Anti-Semite and Jew

As someone who identifies as Jewish—who periodically goes to shul, celebrates some if not all of the holidays, and tries at least some (ahem) of the time to get off the internets for shabbos—yet opposes Zionism, I thought I’d heard all the charges that have been and could be made against me and my tribe. But yesterday, Jeffrey Goldberg, the Atlantic writer and one of the leading voices of liberal Zionism in this country, threw a new one into to the mix.

In my experience, those Jews who consciously set themselves apart from the Jewish majority in the disgust they display for Israel, or for the principles of their faith, are often narcissists, and therefore seem to suffer from an excess of self-regard, rather than self-loathing.

What caught my eye (really, my ear) was not the evident wrongness of the claim, starting with the lazy assumption that those who oppose the State of Israel are somehow setting “themselves apart from the Jewish majority.” It was that “excess of self-regard.” Whether Goldberg knows it or not, or was conscious of it when he used it, that charge has a pedigree in Jewish—or rather anti-Jewish—history.

To be sure, there is within Judaism an injunction, and more generally an ethos, not to separate oneself from the Jewish people. The Wicked Son at the Passover Seder asks, “What does this service [or ritual or story] mean to you?” His wickedness lies in that final hissing “to you”: he refuses to acknowledge that in addition to being an “I” he is also a “We.” Verses in the Pirkei Avot enjoin us not to hold ourselves apart from the community. There’s also a Halachic stipulation that for the sake of practicality and communal living, Jews must abide by legal rulings regarding everyday ritual and civil law. Despite the many differences and disagreements it generates, Judaism is not really a religion of individuals or individualism; it is the religion of a people. Am Yisrael: the people of Israel.

But, as far as I can see, there is little in the tradition that views the dissenter as somehow haughty or superior, narcissistic or self-regarding. And while friends more knowledgeable than I joke that one can always find evidentiary support in the Talmud for some claim or other, this particular one would probably require some digging. If it exists, it’s a subterranean position. And how could it not be? For every two Jews, goes the old saw, there are three opinions. If every unorthodox statement were treated as a symptom of overweening arrogance or pride, well, there’s not enough room in the universe—let alone the Talmud—to contain such a lexicon of self-regard.

In fact, the only document I can think of that even approximates such an accusation is Annie Hall. Think of those scenes where a young Alvie Singer presses his existential concerns (“The universe is expanding”) upon his parents only to be told by his mother, “What is that your business?” and, later, “You never could get along with anyone at school. You were always outta step with the world.” Or perhaps that scene in Hannah and her Sisters where Mickey (the Woody Allen character) tells his parents he’s thinking of converting to Catholicism because he’s afraid there’s no God or life after death, and his father replies, “How do you know?” and his mother, less indulgently, “Of course there’s a God, you idiot! You don’t believe in God?” Aside from these hints that the questioner of—or deserter from—the faith is somehow punching above his weight (and, of course, the characters here are speaking the language of parents rather than Judaism), it’s hard to find this specific rhetoric of accusation that I’m talking about, in which the dissenter is impeached as a presumptuous snob, in the Jewish tradition.

But if you’re not in the mood for digging deep, if you want quick and easy access to that rhetoric, simply put your hand into the garbage can of anti-Semitism. For it is there, in the rubbish of ancient and modern history, that you’ll find the accusation that the Jew who refuses to conform to the ways of the dominant culture—with the culture now understood, of course, to be non-Jewish—is smug and superior, that he assumes he knows better and believes he is better than the majority. Because how else are we to understand a minority insisting upon its own ways over and against the majority?

Robert Wistrich’s A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad is a veritable compendium of such accusations, from ancient pagans to Vichy officials to Brezhnev’s Soviet Union to the modern Arab world (making full allowances, as Wistrich does not, for the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism). Over and over, one hears the complaint from the anti-Semite that the Jew has set himself up not only in opposition to, but in judgment upon, the dominant culture. And that in doing so he has presumed himself to be better than that culture.

Of course, that accusation often preys upon the complicated—and by no means uncontroversial—notion of chosenness within the Jewish tradition. Bernard Lazare, the Jewish radical who wrote the first genuine history of anti-Semitism just before the Dreyfus Affair (and whose work had a tremendous influence upon Hannah Arendt), offered a version of this claim. In Wistrich’s lucid paraphrase:

Bernard Lazare was convinced that the “revolutionary spirit of Judaism” had been a major factor in anti-Semitism through the ages. Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Karl Marx were prime examples of Jewish iconoclasts of their time. The Jews, by creating an intensely demanding God of morality and justice whose stern monotheism brooked no toleration of alien deities, threatened the natural order. The prophetic vision of an abstract transcendent Godhead above nature, a deity without form or shape, who had nonetheless created the universe and would in the fullness of time redeem all mankind, was disconcerting, powerful, and mysterious to the pagan world. It was rendered especially irritating by the Jewish claim to be a “chosen people,” a “kingdom of priests,” and a ferment among the Gentiles. Anti-Semitism could best be seen as an instinctive response by the nations of the world to this provocation—to the uncanny challenge of an eternal people, whose refusal to assimilate defied all established historical patterns. Hatred of the Jews was often combined with fear, envy….

Though it seems quite wrong to me to locate the sources of anti-Semitism in anything Jews do or say—and that’s not really Lazare’s point, I don’t think—there can be no doubt, as Wistrich shows, that anti-Semites have consistently chosen to interpret the Jewish insistence on separateness and difference (leave aside the more difficult notion of chosenness) as a bid for superiority.

Conversely, and ironically, for writers like Tom Paine, it is precisely this insistence upon setting themselves apart that has been not only the glory of the Jewish people but the guarantor of whatever is democratic and egalitarian in their culture. In Common Sense, Paine takes up a lengthy disquisition on the question “of monarchy and hereditary succession.” There he makes a special point of noting that the Jews were originally without a king and were governed instead by “a kind of republic administered by a judge and the elders of the tribes.”

But the temptation to monarchy dies hard, Paine observes, even among the Jews.  And the reason it dies hard is that the desire to conform, to abandon one’s ways in the face of outside pressure, dies harder. So frequently does Paine recur to the lures and dangers of imitation and conformity—”Government by kings was first introduced into the world by the Heathens, from whom the children of Israel copied the custom”; “We cannot but observe that their motives were bad, viz. that they might be like unto other nations, i.e. the Heathens, whereas their true glory laid in being as much unlike them as possible”—that we might say for Paine (at least in Common Sense; Age of Reason sounds a different note) it is the Jew’s refusal to conform that most guarantees his democratic and egalitarian credentials.

For Jeffrey Goldberg, it’s the reverse. It’s the Jew who sets himself apart from the dominant culture—Goldberg’s referring to mainstream Judaism, of course, rather than the culture as a whole, but the structure of the argument is the same—who is making a bid for superiority. And in this respect, Goldberg is aligning himself with neither Judaism nor democracy but their antitheses.

It’s ironic that what started this whole discussion, for Goldberg and excellent journalists like Spencer Ackerman, was the use of the controversial term “Israel-Firster” by critics of Israel and the ensuing debate over whether or not it’s anti-Semitic. I don’t have much of a dog in that fight: I’ve never used and would never use the term, not because it questions the patriotism of American Jews but because it partakes of the vocabulary of patriotism in the first place, a vocabulary I find suspect and noxious from beginning to end. Even so, I’m amazed that someone who is so quick to find anti-Semitism in the words of others is so careless about its presence in his own.

