Inter-blog debate: More on Lieberman and Israel

A couple of days ago I criticized Mike of Red Letter Day for describing an anti-Lieberman website as “hard at work… making sure [Bush] will be re-elected in 2004,” and also for referring to a couple of critical-of-Israel websites as advocating “death for Israel.” Mike has posted a response. Although I’m usually leery of line-by-line responses (from a design point of view, they just look bad to me), in this case I think it’s the best way to proceed; click on the link below to read more.

Responding to me, Mike wrote:

For the record, educated dissent is good, ignorance is bad, and the “dissent” on the anti-Lieberman site is a collection of sophomoric preach-to-the-choir vignettes: Lieberman love war, Lieberman likes killing kids, etc.

I also think it is ironic that when I am expressing dissent against the anti-Lieberman folks, that somehow I am accused of wanting to stifle THEIR opinion.

Mike has completely changed his argument. Read Mike’s original post; there’s not a word about “educated versus ignorant dissent,” nor is there a single complaint about the anti-Lieberman site’s quality. Mike is trying to make it sound like he never attacked the entire genre of Lieberman criticism; instead, he wants us to think that he just criticized this site for being a badly-done example of the genre.

This represents a radical change from Mike’s original point. In his earlier post, Mike objected to the idea of a site criticizing a Democratic front-runner, on the grounds that such a site would help re-elect Bush. And that argument – which Mike is apparently (and wisely) not willing to stand behind – was clearly an argument against dissent and criticism of democratic front-runners, just as my earlier post claimed. It’s slippery of Mike to try and change the terms of his argument after I’ve made my criticism.

That aside, Mike and I now largely seem to agree. Mike is no longer saying that criticism of Dem front-runners is bad because it helps Bush; and he and I agree that it’s totally cool to critique the quality of an anti-Lieberman site.

What’s more interesting to me is the discussion of Israel, because I think it illustrates the disconnects that occur when critical-of-Israel-Jews (like me) and defender-of-Israel-Jews (like Mike) try to talk.

(Before I continue, a word about language. What the heck do I call the sides in this debate? I refuse to use “pro-Israel” and “anti-Israel,” because I’m not “anti” Israel; I favor the existence of Israel, and want it to survive and thrive. Usually I just refer to “Israel partisans” and “Israel critics,” but that’s a bit dry.)

I had criticized Mike for labeling two “Israel critic” websites – Jewish Women Watching and Divest from Israel Campaign (DFIC) – as “death to Israel sites.” Mike agrees that he was wrong about Jewish Women Watching, but says:

…in the case of one of the links, the Divest From Israel Committee I think my categorization is pretty close to being on the mark. Go view their site for yourself. Note the description of Israelis as “baby killers,” the complete one-sided depiction of the current troubles, the call to boycott Israeli cultural institutions, the description of Israel as a “terrorist state” — is this the “legitimate, responsible debate” that Barry says he favors? […]

I am disappointed that… [Barry] is so willing to excuse the type of virulent, anti-Israel opinion that those interested in peace on either side of the conflict should avoid.

But I never said that the DFIC website was “legitimate, responsible debate.” I did say characterizing DFIC and Jewish Women Watching as “death to Israel sites” wasn’t legitimate or responsible, and I stand by that. The vast majority of links on the DFIC page go to academic petitions against Israel (to find the links that so offended him, Mike had to scroll all the way to the bottom of the page, ignoring forty or fifty far more typical links); these are not groups that are calling for “death to Israel,” and to say they are is silly and inaccurate.

Here’s why it matters: There really are groups in the world calling for “death to Israel” – that is, groups which want the state of Israel wiped out of existence, and which call for terroristic violence against Israel. Mike knows that. But labeling any old example of “virulent, anti-Israel opinion” as “death to Israel” de-stigmatizes the real “death to Israel” advocates. Lumping all anti-Israel opinion together as “death for Israel” provides cover for the real “death to Israel” maniacs, and why would we want to do that?

Plus, Mike’s characterization is simply dishonest. The folks who consider Israel an evil oppressor state may indeed be “virulent” and one-sided, but their views are not interchangeable with the views of “death to Israel” advocates, and for Mike to imply that their views are interchangeable is inaccurate.

As for the claim that I “excuse” the DFIC site, that’s just silly. I correctly pointed out that they don’t advocate “death to Israel”; it doesn’t follow that I excuse everything about them, like the egregious and stupid “baby-killer” language. (Of course, the IDF and the occupation do kill some Palestinian babies – that’s reality – but “baby-killer” language doesn’t do a thing to stop it, and tends to close rather than open dialog, and so is counter-productive.)

(Another aside: I think the design of the DFIC site is incredibly counter-productive. It’s so messy and tacky, it practically screams “conspiracy theory nutcases with tinfoil hats” – even though many of their links (at least at the top of the page – I didn’t follow every link on the site) are to fairly sober and responsible groups. A simple, tasteful design would not only improve the functionality of the site, it would communicate the message better.)

Finally, Mike writes:

And for the record, following the end of Palestinian terrorism, I favor the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza and the removal of Israeli settlements in those territories, with Jerusalem under shared sovereignty.

This sounds reasonable… but isn’t. Saying that Palestine statehood can happen only “following the end of Palestinian terrorism” is no different from saying it can never happen; the existence of extremist, violent Palestinian groups is now “a fact on the ground.” Mike’s view gives any maniac with a stick of dynamite a veto on peace.

Thanks to Mike for his polite, reasoned response (which is more than I deserved, since my initial post was less polite than it should have been – sorry about that, Mike).

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One Response to Inter-blog debate: More on Lieberman and Israel

  1. 1
    John Denton says:

    Hi: My annoyance at Lieberman has oscillated between amused contempt and consternation. I love the way Dean casually swats him away every time he goes off his rocker. The Dean statement that we are no safer now that Saddam is in custody is to me the most basic truth of the last two years. Lieberman jumped on that statement though, and I will wager that his attack of that opinion will come to haunt him. We are no more safe. Period. Joe is passing into irrelevance very quickly, Oh, while sniping at and backstabbing Dean at every opportunity. He is extremely well-positioned to become Bush’s running mate, though, so watch out.