacov Lozowick’s description of the area where the video was shot.

Said Blumenthal, “I do not and have never claimed that the characters that appeared in my video were representative of general public opinion in Israel. They reflect only a slice of reality, which is reality nonetheless.”

One can never be sure whether the arguments are consciously deceitful or the product of remarkably unconscious prejudice – or if these guys aren’t, one must say, really, very smart. The whole intent of the video is to stain the Israeli nation, and beyond that the Zionist belief in the need and justness of a Jewish state that is the basis of an Israeli nation. Of course, Blumenthal is claiming representativeness. The video is otherwise purposeless. And he does it by substituting some American Jews for Israel and never understands that the difference matters. The “slice of reality” – which isn’t, anyway, by that virtue alone significant – is deceptive. Blumenthal cannot see this. All of the cultural, sociological, and political distinctions are meaningless. The students are all Zionists. Enough said.

The obvious reality, historically demonstrated far more forcefully than Blumenthal’s petty propagandistic distortions, is that if one sought it out, one could find the same vile bigotry voiced by (non-Jewish) whites against blacks, French and Dutch against Algerians and Muslims, Italians against Albanians – oh, dear, need I go on? And dare I say – Palestinians against Jews? (One small example, via Jeffrey Goldberg, from the late Nizar Rayyan: “I asked him if he believed, as some Hamas theologians do [and certainly as many Hezbollah leaders do] that Jews are the ‘sons of pigs and apes.’”)

What we see in the video are, according to Blumenthal, “the painful consequences of prolonged Zionist indoctrination.” (Indoctrination – that’s a good loaded word. Nothing, I’m sure, that Blumenthal would imagine going on anywhere in Palestinian schools, let’s say. Nothing, theologically, I don’t know, about, say – pigs and apes?) It is all “the disturbing spectacle of young Jews behaving like fascist soccer hooligans in the heart of the capitol of Israel and the spiritual home of the Jewish people,” where “vitriolic levels of racism are able to flow through the streets of Jerusalem like sewage” and “the grandsons of Holocaust survivors feel compelled to offer the Shoah as justification to behave like fascist street thugs.”

Gracious. Where to begin when a journalist uses words so carelessly, so maliciously? The increasingly ubiquitous “fascist” we can take here as merely a synonym for the then redundant “thugs,” which I guess is a little weightier in menace than “hooligans,” though aren’t those “soccer hooligans” usually prone to riot and violence? Don’t believe I saw any behavior like that anywhere in the video. And the racism flows “through the streets of Jerusalem like sewage.” (straight from the United States, actually, but shh!) All this occurring before the delicate, we know, Jewish nationalistic and religious sensibilities of Blumenthal, in the – hear the deflation of the poor man’s will – “heart of the capitol of Israel and the spiritual home of the Jewish people.”

Oy, what a thespian. And fraud. Think Mary McCarthy on Lillian Hellman.

Blumenthal was not alone in defending his work. On June 10, so, too, did Weiss, in his and Horowitz’s name. Blumenthal’s video is important, Weiss stated, “because it reveals an p-weissessential component of Israeli and Zionist society that has largely been covered up.” Hateful and ignorant racism is “essential” to Israeli society and Zionism. This last element, about Zionism specifically, was the claim of the infamous 1975 U.N. resolution sponsored by the gamut of Arab autocracies and Cuba, and voted for by all of the Communist totalitarian governments, while being opposed by nearly every industrial democracy – the resolution that was rescinded in shame in 1991. Just so we understand the ideological prism and intellectual identifications of Mondoweiss.

Said Weiss:

You can argue about Blumenthal’s method all night long. I won’t be there for that argument. Is the video somewhat sensational? Of course. But the views expressed are shocking, and, while they are obviously cherrypicked, they are representative of a real current in Israeli society; and a journalist who is on to something important should have the freedom to highlight shocking stuff. That’s how journalism works. You don’t show readers your out-takes.

Weiss “won’t be there for that argument,” presumably because he can’t coherently respond to it or he doesn’t care. About the method. Something rather important, intellectually, professionally (they are journalists, after all), ethically. He acknowledges the video is of course “sensational,” as in, according to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language:

Arousing or intended to arouse strong curiosity, interest, or reaction, especially by exaggerated or lurid details: sensational journalism; a sensational television report. (Emphasis added)

The views in the video, he admits, are obviously “cherrypicked,” as in, Wikipedia relays to us:

the act of pointing at individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position, while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position…. Cherry picking can be found in many logical fallacies.