* * * * *

A special word of thanks goes to Jeffrey Shoulson for walking me through the thickets of Jewish liturgy and commentary. Jeff’s an old friend from college and graduate school, whose book Milton and the Rabbis: Hebraism, Hellenism, and Christianity won the Salo Baron Prize for First Book in Judaic Studies from the American Academy of Jewish Research. He’s a professor of English at the University of Miami, where he’s now working on a book called Fictions of Conversion: Jews, Christians, and Cultures of Change in Early Modern England, due out next year with University of Pennsylvania Press. It goes without saying that any errors in this post are entirely mine.


  1. Brahmsky January 27, 2012 at 10:40 pm | #

    Incisive as always. Can’t believe someone else made it through the Wistrich.

  2. Deb January 28, 2012 at 1:49 am | #

    President Charles de Gaulle certainly subscribed to the view of Jews as an “elite people, sure of themselves and domineering” and publicly called out Israel as an expansionist state. He even defended this outrageous position in his memoirs.

    • Corey Robin January 28, 2012 at 7:57 am | #

      Yes, that one makes an appearance in Wistrich (that Vichy-era official I refer to made a big point of defending it); I had never heard of it.

  3. Greg January 28, 2012 at 7:13 am | #

    as in all of nature, separateness makes for easy predation..

  4. s. wallerstein January 28, 2012 at 7:26 am | #

    For those who have never read it, Isaac Deutscher’s classic essay on the Non-Jewish Jew:

    For the record, I’m Jewish and I oppose the Israeli occupation of the territories conquered in the 1967 War.

    • LonD January 28, 2012 at 9:05 am | #

      yes, this was also the title of a collection of his essays posthumously published. Norman Finkelstein critiqued Deutscher for trying to have his universalist cake and eat it too:

      If only because of its eminent provenance and frequent quotation, one last argument merits consideration. The Marxist historian Isaac Deutscher put forth, in the form of a parable, less a justification than a largely sympathetic ex post facto explanation for Zionism’s trampling of Palestinian rights:

      A man once jumped from the top floor of a burning house in which many members of his family had already perished. He managed to save his life; but as he was falling he hit a person standing down below and broke that person’s legs and arms. The jumping man had no choice; yet to the man with the broken limbs he was the cause of his misfortune. If both behaved rationally, they would not become enemies. The man who escaped from the blazing house, having recovered, would have tried to help and console the other sufferer; and the latter might have realized that he was the victim of circumstances over which neither of them had control. But look what happens when these people behave irrationally. The injured man blames the other for his misery and swears to make him pay for it. The other, afraid of the crippled man’s revenge, insults him, kicks him, and beats him up whenever they meet. The kicked man again swears revenge and is again punched and punished. The bitter enmity, so fortuitous at first, hardens and comes to overshadow the whole existence of both men and to poison their minds.

      This account gives Zionism both too little and too much credit. The Zionist denial of Palestinians’ rights, culminating in their expulsion, hardly sprang from an unavoidable accident. It resulted from the systematic and conscientious implementation, over many decades and despite vehement, often violent, popular opposition, of a political ideology the goal of which was to create a demographically Jewish state in Palestine. To suggest that Zionists had no choice–or, as Deutscher puts it elsewhere, that the Jewish state was a “historic necessity”–is to deny the Zionist movement’s massive and, in many respects, impressive exertion of will, and the moral responsibility attending the exertion of this will, in one rather than another direction. The expulsion of Palestinians did not come about on account of some ineluctable, impersonal objective force compelling Palestinians to leave and Jews to replace them. Were this the case, why did the Zionists conscript, often heavy-handedly, the Jewish refugees after World War II to come to Palestine and oppose their resettlement elsewhere? Why did they stimulate, perhaps even with violent methods, the exodus of Jews from the Arab world to Palestine? Why did they call, often in deep frustration and disappointment, for the in-gathering of world Jewry after Israel’s establishment? If Zionist leaders didn’t make the obvious amends after the war of allowing Palestinians to return to their homes and sought instead to fill the emptied spaces with Jews, it’s not because they behaved irrationally, but rather, given their political aim, with complete rationality.

      Deutscher, of course, knows all this. Indeed, he acknowledges that “[f]rom the outset Zionism worked towards the creation of a purely Jewish state and was glad to rid the country of its Arab inhabitants.” To claim that Zionist leaders acted irrationally in refusing to “remove or assuage the grievance” of Palestinians, then, is effectively to say that Zionism is irrational: for, given that the Palestinians’ chief grievance was the denial of their homeland, were Zionists to act “rationally” and remove it, the raison d’être of Zionism and its fundamental historic achievement in 1948 would have been nullified. And if seeking to “rid the country of its Arab inhabitants” was irrational, how can the “positive” flipside of this goal, a Jewish state, have been a “historic necessity”? It’s equally fatuous to assert that Palestinians act irrationally when they “blame” the Zionists “for their misery” and not accept that they were “the victim of circumstances over which neither of them had control.” It’s only irrational if Zionists bore no responsibility for what happened. Yet Deutscher is nearly breathless in his praise for the achievements of the Zionists in Palestine: “The emergence of Israel is indeed . . . a phenomenon unique in its kind, a marvel and a prodigy of history, before which Jew and non-Jew alike stand in awe and amazement.” Isn’t it pure apologetics to sing paeans to the summoning of material and moral energy that made possible such undoubtedly real accomplishments, yet deny, in the name of “historic necessity” and “fortuitous” “circumstances,” that any real responsibility is incurred for the dark underside of them? The selfsame concentrated will, meticulous attention to detail, and lucid premeditation that created Israel also created its victims.

      • s. wallerstein January 28, 2012 at 9:50 am | #


        I don’t have the text which you are quoting from.

        Is it available online?

        If so, can you link to it?


      • LonD January 28, 2012 at 11:13 am | #

        Above post is an excerpt from the Introduction to Finkelstein’s Beyond Chutzpah which is available in at least one form online here. The introduction to Image and Reality of the Israel–Palestine Conflict can also be read online here (PDF).

      • matt January 28, 2012 at 3:50 pm | #

        There’s a link to Finkelstein’s book (labeled ‘critiqued’) at above where it’s selling for $7 used.

      • s. wallerstein January 29, 2012 at 7:30 am | #


        Thanks for the links.

        I’ll look at them later.

        However, it seems that Deutscher’s metaphor of the jumping man from the burning house is, to say the least, misleading.

        It ignores the fact that many of the early Zionist settlers in Palestine were not fleeing from the Holocaust as well as the fact that Zionism is no “accident”, but a colonialist project.

        In fact, it misleads in many other aspects.

        Thanks once again for calling my attention to it.

      • starbuck63Neil January 30, 2012 at 6:26 am | #

        Yes – the metaphor is misleading to say the least, and in fact dishonest in many ways: a more honest version would have had the falling man not only breaking the other man’s arms and legs when he fell but in addition getting up and taking the latter’s house while he was incapacitated.

