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Eric Alterman on Palestine and Israel, part 1: The liberal Zionist dilemma

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In response to Eric Alterman’s Nation review of Max Blumenthal’s book Goliath, I posted a couple of comments on Mondoweiss that described disturbing statements Alterman has made about Palestine and Israel. I was asked to elaborate on this, and so I present this two-part study.

Here, in part one, I review some of Alterman’s statements that undermine his self-proclaimed status as a conscientious critic of the Israeli occupation.

In part two tomorrow, I will demonstrate that Alterman’s criticism of Blumenthal’s book is replete with careless errors and intentional misstatements that merit lengthy corrections, if not a complete retraction.

The “tough call” of killing someone else’s children

Just before midnight on July 22, 2002, on the cusp of a unilateral Palestinian cease-fire call, the Israeli military dropped a one-ton bomb on a Gaza City neighborhood to assassinate Hamas leader Salah Shehade, who was asleep at the time. As one would reasonably expect, the bomb ended up killing much more than Shehade. Shehade’s wife and daughter were killed, along with a dozen other people in the densely populated neighborhood. Over a hundred more were wounded and several homes were destroyed in the bombing.

Eric Alterman’s “tough luck”: In 2002, Israel took out a Gaza City neighborhood with a one-ton bomb in order to assassinate one person in his sleep.

Eric Alterman’s “tough luck”: In 2002, Israel took out a Gaza City neighborhood with a one-ton bomb in order to assassinate one person in his sleep.

The following day, in his MSNBC column, Alterman wrote about the bombing:

I don’t know if killing the military chief of Hamas, together with his family, is an effective military measure—as surely someone will rise to replace him and it will make a lot more people angry, perhaps even angry enough to become suicide bombers. It may not bring Israel and the Palestinians any closer to peace or mutual security. But I don’t have a moral problem with it.

Hamas is clearly at war with Israel. Hamas feels empowered to strike Israeli civilians inside Israel proper and not just on the war zone of West Bank. Sheik Salah Shehada could have protected his family by keeping away from them. He didn’t and owing to his clear legitimacy as a military target, they are dead too.

So tough luck, fella.

War is hell.

Alterman justified the bombing with the following three points:

1. Since Hamas targeted Israeli civilians, the Israeli military had the right to kill Palestinian civilians.

2. It was Shehade’s fault for living with his family that resulted in his family being killed by Israel.

3. “War is hell.”

Moreover, Alterman stated that the bombing had a “clear legitimacy as a military target,” presumably accepting the concept of proportionality in international humanitarian law, which requires the use of force—and the resultant “collateral damage”—to be proportional to the military objective. Yet Alterman initially noted that the bombing had questionable “effective military measure” and “may not bring Israel and the Palestinians any closer to peace or mutual security.” Thus Alterman contradicted himself when he established the legitimacy of the bombing.

Alterman backtracked the next day, but not really:

I think I better apologize for the words “tough luck” at the end of yesterday’s entry. They are inappropriate in a situation where so many innocents, including children, were killed. When I wrote them, I was as yet unaware of the extent of the civilian damage caused by the Israeli missile attack.

I still think my principle holds as to the ultimate responsibility for the death of Sheik Salah Shehada’s family. As for the others hurt and injured, well, I can argue it either way. It’s a tough call.

The extent of Alterman’s apology was to regret saying “tough luck” when he realized that it wasn’t just Shehade’s wife and daughter who were killed along with Shehade. As for the deaths of those unrelated to Shehade, “it’s a tough call.”

And while Alterman began by admitting that “so many innocents, including children, were killed,” he downplayed it three sentences later when he claimed that those killings were “a tough call” that he could “argue … either way.” At that point, in order to make the deaths more palatable, he referred to those deaths as “others hurt and injured”—which was not only redundant but also grossly understated.

The “others hurt and injured” included Ayman Raed Matar (2 years old), Dina Raed Matar (less than a year old), Dunia Raed Matar (5 years old), Muhammad Raed Matar (4 years old), Muhammad Mahmoud al-Huti (3 years old), Subhi Mahmoud al-Huti (5 years old), and Alaa Muhammad Matar (11 years old)—all of whom were not just “hurt and injured,” but killed.

Eric Alterman’s “tough call”—for an action in which he himself questioned the objective—epitomizes the public anguish of the liberal Zionist at the expense of others.

