Corey Robin calls on American Jews to reflect on their ‘power and status’ and deep differences with Israeli Jews

David Grossman

David Grossman

Brooklyn College political scientist Corey Robin has overcome his reluctance to criticize a colleague and slammed Eric Alterman for his attack on Max Blumenthal’s book Goliath in The Nation.

Where Alterman finds only “juvenile faux-cleverness,” a “case against the Jewish state” that is “carelessly constructed”… [and] arguments that are “simplistic and one-sided”…. I found a trove of patient and persuasive on-the-ground reporting (Blumenthal spent a year in Israel and Palestine and several additional months in the region), almost all of which Alterman ignores. Had he allotted less space to those adjectives and more to an engagement with the book, Alterman might have come up with a credible critique.

Robin then singles out Alterman’s take on Max Blumenthal’s meeting with David Grossman to suggest how distorted Alterman’s view is. And Robin reviews that episode (you can go to the link to read it) before saying:

Readers can judge for themselves whether or not I get Blumenthal right, but I hope it’s clear just how small Alterman has made things. Not only for himself but also his readers. An opportunity for deep moral reflection—about the abyss between Jews in Israel and in the Diaspora, about the power and status Jews have attained throughout the world, about violence and vision—has been missed. We can now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

This is a critical point. Alterman and The Nation have served as a gatekeeper; they are increasing the likelihood that the mainstream will fail to engage a serious argument. That failure is dangerous to our foreign policy– and, inside Jewish life, a great moral hazard. Robin is Jewish. He knows: The breakup of Zionism will be a huge crisis in Jewish life. And it is essential that Jews understand the difference between Max Blumenthal and David Grossman.

Jews need to be talking about Zionism.We need to be talking about whether it is possible to subscribe to an ideology of Jewish unsafety in the west when we have such “power and status,” as Robin observes. (And power that justifies my posts in that vein.)

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.
Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 22 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. just says:

    A well- deserved slam indeed.

    kerpow! Hope Robin’s is the first of many more.

  2. W.Jones says:

    Robin points to an interesting passage- Blumenthal’s talk with Grossman. Blumenthal points out that the right-wing supporter of Greater Israel speaks Arabic, and it raises a question of which is really more progressive.

    A left-wing vision of a divided State that practically lacks Palestinians or a right-wing vision of a Greater State where the Palestinians are ruled over. In the second variant, at least the native Palestinians are allowed in the picture, albeit as the underclass. This goes back to the heady days of the socialist Kibbutzes, where the left wing ones excluded Palestinians from employment on the supposed basis that employing them would be exploitive.

  3. Kathleen says:

    Come on the media etc have never allowed the people around the world to not know about the power and status that Jews have attained throughout the world.” In fact this tribal promotion has been persistent, often exaggerated and in many ways gross. NPR andTerri Gross being a few of the big promoters.

    Robin”Blumenthal spent a year on the ground in Israel and Palestine” and digs deep. How much time has Alterman researched and interviewed on the ground in Israel and Palestine.

    The MSM has failed to report about the history of the ongoing conflict for decades but that has not stopped many mostly non Jews from lobbying their legislators, setting up discussion panels, distributing factual information, living with Palestinians, seeing what is happening on the ground for decades. The majority of Jews and others have been complicit through their silence about this horrific situations for decades many knowing what was going on. The US MSM has been complicit through their silence about the crimes committed against the Palestinians.

    The Nation, Blumenthal, Weiss and now Robin have over the last five or so years been doing a remarkable job in finally admitting to what has been going on for decades.

    And Alterman’s inflammatory title “The Israel Hater’s Handbook” demonstrates just where he learned his tactics from

    • David Nelson says:

      Kathleen,


      Come on the media etc have never allowed the people around the world to not know about the power and status that Jews have attained throughout the world.” In fact this tribal promotion has been persistent, often exaggerated and in many ways gross. NPR andTerri Gross being a few of the big promoters.”

      Power is in large part mental, so their narcissism serves a function. Unfortunately these people forgot their principles along the way. Consciously or unconsciously, they are aware of the shallow and artificial nature of Israel’s power. They think they are helping Israel (and themselves) with their sensationalism, but in reality they are enabling the Israeli nation’s deluded world view. Gross and the others have let their self-service and tribal mentality ruin America’s media and misguide their home government’s foreign policy on the grounds that it is good for Israel (and their careers).

  4. Citizen says:

    Whenever one points out the power & status of Jewish Americans in America, the Zionist rejoinder is to point to Jewish Germans in culturally elite Germany, the most highly civilized country in the 19th Century up through the Weimar Era, when every German Jew was 110% German–until Hitler rose to power. They rest their Zionist case on this possibility happening again, in America. Nobody ever seems to take the time to parse this argument, as if the significant different history and nature of the compared states and their institutions have never existed, do not exist.