  5. Crystal January 28, 2012 at 10:39 am | #

    Another problem is Mr. Goldman’s shallow pop psychology. Narcissism is not, in fact, “an excess of self-regard, rather than self-loathing.” Narcissism is instead the utter absence of self-regard.

    Read the myth. When Narcissus gazed lovingly into the pool of water, he had no idea he was seeing himself reflected back. He thought it was someone else. No wonder he fell in and drowned, not unlike what passes for Mr. Goldberg’s intellect.

    • Crystal January 28, 2012 at 11:21 am | #

      Typo: That should be “Goldberg,” not “Goldman,” in the first sentence.

    • Corey Robin January 28, 2012 at 10:08 pm | #

      Yes, that was one of Christopher Lasch’s consistent points in his *Culture of Narcissism*: that narcissism actually reflects a total absence of self-regard and sturdy sense of self.

  6. StephenKMackSD January 28, 2012 at 11:12 am | #

    Dear Mr. Robin,
    Since you felt the need to describe your relationship with and felt identity as Jewish, let me present myself as queer atheist, without any respect for any part of the Abrahamic Tradition. My respect for group identities is nil, even the notion of ‘gayness’. Does that qualify me as an Anti-Semite? Just to be perfectly transparent. Your essay was enlightening but a bit wide of the mark: the recent attempts by a variety of Israel apologists to identify and shame political opponents into silence by identifying words and phrases like ‘Israel Firsters, American Likudniks and the term ‘divide loyalty’ as Anti-Semitic is purely a matter of self-interested politicking, without, of course, engaging in libel. If you first proclaim the politicization of your religion and culture : Zionism then you must expect in the rough and tumble of American politics some not so savory commentary. I would use and have used ‘American Likudnik’ and I think that the notion of ‘divided loyalty’ is empirically demonstrable, see comments by Nadler, Schumer, Wassermann-Schultz,Jennifer Rubin,William Kristol etc., the list is long. No one person or group can control the terms of political debate, but in this instance we witness, across the political spectrum, an attempt to silence critics of the Israeli policies of theft of land and state terror against their fellow citizens, who are not of the group. Very often group identity becomes toxic and self-destructive, not at all surprising, but loyalty to the group takes precedence over a sobering dose of ethical honesty.

    • Corey Robin January 28, 2012 at 10:13 pm | #

      I appreciate what you have to say here, but I’m not at all sure why that means my post is “wide of the mark.” It may be wide of *your* mark, but surely, there’s enough room on the internet for more than one angle on this question. Particularly since my angle doesn’t conflict with yours at all; it’s merely different.

  7. John Halle January 28, 2012 at 12:09 pm | #

    Corey, I’m curious as to your opinion on Yuri Slezkine’s The Jewish Century and the critique of Zionism which derives from it. Namely, that the Jewish identity from as long back as it can be traced historically, has been identified with cosmopolitanism, or as Slezkine describes it “Mercurianism” which literally means (so he says) a pile of bricks, i.e. the absence of a home or a “homeland”. It follows that those who base their identity in relationship to a particular state are guilty of a profound historical anachronism. While the ultimate conclusion is the same as yours, (Israel firsters have no understanding of what it means to be Jewish) Slezkine derives this conclusion from a very different historical reading from yours, but one which explains a great deal.

    • Corey Robin January 28, 2012 at 10:38 pm | #

      I don’t know the book. I hesitate to make claims such as these, at least in such a definitive form. I’m no expert on these matters, for starters. And while I myself am not big on states and homelands as sources of identity, I would be leery of saying that the absence of a home or a homeland is the essence of Jewish identity (in part b/c I don’t think there is any *essence* of Jewish identity, and in part b/c a homeland is obviously now a big part of Jewish identity, albeit not mine. It has been for at least the entirety of the existence of the State of Israel and before that for many Zionists, who are part of the Jewish community, it was part of their identity to get a state. And Jews have had complicated relationships with the societies in which they’ve lived, some more favorable, some less so, and remember states have only been around since the modern era; before that there were empires, republics, city-states, etc., about which Jews had many different feelings and identifications. So I’d be careful. Also I wasn’t arguing that people like Goldberg “have no understanding of what it means to be Jewish”; obviously they do, insofar as what he says clearly resonates with some portion of the Jewish community. Not me, but others. I was making a more limited claim about is specific statement and its lineage.

      • John Halle January 29, 2012 at 2:36 pm | #

        Thanks Corey.
        This is the first and, I promise, last time I will issue such a recommendation, but I urge you to read Slezkine’s book (its lukewarm reviews in the NYRB and the Nation notwithstanding). I think you will find it eye opening on all of these matters.

  8. rolandah502 January 28, 2012 at 12:59 pm | #

    The essence in these discussions and comments is contained in LonD’s illustration of reason and moderation applied in situations where no clear and clean moral standards can separate and delineate right from wrong, injured from injurer.
    Additionally, the always suspect claim of anti-patriotism enters here. It is one of these words used to quash any dissent (always minority), even if and when it is offered with a positive, problem solving, condition improving intent. “Patriotism” is used as a powerful emotional appeal when reason cannot carry the day.

  9. J Suizser January 28, 2012 at 3:34 pm | #

    Who is paying Glen Greenwald?

  10. Deb January 29, 2012 at 1:16 pm | #

    Chomsky’s take on “antisemitism of the left”. I was reminded of his comments while attending an exhibition basketball match not long ago at which a 5,000 strong family oriented crowd laughed unreservedly at openly Islamophobic jokes at the expense of a bearded player (who come to think of it could have been a black Muslim).

  11. Frank January 29, 2012 at 3:58 pm | #

    Out of curiosity, are Jewish desires for “national” self-determination always suspect? Is this an illegitimate goal?

    • Todd January 29, 2012 at 5:25 pm | #

      They’re always suspect if they involve deliberate policies of ethnic cleansing and/or genocide.

      • Frank January 29, 2012 at 5:31 pm | #

        That’s a pretty useless, vitriolic answer. Or more simply, it’s tautological. Obviously ethnic cleansing and genocide are bad, and the case can be made that the former of which (but not the latter) have sometimes been a part of Israeli policy. So, if you’re saying that ethnic cleansing is bad, by definition (tautologically) it is. But to equate Jewish self-determination necessarily with those policies, helps no one, and avoids answering my question.