Critical support for Israel

Three months before the Gaza City bombing, Alterman wrote an article for MSNBC in which he classified dozens of US commentators into three categories that indicated whether they favored the Israeli side or the Palestinian side. The categories themselves were flawed. Those in support of Palestinian rights were labeled by Alterman as “Reflexively Anti-Israel and/or Pro-Palestinian Regardless of Circumstance”—among whom was Edward Said, who had criticized Palestinian leadership throughout his career—perhaps more so than Alterman has ever criticized the Israeli leadership.

Thus the only value in the article was how the author categorized himself. Alterman placed himself in the closest thing to a middle-ground category, which he labeled as those

likely to criticize both Israel and the Palestinians, but view themselves to be critically supporters of Israel, and ultimately, would support Israeli security over Palestinian rights. [emphasis mine]

Israeli security (left) versus Palestinian rights (right)

Israeli security (left) versus Palestinian rights (right)

First, Israeli security and Palestinian rights are not diametric opposites; many have argued that the security of Israel is compromised by its denial of Palestinian rights (which is basically human rights accorded to Palestinians).

Second, Alterman suggests no such trade-off when weighing the rights of US citizens or even journalists’ rights against pretenses of US national security.

Yet Alterman’s category reveals how he sees the conflict—not only in the limited extent that he considers Palestinians as deserving of rights as any other people, but also in the limited extent to which he is willing to criticize Israel.

Saving Palestinians from the words he puts in their mouths

By presenting himself as an even-handed critical supporter of Israel, Alterman establishes a foundation on which he occupies the moral high ground. Alterman proudly proclaims himself “both a liberal and a pro-Zionist Jew”—and being the good liberal Zionist that he is, he casts his arguments not as a personal defense of Israel, but as a concern for Palestinians. For instance, Alterman condemns Max Blumenthal’s Goliath on the grounds that

[Blumenthal’s] case … will likely alienate anyone but the most fanatical anti-Zionist extremists, and hence do nothing to advance the interests of the occupation’s victims. [emphases here and below are mine]

He repeats this assertion in his follow-up article:

As I said, arguments this simplistic and one-sided do the Palestinians no good.

His criticism of Blumenthal’s book is no different from his criticisms of the BDS movement, in which Alterman also claims he has the Palestinians’ interests in mind as he lectures them:

it cannot possibly serve the cause of peace and self-determination for the Palestinians for their spokespeople and supporters to demand that Israel, as currently constituted, commit suicide…[S]o long as they insist, as Omar Barghouti does, on the achievement of a set of goals that would mean the end of the Zionist project, then they will only strengthen those who seek to keep them in a permanent state of oppression and immiseration as they simultaneously undermine those who would champion their cause.

This  passage comes from a 2012 BDS forum on the Nation website, in a section promoted as “Where progressives come to debate.” Here, Alterman is responding directly to an article by Palestinian BDS proponent Omar Barghouti, which is published on the same page. Let’s look closer at what the good ally Alterman seeks to protect Barghouti from. Alterman writes:

Barghouti apparently thinks that the support of a food coop or an obscure pop singer somehow constitutes the beginning of Israel’s ultimate destruction. By talking in these terms … he strengthens the case of Israel’s hardliners and actually helps to ensure the permanent oppression of the Palestinian nation.

Then in the paragraph that follows:

…Barghouti, who in effect calls for Israel’s destruction

And in the next and final paragraph:

As [Barghouti’s] plan now stands, it is of a piece with the programs of Hamas and Hezbollah and with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent call for “the destruction of the Zionist regime” by peaceful means.

So Alterman is saying that Barghouti’s own pronouncements help to keep him “in a permanent state of oppression and immiseration.” Yet at no point did Barghouti call for the destruction of Israel. In fact he had written the opposite:

Israel and its well-oiled lobby groups … have been trying to delegitimize the Palestinian quest for equal rights by portraying the nonviolent BDS call’s emphasis on equal rights and the right of return as aiming to “destroy Israel.” If equality and justice would destroy Israel, what does that say about Israel? Did equality and justice destroy South Africa? Did they destroy Alabama? Justice and equality only destroy their negation, injustice and inequality.

Alterman ignores this passage and—in five consecutive paragraphs—proceeds to accuse Barghouti of “demand[ing] that Israel … commit suicide,” of working for “Israel’s ultimate destruction,” “in effect call[ing] for Israel’s destruction,” and of being part of “Ahamdinejad’s recent call for ‘the destruction of the Zionist regime.’”

