I’ve Looked at BDS from Both Sides Now. Oh, wait…(Updated)

Last year, Eric Alterman criticized my department for co-sponsoring a panel on BDS “at which its [BDS’s] arguments would be presented without opposition or clarification from its opponents.”

This year, Students for Justice in Palestine at Brooklyn College decided to give Alterman an opportunity to make good on his complaint. They invited him to debate Max Blumenthal on the question: “What would a just settlement of the Israel/Palestine issue be, and how can it be brought about?”

Alterman’s response to their invitation? “No thanks.” That was it. To students at his very own college, some of whom might even be in his classes.

Perhaps if the students agreed to pony up $10,000 to pay Alterman, he’d consider.

It’s hard to organize a balanced panel if the people criticizing you for lack of balance refuse to participate.

Next time you want to know why the discussion on BDS is one-sided, ask Eric Alterman.

In the meantime….

Update (5 pm)

It just occurred to me: Eric Alterman is free to refuse to debate Max Blumenthal, that is, not to engage in a conversation on his campus organized by students on his campus—and for the record I believe that he is—but American academics are obligated to engage in an exchange with Israeli academic institutions. Okay…


  1. hophmi January 17, 2014 at 3:20 pm | #

    C’mon Corey, why are you being such a shill? You know very well that Alterman doesn’t want to debate Blumenthal because Blumenthal has a habit of taking his statements out of context and of engaging in character assassination, in bad faith.

    Alterman responded to Mondoweiss’ unethical publishing of the contents of a private conversation here: http://www.thenation.com/blog/177173/outsourcing-accountability-political-opposition-beltway-medias-agency-problem

    “It is nonsense to claim, as the website “Mondoweiss” did, that I publicly refused to debate Blumenthal and secretly demanded $10,000 to do so. What happened was this. Phil Weiss has been hassling me for years to debate him about Israel. I have said ‘no thanks’ for years, but try to get him to leave me alone, I told him that if someone wanted to pay my speaking fees, I would debate anyone at all. I’m hardly afraid to debate people. I just don’t believe in giving away my time for free, especially to people like Weiss.

    When the Blumenthal column came out, Phil started hassling me again. I said ‘no’ again, adding the same conditions I had given him years ago still applied no matter who he wanted me to debate. Phil broke all the known rules of journalism by not only publishing my private responses to his entreaties when I had clearly and explicitly refused permission for this–he asked twice and I said ‘no’ twice–but also making it appear that I had said things I clearly had not. Looking back, I don’t know why I was surprised. I do know it’s the last time I will ever answer an email from Phil Weiss.”

    So why isn’t any of this in your post?

    • jonnybutter January 17, 2014 at 3:43 pm | #

      What substantive difference does any of this make? In fact, in the quotation you cite, Alterman says that he offered – twice – to debate not just someone ‘like Weiss’, but ‘anyone at all’ – which would include Max B. – if his fee was paid. He complained about one-sided debates, then refused to provide that other rhetorical side when invited to do so at an event *at his own school* unless his fee was paid. Corey’s post is less direct than Alterman’s own words, which you have helpfully posted here.

      • hophmi January 18, 2014 at 4:24 pm | #

        Blumenthal wants a debate because he’s the only one who stands to gain from it. You don’t debate someone who is that marginal and who has a reputation for doing anything to get publicity. It’s a waste of time.

  2. s. wallerstein January 17, 2014 at 5:44 pm | #

    The defense of Israel seems to be the issue which converts people on the left who otherwise see politics in ethical terms into advocates of realpolitik or pragmatism.

    Coherence would dictate that either one sees all politics in ethical terms or all politics in terms of realpolitik or pragmatism.

    Alterman, when not talking about Israel, is an ethicist, but when he talks about Israel, he becomes a pragmatist and at times a pragmatist masking a believer in realpolitik.

  3. BillR January 17, 2014 at 7:34 pm | #

    Coginitive Dissonance, thy name is ‘PEP’:

    There’s an exception for Arabs. The exception is that great modern American tradition called PEP, reflecting the importance of American Jews to liberal causes: Progressive Except for Palestine.

    The author of the book is Ken Stern. He works for the American Jewish Committee and he’s Mr. PEP. His previous books were in support of the American Indian Movement and against the American militia movement.

    American Indians: good. American right wingers: bad. Arabs: bad.

    Got that? It’s easy to be PEP!