      • LonD January 29, 2012 at 6:09 pm | #

        It’s not as if those ‘friends of Israel’ who have a fire in their belly on the matter are squeamish when it comes to the notion that ‘ethnic cleansing and genocide are bad’. The distinguished Cambridge trained Israeli historian Benny Morris does not think so (“There are circumstances in history that justify ethnic cleansing.”) and ‘one of the most influential living political philosophers’ (whose resurrected medieval historic notion of “Just War” was cited by Obama in his Nobel acceptance speech) is also left unfazed at the prospect of driving out of Palestinians as they remain ‘marginal to the nation’ and should ideally be ‘helped to leave’. No wonder Chomsky described Walzer’s greatest speciality as ‘assign[ing] a special status to Israel and reconstruct[ing] the “moral world” accordingly’:

        Beginning in the late 1970s (but especially after the Lebanon War), new scholarship became available which cast Israel and the Zionist legacy generally in a much harsher light than hitherto. Paralleling these literary revelations were the practical, political ones of Israel’s brutal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Defending Israel with reference to the ordinary standards of right and wrong proved increasingly difficult. Symptomatically, Walzer jettisoned the liberal project–most famously in Spheres of Justice–as he argued that there was no universal moral code but, rather, only ethnically specific clusters of ‘shared understandings’: one ‘national “family”’ cannot be judged by applying the ‘shared understandings’ of another, and–more important–there is no common language to morally adjudicate between ‘national “families”’ should a conflict arise. Substantive moral judgments are strictly reflexive. The moral universe inhabited by a ‘national “family”’ is separate and disparate, homogeneous and enclosed. The liberation of one nation, as Walzer suggests in Exodus and Revolution, is not at all tainted if achieved at the expense of another nation’s extermination. Each ‘national “family”’ judges for itself according to its own peculiar standards and exigencies what is just and what is not. Incommensurate, juxtaposed ‘national narratives’ thus displaced in Walzer the embracive notion of ‘just and unjust wars’.

        Culminating Walzer’s rupture with liberalism is The Company of Critics. Walzer–like the fascist ideologues that Julien Benda chastised in The Treason of the Intellectuals–now professes that not only is there no universally applicable standard of justice but that, even if one were contrived, the ‘connected’ social critic would still privilege his ‘own’ people.

      • LonD January 30, 2012 at 12:30 pm | #

        I had not seen the City Journal article. Corey’s LRB article and Russell Jacoby’s take on her seem much more worthwhile to me:

        Arendt’s achievement ultimately rests on Eichmann in Jerusalem, as well as
        some tough-minded essays and thoughtful profiles. On occasion she was
        woefully off target, such as in her reflections on Little Rock, Ark., where
        she glimpsed “mob rule” (and a violation of “the rights of privacy”) in
        President Eisenhower’s use of federal troops to force school integration. On
        the other hand, her essays on Zionism and Israel bear rereading. She was a
        sharp critic of Zionist militarism. She warned in 1948 that an uncompromising
        Zionism might win the next war but questioned where that would lead. “The
        ‘victorious’ Jews would live surrounded by an entirely hostile Arab
        population, secluded inside ever-threatened borders, absorbed with physical
        self-defense,” she wrote in The Jew as Pariah. Such observations are among
        her most salient. It speaks volumes about the state of Arendt scholarship
        that in the recent book by her leading supporter and biographer, those essays
        go unnoticed. In Elisabeth Young-Bruehl’s Why Arendt Matters, which seeks to
        show her relevance to contemporary politics, Arendt’s bold essays on Israel
        and Zionism do not merit mention, much less discussion.

    • herrnaphta January 29, 2012 at 11:18 pm | #

      I don’t think all Jewish desires for national self-determination are suspect. Rather, I would argue that, from Herzl onwards, that project has been based on an alliance with imperialist powers, and explicitly colonialist. This seems to me to be a great tragedy of the twentieth century: that a movement in response to oppression hitched its star to the greatest forces of oppression in history.

      • LonD January 29, 2012 at 11:57 pm | #

        Which is why Hannah Arendt called Zionism an “obsolete” form of nationalism which endeavored “to compromise with the most evil forces of our time by taking advantage of imperialist interests.”

      • Stephen K. Mack (@StephenKMackSD) January 30, 2012 at 10:49 am | #

        Thank you for your brief and revelatory comment,much appreciated. LonD,thanks to you too. Did either of you see the article on Arendt in the City Journal?

      • Frank January 30, 2012 at 3:11 pm | #

        Don’t you see a problem with saying that in theory Jewish national self-determination is legitimate, but in practice, it is illegitimate?

        As for aligning yourself with imperialist powers, there’s an obvious difference between aligning with a power that will grant you the power to govern yourself, and being nothing but a tool of that power. In the context of 19th and early 20th century Europe, the only way any group with national aspirations was going to achieve statehood was with some degree of complicity with imperialist powers. Witness the months of negotiations at Versailles, when the modern state proliferated, and did so as a result of countless groups petitioning the French/Americans/British as they redivided the world.

        As for Arendt, I wouldn’t invest much into her by way of her thoughts on Israel. Many of her positions are extremely idiosyncratic, especially vis-a-vis Judaism, and she’s the last person to whom I’d look for a sober take on Israel. Smart, no doubt, and interesting, but really problematic.

        It’s easy to make a case against Israel, and certainly some kind of case needs to be made given the actually existing oppression they commit, but I find the knee jerk responses really distasteful. It’s one of those cases where the person’s position almost always precedes the evidence.

        Israel might help advance an imperialist agenda, but to see in Israel nothing but imperialism is to discount a people and their legitimate rights, seeing in them nothing but imperialism. Instead, we need a more nuanced approach – one that judges the occupation as harshly as it deserves, while not simply seeing Israel as “occupation.”

  12. Frank January 29, 2012 at 6:45 pm | #

    First off, while hardly a fan of Waltzer, I doubt Chomsky’s retelling of his point. It seems more likely that what Waltzer was trying to say was that in order to judge, you need to pay close attention to context and historic specificity. In other words, applying a Universal ethics without thought for historic specificity doesn’t always (and perhaps never) arrive at an ethical answer. Life is more complicated. Then again, I’ve often thought Waltzer did precisely that, so perhaps Chomsky got it right. Regardless, it’s besides the point. I’d hardly hold up Waltzer as a model of anything ethical or leftist.

    But that aside, I don’t see how the fact that certain right wing extremists justify ethnic cleansing is enough to make a case that Jewish self-determination entails ethnic cleansing. It’s not only foolish logic, it seems wise to be wary whenever you find yourself “agreeing” with how extremists of the “other” side understand matters. Bur polemics aside, I’d hazard to say that most Jews who do feel that national self-determination is important don’t think ethnic cleansing is appropriate, and are likewise horrified by the Occupation.

  13. Corey Robin January 30, 2012 at 3:21 pm | #

    Frank: Arendt is “the last person to whom I’d look for a sober take on Israel”? Surely that can’t be the case. You think Newt Gingrich has a more sober take on Israel than Arendt? Or Michelle Bachmann? Or Elliott Abrams? Shall I go on? I don’t know how much of her work on Israel you’ve read, particularly her prescient essays from the mid-1940s, but even her critics recognize that long before most she got an awful lot right about what was going on in Israel and would be going on in the future. You can certainly criticize her for many things, and for getting many things wrong, but she also got many things right. Again, surely not the last person to whom you’d look for a sober take on the matter.

    • Frank January 30, 2012 at 5:12 pm | #

      I suppose that what I meant to say was that her opinions on Israel were extremely conflicted, and a bit convoluted. I don’t know those other essays, but would be interested to check them out, but Eichmann for instance, is pretty problematic. I think it’s one of her best books, btw, but to my mind, she lacks sufficient care for anti-Antisemitism as an actually existing historical phenomenon. That is, not as yet another example of non-Universalist thought, but as a specific, and particular durable, historical phenomenon. But that’s really besides the point.