    • Eva Smagacz says:

      Citizen,
      I think German history can be repeated anywhere – such is the human nature. ( and Jews can see it happening in Israel to Palestinians and in America and Europe to Muslims and Gypsies). It does not mean that Jews will be the victims in future, they may well be passive bystanders ( as with Gypsies) or active perpetrators ( as with Palestinians) or enthusiastic cheerleaders ( as with Muslims).

      Only constant, and vocal, vigilance by people of conscience will prevent such descent: fight for the freedom of the press, fight for equal human rights – including right to vote, and fight for rights of minorities, as well as fight for right to privacy and to political dissent. This, in my view, is what makes mankind civilised.

  5. Citizen says:

    Differences and similarities between Weimar Germany and contemporary America: link to web.ceu.hu

    Another look, in 2010: link to louisproyect.org

  6. pabelmont says:

    The Nation s/b ashamed to have printed THIS Alterman piece. Alterman s/h printed it on his own blog. It is personal.

    Now Blumenthal has published a great work of reportage. Those who complain should deal with his factual reporting, not their unhappiness to hear it.

    Lastly, when an expulsionary-exclusionary-discriminatory Zionist (Shavit: see here) describes the events of 1948 so clearly as a crime (one he approves of, but a crime) you must wonder, WHY did he print it My answer is: it is a cry for help.

    Shavit asks Americans, nay the world, to come to Israel’s aid by forcing Israel to clean up its act. He is calling for outside pressure.

    • just says:

      I actually disagree, pabelmont. Alterman has exposed himself on the I/P issue, and made crystal clear his own serious and blatant prejudices.

      I think that the Nation did the right thing to allow him to hang it all out. Bright sunlight, and all that.

  7. yrn says:

    Why is Mondowiess so afraid that the readers will read what Woody Allen thinks about Israel Critics and his view on Israel ?
    You keep on deleting a comment with a link and quotes.

    Woody Allen: “Many critics of Israel motivated by anti-Semitism”
    “I support Israel and I’ve supported it since the day it was founded. Israel’s neighbors have treated it badly, cruelly, instead of embracing it and making it part of the Middle East family of nations. Over the years Israel has responded to these attacks in various ways, some of which I approved of and some less so. I understand that Israelis have been through hard times, I don’t expect Israel to react perfectly every time and that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a wonderful, marvelous country.”
    link to timesofisrael.com
    link to jpost.com

    • just says:

      Who cares what Woody Allen “thinks”? He’s not exactly the topic of this article, nor is he anything approximating a paragon of virtue.

    • Bumblebye says:

      Yet another fool who can’t see the truth of Israel!
      Does Woody Allen think the neighbors of Israel should be grateful that they chopped the legs off their friend and neighbor Palestine, then then tossed its children out to huddle homeless in their backyards? Should the neighbors of Palestine be delighted that ‘new’ neighbor Israel beats on the mutilated body of their enslaved friend? Should they be thrilled when the new thug on Med refuses to listen to reason, refuses to come to the table except to steal more from other neighbors? When said thug metes out beatings to said neighbors? Who the eff & blind is treating who “badly, cruelly”? Woody merely shows what an ignoramus he wilfully choses to be!

    • Cliff says:

      Woody Allen the pedophile? Who cares what he thinks.

      He makes great movies. I’ll listen to him when he talks about movies.

      Ditto for the pedophile Roman Polanski or the rapist Kobe Bryant.

      Celebrities are not paragons of moral virtue. (They also aren’t by definition pedophiles or rapists – the point is that they have no moral credibility due to their artistic or athletic accomplishments)

    • Ellen says:

      yrn, you are bringing up Woody Allen? Huh? Reaching a bit?

      What do his thoughts have anything to do with this subject? Besides, the old dude with issues has never ever been to Israel. Not once.

    • Keith says:

      YRN- “Woody Allen: “Many critics of Israel motivated by anti-Semitism”

      Woody Allen sounds like David Mamet. A highly successful Jew of immense privilege who likes to piss and moan about anti-Semitism. I assume his whitewash of Israel is based upon a cultivated ignorance. Yet another egocentric Jewish fat-cat victim.

    • Kathleen says:

      Woody Allen truly a neurotic, sociopath consumed with his own needs and his clearly announced tribalism. The man chose his step adopted daughter to be his wife. How old was she when he started hitting on her? Who cares what he thinks? And who would have expected anything different from a me myself and I kind of guy?

  8. Rusty Pipes says:

    The parts of Blumenthal’s article which Robin highlights show the absurdity of this zinger from Alterman:

    The most bizarre episode in the book occurs when Blumenthal is granted a rare interview with the deeply admired left-wing Israeli author David Grossman, who lost his son in the 2006 Lebanon war. Grossman rejects Blumenthal’s proposal for “the transformation of Israel from an ethnically exclusive Jewish state into a multiethnic democracy,” not for the obvious reasons—that it is a pipe dream, given the hatred between the two sides—but because of his understanding of 2,000 years of Jewish history, in which restrictions have kept Jews from fully participating in the life of the societies in which they’ve lived. This inspires Blumenthal to lecture him that his own personal experience as the son of a White House “insider”—Clinton adviser and former journalist Sidney Blumenthal—and the experience of other “insider” Jews in the United States leads him to “have a hard time taking [Grossman’s] justification seriously.” The Israeli author and champion of its peace movement soon thereafter ends the interview and asks Blumenthal to please tear up his phone number. Here, our author attributes the response he receives, yet again, to Israeli myopia and lack of understanding of the way the world really works.