While putting words in Barghouti’s mouth, Alterman simultaneously lectures Barghouti against saying these things. Such statements, says Alterman, “will only strengthen those who seek to keep [Palestinians] in a permanent state of oppression and immiseration,” will “undermine those who would champion their cause,” will “strengthen[] the case of Israel’s hardliners, and will help “to ensure the permanent oppression of the Palestinian nation.”

Yet who is actually saying these words? Alterman, not Barghouti. It is Alterman who makes the false claims about BDS, which he then criticizes as helping to bolster opponents of Palestinian rights and undermine supposed allies.

And who can save Palestinians from this? Again, it’s Eric Alterman, who warns Omar Barghouti from saying the things that Alterman puts in his mouth.

Were Barghouti to ask American Jews to join him in pressuring Israel to come to its senses and negotiate a secure settlement based on the 1967 lines, with necessary adjustments on both sides and some sort symbolic (and perhaps financial) redress for Palestinians without the “right of return,” he might stand a chance of attracting significant support even among American Jews and within the Israeli peace camp.

Who are these “American Jews” whom Barghouti can potentially win over as allies? Liberal Zionists such as Eric Alterman. And the way to champion the Palestinian cause, Alterman proclaims, is to not upset liberal Zionist allies such as himself.

Alterman, then, is the interpreter of BDS, the lecturer of Palestinians, the supporter of Palestinian rights, and ultimately the savior—all in one, all at once. Not bad for a Zionist who values “Israeli security” even more.

It is unsurprising, then, when Alterman writes with great sensitivity in the same article,

I genuinely despair for Israel’s future … as I also grieve for the victims of its occupation.

The exception to the latter, of course, is the July 2002 Gaza City bombing, which is a “tough call.”

The Alterman way of balance

Alterman criticizes Blumenthal for making “arguments this simplistic and one-sided,” for telling stories in which “Israel is rarely wholly innocent,” and for failing to “at least pretend to even-handedness”

This poses a few problems:

1. Alterman is employing the typical mantra of “balance” to attack Blumenthal for making an argument at all. What would be a “two-sided” argument, except for an argument that neutralized itself?

2. If Israel were “wholly innocent” of something, wouldn’t it be a non sequitur to mention it in a book about Israel?

3. Alterman is essentially criticizing Blumenthal for not telling the stories that Alterman would prefers to be told—for not writing the book that Alterman would prefer to write—which is a sign of a bad book reviewer.

The title of Blumenthal’s book, after all, is Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel—not Israel: What I Believe and What I Don’t Believe. Imagine if one were to criticize Alterman’s book When Presidents Lie (a decent book, by the way) for not mentioning all the times that presidents didn’t lie. Or criticizing Alterman’s The Book on Bush for only focusing on the negative aspects of the Bush administration, as if George W. Bush were “rarely wholly innocent.”


In fact, Alterman’s own attempts at balance provide a textbook example of how this practice is ultimately deceptive and unbalanced.

During the first intifada, Alterman wrote the feature story for the March/April 1989 issue of Present Tense, the magazine of the American Jewish Committee. In the story, Alterman profiled the separate deaths of an Israeli teenager and a Palestinian teenager. One could detect in the story pitiful attempts at balance, such as:

While Zionism is unquestionably one of the greatest success stories in modern history, it suffered from one fatal flaw: It did not account for the fact that there were … over 650,000 people, mostly Arabs, already living in Palestine …

If we take that “one fatal flaw” into account, how can Zionism be “unquestionably one of the greatest success stories in modern history”—unless we accept that the only ones allowed to question Zionism are Zionists themselves?

Ever since large numbers of Jews had begun arriving in Palestine in the late 1880s, the Arab inhabitants of Palestine had resisted the growth of their power, and many thousands of people on both sides have since died because of the inability of the two sides to reach a compromise…

Alterman depicts Zionist attempts to supplant the indigenous non-Jewish population and establish a state specifically for Jews as a “growth of … power,” devoid of agency. He describes the refusal of this indigenous non-Jewish population to be marginalized on their own land as an “inability … to reach a compromise”—a blame to be shared equally by both sides.

By such “even-handed” logic, one can state that the indigenous peoples of the Americas were driven away or killed off because both they and the invading settlers were unable “to reach a compromise.”

If Blumenthal’s stories had been weighed down by such deceptive equivocations and euphemisms, it would not be more well-rounded; it would simply be meaningless.