      And I don’t see how equating my position with Newt Gingrich or Michelle Bachmann helps matters. I’ve hardly been advocating a position like theirs, I never mentioned their names, and I’ve made it clear I think the Occupation is a horrific exercise of Israeli power.. I’m simply trying to say that equating Jewish calls for national self-determination and imperialism are fallacious, based on really shoddy logic, and make matters worse rather than better in that they alienated many Jews who support Israel (granted not all Jews do, as you mentioned of yourself) but who don’t in any way support the Occupation. Saying that they are the same essentially says that such legitimate calls for political autonomy on behalf of Israeli’s is entirely illegitimate. And when your position at the start of the debate is that one groups self-determination is illegitimate while another groups is legitimate, there’s really not a lot of room for debate – not to mention that this obvious contradiction demonstrates the problem itself. But, even this isn’t t deny that Israeli nationalism has often fueled imperialism, and often allied with it – but to say they’re the same, as often happens in the blanket denunciations of Zionism, as if Zionism was nothing but Imperialism, is to deligitimize the real goals of the many people for whom Israel isn’t just imperialism.

      It’s a real problem among the left, because it seems like acting against the Occupation shouldn’t require a blanket denunciation of Zionism (i.e. Jewish nationalism) as nothing but imperialism. Think of what that does to all the people for whom Zionism meant nothing but the right to a state, and I’d suggest, that these are, in fact, the majority of Zionists – regardless of the historical narrative of Zionism popular among progressives these days. Does what they think of Zionism not matter to what Zionism is? Why do those who focus on the connection between some Zionists and Imperialism get to define what Jewish nationalism is?

      • Corey Robin January 30, 2012 at 5:33 pm | #

        Frank, you really need to slow down. How in the world do you get from my comment that I’m “equating” your position with Gingrich or Bachmann or advocating a position like theirs? Go back and re-read my comment. I took your statement, quoted it verbatim, and used Gingrich and Bachmann to show how there was no way you actually meant what you said. I.e., there was no way you really thought Arendt was “the last person to whom [you’d] look for a sober take on Israel.” The entire premise of that exercise is that you obviously don’t take or advocate Bachmann’s or Gingrich’s positions; otherwise, my little experiment would make no sense.

        But while I have your ear: this little misunderstanding on your part — and then how you’re off and running, pronouncing about “a real problem among the left,” claiming that people in this thread are equating Jewish calls for self-determination with imperialism — when in fact the original comment that set you off was clearly not stating that at all (the person in question quite pointedly specified “IF they involve deliberate policies of ethnic cleansing and/or genocide”) — there’s an awful lot of misreading here on your part which inevitably gets followed up by pronunciamentos regarding what we all supposedly think and shouldn’t think.

        I just ask that you slow down a little bit here, take the time to make sure you’ve gotten what someone is saying, make a good-faith effort to understand the position of your interlocutors, and then proceed to engage.

        Your original comment re Arendt is a case in point. Arendt has a large body of work on the question of Israel, and both of the links that your interlocutor was referring to discuss them. But you, based on your reading of Eichmann in Jerusalem — though she makes comments in passing about Israel there it’s not really the topic of the book — pounce and pronounce. It’s not a good way to have a discussion. By the way, Arendt devoted fully 1/3 of her Origins of Totalitarianism to an analysis of anti-Semitism as a specific historical formation, as in your words an “actually existing historical phenomenon.” As someone who was a keen student of both Bernard Lazare and Kurt Blumenfeld (the latter was her tutor in all things Zionist), it would be odd for her not to have such an understanding.

  14. s. wallerstein January 30, 2012 at 6:20 pm | #


    I just read your essay on Arendt in the London Review linked to above. Really insightful.


    I had read most of Arendt years ago, and now I’m going to have to go back and reread her.

  15. Stephen K. Mack (@StephenKMackSD) January 30, 2012 at 7:58 pm | #

    My question to you: can you not see the propaganda potential that Mr. Sol Stern offers to Conservatives and other supporters of Israel with his portrait of Hannah Arendt as apostate, as dissenter and philosophical ally to Martin Heidegger? This is published by the Manhattan Institute, should we be suspicious of political motive? It is ‘history’ in service to a political end. Namely a rearguard action to provide a critique of a woman who spent her life thinking independently, and making many mistakes, but still she thought for herself, which is what the apologists for the excesses of Zionism would like to expunge from collective memory,by the selective rewriting of history. As a methodology of managing the parameters of legitimate debate. My comment wasn’t a comment on the quality of the essay but was a query on the potential of it’s use in the current debate on ‘Antisemitism’, and the use of Arendt as the archetypal, but utterly unacceptable, dissident from within the fold. I thought the essay was self-evidently propagandistic, perhaps I took too much for granted.
    Best regards

    • LonD January 30, 2012 at 9:24 pm | #

      To be honest, I’m not particularly interested in Arendt or the political uses of her writings and my interest declined further after the squalid “lifting” of Raul Hilberg’s original work became known, after the latter’s death I might add:

      Hilberg stopped documenting Arendt’s borrowings on his spreadsheet after he read the third installment, but “verbatim” was not his last word about the series. Years later, in a letter also found among his papers, he explained to one of Arendt’s biographers, Elzbieta Ettinger, that he had “noticed what she had done as soon as I read the install- ments in the New Yorker.” He continued, “A lawyer of my publisher at the time asked me to draw up a list of items she had lifted. I found about eighty, but he also said that I would have to prove that she could not have obtained the information anywhere else. That proof I could not supply, except in such instances as an error of spelling that she had copied.”

  16. Frank January 30, 2012 at 9:27 pm | #

    I really don’t want to get side tracked into an Arendt conversation. I made a claim about Arendt, I know she speaks at length of antisemitism in OoT, and still think she fails to do justice to antisemitism. But all that’s besides the point.

    This whole thread was started when I asked:

    “Out of curiosity, are Jewish desires for “national” self-determination always suspect? Is this an illegitimate goal?”

    The reason I asked that is likely obvious, but to be explicitly clear, it’s because I think that Zionism, as a word that to many Jews means only Jewish national self-determination, has been thoroughly defined as one and the same with Imperialism.

    Returning to my question, though, the answer I received (from Todd) was this:

    “They’re always suspect if they involve deliberate policies of ethnic cleansing and/or genocide.”

    Now, I entirely recognize that there is an “if” in that sentence, as you pointed out. However, I suspect (and perhaps you’re right and I should have asked more clarifying questions) that what exists in this sentence is that Zionism (as essentially the only significant movement for Jewish self-determination that has ever existed) is indistinguishable from those stated policies, and so, it is suspect. In other words, if the Jews wanted to learn how to behave, if they wanted to express their political aspirations wholly ethically, well then, they’d be legitimate and worth recognizing. However, until such a movement exists, they aren’t.

    Now, I’m not trying to make excuses, but I am trying to say that there are two things going on. 1) Jewish national self-determination, and, 2) the Palestinian Occupation. These things are not the same, and the second shouldn’t invalidate the first, i.e. make them suspect. We might say that the way they are doing it is unethical, and certainly, we can go beyond “may” and say that the way they are doing it is actually unethical, and extremely so, but it’s problematic when we don’t keep these two things distinct. And, given how Zionism is largely defined, I think that generally, we fail to see any difference between the two.