One suspects Weiss did not fully intend to confess all he does here, but then he is no more careful a writer, and thus, thinker, than is Blumenthal. He twice refers to the “murderous” feelings of the idiots on camera, and while I am working from memory – it being so far impossible at this point to find more than snippets of the video for review – and though I recall, of course, obviously, much in the manner of the stupid and self-demeaning, I have no recollection of the “murderous.” But this is the carelessness, the irresponsibility, the hatefulness of Mondoweiss.

As to “how journalism works,” that “you don’t show readers your out-takes” – well, yes, that is generally so, though sometimes reporters are prompted to do just that, when there are questions of credibility. Blumenthal says he “edited an hour of interviews into a 3:30 minute video package.” I wonder if he would be willing to release the other 56:30 minutes to the public. Or does that seem, really, beside the point now?

If it appears that I am being awfully cutting and hard on our trio – that is because they deserve it. They have appointed themselves leaders in an ambition to single out Zionism, among all nationalisms, for censure – to take Israel down. Indeed, according to Weiss “Blumenthal may even be a game-changer.” My, ain’t he anticipatory in his self-regard. But any influence they do have affects the lives of millions, and they have neither the intellectual coherence nor honesty to warrant such a mission.

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Let’s consider, as Weiss likes to do, essences. On May 7, Weiss blogged from the 2009 AIPAC policy conference. You know he wasn’t really there to participate honestly, despite the transparent feints in that direction. However, he soon enough shows his hand:

When they are gathered in the hall … it seems like a plenary gathering in the Former Soviet Union. On the stage are the Politburo, 40 or 50 people at tables, most of them old and rich, with name cards in front of them, all revered by the people in the room. The people on the stage establish the new line. The degree of variation from that line will be minimal; the famous Jewish idea that if you have two Jews, you will have three opinions, does not hold here. For the entire conference is psychically built on one issue—Jewish survival—and on questions of Jewish survival, Jews defer to their leaders, as the Torah shows. There is utter orthodoxy. As I came into the hall for the Shimon Peres speech, two Jewish women (Rae Abileah and Medea Benjamin) were being dragged out kicking and screaming. Their opinions on Gaza were not welcome. The next day when two women interrupted Joe Biden’s speech, the whole conference rose as one to applaud and drown them out. Very Brezhnev.

When one considers the thought and writing of Mondoweiss, it is impossible not to keep returning to adjectives like dishonest and disingenuous. The search for synonyms in order to avoid monotonous drone becomes tiresome. Weiss knows full well that the purpose of the AIPAC policy conference is not to admit debate from ideologically antagonistic interlocutors, anymore than it is the purpose of the Democratic or Republican Party conventions to invite their opposites from the floor on such matters as abortion or gay marriage. Anymore than it is the purpose of the NRA annual convention to debate, in ceremonial assembly, with representatives of The Brady Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, or for attendees at a Planned Parenthood conference to be denounced at the dais as baby killers. Or at the AIPAC, again, to enter into discussion with CODEPINK activists hoisting banners that read “No Money for War Crimes.” These are all, Weiss knows, organizations of the generally like-minded, who discuss their differences, usually, amongst themselves and not in public with those who despise them and pretend to be seeking honest dialogue. But Weiss, like Blumenthal, is a merry agitprop prankster, for whom the essence of good political street theater is a story line of engagement sought, culminating in a well-plotted climax of disruptive embarrassment, preferably requiring the use of security personnel for maximum repressive affect. Then Weiss may seek to regale readers with totalitarian comparisons. (Fascist? Communist? Whatever.) How very, may I say, Socialist Worker Party of him. But that would be so unfair of me, shallow and juvenile, like calling the faculty advisor of that high school newspaper – who won’t go for the dungy scentorama – a dictator.

By the end of the AIPAC account we are brought to, actually, something rather real, to which Weiss is, indeed, touchingly prone. It is historically not uncommon for people like Weiss, Horowitz (I’ll get to him), and Blumenthal to be denounced as “self-hating Jews.” I am, I confess, more partial to “fools.” But there is a transparency to Weiss that does introduce the personal “issues” at work in his political agitation:

The torment at the heart of my writing here is that I grew up in tribal ways; and I recognized that woman [a Holocaust survivor] as an older Jew like my parents and my parents’ friends—in fact I even ran into one of my parents’ friends there!–and the basis of my napkin-biting moment is that AIPAC brought me home to this identification. I put aside my assimilationist feelings, my intermarried goyim-loving feelings, and got back to the fact that this is the community I was raised in and love and have grown out of but still love; and I am not going to be deracinated.

