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More on the ‘Firedoglake’ controversy

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A few more thoughts on the Firedoglake controversy I initiated. First the mea culpas.

My post on Saturday lacked context. I should have mentioned Siun’s fine work on Israel/Palestine, including the Al-Arakib demolition. I should have mentioned Spencer Ackerman’s tough columns on Israel’s behavior. Both these writers have prominence on FDL. And as Philip Munger and CTuttle point out in comments on that post, they have had platforms at the site, to do work that is critical of Israel. I should have mentioned FDL founder Jane Hamsher’s own progressive stance on the issue, for instance this 2008 Gaza-war piece celebrating the fact that people were no longer getting fried on the third rail for criticizing Israel, and pointing to folks like Ezra Klein, J Street, Joe Klein, Glenn Greenwald and Matt Yglesias. 

If I had it to do over again, I would have been more positive, too. I would have congratulated FDL on its great record in progressive politics and its achievements, going back to Valerie Plame and Libby and on feminist issues too. They certainly deserve credit, notably Hamsher, notwithstanding the vicious character of many of her tweets in the last couple days.

But let me get to what I think was right about the post, and why I don’t regret it, and why this is such an important conversation.

First of all, the post dealt with a specific incident in which an FDL moderator sought to suppress a conversation about the media’s treatment of Israel.

The moderator, Rayne, went after Kathleen Galt– Leen– who considers the Israel/Palestine issue the most important issue in progressive politics and has pushed it at FDL. Rayne scolded Leen and accused her of a "harangue" for her suggestion that FDL is closing down the parameters of that discussion. Galt was already in bad odor because she had faulted Hamsher for not bringing up Israel-Palestine, not even "a whisper," in a 45-minute-long Washington Journal appearance discussing progressive issues. In that first set-to, Leen had made her criticism politely, and Hamsher was high-handed with her. No one asked me about it, she said, re her C-Span appearance. As if being asked means you can’t bring up something that’s important. In her back-and-forth with the moderator, Rayne, Leen was also polite and persistent, and Rayne was censorious.

Yes, I should have framed this incident in all the good work FDL has done but I’m bad at my lines, and the key thing is, It was ugly. Leen was making a case for treating the Israel Palestine issue as a central piece of our politics, and she got a lot of stick about curbing her speech. As Leen has asked: "Why would the moderator start demanding definitions of terms used, like ‘Zionism,’ and not demand more defined definitions of ‘conservative’ Republican etc?" (You’ll find more of Leen’s commentary, as Kathleen, in the comments on this post about Firedoglake.)

The issue here is parameters and leadership. While it is true that FDL does a lot of good stuff on Israel/Palestine, it tends to follow the news and it does not give the issue particular prominence. We’ve seen what this site is capable of when it wants to put an issue on the progressive agenda, it leads and does a lot of digging. In this case it has tended to follow others. The parameters are clear, at the top anyway. Hamsher herself will enthusiastically support progressive Democrats like Anthony Weiner and Alan Grayson and never hold them to account on their backward views on Israel/Palestine and Hamas. Weiner is the darling of the rightwing Zionist Organization of America. MJ Rosenberg once said that we’re only going to see change on this issue when liberal reporters start asking Jerry Nadler at press conferences how he can be so progressive domestically and say nothing about the abuse of Palestinians in the occupied territories (and in Israel as well). Hamsher won’t do that. Though yes, some voices on her site will.

Imagine enthusiastically supporting a candidate who was good on most of your issues but was fiercely anti-choice. For Galt and myself, that’s the point. 

That brings me to leadership. For many of us on the left and in the Realist camp too, this is The central foreign policy issue. It ties into 9/11 and Iraq and now Iran. You can’t oppose war on Iran without dealing with the Israel question in our politics, and you can’t deal with the Israel question without getting out a moral compass. Our policy there violates two great American liberal fighting traditions: all people are created equal, as Jefferson and then Lincoln reminded us, and the respect for the political self-determination of peoples, as articulated by Wilson 100 years ago. It was on such moral grounds that I.F. Stone got engaged in the civil rights movement in the 1950s and urged northerners to support the blacks who were taking on segregation. Give them political oxygen, he called out!

Well if you search FDL for Sheikh Jarrah or al-Masara or al-Walaja, the front line in the protests against the Israeli occupation, you find little. Walaja is a scene of desperate displacement of Palestinians by American-made bulldozers in the shadow of a hateful settlement. Well, I found one hit for Walaja— and it was by Kathleen Galt, whom Hamsher has described as a "mentally ill troll." Galt is not a troll; for me, a person who is struggling with this issue every day and seeking the company of strong men and women who can guide me and support me and whom I can support in turn, she’s a leader.

And I’m not even talking about other progressive conversations people should be having– like What about the one state solution–isn’t the two-state-solution dead? Why are our politicians so blind to the reality on the ground in the West Bank? I don’t see that conversation being pushed at FDL. I see a circumscribed debate.

I don’t like this fight. I want the progressive community engaged on this question with moral fervor. I want Hamsher’s creative talents engaged head-on here. I want our progressive politicians to move on it. We need FDL, and I regret the tone of my first post and apologize for it.

But let’s be clear. Many of us on the left, and in the realist camp too, are going to take our stand on this issue. We are much like the abolitionists of the 1850s, in that we feel no allegiance to either existing political party when it comes to this matter. Firedoglake’s leadership doesn’t see it as a central issue, and that’s where we differ.

As my friend Annie writes, "There is no reason why this election season Israel and the lobby should not be front and center. Nothing the prez is doing in a foreign policy way (Iran or the ‘peace talks’) can conceivably be construed to be devoid of Israeli/American neocon manipulations, and we need to have a national dialogue about it, because it is huge and w/ elections coming up we all know there are going to be these damning scary sounding lobby commercials all over the place accusing people of not loving Israel enough."

Much of the progressive base shares Annie’s view. Much of the rank-and-file at J Street is with us, too. They are tired of a political system both of whose parties validate the open prison that is Gaza and the denial of basic human and political rights to millions of Palestinians living under occupation. Educated Americans are beginning to question Israel’s ethnocentric policies and the strategic burden it represents for the U.S. across a volatile region. Even the New York Times is moving, publishing Glenn Loury on the Nakba and Ali Abunimah on the importance of Hamas. Progressives are going to have to get on board that train, or they will become irrelevant.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-06.

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