    To reiterate, perhaps somewhat differently, from the point of view of an American, who perhaps sees Israel as an extension of US foreign policy and Imperialism, it’s easy to see Israel as nothing but an Imperial outpost. But, to an Israeli, US imperialism and Zionism are two much different things.

    • Corey Robin January 30, 2012 at 9:51 pm | #

      I’m not sure what you mean by this, Frank: “There are two things going on. 1) Jewish national self-determination, and, 2) the Palestinian Occupation. These things are not the same, and the second shouldn’t invalidate the first, i.e. make them suspect. We might say that the way they are doing it is unethical, and certainly, we can go beyond “may” and say that the way they are doing it is actually unethical, and extremely so, but it’s problematic when we don’t keep these two things distinct. And, given how Zionism is largely defined, I think that generally, we fail to see any difference between the two.”

      Both the terms “Jewish national self-determination” and “the Palestinian Occupation” are quite ambiguous. If by “Jewish national self-determination” you really just mean that — the aspiration of the Jewish people to a homeland, somewhere, anywhere, not in Palestine — then, of course, yes, the two are distinct. If, however, you mean the historic project of Zionism, which was about the settlement of Palestine, with the attending expropriation and expulsion of the Palestinians, then, no, they’re not separate. B/c for many of us who are opposed to Zionism, it’s not simply the “Occupation” as I suspect you understand the term: the control by Israel of Gaza and the West Bank. It’s the original project — again, not of Jewish national self-determination (which though I go back and forth on that issue I believe I ultimately am opposed to, though that’s another discussion for another day — that’s problematic b/c it involves the above.

      So Zionism and expropriation/expulsion really are connected and intertwined. There was always an alternative idea of Zionism that wouldn’t have entailed that kind of expropriation and expulsion (Arendt at times seemed to be part of that formation) but it was a minor stream and lost out. So while you might say that Jewish self-determination — or even Zionism — is conceptually distinct from the expropriation and expulsion of the people who lived in Palestine, historically the two are very much connected. And that makes it legitimate, to my mind, to speak of them as identical projects and to reject them as identical projects.

      You can totally disagree with that. But to simply pronounce ex cathedra that one cannot say that they are the same, that one doesn’t invalidate the other, etc., without a lot more argument and care — and I’m not asking for that here; honestly, the point of this post was not to rehash the Israel/Palestine debate; it was to make a very different point — well, that just seems like precisely the kind of vitriol and bombastic and un-nuanced position you claim to abhor. Some of us, believe it or not, have thought our way into these positions, and it’s a little tiresome to be lectured to and at as if we’re mindless ideologues marching into the wind. It does seem genuinely possible to me that one can understand the historic reasons why the idea of national self-determination, in the form of a state, even in the particular place that state took shape — that one can understand, even empathize with the thinking and feeling that went into that, and yet still ultimately reject it on justice or other grounds.

      Again, not asking you to agree — and certainly not saying anything of this, as I said, in order to rehash that debate. Just to say you’re not the only one in the world who’s thought about or is capable of nuance and seeing two sides of the issue.

    • Todd January 30, 2012 at 10:02 pm | #

      Frank wrote:

      “But to equate Jewish self-determination necessarily with those policies [ethnic cleansing and genocide], helps no one, and avoids answering my question.”

      Well, it certainly didn’t help you (not that I thought it would).

      As for it answering your question, I’m afraid that, given the actual historical trajectory of Zionism, it does. You just don’t like the answer.

      “I am trying to say that there are two things going on. 1) Jewish national self-determination, and, 2) the Palestinian Occupation. These things are not the same”

      Really? What La-La Land does this happen in, outside of your brain?

      For good or ill, those two are inextricably linked, and it’s a bit disingenuous (to put it mildly) to act as though they aren’t. Had other Zionists had their way in the past, things might very well have been different. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen.

      • LonD January 30, 2012 at 11:14 pm | #

        Had other Zionists had their way in the past, things might very well have been different.

        Michael Neumann dealt with these “other Zionists” who were not only divorced from reality, but in their saintly obtuseness actually provided a handy bunch of “useful idiots” for mainstream Zionists:

        …the intentions of a tiny exclusive minority with nebulous plans for some implausibly cooperative two-people government had no point of contact with political realities.
        This dogged lack of realism reflects on the bi-nationalists themselves. Their vague ideas were not policies or platforms but mere attempts at self-deception, at believing that they could have their cake of a homeland in Palestine without eating the conflict that such ambitions inevitably produce. They could see for themselves, that in contrast to their own ineffectual moderation, the most extreme forms of Zionism were on the rise. The bi-nationalists were a testimony, not to the possibility of a “decent Zionism”, but only to the prevalence of idle, wishful thinking among a few Zionists. To say that Zionism wasn’t necessarily a project to establish a Jewish state is like saying that, because a few guys buy Playboy only for the articles, Playboy isn’t essentially a soft-core porn mag.

  17. Frank January 31, 2012 at 12:12 am | #

    Well, I guess, I can’t wrap my head around where this position leads in terms of actual politics, because, it seems like the solution seems to be to ask every Israeli to leave, or, to force them to. Is that where this all leads?

  18. Todd January 31, 2012 at 5:47 am | #

    LonD wrote:

    “these ‘other Zionists’ who were not only divorced from reality, but in their saintly obtuseness actually provided a handy bunch of ‘useful idiots’ for mainstream Zionists”

    I only know about these other Zionists from Norm Finklestein’s essay in “Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict” (don’t recall the name of the piece; I think it’s the first one), but I’m pretty sure I recall him pointing out that these others strenuously opposed the mainstream group’s plans for getting rid of the Palestinians. If you want to call principled opposition to murder and displacement “saintly obtuseness”, that’s your business (however, I will point out another “saintedly obtuse” fellow named Marx who offered a principled opposition to other ills; he and his students were and still are a minority).

    Frank wrote:

    “it seems like the solution seems to be to ask every Israeli to leave, or, to force them to”

    >sarcasm begins heresarcasm ends here<

    • Todd January 31, 2012 at 5:54 am | #

      (Hm. My sarcasm was lost over the Internet. Oh, well.)

      What’s wrong with, at the very uttermost least (even if it’s not a start to something better), _not_ attacking and killing Palestinians or taking any more of their land?

      • Frank January 31, 2012 at 12:44 pm | #

        You’re missing the point, and missing the logic of your own position. From the outset I’ve stated unequivocal opposition to the Occupation. I only wanted clarification of your position, because while I do believe you’re entirely motivated by good intentions, I think that you haven’t really reflected on your own position.

        To be blunt, while I appreciate those good intentions, the way you express them is just plain stupid. And by stupid, I want it clear that I’m using that not as an insult, but in an entirely technical sense. That is, I mean to say that if you thought through your own arguments to their ends, you’d realize that they lead to places you, yourself, disagree with. You’re positions are inconsistent.

        I did want to have a more collegial discussion of this, because some of these problems are evident to me, but I didn’t want to judge before I was sure, and before you had a chance to explain. However, you don’t want to explain – because that might require you to actually think about what you’re saying – instead of just parroting the words of others. I’ll let you go back to the internet, where you can feel comfortable continuing to not think.