Hm. One can fill in the blanks of this story in a multitude of ways, but we recognize an outline. A pressing question, too, is – who is it, exactly, who is deracinating Weiss? Even he treats the matter ambiguously. And in this confusion of identity, the Jew in fear of his own deracination reaches for the fat on the flanken: he reasserts himself as a member of the “tribe.” From goyim-loving assimilation he dives now straight into the schmaltz. Soon he’ll be longing to sit down with the whole mishpucha.

The personal crisis gets worse, however.

Weiss travels to Gaza with CODEPINK. He is moved by what he sees – in strange ways – though he remains no less prejudicially determined in his understanding of the causes of it. He returns to New York, seeming tortured as he mingles with likeminded thinkers, and posts, yesterday as I write, June 25, “feeling the rage in new york” – a post that as of at least 2:30 EST on June 26, just one day later, has now been removed from the Mondoweiss site, though you can find the cache of the page here and here. Weiss’s feelings, a mixture of political outrage, seething passion, and personal confusion are raw, producing an awed tenderness of response from his commenters. What follows are selected quotes from “feeling the rage in new york.” You may find them to provide a potential explanation for second thought and the post’s deletion.

The Hebrew sounds as bad in Miriam’s ear as German did back in the 50s, when people hated the Germans.

Emily and I go out on West End Avenue, and a blonde mother goes by with two kids. I hear her talking Hebrew and I feel anger toward her. The kids are in cute outfits. They must have some money to live in this neighborhood. I think about all the seculars who are leaving Israel, and why they don’t speak out against a basic Zionist principle: the necessity of the Jewish state.

she has an appointment with the legislative assistant to her congressman. His name sounds Jewish. I feel anger at him, and give her suggestions of what to say to the guy.

I used to get in screaming matches at dinner parties about The Subject…. I have alienated myself from my peers over this issue. They don’t want to hear. But I don’t know that I can blame them entirely. I seem to have found this spot, of righteous and critical distance. I suppose I had it in my family, too. I really need to take responsibility for my own anger.

A lot is going through my head. At the meeting, Jane said that one problem with our issue is that, Like it or not, it’s going to draw anti-Semites. They show up at lectures and talks. She’s right. I’ve met anti-Semites cloaked in their righteous criticism. I saw anti-Jewish hatred in Gaza, where they paint dustbins with the Star of David. I’ve felt that hatred of Israel myself. When you see the monstrosities of Gaza, you can’t help but feel hatred.

A friend at the meeting said that Hamas only fires rockets to get attention to the siege, which would never command world attention anyway. I know this is true, but. It isn’t like there hasn’t been violent murderous rage on our side of this struggle for a long time.

The situation is built around an edifice of rage. Ever since I got back, I keep wondering what if the Palestinians accepted. Accepted everything and anything for a state, sought the whole world’s good opinion by acceptance. Now they have 90 percent of the good opinion, but they don’t have Washington or Establishment Jews yet. What if Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, who met with them and talked with them about the west, convinced them to take another step of acceptance so that the students could get out of the territory? And forget about all the Green Lines and 1948, and the old stories. Just accept. And lo, there was a mini-state, or a bantustan, and peace and a civil rights struggle. Then maybe Israel would collapse. The hatred and animosity would disappear and so would the reason to be there. They would all move to West End Avenue.

The threads here are several. The tribal heart-call of the AIPAC post seems clearly overwhelmed by what is emerging as an ethnic animus. Just to hear Hebrew, to hear a Jewish-sounding name, produces anger. There is recognition of the anti-Semitic appeal of his ideas, but rather than allow pause by this fact, Weiss voices understanding of the “hatred,” which he says you can’t help but feel. Then he ponders, in the spirit-tone of so many who become fatigued with hating and fighting and dying in irreconcilability, what if they just accepted? What if the Palestinians just accepted all that they have never been willing to accept in order to gain all that they have never had, a state of their own?

“Then maybe Israel would collapse.”

The unyielding desire. The core passion. Not peace. But Israel’s collapse.

“The hatred and animosity would disappear and so would the reason to be there.”

In how many languages can one utter the word “fool”?

“They would all move to West End Avenue.”

Not “the Jews.” Not “we” – the tribe. “They.”

The driving spirit behind Mondoweiss is an end to the Jewish state – Israel. Even in fantasies of a resigned acceptance to fact that is always an element in peace making between enemies, the goal remains, like a dead man’s arm reaching up from the grave for a neck, Israel’s demise.