Ironically, Alterman has warned of the tactics used by right-wing ideologues who call upon others to be more balanced. In an article last year, Alterman quoted Matt Labash, a conservative writer for the Weekly Standard:

“While all these hand-wringing Freedom Forum types talk about objectivity, the conservative media likes to rap the liberal media on the knuckles for not being objective … It’s a great way to have your cake and eat it too. Criticize other people for not being objective. Be as subjective as you want. It’s a great little racket.”

In part two tomorrow, I will take a look at specific accusations Alterman makes against Blumenthal’s book and compare them to the actual book.

Editor’s Note: You can find Part Two of this post here

Phan Nguyen

Phan Nguyen lives in New York and has a Twitter account: @Phan_N

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39 Responses

  1. just on October 20, 2013, 3:07 pm

    What an amazing, cogent, and factual evisceration of the charlatan called Alterman!

    Tremendous kudos and thanks.

    (It’s also beautifully written, Phan)

    • Krauss on October 20, 2013, 5:00 pm

      I’m amazed at the way that Phan meticulously destroyed the (threadbare) veneer that Alterman has tried to portray as the Great Saviour Of The Palestinians – lecturing them what they need to accept, including a ‘tough call’ of a one ton bomb which destroys an entire neighbourhood because you don’t want to upset white-skinned Zionists if you want to get anywhere, brown people! Listen to the white man, and you better not upset him or there will be many more ‘tough calls’!

      Alterman’s racism was even deeper than many of us had imagined. We will look back in 10, maybe even 5, years from now and wonder in amazement how it came that people like him were able to call themselves liberals and nobody batted an eye.

      • Krauss on October 20, 2013, 5:02 pm


        I wonder how Alterman would feel if a Palestinian or just a Gentile would write in support of wiping out an entire neighbourhood in a settlement by targeting a single extremist, like Baruch Marzel and in the process, killing scores of very young Jewish children, arguing that they were all collectively responsible for the settler extremism and attacks and the out-and-out (and often genocidal) racism of the far-right settler groups.

        You’d have to be a certain kind of pathological racist to defend that kind of thing.

    • Donald on October 20, 2013, 11:18 pm

      Superb piece–one of the best (and most deserved) takedowns of a pundit I’ve ever seen. I’m eager to read part 2.

  2. James Canning on October 20, 2013, 3:14 pm

    I think Israel’s murder of Hamas leaders does not serve Israel’s true best interests.

    • Krauss on October 20, 2013, 5:05 pm

      Hamas leaders are thugs and terrorists, often violent homophobes and misogynists as well. Not different from many of the violent settler leaders engaging in ‘price tag’ attacks and the like. That isn’t the issue.

      The issue is when you drop a one ton bomb on an entire neighbourhood killing many children and lots of actually innocent people.

      And then to defend that?

  3. MHughes976 on October 20, 2013, 3:28 pm

    If an idea contains ‘one fatal flaw’ it is a false idea, isn’t it? One is enough. In this case the fatal point was a glaringly obvious one. Alterman doesn’t seem to see the logic of his own position.
    If you pursue an idea with a fatal flaw and insist on putting it into effect then you are, in some way or other, ramming a falsehood down more and more throats. That means cruelty and absurdity. So the outcome described by Blumenthal is to be expected.

    • RoHa on October 20, 2013, 9:30 pm

      “Alterman doesn’t seem to see the logic of his own position.”

      It seems that lots of people are immune to logic.

      This is both baffling and distressing for me, since I instinctively believe that if you clearly show someone that his actions, beliefs, or feelings are irrational or immoral, he will cease performing those actions, holding those beliefs, or entertaining those feelings.

      Experience shows this belief is not true, and yet, even at my advanced age, I still, optimistically, irrationally, hold it. I am my own counter-example. Apparently Socrates was the same, but, in light of what happened to him, his is not an encouraging precedent.

    • pabelmont on October 21, 2013, 11:53 am

      Alterman’s lily livered failing is that he cannot bring himself to say, with the tough guys, “You’ve got to break some eggs to make an omelet” by which tough guys, ruthless ones, mean harming others for your own (criminal) benefit. Tough guys would never admit that the need (as they saw it) to dispossess & exile and/or kill thousands of Palestinians was a “flaw”. for them it was not a flaw, but a necessity for the flowering of their project.