    • LonD January 31, 2012 at 9:13 am | #

      Could you point to the piece from Norman Finkelstein in which he discusses binationalism, please? He might have mentioned them in passing in Image and Reality, but I don’t recall ever coming across an entire article or essay by him on the topic. There’s a long tradition of colonial-settler paternalism toward the natives and at best the likes of Magnes (who described Palestinians as “half-savages”) and Buber (whose shady dealings with the locals when it came to literally occupying a choice house when the Arabs were expelled puts him in the long list of those who “discourse like angels, but live like men”) were part of that tradition.

      There’s also a long tradition of admiration for patronizing–as opposed to exterminating–colonizers in the West, and while there were some noble souls among them, few went beyond platitudes when push came to shove and many operated well within the overarching racial supremacist framework that underlay the whole enterprise:

      The League was followed by the Ihud (Union), led by Judah Magnes, chancellor of the Hebrew University, which espoused “a Government in Palestine based on equal political rights of the two peoples” and “a Federative union of Palestine and neighboring countries.” The Union opposed “fixation of the Yishuv as a permanent minority,” and sought the “absorption of the greatest possible number of Jewish immigrants in Palestine.” Binationalism was racialist demography, replete with busy calculations of immigration quotas and growth rates. Postwar, the Union called for the admission of “25,000 children, 25,000 parents, relatives and older person, and 50,000 young people” from Europe. This was a Zionist prescription, emphasizing young “pioneering” stock.

      I’m much more impressed by the hard-headed realism and scholarship of a Hans Kohn than the mystical musings of a Martin Buber. Kohn was so struck by what he saw in the Jewish colony in the Twenties that he left soon thereafter and produced enduring, top-quality scholarship on the phenomenon of Nationalism:

      [Hans] Kohn in particular was deeply troubled by the ways in which Palestinian settlement put Jews in the position of dominating others by power alone, rather than cultural renewal and a dialogical exchange. He was especially unimpressed with arguments based on “historic right” (just as he would be in his writings on nationalism years later). “With the term ‘historic right’,” he suggested, “one can rationalize every kind of injustice.” As he wrote to Buber in 1929: “We have been in Palestine for 12 years now and have not once seriously tried to secure the acceptance of the people or to negotiate with the people that live in the country. We have relied exclusively on the military power of Great Britain. We have set goals that inevitably and in themselves had to lead to conflicts with the Arabs and about which we should say that they are reason–and justified reason–for a national uprising against us.”

      • Todd January 31, 2012 at 11:24 am | #

        He doesn’t discuss binationalism. It’s the first essay (“Zionist Orientations”) in _Image and Reality_, where principled opposition within Zionism is mentioned (I don’t think there’s even a whole paragraph on the topic).

  19. Aleksandar Jokic January 31, 2012 at 4:03 pm | #

    In recent years I have come across very similar “arguments” to Goldberg’s in the context of contemporary Serbia. Who are these Narcissists insisting that it is important to preserve their identity and state? Why should it be important that there be a Serbian state and Serbian people? What is so special about those people to insist on that? As I will try to show in this comment the thinking of the objectors is even more perverted than in the case of Goldberg. And even more peculiar is the fact that in both cases the arguments come from the same interest quarters. Let me try to explain.

    Discerning, self-descriptive sayings like “For every two Jews there are three opinions,” which serve to identify central collective traits of certain groups remind me of excessive similarities between Serbs and Jews, for Serbs, of course, also have a saying conveying the same collective trait: “For every two Serbs there are three opinions”. However, the saying—really the slogan or motto for the totality of Serbian nation originating in events of the Kosovo battle in 1389—that is most relevant for the current discussion is:

    Samo Sloga Srbina Spasava.

    Or in translation:

    Solely Solidarity Saves the Serb

    Just as the same point can be made for Jews, the so-called “four S’s” express the Serbian ancient creed that disunity in crucial moments in the history of a nation can be very harmful for the survival of the community. However, this key imploration that demands unity and solidarity with the clan or tribe members in no way posits the directive requiring homogenous thinking at all times (for no one group is at the edge of destruction at all times—such collective paranoia would be insane). And if I were to venture in the direction of diagnosing anyone (which is above my pay grade) it appears that one demanding continuous homogeneity of thinking within a tribe such as Goldberg’s “If a Jew, then Zionist” or “If a Jew and not Zionist, then pathological Narcissist” is itself pathological leaning in the direction of Narcissism. For what could the content of this homogenous and authentic Jewish thinking be other than what he, Goldberg, is declaring it to be.

    Furthermore, it is easy to imagine writing a piece titled “Anti-Serbianism and Serbs” where a similar point is made to the one Robin asserts that it is in the “garbage can of anti-Semitism” that one finds accusation that expressing an authentic, minority view amounts to arrogance and snobbery. Jews—the anti-Semitic claim goes—who are a minority, living among various state-constituting nations around the world must go with the opinions of the majority if they want to avoid being arrogant snobs. If they fail to go with this program they are accused of being arrogant Narcissists who for some unexplainable reason seem to think that it is important to be Jewish.

    Similarly, Serbs throughout their history find themselves often having to defend themselves against the super-powers of the day threatening to annihilate them. Daring to defend oneself in the face of a super-power’s destructive, anti-Serb project is perceived as arrogant by the powers that be. What is more, the super power has organized and is financing a network of “domestic” NGOs promoting the view that resistance is not only futile, but represents anyone bent on self-defense as arrogant, smug and overly self-confident who thinks he knows better (than the Empire). However, in an expression of extremely healthy self-perception these NGO-fifth-columnists are in fact seen as “rodomrsci”—self-hating clan members by the majority of Serbs. What is particularly perverse in this case is that precisely this majority (within Serbia) is presented by the minority (foreign funded NGO operatives) as the ones who try to set themselves apart, as those who know better. Empowered by the support they are getting from the empire this minority is experiencing itself as if the majority; aligned not with anything that would correspond to the dictum contained in “four Ss” but with the enemy bent on the destruction of their own nation. This could be called perhaps Self-Anti-Serbianism, and Goldberg appears to represent a variant of this when he relies on views expressed by anti-Semites to deploy them against Jews whose views he does not like (because they are critical of Israel). Can we even conceive of a Self-Anti-Semitism?

  20. Todd January 31, 2012 at 9:00 pm | #

    Frank wrote:

    “From the outset I’ve stated unequivocal opposition to the Occupation.”

    Bullshit lie #1.

    “I only wanted clarification of your position”

    So, naturally, you ask for this by stating to my reply:

    “That’s a pretty useless, vitriolic answer.”

    Bullshit lie #2.

    “You’re positions are inconsistent.”

    Well, after bullshit lie #2, it’s a bit late to actually try to show me that, no? Instead of just stating that I’m simply not thinking through what I’m saying, that is . . . .

    “However, you don’t want to explain – because that might require you to actually think about what you’re saying – instead of just parroting the words of others.”

    Not a lie (but still bullshit).

    Sonny, I’ve heard weaselly words like yours so many times that I have little in the way of patience left for them or their speakers. You start with an “innocent” question, then get huffy as soon as the blunt violence of Zionism is brought to your attention (despite the fact that your question begs such a response). Then you try to attribute wildly ridiculous positions to anyone responding to you before running off crying that you were just asking innocent questions and the Big Meanies attacked you because they just didn’t understand you.