    Robin highlights Grossman’s optimism about Obama’s presidency — how he expects gentle pressure from the American president to exact concessions from Netanyahu, but finds the thought of some kinds of pressure too extreme. Robin perceives Blumenthal’s growing impatience:

    Max then moves the interview to politics, and you can feel his frustration with Grossman slowly mounting.

    By the time Max poses a question about the US flexing its muscles to change Israeli policy, you know what Grossman is going to say, and the combination of naïveté and cynicism on display is exasperating.

    I asked Grossman if Obama should threaten Netanyahu with the withholding of loan guarantees in order to loosen his intransigent stance, as President George H. W. Bush had done to force Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir (Netanyahu’s former boss) to the negotiating table. He rejected this idea out of hand. “I hope it shall be settled between friends,” Grossman responded. “The pressure Obama applies should be put in a sensitive way because of Israeli anxieties and our feeling that we’re living on the edge of an abyss. The reactions of Israelis are very unpredictable. It will take simple and delicate pressure for the United States to produce the results they are looking for. But whenever American presidents even hinted they were going to pressure Israel, they got what they wanted. Netanyahu is very ideological, but he is also realistic and he is intelligent, after all. He will recognize the reality he is in.”

    Max doesn’t say anything, but you can see his eyes rolling in frustration and impatience (mine certainly were).

    Two Democratic administrations are mentioned within Blumenthal’s interview — Obama’s and Clinton’s. Blumenthal’s response about Diaspora Jews being among the insiders in America is not only testimony that an American minority has “made it.” As the child of an insider in an American administration, Blumenthal has a personal perspective on how his father, an American Jew, contributed to the work of the Clinton administration. But he also has a personal perspective about the various pressures that limited the work of that administration. White House insiders would know better than anybody how relations with Israel have affected the rest of the work of an American administration — “how the world works.”

    Yet Grossman cannot conceive that Blumenthal does not require the existence of Israel as a Jewish State in order to feel safe, that increasing numbers of American Jews do not consider the State of Israel central to their sense of identity as Jews. Apparently, neither can Alterman. Robin concludes :

    … I hope it’s clear just how small Alterman has made things. Not only for himself but also his readers. An opportunity for deep moral reflection—about the abyss between Jews in Israel and in the Diaspora, about the power and status Jews have attained throughout the world, about violence and vision—has been missed. We can now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

  9. Jewish unsafety in the west is not essential to a definition of Zionism.

    Lingering fears about Jewish safety in the west certainly might push a Jew in the direction of Zionism. (Back in 68 I recall a Jewish friend saying, “If George Wallace gets elected president, my father is going to move us to Israel.” And of course there is the book by Roth, “The Plot against America” which imagined a US led by Lindbergh trying to make peace with Hitler and encouraging various anti Jewish assimilation plans.) So Jews imagining the worst is in fact one of the after effects of Hitler and his slaughter.

    But the effect of saying that unsafety in the west is a key component of Zionism is to make it appear ridiculous and paranoid. As if the Jews need a state only if their paranoia proves to be real in the long run and of course Palestinian needs which are immediate should trump the paranoia of the Jews.

    But in fact as Zeev Sternhell, I think, said: the current justification for Israel is the current (Jewish) population living in Israel rather than the future needs of the dispersed Jews, who mostly live in the safe west.

    True: much of the Zionist public (like the kids on Ben Yehuda and the hitchhiker in the West Bank) utilize fears of unsafety in the west to justify the Jewish need for a state, but there is sufficient justification given the current situation. For the “democratic” cure that MW and Max Blumenthal advocates for Israel, would yield a “Palestine” which would fit into the neighborhood and there is no reason to believe that the Palestinians are different than the Arab nation in its totality, which is having major problems dealing with tolerance. And while this web site pretends that the future of Palestine is unrelated to the turmoil of Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, it would require someone with something other than superficial knowledge of the Arab civilization to demonstrate that the result of your anti Zionism will result in something different than the current mess of the Arab world.

    • kalithea says:

      “But the effect of saying that unsafety in the west is a key component of Zionism is to make it appear ridiculous and paranoid. ”

      You mean Zionism isn’t paranoid and ridiculous? News to me!

      “…the current justification for Israel is the current (Jewish) population living in Israel rather than the future needs of the dispersed Jews, who mostly live in the safe west.”

      Oh so a bunch of Jewish settlers who ethnically cleansed Palestinians off their land so they could have a state is sufficient justification for Israel to be?

      And this cynical excuse for perpetual injustice against Palestinians gets posted and my comment does not. And everyone wonders why the injustice survives in perpetuity.

      Parole-paro le – parole…words, nothing more.