This has a familiar ring, too. Here, from an interview with PLO Ambassador to Lebanon Abbas Zaki, which aired on ANB TV on May 7, 2009, transcript by MEMRI:

They talk about a two-state solution, and when that is achieved… Even Ahmadinejad, leader of the rejectionists throughout the region, said he supports a two-state solution. Nobody fools anybody.

With the two-state solution, in my opinion, Israel will collapse, because if they get out of Jerusalem, what will become of all the talk about the Promised Land and the Chosen People? What will become of all the sacrifices they made – just to be told to leave? They consider Jerusalem to have a spiritual status. The Jews consider Judea and Samaria to be their historic dream. If the Jews leave those places, the Zionist idea will begin to collapse. It will regress of its own accord. Then we will move forward.

In “Mr. Horowitz, tell us what you think of the two-state solution,” Adam Horowitz responds, “There is a short answer and a longer answer to this question. The short answer is that I don’t take a position on one state or two states. In the end I’m not invested in one end product, but in ending the conflict.” As is usually so with Mondoweiss, complete honesty is never available. First, for Horowitz – or for me, for that matter – not to take a position on a matter like the two-state solution is meaningless, is to be coy without any corresponding appeal. Neither Horowitz nor I have any say in the matter. We are not players in the decision making, however much Mondoweiss may preen in self-important fantasy, and so the basis for an interlocutor’s refraining from expressing an opinion on a core issue – that he may continue to play the role of honest broker, which, at any rate, Horowitz is not – does not apply. And besides, the longer answer is that the shorter answer is bullshit.

The longer answer gets to the real reason I think people tend to ask this question, especially if they’re confrontational: they are asking if I support a Jewish state. The simple answer is no.

Mondoweiss gained happy-making attention from the Blumenthal video. Its creators and contributors post on one of the most widely read blog sites, The Huffington Post. The influential Talking Points Memo, via it TPMCafe, now syndicates Mondoweiss’s posts. So what we are witnessing is a growing acceptance of its view that bears consideration.

The writing and thinking are shoddy, we see, marked by blind prejudice and the active influence in the political sphere of confusion in personal identity and psychic demons.

What more can we say? That – though I would disagree myself with almost all of the judgments – out of humanistic sympathy for Palestinian aspirations and suffering through all these years of conflict, Mondoweiss advocates for greater Israeli compassion in its ascendency? That it seeks more humane treatment toward Palestinians in administration of road-blocks and check points? That it seeks, even, a unilateral end to all of the partial and periodic “occupations” prior to any other agreement on disputed issues? That it argues for the constructive role that might be played by the complete opening of the Gaza borders? That it believes the recent Gaza conflict (and probably, then, by reasoned extension, every other Israeli military action over the decades that was not an immediate defensive response to a conventional attack by a national army) was misguided and excessive? That it believes the West Bank settlements – just as the Gaza settlements, now unilaterally dismantled – are illegal and immoral and need to be removed as a basis for a just settlement, leading to the willingness of an empowered Palestinian authority to agree, for the first time, to exchange land for peace and to recognize a Jewish state of Israel while gaining a Palestinian state?

Can we say all this of Mondoweiss? No, we cannot. Not really. For while Mondoweiss may at times espouse these positions, none of them are the end it seeks to serve, not even the ultimate end of a just settlement and a lasting peace. In conflict, a just settlement recognizes the legitimate desires of all parties, not the moral claim of only one. But the active agents behind Mondoweiss do not believe that Israel, or the Jewish people in relation to Israel, has just desires. Horowitz does not support the existence of a Jewish state. Blumenthal, like him, believes that Zionism (Jewish nationalism) – in apparent contradistinction to any other nationalism – is inherently racist. Weiss, a deeply anti-Semitic work in progress, in his haziest, most narcotic fantasy of peace, envisions as its ecstatic end not the peace, but the end of Israel.

The cause of Mondoweiss is not a settlement of grievances. It is not peace. The cause Mondoweiss serves, the position it espouses, is that of the most unreconstructed, unrelenting, and agonistic of all Palestinian positions and causes – and end to a Jewish state in its ancient homeland. It is a position, coming from Mondoweiss no less than from any Palestinian – or Israeli in reverse – that will further not the interests of peace, but the continuation of conflict, and of the suffering of all, especially Palestinian suffering, over which Mondoweiss hearts purport to bleed.

This is the malice of Mondoweiss.

AJA

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