    No shortage of those who get a fire in their belly over, say, a Pentagon base in their state but will sit like a “sack of potatoes” as Allen Ginsberg was once depicted as during a meeting of PEN when the topic of Israeli curbs on Palestinians came up.

    • Everett Benson January 23, 2014 at 7:18 am | #

      Of course it does not help to garner genuinely Progressive support that the Palestinians are presently run by terrorist groups, one of which is Islamofascist (Hamas) and explicitly advocates eternal war against and actual genocide of all Jews, and the other of which is officially at least secular and which in any case is also factually fascist (Fatah/PLO leaders unabashedly praise Hitler). The latter group denies that there are any Jewish holy sites anywhere in the Holy Land (which sort of riles people who care about truth and freedom of religion), violates freedom of the press, of opinion and of assembly by imprisoning independent journalists and opposition figures, torturing and even killing them, diverts aid funds for Palestinian “refugees” to their own Swiss bank accounts, denies full rights of citizenship, including freedom of residence or the right to employment, to those same “refugees” even though they are already resident in their alleged “Palestine,” and just to top it off glorifies the present killing as many Jews at random as possible, naming schools, university halls, public squares, and government buildings after especially atrocious terrorist “heroes.” Not even most “Progressives” can stomach all that too easily, although many can find a place in their heart for anti-Western authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, statism in its various forms, so long as those regimes are anti-Western. Still, mainstream violation of just about all human rights, including bloodthirsty terrorism and hate-incitement, are not normally considered part of most Progressives’ “liberal values.”

      • s. wallerstein January 23, 2014 at 8:16 am | #

        Everett Benson:

        The issue here is not whether what the Palestinian leadership does is right or wrong, but whether what the Israeli government does is right or wrong and what we can do about it.

        I think that human rights organizations should denounce all rights violations in Palestinian territory by their leadership and that all of us concerned about a society which assures a good life for all its citizens should watch out for fascist tendencies in that leadership.

        However, as a Jew, I have a closer relationship to Israel and not only charity begins at home: respect for human rights and for basic ethical principles also begins at home.

  4. BobS January 18, 2014 at 10:21 am | #

    Maybe Alan Dershowitz would accept an invitation to debate Max Blumenthal while Alterman waits for that second testicle to descend. He’s more rabid than Alterman on the subject of Israel and not afraid to embarrass himself in public.

  5. Corey Robin January 18, 2014 at 4:34 pm | #

    Hophmi: “You don’t debate someone who is that marginal.”

    You’re right. But Alterman — and you — have in fact been debating, and responding quite a bit to, Blumenthal. Which can only mean one of two things. Either he’s not marginal. Or you guys are.

    • Mark Lefevre January 18, 2014 at 4:47 pm | #

      That’s not how it works, and you know it.
      Blumenthal wants company in his mud pit. His book, despite a constant, drum beat (or drum bleat anyway) isn’t selling.
      Anonymous bloggers (“Hophmi”) are by definition marginal, but Alterman is not. If David Duke wrote a book about race in America that named you prominently, and then challenged you to debate him at a Ukrainian university, would you?

      • hophmi January 18, 2014 at 5:10 pm | #

        I’m not anonymous everywhere, but in these fora, I feel I have to be for safety purposes. I have no trouble stating my views publicly under my own name on facebook.

      • Corey Robin January 18, 2014 at 5:54 pm | #

        Mark: I agree with you that Alterman is not marginal. Therefore, given the formula of the original statement I was responding to, the only other possible conclusion is that neither is Max.

    • hophmi January 18, 2014 at 5:09 pm | #

      Alterman is about the only mainstream critic to review the book, and at this point, I’m sure he’s sorry he did.

      Look, Corey, as I’ve told other people, Max Blumenthal is far from the first person to write on this issue. There’s nothing original about his subject. There are countless people critical of Israel who have no trouble getting their view across, and also countless other people to debate Blumenthal besides Alterman.

      So the logical conclusion is that Alterman doesn’t want to debate Max because he’s Max, man who makes childish videos about drunk college students, man who regularly misstates what others say, and not because Alterman, who is a longtime critic of Israel, lest you forget, doesn’t want to debate the issues.

      You didn’t seem to care last week when the MLA held an entire panel on the issue, and explicitly refused to allow anyone opposed to a boycott present anything at the conference. So I don’t think it’s about open debate for you either.

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