      I say “criminal” above because anyone who takes more than he owns by force is a criminal in most circumstances. this was not Jean Valjean taking a small piece of brwead so his children wouldn’t starve: Zionism has never thought small and though it has described “The Jews” as perpetual victims, it has always acted as if it had a right to make perpetual victims of others and, demand “More” unlike Oliver Twist who was starving when he asked for more food. Zionists were always riding a crest, not starving. Look at the night life of Tel-Aviv where people lead the bad life (called the “good life”) whilst Gazans are starved and bombed.

      “Criminal”? Furthermore, much of Israel’s “taking by force” occurred before Israel had even declared itself to be a state — so that Palmach and Haganah and Stern Gang and Irgun were all militias or terrorists or whatever else (positive or negative) you want to call them but were not ARMIES of a STATE. (Not that I believe armies of states SHOULD get off the hook for illegal/immoral behavior.)

  4. W.Jones on October 20, 2013, 3:52 pm

    The Nation is supposed to be a progressive magazine. Perhaps they would be willing to present a progressive counterpoint to their conservative book review?

    • piotr on October 20, 2013, 7:33 pm

      Actually, there is at least an even bet that they will.

  5. seafoid on October 20, 2013, 3:53 pm

    Chomsky via the Guardian

    “Israel is following policies which maximise its security threats … policies which choose expansion over security … policies which lead to their moral degradation, their isolation, their deligitimation, as they call it now, and very likely ultimate destruction. That’s not impossible.”

    Obama arrived in Israel this week accompanied by some of the lowest expectations ever ascribed to a US president visiting the country. There was so much more hope, I suggest to Chomsky, when Obama was first elected, and he spoke about the Middle East. “There were illusions. He came into office with dramatic rhetoric about hope and change, but there was never any substance behind them,” he responds.”

    • James Canning on October 20, 2013, 7:35 pm

      By “never any substance”, Chomsky means Obama put too many Aipac agents in control of his agenda for the Middle East.

  6. W.Jones on October 20, 2013, 4:42 pm

    Something very ironic: if you speak up too much about the IP conflict, you can be worried about being labeled anti-Semitic and be put at a serious disadvantage. According to the accusers, you would be labeled as intolerant and putting an ethnicity at a disadvantage. But in fact you, the dissident, are the one who is being mislabeled and stereotyped for your views!

    How ironic. For years minorities were stereotyped or opposed by intolerant, powerful, penal figures in Europe, and now, when the proposed answer to that intolerance has come, we have Middle Easterners being hurt in the Middle East under another force that controls them.

    Those forces of intolerance in medieval Europe mislabeled entire minorities of people as bad and hateful based on portrayals of their religious beliefs. Yet now in “free” America many people are being mislabeled and stereotyped as hateful and anti-Semitic due merely to their political beliefs about the Middle East.

  7. piotr on October 20, 2013, 7:31 pm

    “I genuinely despair for Israel’s future … as I also grieve for the victims of its occupation.”

    If this was indeed one sentence, or even the same paragraph, then it nicely contrasts genuine despair with “also grieving”, presumably not genuine.

  8. joemowrey on October 20, 2013, 7:32 pm

    There are some supporters of Israel with whom one can at least engage in reasonable dialog. We should do so with as much respect and understanding as possible. But many pro-Zionist zealots have abandoned rational thought when it comes to Israel. Among those zealots are more than a few so-called liberal Zionists such as Alterman. They embrace a type of fanaticism which in essence is a new religion called Israelism. Any lie or any denial of the truth is justified, as long as it is in support of Israel. Defense of the Jewish state takes precedence over even the most basic concepts of human rights and social justice, and certainly it takes precedence over any “liberal” values they may espouse when it comes to other issues.

    In my view, these individuals deserve nothing from us but disdain. They should be rebuked, then excluded from the conversation. Even ridicule is not unwarranted in these cases. We can’t counter their illogical assertions with any rational argument because they are extremists who have moved beyond reason. Hence, my use of words like “nut-balls” and “crazies” to refer to such people. Sure, it’s a bit mean spirited, and okay, name-calling is not exactly part of a constructive argument. But really now, read even a small part of Alterman’s review and tell me that he is engaging in rational analysis based on factual observations or critical thinking . Refuting his bizarre harangue is a waste of our intellectual energy. We should dismiss his views on this subject out of hand because he has forfeited any right to be taken seriously.

  9. W.Jones on October 20, 2013, 7:51 pm

    Would you say this is an example of labeling someone based on the way they discuss politics?