    Don’t let the door hit you on your ass on the way out.

    • Frank February 1, 2012 at 7:58 pm | #

      Just to clarify, and this really should be my last post.

      While my first post didn’t denounce the Occupation, as it was only a question, my second one did. Specifically, I said “Obviously ethnic cleansing and genocide are bad, and the case can be made that the former of which (but not the latter) have sometimes been a part of Israeli policy.” Now, that’s not an explicit mention of the Occupation, per se, but I’d hazard that an affirmation that Israeli policies have sometimes entailed what we might call “ethnic cleansing” seems like a pretty explicit statement of my condemnation for much of what Israel does.

      As for your second comment, when you took offense to me calling your response to my initial question “useless and vitriolic,” let’s revisit how this went down, to see if I was being needlessly inflammatory, or if you were, I was just pointing that out.

      So, in response to my first question/post, where I asked, “Out of curiosity, are Jewish desires for “national” self-determination always suspect? Is this an illegitimate goal?” Your responded with this: “They’re always suspect if they involve deliberate policies of ethnic cleansing and/or genocide.”

      Now, Corey himself defended you on the basis of the “if” in your sentence, and technically and grammatically, that “if” saves you. But it only saves you by way of tautology, which I also pointed out. In other words, by way of that if, you’re essentially saying that ethnic cleansing is ethnic cleansing and that’s bad.

      However, read your response in the context of my question and the picture is a little different. In context, you seem to be implying, although not out in the open, that, yes, they are always suspect because they’ve always entailed ethnic cleansing and genocide. Now, leaving aside the question of genocide, which I think is an entirely unsupportable claim, and really only inflames a situation needlessly, given how the reality in the Occupied Territories is actually so bad, that it doesn’t need “embellishment,” your response was precisely vitriolic. Now, perhaps it wasn’t useless, if your aim was vitriol, but if your aim was discussion, it was less than useless, it was counterproductive.

      I’ll leave aside your calling me “weaselly.” I’ll assume that it’s just a general slander, and not meant to imply anything more nefarious. And the only reason I bring it up at all is that, in general, you might want to be a little more careful with your words. It’s easy for things to be mistaken.

      • Todd February 2, 2012 at 10:36 pm | #

        Frank wrote:

        “I’d hazard that an affirmation that Israeli policies have sometimes entailed what we might call ‘ethnic cleansing’ seems like a pretty explicit statement of my condemnation for much of what Israel does.”

        This is a fine example of what I was talking about when I used the term “weaselly words”: you’re trying to have your cake (by “condemning” some of Israel’s policies) and eat it, too (by ignoring that the very wellspring of modern Zionism is the deliberate appropriation, by any and all means deemed necessary, of another person’s land because of Romantic notions about blood and soil). I think your idea of making “an explicit statement of condemnation” is pretty weak tea.

        “In other words, by way of that if, you’re essentially saying that ethnic cleansing is ethnic cleansing and that’s bad.”

        I’m not sure what one would call deliberate (not to mention successful) attempts to move/drive away/kill people of a certain ethnic group so that the land they lived on becomes denuded enough for the aggressor group to move in and de facto lay claim to that land if not “ethnic cleansing”. I’d be delighted to see what you would call my description of ethnic cleansing.

        “yes, they are always suspect because they’ve always entailed ethnic cleansing and genocide”

        And I pointed out to you that a) the Zionism which people have been dealing with almost since its inception was a project involving the use of ethnic cleansing and genocide, and b) there had been a few Zionist voices at the beginning of the project that objected to ethnic cleansing and genocide, but they were a tiny minority that the majority simply ignored. So, yes, actually existing Zionism has always entailed ethnic cleansing and genocide.

        “I’ll assume that it’s just a general slander, and not meant to imply anything more nefarious.”

        “Anything more nefarious”? Sonny, while Israel does maintain its army of Zionists who keep an eye out for posts just like Corey’s in order to argue against anything seen as “anti-semitic” ie anti-Zionist, I don’t know you from Adam, and I’m willing to give you the benefit of some doubt (for the time being). But I do know I’ve read words remarkably like yours many times, and they always come from those seeking “nuanced” or “balanced” positions (much like the position espoused by “white moderates”) which, surprise-surprise, try to downplay deliberate acts of ethnic cleansing and murder, spurred on by an ideology that says that sort of behaviour is just dandy because the “true owners” of the land have mystical blood-ties to it that others lack.

        “this really should be my last post”

        Well, thank God for small favours!

  21. Corey Robin January 31, 2012 at 9:05 pm | #

    Okay everyone, let’s tone it down. If this escalates any further, I’ll start deleting comments and/or shutting down the comment thread entirely. Engagement, argument, forceful engagement and argument is fine. Anything more than that is not.

  22. Chatham February 1, 2012 at 3:18 pm | #

    For those interested, a history of the phrase “Israel-firster”:

    It seems it isn’t, as Goldberg claimed, of neo-Nazi origin. I’m not a fan of the term, and don’t like to dwell on terminology. However, it’s important to remember that a large part of this debate (and others) is taken up by people that throw around untrue allegations, and try to leave the burden on the accused to prove that the allegations aren’t true. By the time they do this, there are three new allegations.

    It’s disappointing to see that there are people that continue to take people who do this at their word (especially since it seems like Goldberg continues to right posts trying to tie people to neo-Nazis). I’ve e-mailed Jeffrey Goldberg, Spencer Ackerman, and Andrew Sullivan, since I’ve read the claim that this is phrase of neo-Nazi origin in all of their blogs. I’ve yet to get a reply or see a correction, but will update if I do.

  23. Frank February 3, 2012 at 7:33 pm | #

    Todd. Zionism isn’t genocide, and saying so doesn’t make me whatever you think I am. And please don’t call me sonny. Frank.

    • Todd February 3, 2012 at 9:16 pm | #

      Damn. Thought that other one was your last post . . . .

      Zionism isn’t genocide, but it sure doesn’t have a problem with it so long as the land gets cleared.

      • Frank February 3, 2012 at 9:46 pm | #

        Who’s equivocating now?

  24. Todd February 4, 2012 at 6:15 am | #

    So where did I write “Zionism=genocide”?

    Here’s what I did write:

    “They’re always suspect if they [Jewish desires for “national” self-determination] involve deliberate policies of ethnic cleansing and/or genocide.”

    As was pointed out earlier:

    “there’s an awful lot of misreading here on your part”

    • Frank February 4, 2012 at 3:28 pm | #

      I’ve already analyzed and reanalyzed your point, I’ve contextualized, and carefully explained the problem. But go ahead and continue to hide behind your “if.”

    • LonD February 5, 2012 at 12:24 pm | #

      Zionism will never amount to gas chamber genocide, but this has more to do with symbolism than ethical reflection. As Aryeh Caspi, a well known Israeli commentator once wrote, “unfortunately for the Palestinians, so long as the state’s policy toward them is less than genocidal, anything else is morally justifiable.”

      • Todd February 6, 2012 at 12:19 pm | #

        “Zionism will never amount to gas chamber genocide”


        I have my doubts about that, given Zionist ideology and its relationship to the same kind of Romantic "blood-and-soil" thinking that pointed towards the Holocaust.

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