    • joemowrey on October 21, 2013, 2:00 pm

      Rosenberg is another so called liberal Zionist who makes my point for me. Really, just a nut-ball when it comes to Israel. The fact that people give him a platform and take anything he says on this subject seriously is just plain silly. We should just guffaw and tell him to go away. There are important issues to be discussed around the issue of Palestine. Why do we let people like this waste our time?

    • German Lefty on October 21, 2013, 5:30 pm

      @ W.Jones & joemowrey

      OMG! I just had a look at the linked article. Rosenberg is really nuts.

      Ali Abunimah refers to Israelis as Zionists, which is fair. After all, if one lives in Israel, one is, in theory at least, a Zionist.
      What an idiotic logic! He confuses all kinds of people. At first, he equates Israelis with Zionists. Then, he equates residents of Israel with Zionists. Thereby, he also equates Israelis with residents of Israel.
      Apparently, he believes that all the Palestinian Israelis are Zionists, too. He also ignores the few non-Zionist Israeli Jews. And what about all the Israelis who don’t live in Israel and about the non-Israelis who live in Israel?

      So, by simple deduction, Abunimah hates all 6 or 7 million Jews of Israel, about half the Jews on the planet.
      Oh, and now he suddenly equates Jews of Israel with Zionists. This Rosenberg can’t make up his mind.

      Abunimah hates everyone, Israeli or not, who is either a self-professed Zionist or a supporter of Israel.
      How shocking! An anti-Zionist dislikes Zionists. Who would have thought it? The people who fought Nazism weren’t best friends with the Nazis either.

      I do object to the fact that he clearly hates all Israelis, except a few “anti-Zionists.” Ethnic smears are sickening, no matter who they come from. Hating Zionists (when all Israelis and most non-Israeli Jews) can be characterized is such is sickening.
      What ethnic smear is he talking about? I can’t find any.
      If anything is sickening, then it’s the fact that so many Jews (and non-Jews) are Zionists and mistake anti-Zionism for anti-Semitism.

      I really, really hope that Mondoweiss won’t publish further articles by Rosenberg.

    • German Lefty on October 21, 2013, 5:40 pm

      And here he writes: “I hate all forms of racism even the kind that is directed against people like me and my family.”

      Zionists are not a race. Therefore, hating Zionists is not racism.

  10. piotr on October 20, 2013, 7:52 pm

    In the age of “after 9/11” an idea was circulated that there is not such a thing as too much security. Even though there exists cartoon about the safest method of driving: being strapped by a seatbelt to the armchair in your living room (although per mile driven it is not so good). More ominously, the most sinister institutions of the last century had “security” in the name, like Committee of State Security (with Russian acronym KGB), State Security (Stasi in German), various Mukhabarats in Arab dictatorships and so on.

    Maximum security of the state could be achieved by maximum insecurity of the citizens. One could be arrested for posting on Twitter “the nightmare will be over — well, the last one actually happened a week ago in Haifa, Israel.

    Millions suffer from delusions on the subject of security. In USA, car companies spend billions to convince folks that SUVs are more secure than sedans, even when they are not with one characteristic exception: collisions with sedans. But because of the rigid bodies and high center of gravity they fare much worse with fixed obstacles. This was a very successful propaganda operation — sorry, marketing.

    SUV case is very interesting: the real and most convincing gain is relative: it is easier to kill than to be killed, while the extra risks are hazy. To some extend, the same applies to American attitude to criminal justice, prison conditions and police brutality: as long as the ill effects are concentrated on a minority they are viewed as a fair tradeoff. Rape in prisons? Tough luck, fellas.

    Israeli “legitimate security concerns” should be analyzed in the same framework. To the degree that we ourself are security crazy, we are inclined to accept ridiculous arguments invoking the sacred word. For security is a jealous god.

    PS. I hope that I do not have to explain how it pertains to Alterman and his ilk.

  11. Nevada Ned on October 21, 2013, 2:07 am

    I suspect many people will write in to The Nation protesting Alterman’s smear of Blumenthal.
    Actually, judging by the reaction in Mondoweiss, we ought to encourage The Nation to publish even more by Alterman, because it shows him to be, in effect, an Israeli propagandist.

    Phan Nguyen, thanks for recalling Israel’s assassination of Hamas founder Shehade and lots of other people, which was of course an act of terrorism. Alterman had “no problem” with it. What would Alterman have said if the role Israeli Jew and Palestinian had been reversed? If Hamas had dropped 1 one-ton bomb on Israel, killing or wounding a hundred people? Would he have said he “had no problem” with it?

  12. wondering jew on October 21, 2013, 2:47 am

    When Phan Nguyen defends Omar Barghouti from Alterman’s attacks that attribute to Barghouti a desire to destroy Israel, he reminds me of Norm Finkelstein: “Who are you kidding?” Barghouti aims to destroy Israel and defending Barghouti against this charge elicits the full volume of Finkelstein’s ire. And here we have to listen to Nguyen as if we never heard Finkelstein. But we have heard Finkelstein and I ask Nguyen, “Who do you and Barghouti think you are fooling?”

    • Donald on October 21, 2013, 8:51 am

      Eh, what? Do you have some specific criticism of this post? You generally have something to say, but what that would be in this case isn’t obvious. What do you mean by “destroy Israel”? I feel like I have to spell out your own case for you.

      Maybe you mean Barghouti is someone who wishes to kill or drive out Israeli Jews. If so, say it clearly.

      Or maybe you mean that a 1SS would fail, leading to a civil war similar to that in Syria or in the past, Lebanon, or on a lower scale at the moment, Iraq. In which case you’d be saying that Barghouti might mean well, but has a bad idea. If so, say so.

      Or maybe you are just irritated and uncomfortable over the way Phan has thoroughly dismantled Alterman’s hypocritical posturing. That is what the post is about, you know.

      And don’t hide behind Finkelstein’s authority. Finkelstein apparently meant by “destroying Israel” the idea that if Israel was no longer a Jewish state, Israel would be destroyed. But again, is that bad because it would mean a civil war, or bad because it would go against the wishes of people who want to keep the benefits of what they gained from the actions of 1948?

      • wondering jew on October 21, 2013, 11:34 pm

        Donald- If you wish to discuss Barghouti without Finkelstein, maybe later. But first: Finkelstein:

        “They think they’re being very clever.
        They know the result of implementing all three…
        They know the result.
        You know and I know.
        What’s the result?
        There’s no Israel, full stop.”

        10:33 on this video

      • wondering jew on October 21, 2013, 11:41 pm

        more finkelstein:
        “Stop trying to be so clever.
        because you’re only clever in your cult.”

        I guess you’re part of the cult.
        Because you think it’s clever.

      • wondering jew on October 22, 2013, 5:28 am

        Donald- I oppose a one state solution for one reason: Because I do not trust the region or the Palestinians to establish a truly democratic secular state. (Also: I feel that the path to peace will have to take into account the feelings of Israeli Jews and the one state solution is very begrudging (read Barghouti in his piece of October 21) in its attitude towards Israeli Jews and will not lead to peace.)

        This is largely irrelevant to my criticism of this post (not its totality, but the section in which Alterman attributes to Barghouti a desire to destroy Israel and Nguyen calls this “Alterman putting words in Barghouti’s mouth.”) (quotation marks included for clarity sake, in fact a paraphrase.)

      • Cliff on October 22, 2013, 5:48 am

        Yes, Wondering Jew is worried about Jewish Israelis feelings getting hurt whilst the same Jewish Israelis colonize Palestine, discriminate Israeli Arabs, carry out POGROMS against Israeli Arabs/Palestinian Arabs and Palestinian Arabs of the OT.

        Wondering Jew is deeply concerned about feelings though. How sweet of him.

        Meanwhile Palestinians are detained by Jewish terrorists simply for expressing a different point of view:

        Mahameed argued that the situation was far from how the Israeli authorities described it, pointing out the strangeness of a case where public Facebook posts are withheld as secret evidence by the authorities.

        “Israel claims that it is a state that believes in democracy, and yet al-Nabulsi was detained merely for expressing his point of view,” he added.

        According to Mahameed, Israeli police secretly opened the investigation into al-Nabulsi on July 10, tracking his activities online and investigating his social networks. In the months since, Shin Bet security services interrogated al-Nabulsi on a number of occasions.

        The Shin Bet subsequently drew up a list of charges and in early October detained him, confiscating his personal computer and cell phone.

        But Wondering Jew is a very sensitive little guy. He’s worried Israeli Jews are having their feelings hurt by Palestinians like Mahameed. Poor Zionist. Poor Israel!

      • wondering jew on October 22, 2013, 8:46 pm

        Cliff, Like Shlomo Sand I am considering what the Israeli side will accept as a fallback position. If you promise them a future of Assad or Morsi (or Palestinian equivalents), they will fight to the end. If you promise them a two state solution, they will not fight to the end. Sensitivity is not the key here. Game theory is.

      • Cliff on October 23, 2013, 3:06 pm

        I know what you meant.

        My point is that the Palestinians are in no position to propose solutions. Israel holds all the cards.

        Who cares if some Palestinian-whatever suggests such and such solution? Do you think Israel will give a ****?

        Why negotiate and give up land when things are fine as it is? Israel can simply continue its current strategy. Over time, the leaders will change but the same basic strategy will be maintained.

        No one is going to intervene on the Palestinian’s behalf. The US public can’t stop it’s own wars – it won’t be able to stop Israel’s.

        BDS is not a crystal ball. It’s just the best alternative to the blackhole that is the ‘piece process’.

        Go back to your tribe. You’ve won.

      • James Canning on October 23, 2013, 3:13 pm

        Assad and his father tried to make peace with Israel.

  13. OlegR on October 21, 2013, 5:47 am

    I guess this dude Alterman did something right to deserve such a looong analysis
    of his persona.
    Good for him.

    • Cliff on October 21, 2013, 8:58 am

      That’s great logic.

      By that same token, you should believe Max Blumenthal did something ‘right’ for such loooooooong analysis of his persona by all you Zionist trolls.

  14. pabelmont on October 21, 2013, 11:19 am

    Phan: You write “security of Israel is compromised by its denial of Palestinian rights (which is basically human rights accorded to Palestinians).”

    I fear that many Israelis and their knee-jerk supporters in USA feel that “security of Israel” depends upon Israeli denial of the “right of return” and restoration of property to the Palestinian exiles of 1948 (as called for by UNGA 194) (“PRoR”). And “Palestinian rights” must include both national rights and property rights as well as “civil rights” (vote) and “human rights” (health, not getting killed, water, housing, medical treatment, etc.) Perhaps the PRoR is a “human right” or a “humanitarian right”.

    If I am right, then we’re back at “zero-sum game” theory: so-called “Israeli security” is seen by the people who matter as requiring denial of Palestinian rights. Anything else is “Israeli suicide” (as you mention). SHAVIT (New Yorker) seems to believe this, at least as to PRoR.

  15. pabelmont on October 21, 2013, 11:34 am

    Phan: “By such “even-handed” logic, one can state that the indigenous peoples of the Americas were driven away or killed off because both they and the invading settlers were unable “to reach a compromise.””

    Thanks! I saw a documentary at the Margaret Mead Film Festival yesterday (American Museum of Natural History) about the present-day erasure of the indigenous people (Mayans) in Guatemala and Chiapas (Mexico) by (corrupt) government(s), a giant Canadian gold mining company (which uses arsenic and thereby poisons the air and water, exhausts the water, etc.), Monsanto, and NAFTA (thus the USA, which is astounded by Mexicans needing work after NAFTA stole their livelihoods), etc.

    What you mention did not stop 500 years ago. Like the NAKBA, it continues forever until stopped.

  16. German Lefty on October 21, 2013, 11:43 am

    By such “even-handed” logic, one can state that the indigenous peoples of the Americas were driven away or killed off because both they and the invading settlers were unable “to reach a compromise.”

    Beinart’s book “The Crisis of Zionism” tries to be “even-handed”. It’s a total disaster. I had to stop listening to the audio book after 40 minutes. His reasoning always goes like this: “What Israel did to the Palestinians was really terrible. However, you need to understand that the Jews were traumatised because of the Holocaust and had security needs.” He states that Israel commits crimes just to make excuses for these crimes. That’s not what I consider being critical. Being “even-handed” when there’s a crime means siding with the criminal.

    • W.Jones on October 21, 2013, 2:43 pm


      Probably, he did not bring it together. One could show all the abuse the criminal went through that made him sympathetic, even though you also understand that what has happened is wrong and must be stopped.

      Reminding someone about the abuse all through the course of saying that what happened is wrong seems strange……

      Anyway, we are not talking 80 years after the Holocaust and the longterm plan is to continue to maintain power over the region for “security”. Centuries from now, if that plan succeeds and the natives are still around and subordinated, it will be much harder to make the argument that all these bad acts are strongly due to traumatization.

  17. German Lefty on October 21, 2013, 4:59 pm

    @ W.Jones
    Please don’t just address me as “German”. That sounds really weird to me.

    Probably, he did not bring it together.
    I don’t remember exactly what he wrote. However, it sounded like that to me. Each time he mentioned something terrible that Israel did, he made all kinds of excuses in the following sentences.

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